The quiet above the Waldo Canyon burn scar was broken with a sudden "pop" - the sound of a charred tree falling, toppled by a gust of wind.
The steady pop, crack and fall of trees throughout the 18,247-acre burn scar punctuates the silence of a mostly destroyed forest, which continues to evolve nearly a year after the fire blackened thousands of acres. But falling trees are a good sign, said U.S. Forest Service officials who were touring areas of the burn scar with local media Wednesday.
Although dangerous, fallen logs prevent soil erosion and can slow flash flood waters cascading down the denuded forest floor. This time of year, fallen logs aren't the only obstacles to running water: Shoots of grass and oak brush have sprouted, and some aspen saplings have emerged. There are pockets of forest that escaped the raging burn; oases that offer an eerie picture of life before the fire, as well as spreading their seed to neighboring acres that were not so lucky.
Pikes Peak District Ranger Allan Hahn stood on an overlook Wednesday and surveyed the damage and the growth. He and other officials drove into the forest along the closed section of the Rampart Range Road - in a few places, forest on one side was healthy, badly charred on the other.
"The drive probably misrepresents what's really here," Hahn said. Although green trees and grass are pleasant sights, most of the forest remains as blackened as it was in August, when the Burn Area Emergency Response team first came in to start rehabilitating around 3,000 of acres of the forest.
On Wednesday afternoon, crews working for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), a nonprofit that specializes in environmental recovery, were taking a lunch break between projects. They had already covered an entire northeast-facing slope with straw, staggered log catch ponds along it, and set up a culvert into a nearby drainage. Throughout the forest, logs have be claimed for mulch - which is later spread on the forest floor - or these erosion-obstacles, leaving patches that have been razed clean with nothing but stumps showing.
Like the burn scar from the 2002 Hayman fire, the Waldo Canyon scar will take decades to heal, said Carol Ekarius, executive director of CUSP. The forest soil is made of granite, and the arid climate often prevents new growth from flourishing.
"This is the most highly erosive soil in the country," Ekarius said, grabbing a fistful of the rocky soil.
The forest might not have been particularly healthy to begin with. Ekarius stood at the shores of a gigantic catchment basin - something CUSP designed - amidst some 150-year-old trees, most of which came after the area had been decimated by logging. The trees grew close together, and where never able to reach their full height. Now dead, when they fall, it could take decades for them to rot because of the area's dryness, Ekarius said, It could be 80 years before the burned parts of the Pike National Forest look like they did before last summer's fire.
Those whose business it is to be in the forest every day can see that it has changed. Trees are falling, grass is growing, and things don't look like they used to - all good things.
"You can see the reservoirs from the road," said Jeff Hovermale, also with the forest service. He pointed through the burned trees to a new view of Rampart Range Reservoir. "That's a new, changed landscape."