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Fri, Dec. 13

Rains don't mean we let up on forest safety<BR>

Wow, what a way to open the forest hiking season. The Prescott and Coconino National Forests recently reopened to hikers.

The rains have cut down on the chance of fire, but we still have to be careful.

I was on the Kachina Trail on the southern face of the San Francisco Peaks Saturday. Just a few minutes into the trail, I spotted a cub. I had seen bears on television, but despite a lot of miles hiking in Northern Arizona I had never seen a bear in the wild.

This little guy was about 200 yards away. Just close enough to enjoy and just far enough away not to be scared of him.

About five of us took a few photographs of him and watched him for a couple minutes, but we were well aware that mamma bear probably wasn't too far behind so we moved on.

The interesting part about the cub was that he was just as curious about us as we were about him. Before he spotted us, he was prancing through the ferns, playing and having a good old time.

When he saw us, he stopped and stared – not knowing quite what to make of us. Seeing how the forest had just reopened, we were probably the first humans that he had seen.

"Boy, these creatures are really odd-shaped and the smell funny too," the look on his face said.

But he didn't run off. He meandered and lingered, probably wondering what we were going to do next.

Seeing the cub made this hike special, but Kachina Trail is one of my favorite hikes anyway because it is full of ferns and Aspen trees. The vast majority of the hike is in the shade.

Despite the lack of sun, you see an occasional of flowers. Because of the drought there weren't too many, but we saw lupines, penstemons, geraniums and dalmation toadflax.

One interesting note for those of you who have been thinking about how to prevent forest fires: The LaRue fire in 2001 burned some of the area along the Kachina Trail. Here's the oddity: There are Aspen and Pine trees here. The Pine burned up. The Aspen didn't.

It was strange looking at three trees in a row—a Pine on each side was burned while the Aspen in the middle wasn't. There's actually a reason for this: Aspens hold more water than Pine.

Wouldn't it just be a hoot if all we had to do to stop forest fires was to plant more Aspens?

Allow me to go off the path for a moment and talk about the Chedeski Fire. Two things happened this week that surprised me..

The first was the U.S. Attorney's announcement in the Mogollon High School gym that he would not file any charges against Valinda Joe Elliott who lit the fire so she could escape from being lost in the woods.

It didn't surprise me that the U.S. Attorney wasn't filing charges; the surprise was seeing him announce the fact The surprise wasn't that no charges were filed. The surprise was seeing him announce the fact to a crowd that included many people who lost their homes. Why couldn't he just make the announcement on the TV, radio and newspapers? This just served to aggravate those who lost their homes.

The second surprise was that the people in the audience wanted the lady who lit the fire criminally prosecuted. I understand their frustration. It would be terrible to have a home burn down.

But, it was also obvious that this lady had no intent to burn anybody's house down. It is not a crime to be stupid or negligent. There was no criminal intent.

It might be helpful if they could fine her and make her perform some community service, but what purpose would it serve to send this lady to jail?

The more important part at this point is for the state and federal government to provide as many services as quickly as possible to help people get back to normal.

Now, back on the Kachina Trail.

Three-quarters of the way through this Kachina Trail hike the rains came. The good new is the trails are open again. The bad news is if you're going hiking during this monsoon season, you had better bring your raincoat.

So rain cut the hike short, but I came off the mountain and when I got back to Chino Valley I learned that it hadn't even rained here.

Now is your chance to tell me where to go. I know several of you who have read my political columns already have.

I'm always looking for another good hiking trail, so I'd like to hear from Chino Valley area residents about good area hikes, or hikes they have been on.

Call me at the Chino Valley Review 636-2653.

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