Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fire Ravaged Pecos River Reopens to Camping & Fishing

This church on the road to the Pecos River in the Santa Fe National Forest is a familiar sight to those heading into the canyon to fish and camp.
Anglers returning to the recently reopened Pecos River will find far fewer places to camp and fish as well as less trout to catch in the wake of two devastating forest fires earlier this summer.

“But it could have been a whole lot worse,” said Richard Hansen, Cold Water Fisheries Biologist for the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) while inspecting the river at the department’s Mora recreation area last week. “The upper canyon is in pretty good shape so we’re stocking here again.”
Richard Hansen NMDGF Cold Water Fisheries Biologist.
The Tres Lagunas Fire erupted in late May from a downed power line in the canyon through which the Pecos River runs and scorched thousands of acres before it could be extinguished many weeks later.

The Jarosa Fire deep within the Pecos Wilderness also burned for weeks in the upper Pecos River watershed before it too could be brought to bear.

Then heavy summer rains brought on the floods sending torrents of unchecked water pushing rocks and burned timber down scorched hillsides and into the river on the canyon floor.
A washed out gully shows where runoff swept off the scorched mountainside and flooded out Brush Ranch.
Because of the fire and then the floods, authorities had kept the only road leading into the canyon closed along with the camping and fishing areas until just recently reopening some of them.

But even now a good portion of the lower rivers remains off limits until the threat of monsoon related flooding subsides.

“It’s just too dangerous,” says Steve Romero, Pecos & Las Vegas District Ranger for the Santa Fe National Forest. “We’ll be patrolling these areas and issuing citations if necessary.”

Visitors to the canyon north of the village of Pecos will find US Forest Service campgrounds and day use areas closed along an estimated 13-mile stretch of river between the town of Pecos and the village of Tererro.
A burned mountainside above the village of Terrero poses a threat for flooding until vegetation can take hold in the wake of Tres Lagunas fire.
Holy Ghost Canyon will remain closed also.

These areas are scheduled to remain closed until September 30 but could reopen sooner if conditions warrant, Romero said.

The NMDGF’s two camping and fishing areas in the burn area, Bert Clancy and Terrero, will remain closed also.

But the upper stretch of the Pecos River above Tererro is back open along with about six miles of river.
Kenneth Erickson, 36, of the state Department of Game and Fish's Lisboa Springs Fish Hatchery on the Pecos River empties a net full of nine-inch trout into the river at the department's Mora recreation area last week.
The NMDGF’s Mora and Jamie Koch camping and fishing areas along the river are open for use and stocking is taking place.

And in the surrounding national forest, visitors will still find Forest Road 305 and the Panchuela Campground closed, but Cowles, Jack’s Creek and Iron Gate campgrounds are open along with dispersed camping in the Davis Willow area.

For more details consult the Santa Fe National Forest webpages at
State Department of Game and Fish workers will be stocking fish regularly in the upper canyon of the Pecos River now that it's been reopened to the public.
Anglers heading up to the Pecos will find the forest green and inviting until they come across the burn scar and flood damage easily seen at Brush Ranch.

“We were the bull’s eye,” said Bob Ingersol of the post fire mud slides that racked the resort, destroyed its fishing pond, buried habitat improvements in the river and killed many of their stocked trout. “Seeing all those beautiful fish suffocate and die just killed me.”
Josh Ingersol, Assistant Manager at Brush Ranch on the Pecos Rivers shows where tons of mud completely silted in what had been the ranch's showcase fishing hole at the entrance to the resort. 
Brush Ranch is a former summer camp converted to a fishing resort in the late 2000s by the Lujan family of Albuquerque and will remain closed for the rest of the season while repairs are underway.

Check out the resort’s website at to see remarkable photos of the flood damage.
Josh Ingersol stands in what had once been Brush Ranch's popular fishing pond stocked with monster trout. Flooding from the Tres Lagunas fire blew out the pond and washed away the fish. 
The same floods resembling chocolate syrup and bearing boulders and charred trees didn’t do the rest of the river downstream any good either but Hansen, the NMDGF fisheries biologist, remained optimistic.

“The Jemez looked about a 1,000 times worst after the Las Conchas Fire but somehow fish survived there,” he said.

The Las Conchas Fire of June 2011, also started by a downed power line, burned over 150,000 acres in and around the Jemez Mountains before it could be snuffed about a month later.

Hansen said he found insect life still present in the riverbed below Brush Ranch and even saw a couple of rising fish still in the water.

“In general it looks much better than I had been expecting to find,” he noted.
Stocked trout in the Pecos River mingle before spreading out in the clear waters of the upper canyon.
Hansen said he expects to be back on the river in the fall for a much more in-depth assessment, only further downstream at the Pecos National Historic Park where much of the silt and debris from the floods is thought to have ended up.
An angler on the River in the Pecos National Historical Park before the Tres Lagunas fire.
The national park’s highly popular fly-fishing program on the Pecos River flowing through its borders has since been suspended for the rest of the summer and the fall season too, says Superintendent Dennis Carruth.

“We just can’t chance having people down on the river in the event of a flash flood,” he said.
The road to Holy Ghost campground and summer homes remains closed until the threat of floods subsides while popular fishing areas below Terrero remained off limits too.
The fires, floods and closures have reduced what was once a highly popular fishing area to a shell of its former self and has really bit into one local fly shop’s business.

“We lost a lot of the tourist trade because of that closure,” said Ivan Valdez, Lead Guide and Assistant Manager at the Reel Life Fly Shop in Santa Fe. “And it’s been for months now and the season is winding down.”

Valdez said fishing in the upper canyon above Tererro is still “pretty sweet” but he expects that competition between guides and their clients and the rest of the fishing public will only get worse.

“It’s going to get real crowded up in there,” he said.
The ever popular Pecos River is loved to death by many seeking fishing and camping  in the cool pines  near Santa Fe.
But amid all the damage some good may come of it, some anglers say, as one of the state’s most heavily used and abused rivers may see less people and can rest and recover because of it.

If You Go: From Santa Fe take I-25 towards Las Vegas and take the Pecos exit into town. Head north on State Road 63 for about 13 miles to Tererro and then continue into the open areas.

Josh Ingersol hopes to see Brush Ranch cleaned up and open for business again by next season.

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