A green meadow frames Kings Creek as it meanders from a forested trailhead, over the namesake falls and into the Dixie Fire burn scar at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Nearly a year after the fire, the meadow contrasted sharply with the gray cinders and blackened conifers that dominated the landscape on the loop trail to Bench Lake. Signs of recovery were sparse.
Kings Creek Falls and Bench Loop Trail (Aug. 6, 2022) – 4.3 miles
We wanted to see the falls and chose the loop to extend the hike. The devastation as we entered the burn scar was sobering.
For the first two miles past the falls, the trail was silent. No skittering animals or clicking grasshoppers. No birds singing. Cinders puffed from the trail with each step and coated our pant legs and hiking boots. Portions of the trail scoured heavily by winter rains made for slow going.
We saw trailside deadfall that had been reduced to charcoal shadows. Some trees had been incinerated roots and all, cratering the landscape. Others stood only as hollowed out husks.
Bench Lake was dry but cupped a sheen of green grass covering the bed. The branches facing the lake on many of the blackened trees retained some green foliage. We sat on a rock and contemplated the devastation over lunch.
As we hiked up the hill from the lake we began to spot nascent signs of recovery. We spotted stands of wildflowers and recovering manzanita ground cover. A flock of small birds emerged, as did rows of busy ant hills. The last incline brought us back into forestland that had been singed rather than incinerated and then back to the meadows of Kings Creek.
The 2021 Dixie Fire burned 963,000 acres over more than three months in the summer of 2021, becoming the largest single fire in California history. The landscape will not fully recover in our lifetime, but perhaps we’ll return in a few years to see see the progress.
We spent much of August 2022 exploring the Pacific Northwest, with a stop at Lassen National Park on the way north from our home on the Coastside.