In 2002, there was a huge fire in the San Gabriel mountains, it was so bad that we even got ash raining down on us in Orange County. I will always remember that it was the first weekend my parents came down to visit in me in college and ash was just everywhere.This wasn’t just a fire we heard about the news and hoped everyone was ok, this fire had a bit more of a connection for us. In the 1920s after the great depression hit, the state of California allowed several people to build homes in these mountains and they would be given a 99 year lease (because there had to be a time frame since they were allowing them to build within a state park). My Grandparents ended up buying one of these cabins that was built, sometime in the 1960s and in the early 1970s a tree fell on a portion of it, so my Dad decided to he would go live on the mountain and rebuild the portion that the tree fell on. Eventually, the family sold the cabin, but Dad still would share his stories of it and I was able to see how much it meant to him and the memories he had there.
When we found out a couple weeks later that the fire had blazed through Soldier Creek my Dad wanted to make the trek up the mountain to see if the cabin was still standing. They called the park and he was told the roads were closed because of how much damage the fire had done. He would end up calling a couple more times over the next four years, but got the same answer, that they were working on the roads and the park as a whole. In 2006 when I was moving out of my apartment and back to Paso for the month before leaving for New Zealand, my Dad came and helped me get all my things. We decided to take a bit of a detour and see how far we could get up the mountain. We got about half way before we got to a ranger station that said the road to soldier creek was still closed for repairs. He did tell us that two cabins had survived the fire, but everything else was lost. My Dad still had a bit of hope, but he knew for how far up the cabin was, it was a long shot.
Over the next six years we made more phone calls and waited on word that the road had opened up. Finally in April 2012 (ten years after the fire) we read an article that said Soldier Creek had opened back up. We made the plan for my parents to come down in the fall after Dad’s surgery and recovery time.
So the other weekend made the hour and half drive north, parked the car on the side of the road where there used to be a mini lot for more than one car to park, and start the 1/2 mile hike up. Dad shared with Graeme and I that he used to carry 90 lbs bags of concrete up the mountain along with all his other supplies and that he used to run through this area; my Dad kept shocking me on this hike, all these little details I never really knew about him. He became even more of a stud in my eyes. We passed one cabin, so we knew there was still a chance. Then we passed a second cabin. We all thought the park could have gotten their numbers wrong and maybe there were other cabins that made it. But after turning the corner to my Dad’s neighbor’s cabin, he saw his former home’s foundation…nothing more.
It was obvious a cleaning crew had been through, there was nothing left, but the rocks of the foundation, the shower Dad had built in the remodel, and his outhouse which had the only remnants of fire on the side of it. It was a bit sad to watch Dad walk around the old place. Both his parents are gone, his brother is gone too, most of his extended family is gone, and now the cabin is gone. I asked him how he felt and he responded, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust, none of this was ever meant to be permanent Heidi”, in true Dad fashion. He explained he was just happy to know. He didn’t have to wonder anymore. It was gone and now he knew.
We hiked around a bit more on that mountain and heard more stories from Dad. It was a wonderful day overall and even though something was lost, I knew my Dad was happy just to be making new memories and sharing a part of himself and his story with us.