This past Sunday, I drove up to see the damage from the Yosemite Rim Fire and to check if my favorite cliff jumping spot, Rainbow Pools, had been burned. The Yosemite Rim Fire was a highly destructive fire in August and September that burned over 257,000 acres (full fire statistics below).
I took highway 120 up towards Yosemite and began seeing the fire damage appropriately at the “Rim of the World” vista point (what the fire was named after) just above Groveland, CA. As far as the eye could see was completely burned with occasional green patches here and there.
People kept saying to me: “Isn’t it sad?” I told them: “Not really, because all of this had already burned in the 90s and it really doesn’t look much different.”
It’s true, most of this “Rim” area burned badly in the 1990s and it’s an arid area in general. There just aren’t many trees in this zone. Granted, the fire did move up higher into the mountains where it devastated dense forests, but this Rim of the World zone has looked bare, treeless, and arid for a long time.
“The Rim fire slowly dropped down this side of the canyon then climbed the other side of the canyon, over 3,000-vertical-feet in 8 minutes,” a firefighter told me on Sunday.
Just after the “Rim of the World” vista point I saw the turnoff for my beloved Rainbow Pools. There was a Road Closed sign. I ignored it and sped straight down the road without hesitation. As I dropped down to the water I saw no brown, no char, no black. Rainbow Pools did not burn!
All the trees were green and happy and the smell was wet and cool. A large water truck was filling up, blocking the road so I pulled over… and moments later, so did a park ranger. I explained that I grew up jumping here and he let me off with a warning. Nice guy. Would have been a $175 ticket for entering a closed zone. It was the first time I’ve ever been to Rainbow Pools without jumping.
Further up, I began witnessing evidence of the fire’s real destruction. Full grown forests frozen in time and turned brown and yellow. The trees are mostly still there, perfect, upright but brown and dead. Blackened trunks and browned needles. Charred earth and black, leafless manzanita. Dense lodgepole pines that looked like black prison bars.
To be totally honest, once up higher near the park entrance, it was hard to really get a feel for the extent of the destruction. Every pull-off was closed on highway 120 along with every forest service road. There is simply no access to park, hike, photograph, visit, nor explore the burned parts of the Yosemite Rim fire.
Just before the Yosemite Park entrance, I turned back. Back to the green, back to life.
If you’re looking to drive up and see the Rim Fire damage, there really isn’t anywhere you can get a good view/feel for the damage. A small plane flight would be the way to go.
Rainbow Pools is still alive and well and green and smelling great. Thanks so much to the firefighters and personnel who helped save this gem. The world would have truly been a sadder place without Rainbow Pools’ waterfalls, water snakes, trout, crystal clear water, perfect granite, and weekend debauchery. Thanks.
Yosemite Rim Fire Facts:
– Started on August 17th, 2013 at 3:25pm in Stanislaus National Forest near Groveland, CA
– Started by a hunter who lost control of his illegal campfire
– 3rd largest wildfire in California history
– The fire burned 257,171 acres and won’t be completely out until October 27th, 2013
– 10 people were injured in the fire