On April 29, 2002, a wildfire ignited south of the Sonoita Valley, a rolling savanna of grass, oak and mesquite in the high Mexican borderlands of southeastern Arizona. Driven by fierce winds, the so-called Ryan Fire eventually consumed nearly 40,000 acres, including more than 80 percent of the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, an 8000 acre parcel of magnificent grassland now managed as part of the sanctuary system of the National Audubon Society.
Following the fire, the grounds of the Research Ranch were blackened by ash. Agaves and yuccas were scorched, as were some of the biggest sycamores and cottonwoods on the sanctuary. During May and early June, black dust devils rose from the land, revealing a grassless mars-scape of rocky, red soil.
The photographs in this portfolio were taken in the days, months and years following the Ryan Fire. At first, fire-scarred Agaves provided the only indication of life on the ash-covered hills. I was drawn to photograph them in part to avert my eyes from a scene that could only be called desolate, and in part to create a memorial to a landscape I had grown to love. The transformations of color and shape wrought by the fire created what to my eyes were life-affirming, evocative patterns.
I returned to the Ranch frequently from late April onward, to watch the land, to wait, and to record the slow recovery following the first summer monsoon rains. These images record a transformation and re-emergence that was at once natural and miraculous.