Saturday, August 6, 2016

Field Trip Summer: Pulaski Tunnel

In 1910, there was a fire that destroyed over 250 million acres.  I've lived in this area for most of my life and didn't know about the fire until just a few years ago.  Basically, all of the forests I know and love were entirely burned a mere 67 years before my birth.  I don't know how I missed this crucial piece of local history, but once I learned of it, I wanted to know more.  There is an excellent book called The Big Burn by Timothy Egan that tells the tragic story.

One part of the story included a forester named Ed Pulaski.  His story is amazing and terrible.  He was employed by the brand-new, terribly underfunded US Forest Service to preserve our newly designated National Forests.  The story could, quite literally, fill a book, so I won't share it here.  Suffice it to say, his understanding of the forests and preservation methods were revolutionary.  He invented a tool that firefighters still use to this day.  It is called, appropriately, The Pulaski and is half pick and half ax.

Here is my daughter at the head of the Pulaski Tunnel trail, standing next to a Pulaski.


The dad of one of the families that has joined us on many of our field trips this summer is a forester with the US Department of the Interior.  He's been working outdoors for over half of his life and is filled with fantastic information about forests, fires, and the history of the forest service.  He happened to not be on a fire on the day of our field trip, so he came along as our personal guide.

Pre-hike lecture.
This particular hike is a must-do if you live here and want to know our history.  It is a four mile round trip, moderately difficult hike, with excellent signage and scenery.



Every so often, Tyre would have the kids find a bench and he would tell us a bit more about the tragic events of the 1910 fire.


It was a great way to tell the story because his cliffhangers kept the kids' attention and helped them remember the story.


I enjoyed the compelling story, even though I already knew it.  It was fascinating to hear it with the bits of  personalized information or first-hand knowledge or firefighting experience.

This stream runs along the trail.  During the fire, guys tried to bury themselves in the water to avoid being burned to death.  Instead, the fires were so intense that they were, quite literally, boiled alive. Gruesome stuff.


Over 100 years later, there is still evidence of the Big Burn.


At the top of the trail is the Pulaski Tunnel.  It was actually an abandoned mine shaft that he ushered his 40 guys into to try to survive the fire, now raging toward them from all directions.  He held them in there at gunpoint, saving their lives.


They tied themselves together because the smoke was so thick. they couldn't see one another, even steps away.


The tunnel is quite short, only about four and a half feet tall, and not wide.  Their injured horse was sacrificed and helped block the entrance, contributing to their survival. 


After the fire burned over, they crawled to the stream, mere feet away, seeking relief for their smoke damaged throats and eyes, only to find hot water, absolutely filled with ash.


Here is the tunnel just after the fire.


Ed Pulaski, front right. 
He never received his forest service wages and the rich local senator, 
always an enemy of the forest service, stole the patent to The Pulaski. 
Even more tragedy, as if the man needed it.

Hiking back to the now destroyed town, the hot forest floor was covered in hot coals and burned right through their thick leather soled boots. 
An incredible story!

We ate thimble berries, wild black raspberries, and huckleberries the whole way.
Our three year old was as slow as molasses in January.  He had to examine every thing, pick up every rock, carry every stick, eat every berry, and hold still to listen to every bird.  Oh, my gosh, was he ever SLOW.  That made it the easiest and hardest hike.  It is hard on the knees to stroll down a mountain!


I carried Baby Girl in the pack and she was, luckily, very good.

Waiting for slow-poke.

This may have been my favorite field trip in this summer full of field trips.  Go see it!

1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting post... it really makes me want to take a hike. I love local history and appreciate it told in a compelling way. Thank you.

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