June 26th, 2010
In many parts of the country it's almost assumed that when you go backpacking, you sit around a campfire at night before you hit the sack. There is something about a campfire that conjures up images of cowboys in the old west and maybe it makes us feel like we are closer to those rugged individuals. As romantic as the idea may be of hanging out around a campfire in the Grand Canyon, campfires are not allowed within the canyon and for good reason. The simplest way to say this is that the Grand Canyon is in a desert so everything is dry and highly flammable and a campfire can easily spark a wildfire. It is assumed by many people that the interior of the Grand Canyon is just rocks and dirt but the canyon is home to over 1,700 different plant species creating plenty of fuel for wildfires below the rim. Last summer there was a wildfire that was burning in the pines on the Walhalla Plateau on the North Rim when it burned it's way over the rim and descended several hundred feet down into the canyon. More recently some idiot decided to burn their used toilet paper near Ribbon Falls and started a small brush fire which luckily didn't get too far. In Arizona we even have to worry about potential wildfire in pine forests in the high elevations. They look like lush woodlands but they are also really dry in the late spring and early summer and very susceptible to wild fires. Case in point are the three recent wildfires around the city of Flagstaff. The Hardy fire on June 19th started when someone dumped smoldering embers on the ground from a camp stove he was using. The Schultz fire of June 20th, which has burned over 14, 000 acres North of Flagstaff, was caused by an abandoned campfire. It was these recent fires that is the inspiration for this post. It may seem odd to think that wildfires can be a concern in a dusty desert environment but it is the truth. The National Park Service takes the restriction so seriously that they impose hefty fines on anyone caught with a campfire below the rim of the Grand Canyon. The consequences of a wildfire below the rim are great since they are extremely difficult and costly to extinguish and the possibility of getting trapped by a wildfire is very real. That is the image that should be conjured up when one thinks about building a campfire in the canyon.