Return to The Tuolumne River Canyon: Images of Transformation

May 13th, 2014 Jamie Low

Last summer the Tuolumne River canyon was the epicenter of California’s third largest wildfire in recorded history, abruptly cutting short our rafting season and leaving a moonscape of destruction behind. In December we were able to drive into the canyon to see for ourselves the extent of the damage, but until recently we had not been able to access the river canyon by raft.

Fast forward through months of worry to late March, when we were finally given the chance to bring the boats down into the canyon.  Together with the US Forest Service, various water management agencies and representatives from each of the outfitters, we ventured to see it for ourselves. We were hopeful, but concerned. Nobody really knew what to expect.

And we certainly didn’t expect this: while the fire damage was remarkable, so were the emerging signs of life.  The scorched earth and incinerated trees were in stark contrast to the brilliant colors of spring, providing us with what felt like the most beautiful day we’ve ever seen on the Tuolumne.

We’ve assembled this slideshow using photos from both of these trips to help showcase the Tuolumne canyon’s road to recovery:

  • March 2014: Deep green colors cover the lower canyonPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: A First LookHard hats were required during our first visit into the canyon. Photo: Scott Armstrong
  • Dec 2013: Driving through devastated areas of the Canyon Photo: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: Jawbone RidgePhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • March 2014: Jawbone Ridge comes back to lifePhoto: Jamie Low
  • Looking down into the Tuolumne River canyon Photo: Jamie Low
  • December 2013: Driving Toward Put-InPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: Looking Upstream at Ram's Head RapidPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • A word of warning from the National Forest ServicePhoto: Jamie Low
  • March 2014: Rigging the boats at Meral's Pool put-inPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Signs of life Photo: Jamie Low
  • a stark contrast in affected sides of the canyonPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Cal Fire crew prepares for hazard removalPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Inspecting downed tree to be removed from Ram's Head rapidPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Scott Armstrong rows past the downed tree in Ram's HeadPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Paddling towards Clavey CanyonPhoto: Jamie Low
  • California poppy flowers were in full bloomPhoto: Jamie Low
  • All-Outdoors' owner Scott Armstrong taking photosPhoto: Jamie Low
  • an oar covered by debris from the firePhoto: Jamie Low
  • Below Clavey Falls: The river is colored dark brown from debrisPhoto: Jamie Low
  • The shade trees at Indian Campground were sparedPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Indian Campground from downstreamPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • A Bobcat walks past scorched tree trunks Photo: Jamie Low
  • A downed tree comes to rest along the riverbankPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Floating past grapevinePhoto: Jamie Low

The Tuolumne River and Cherry Creek seasons have already begun, and despite California’s drought conditions, we will thankfully be exploring these river canyons all summer long.  If you haven’t seen “The Mighty T” in awhile, we strongly recommend the return trip.

If you’re wondering what all of this means for your prospects of taking a trip here, know that the view from the canyon rim will give you the impression that nothing survived this fire.  It’s an impressive sight, and it will take many years for the canyon to heal.  But once at river level, the scenery reveals a rich and robust ecosystem, almost making you forget about the fire ravaged landscape above.  It’s a stunning contrast that really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated.


Jamie Low started guiding for All-Outdoors in 1990, falling in love with whitewater boating, rivers and a local girl in the Sierra Foothills of California, where he now helps his clients “optimize” their search marketing communications strategies. Connect with Jamie on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn

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