Watch Out for Dead Trees!


Aug 19, 2016
I was doing a hike In the Dome Wilderness, which borders Bandelier National Monument. We were looking for a little known pueblo ruin. The Las Conchas fire swept through in 2011, scorching the ground to bare earth and killing most of the trees. This was the second largest burn in New Mexico history.

The day started out pretty nice but by the time we got to the trail head, the wind was up. Stupidly we started hiking anyway and soon were going in and out of canyons. After exiting one of them, I saw two trees go down like that. Bam! It took no time for them to slam to ground. No way to escape or run.

...Yeah we kept going, neither one of wanting to wuss out. Passing by a low point, I saw another two go down and watched others bending at the stress points in the wind, ready to crash at any moment.

By the time we got to the half way point, heavy gusts were shoving us. We had one more canyon to cross and that's when we gave up. Not worth it. But we still had to get back by crossing those same canyons we came in on. All you can do is go fast and be afraid. On the last bend there was a monster tree laying on the trail that had not been there when we were going in.

Our mistake was obvious but when passing through an area with dead trees, you may not know what the conditions were in the days or weeks prior to being there. This is an objective risk that is not at all obvious in calm conditions. So if you are walking through a burn, beware.

Following is a sat map of the burn area:,-106.35936&z=14&b=sat
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I've hiked quite a bit through a burn scar from 2002, as recently as this summer and the risk still remains. There's something haunting about the way burned trees whistle, creak and pop in the wind. Glad you made it back safely.
SkLund, I can relate. That is a scary time and glad you made it okay. The bark beetle has killed so many big trees or damaged them that they are susceptible to toppling in big winds. On one trip we saw three trees fall right in our sight and the top third of a very live tree blown out. My hiking partners became restless as I searched for a campsite the first day. I don't like camping under big trees or within range and most especially in high wind. I paced off and calculated and found a good place. That is where we safely watched the falling trees and they were big tall trees.

In spring, going into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the back country we have come upon tree after tree, big trees, laying over the dirt tracks and have to stop and start cutting to get through with the vehicle. We always keep an ax and saw with other backcountry travel tools in our vehicle because as you found sometimes coming back out you will find a tree blocking your path that was not there before.
Some shots from what essentially turned out to be a thirteen mile bushwhack across the Madison Plateau back in 2008.




I had an experience years ago in the North Absaroka Wilderness where my backpacking partner was a good distance ahead of me on the trail and a snag fell across the trail just after he had passed by. From my vantage point, I could see the tree fall and it looked like it might hit him. Fortunately, it landed about six feet behind him. Whew!
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