What the Fire Didn't Take

Photo: Tim Roberts @forbydigital

The following excerpt appears in Hard Prairie Volume 1, available now! To purchase your copy, please click the link on our homepage!

In June of 2022, I was a member of a film crew shooting a documentary at Western States. I spent hours at Michigan Bluff waiting for the front-runners to pass through. Of all the memorable things I saw and experienced that weekend, none held sway over me quite like Michigan Bluff, not the Escarpment or Rucky Chucky or Golden Hour. Something about the dusty, rusted-out vibe of the town felt comfortably worn-in, unbothered by the influx of out-of-towners choking off the main drag. I found shade beneath a roadside evergreen and whiled away the afternoon listening to Arcade Fire over the aid station speakers, lingering in electrified limbo, like waiting on headliners to take the stage. And when they did, man, was it awesome—how Hayden Hawks and Adam Peterman and Arlen Glick crashed headlong into town, pit-stopped with stone-cold precision, and tore on out like they each had a devil on their heels. 

I’d never seen anything like it. 

A few months later, in September, a fire broke out on Mosquito Ridge Road near the Oxbow Reservoir south of Foresthill. It burned for forty-six days, destroying over 75,000 acres of rough country, including portions of the Western States Trail. I watched video of the Mosquito Fire online, saw the wishbone intersection north of Michigan Bluff consumed in flames and smoke and falling embers, and sadly conceded that the town had likely been lost. Asking around in the aftermath proved fruitless. No one seemed to know what had happened to Michigan Bluff, whether it still stood or had been reduced entirely to ash. 

In May of 2023, I got my answer.

Words: Chad Sullivan @ultra.sully

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