Arizona Fire: A Tour in the Chiricahua Mountains after the Horseshoe Two Fire

A group interested local business people were escorted through Cave Creek Canyon and the interior of the Chirichua Mountains to collect first hand information about the extent of the recent fire. Permission from the Forest Service and the current incident commander managing the fire were required to enter the Coronado National Forest since: 1. While the Horseshoe Two Fire is contained it is not out and 2. A forest wide closure is in effect until significant monsoons deliver enough moisture to reduce additional fire danger. While the monsoon has started in the Chiricahua Mountains, the burn has not yet received a level of rain to ensure the fire is out.

Information about conditions in the interior of the Chiricahua Mountains has slowly started to surface. Until now the Inciweb and community meetings were the only source of information about conditions within the burn area, but since containment the 34th annual Trogon count was held (here, here, and here).  A number of individuals from local guiding services made a second trip to collect estimates of species diversity and numbers which were very positive.  In addition, NASA released a Landsat 5 image showing unburned and burned areas within the Chiricahua Mountains. The Landsat 5 image was widely circulated on the internet but to provide perspective it was overlaid on Google Earth and the view angled to show the amounts of unburned vegetation present in the drainages in the interior of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Mike Johnson, the information officer with the BAER Team was kind enough to set up a tour and along with a safety officer from the incident command post and Ron Kaczor who mans the visitor center in Cave Creek Canyon a number of business owners met at the Portal Store and Lodge to receive a safety briefing before heading up canyon.

Cameras (still and video) were at the ready to document the conditions in the canyon and surrounding landscape to provide firsthand visual information about the conditions in the Chiricahua Mountains after the Horseshoe Two Fire for visitors who come the area.

The group left the Portal Store and passing the turn on FS42 saw the first big reveal of the towering volcanic tuff cliffs that line both sides of Cave Creek Canyon and everything was green. The first stop was the Vista Point overlook below Cathedral Rock . The group walked up the 200 yds of unburned trail to the viewing area for an overview of the interior basins in the Chiricahua Mountains. As predicted by the Landsat 5 image, much of the visible forest canopy in South Fork and the basin west of Herb Martyr was intact. Clearly, there are areas where fire runs up sections of hillside burned but for the most part things appeared in good shape. The group then drove up south fork to the day use area and a close up view of the area supported what was observed from the lookout. Evidence of low ground fire was apparent but the forest canopy was intact.

The group then proceeded up FS42 to Rustler Park. The south side of FS42 was back burned and there is evidence of ground burning but the otherwise the forest is intact. Only upon reaching the higher elevations along 42 did effects of severe fire start to become evident. At Onion Saddle the severity of the burn is labeled as high according to the Soil Intensity Burn map and the view was consistent with that assessment. The road into Rustler Park had evidence of fire but a bed of pine needles already covers the ground. Rustler Park received canopy burn and 2 buildings were lost during the fire. While the meadow is intact, the burn in the camping area appears severe it is consistent with Soil Burn Intensity map created by the BAER team. This suggests the landscape will change around Rustler Park and north towards Onion Saddle as regrowth begins.

The group then headed for a quick view of Barfoot Park. The road down to the park showed evidenced of fire induced weather. Limbs and foliage were turned upslope from hot winds moving up the mountainside at some point during the fire. Barfoot Park itself and areas around the park were intact and the meadow green. The yellow Barfoot lookout was missing from the view but the walkway that surrounded the building was visible from the meadow below.

The group then headed back down the hill with several stops for panorama photographs of the interior of the Chiricahua Mountains.

The results of the BAER team analysis were published and may be found here and the Soil Burn Severity map may be found here.

Personal note:
I wish to thank Bill Edwards, the District Ranger, and Dan Cottrell, the Horseshoe Two Fire incident commander for allowing the group a firsthand view of the interior of the Chiricahua Mountains after the fire and to Mike Johnson for his diligent effort in making the trip a reality.

Any complainants about the cost of this fire should be put to rest with one look at the Chiricahua Mountains. In my estimation the fire suppression teams did a magnificent job minimizing the impact of an event which could have been orders of magnitude worse.

Birders and Ranger at Vista Point after the fire.

Panoramic view from Vista Point in Cave Creek Canyon.

South Fork canyon off Cave Creek canyon.

South Fork Canyon off Cave Creek Canyon at the picnic area.

A view from FS42 below Rustler Park.

The spring at the entrance to Rustler Park.

Barfoot Park below Buena Vista Peak.


  1. It was very nice of Mike Johnson to give a tour of Cave Creek Canyon up to Rustler Park to the local business people.

  2. Yes, I agree. It allowed folks to see first hand the effects of the fire and by relaying the photographic and video information others can see for themselves the results of the fire. The trip was a very productive and educational as well.