Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Hotshot Trail

Yucca at sunrise on the trail
Nineteen Granite plaques, each bearing a short bio crafted by loved ones and a likeness of a young man at his best, smiling broadly.  Nineteen gabions with nineteen purple ribbons unified by chains around nineteen metal crosses identified by name.

The multisensory experience of a gorgeous spring morning stood in sharp contrast to this sober memorial.   Blooms were interspersed with charred skeletons of trees and I could pick out the call of canyon wrens among chattering birdsong.

This trail, apropos a pilgrimage, requires significant effort.  

Memorial Plaque

After I reached the observation point, a 1200 foot climb the trailhead, I was hesitant to hike the additional three-quarter mile down to what we Yarnell residents have come to call the incident site. This last bit approximates the route the 19 men took just before they died on June 30, 2013.  I’ve been opposed to the creation of this spur trail, wanting to preserve hallowed ground and to protect the privacy of the owners of the nearby ranch that the hotshots were striving for and didn’t quite make. 

The incident site with Yarnell in the background
In the end, looking down from that observation point, I decided that I needed to stand on that ground and photograph the circle in order to tell the story of this trail.

The procession, July 7, 2013
To my surprise, there were no ghosts there for me.  I find that I feel the presence of these men most in the memory of the funeral procession.

My husband and I have lived part-time in Yarnell since long before the fire.  This colossal loss feels personal and probably always will.  A reasonable person could argue about the appropriateness of the choices made that day, but these men were working to save our community.  They were doing what they loved, because who would be a hotshot if not for love?  They knew the risks and some of them were probably lovers of adrenaline.

Claret Cup Cactus Blooms on the Trail

We'll do our best to honor these men as we build our new home; perhaps with nineteen metal ribbons on the fence, and I'll head up that trail again, I know.