Rusted Remnants of History
My son-in-law, David Old, owns the 2,400 acre Viveash Ranch. It is just northeast of Pecos and up. Up to 10,637 feet. In 1977, his father died in a plane crash in Alaska, leaving David the ranch.
The 45 minute drive from pavement up to the first gate is a shock absorber crushing ride over rocks that feel a special disdain for any modern conveyance.
The ranch contains some of the most beautiful landscapes in America, with house-size rock outcroppings, 5 spring-fed ponds, and far-seeing mountain vistas. Animals are everywhere: elk, deer, turkey, and bear. Mountain lions, porcupines, and bobcats are also present.
Shiloh with a turkey he shot 4/22/17
Bears have been known to break a window in the main cabin and thrash everything inside, including the refrigerator and pantry, causing general mayhem. Several years ago David shot a rifle bullet through the front door to stop a bear that was clawing, and close to getting in. I think little Piper frequently peeped through the hole to see what might be lurking just outside, lest she open the door to a big furry surprise.
Each of the ponds contained trout that were fat from eating grasshoppers, crawfish, and unlucky water dwelling insects. Elk ate the cattails we planted, but the lily pads thrived. Fishing was good.
Three pet llamas and five horses grazed the wooded high country, undisturbed for years. Then all of a sudden there were only two llamas. Shiloh blamed a mountain lion.
There was always some grass, but occasionally during the dead winter months when the snow got deep, the pets retreated to the barn to wait for a chinook or a more enjoyable temperature. When necessary, Shiloh took hay up by snowmobile.
Then came the Viveash fire that started May 29, 2000. In a terrible few days the ranch lost 17,000,000 board feet of standing timber. The sky turned so black that the animals must have thought midnight had arrived twelve hours early, and just stayed. Billowing clouds of smoke could be seen from as far away as Pike’s Peak. Commercial airliners were diverted.
Scorching heat disappeared the vegetation down to hard pack, and below, destroying root systems that held the soil tight, and leaving a thick layer of ashes on top.
Then the June monsoon thunderstorms arrived on schedule and washed the ashes downhill in a flowing mass that covered the ponds, and suffocated the fish. The smallest pond was boiled to its muddy, steaming bottom.
Two historic one-room log dwellings stood in the fire’s path.
The Viveash cabin was built in 1885 by Lionel Viveash, who suffered from leprosy. He lived in the cabin for 27 years before New Mexico became a state, and died a year after, in 1913. I hoped the fire would spare the cabin that had stood for 115 years, but it didn’t.
Only fire-rusted nails now remain to tell that man had once lived there, and soon they also will disappear as the land residuates, and no one will remember where they were. The history of that cabin, and another one, was deleted from the world.
The beautiful sky-reaching ponderosa, pictured here being hugged by Shiloh, and many others like it, also succumbed to the heat and flames.
In the fire’s aftermath thousands of jet black ponderosa pine skeletons still stand erect, but without needles, as if to underscore the tragedy.
I had walked across those timbered mountains and witnessed the wild, pristine wonders that were there: majestic pine trees, douglas firs, aspens and scrub oaks. And to punctuate the expanse, a decoration of flowers: reds, yellows, purples, and the ever present white day’s eyes (daises). The green stalks of wild onions that we like to pull and eat were found throughout that colorful bouquet.
And then to see it later, as miles of rusted cinders and grotesquely shaped rubble, was a shock that surpassed my ability to describe, or a desire to even try.
The last vapors of smoke were still fading toward the Eastern Plains when the promise of a new beginning appeared. Someone said if your ship hasn’t come in, swim out to it, and that is exactly what David and Shiloh did. They hired lumber crews. Chain saws began to buzz through the mountain quietness. A sawmill was quickly erected, and trucks laden with logs pounded the ashy roads. Thousands of trees that had endured for decades, then killed by nature’s unreasonable wrath, were harvested.
When faced with a catastrophic event, the father-and- son team didn’t cry about the dead trees, they cut them down and made plank flooring, end grain wood blocks, and stylish three-dimensional wall paneling.
A market was waiting, and the demand was met. Customers for major hotels, government buildings, and eight Starbucks stores as far away as Kuwait, are now walking on Viveash wooden floors supplied by Oldwood.
And then, in 2013, as if to display another of nature’s irritating moods, the Tres Lagunas Fire flashed through the trees, burning 860 acres on the west side of the Viveash Ranch.
But again the Old family looked to themselves for strength and ingenuity, and expanded their business. This year they will supply 130 semi-trailers of split firewood to a major retail outlet.
Nature frequently takes away, and in doing so she always looks at the big picture. Five-hundred years from now no one will remember the fires. But I’ll still be thinking about that great little Viveash cabin that disappeared. f
Personal note: The Fenn treasure chest is not hidden on or near the Viveash Ranch.
Photos by Lacee:
Additional ranch photos can be found HERE