After leaving the squabbles of Petrified Forest and enjoying the sanctioned silence from the backseat, it wasn't long before a plume of smoke could be seen on the horizon. We had passed some fires previously on our trip through Arizona and had seen a little news coverage of the problems Arizona was facing with wildfires throughout the state. But the fire that we were approaching in the Alpine area was one monster of a creature.
We passed about 20 miles to the north of this smoke stack but it seemed like it was breathing down our necks for a couple of hours. We have since heard that this, the Wallow Fire, became the largest forest fire in Arizona history and it continues to burn more than three weeks later (it had already been burning for almost a week before we came upon it).
We passed through the town of Springerville on the edge of the Apache National Forest. The people of the town went about their daily lives with the blackest sky I'd ever seen in the middle of the day to the south and the bluest blue to the north. I shot a photo of the statute of the Madonna of the Trail against that black sky.
The stretch of highway from Springerville and across New Mexico border was some of the eeriest driving we'd ever done. The sky got black with a ghostly red horizon all around us. The words "apocolyptic," and "spooky" were used. Logically, I knew for a fact that the road ahead us was clear and that we were getting away from the fire. Yet, there was still that thread of worry as everything around us turned darker and more ominous -- the five of us strapped in our seats as we, perhaps, unwittingly made a wrong turn onto the highway to hell.
The air finally started to clear as we reached the interior of New Mexico and were able to turn around and see the scary plume of smoke in our rear window. It was suddenly late afternoon again after our brief trip through midnight in the smoke cloud. The Very Large Array lay a couple of hours ahead of us and we wanted to make it there by sunset. We sat in silence for a while, fearing for the safety of the townspeople we'd seen in the little communities we'd passed. How big would this fire get? Turns out it got pretty darn big. It has burned 825 square miles of forest and forced evacuations of 10,000 people so far. It's only about half contained right now. Only time will tell how bad it really got.
Lisa On Location Photography