Fire-Resistant Hiker, cont.

She also leads spring and fall walking tours for oasis, a national organization that offers educational and enrichment courses for mature adults. Her weekly nature-trail lectures attract hundreds of New Mexico residents and tourists who line up to join the groups of about 30 walkers she organizes for each of her one- to two-hour treks into the Albuquerque bosque woodland and nearby ditch trails. After the fires, however, the Rio Grande bosque areas were declared off limits “until further notice.” State police and rangers patrolled all entrances to the long stretch of riverside woodlands near the city.

Several days after the fires, Nancy pedaled her bike to a bridge that firefighters and police had closed to traffic. “I walked across the bridge. It brought tears. There was a foot of ash under black skeletal trees. I thought: Will I ever [again] in my lifetime see the ribbon of green along the Rio Grande?”

Nancy soon devised a way to access the closed-off burned area without violating posted restrictions—by floating down the Albuquerque River Basin on an inner-tube. In mid-July and again in August, she and friends drove to the nature center park and hiked north to a bridge, where she dropped her tube into the water. She drifted 1½ miles downstream toward the river, undaunted by a nasty stretch of rapids that “dumped” her temporarily from her tube. Her floats revealed heartbreaking damage—how “the fire jumped the wide ditch, continued burning, jumped the bike path, and continued burning weeds there.” She nonetheless experienced one “bright note.” She told friends: “I could hear birds singing through the blackened trees
. . . life goes on.”

And so will Nancy’s walks. Although entries to the bosques remain blocked, trails along the adjacent drainage-ditch system are open. Her revised fall schedule for her oasis walking groups includes two classes a week for six weeks along ditch-side trails out of the burn areas. The oasis organization anticipates the usual response of hikers.

Walks she took long ago stir happy memories for Nancy, especially those that introduced her to the fields and woodlands near Hellertown, only a few miles from the Moravian campus in Bethlehem. “Eastern Pennsylvania,” she reminisces, “was—and still is—a great place for walking, and I still do it when we visit the area. In 2001, while visiting Bethlehem for my 50th reunion, I walked across the Lehigh River on the railroad tracks. The road led right to the old buildings where I attended college.”

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An OASIS nature walk in the bosque before the fires.

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Oplinger Dover