Boundary Landscapes – Burn

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

After being away from the desert for about 6 years I returned to find it dryer that I had ever seen it.  I know, it sounds strange to speak of the desert as being dry and sound surprised.  Years of failing summer monsoons and increasingly dry winters have left the region hurting.  This can been seen by the ever increasing number and size of yearly wildfires.  Many of the fires, like the massive and devastating  Monument fire of 2011 originate in Mexico or a sort distance within the United States and often human caused.  With conditions so dry during my visit the mere thought of fire seemed to be dangerous.

The afternoon that Richmond based artist John Dombroski and I arrived in Seirra Vista we were greeted by smoke so thick that the mountains flanking the San Pedro River valley were completely concealed.  In actuality the smoky conditions had started hundreds of miles away in El Paso Texas as massive fires burned in southern New Mexcio and across Arizona, the wind transporting the smoke east.

The fires in the area that I had chosen to work in were nothing like the Monument fire, but even so some areas would have to be avoided due to suppression activities.  Roads would close with no or little notice so I spent the nights early on tracking down the latest fire info to learn of  new fires and the conditions of ongoing fires.  Along the border in the area I had planned two work, three fires would occur during the month of June.  Luckily the area of the Campini Mesa is mostly grasses with draws filled with scrub oaks.  The grass burned fast leaving behind black rocks, cooked yucca, and damaged oaks.  Fortunately fires in these areas would be wrapped up pretty quick.

The plate above was made in an area that had burned about 7 days prior, the loss of the waist high grass revealing the true nature of the terrain.  The origin of this fire was somewhere just across the boundary barricade in the background.  The transformative nature of both vegetation and fire on the visual experience of the landscape is captivating, but the effects on surveillance and travel is just as powerful.


~ by Phil Nesmith on October 22, 2012.

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