Surviving Drought

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Colorado is a semi-arid state and recently, with no moisture in our area, we have been living during a severe drought. I read on one of the state news outlets that 100 percent of Colorado is now in Stage 2 to 4 drought conditions. In our immediate area, we have not had any moisture for 6 weeks.

Drought has an effect on just about everything within the area it impacts. It spawns wildfires. Coupled with wind, it fills the air with dust and ash, and the trees and wildlife are also impacted by it. With all of the state experiencing drought, 59.23% is Stage 3, or extreme drought. There is 16.72% in exceptional drought, the worst type, and the rest of the state is in stage 2 or severe drought. So how do we deal with drought conditions to survive?


I have observed that the trees — both conifer and aspen — seem to have defense mechanisms to deal with times of drought. Aspen trees are actually a family of trees all connected by a shared root system. From what I have observed when they are stressed from drought they drop leaves and small branches. The conifers seem to do the same only they drop needles. I have had an abundance of pine needles and aspen leaves and twigs to clean up this summer.

Trees Tell History

We have had what appear to be mature and healthy aspen trees fall over. Some have been up to 125 years old. Aspen trees tend to hold large quantities of water and hence are good to study for past droughts. When I cut them for firewood, I like to look at the rings to see growth cycles. In some trees the growth rings are so close I can only count them with a magnifying glass. They reflect past droughts that may have lasted 12 to 15 years in duration. Then there will be good growth years followed by another drought and the growth rings record the same cycle repeating itself again. I’m sure there are very accurate scientific methods of determining drought but I tend to look at growth rings of trees and study the trees themselves.


From drought comes wildfires. The environment is very dry and conditions are rife for wildfires from either dry lightning or human interference. We presently have five wildfires burning with the worst one having consumed 205,004 acres and only 51% contained. From the wildfire, we experienced two years ago, I know how dry fuel in the mountains can generate intense heat. I was told by the president of our community that a federal agency measured the temperatures within a quarter mile from our home at 4,200 degrees. We see evidence of trees that exploded and a wildfire tornado that ripped trees up by the roots.

Wildfire Response

It is important to give a heartfelt thank you to those brave souls who fight these wildfires. The intense heat, choking smoke and wind causing the fire to change direction makes their job very dangerous. They deserve our respect as they risk their lives to keep us and our property safe. While there is much criticism nowadays about our political officials, I have seen some very stellar performances from our governor. He has been on top of the Covid-19 crisis and made wise choices for us citizens. He has also imposed a statewide outdoor fire ban and kept it in place for an extended time. He also keeps us well informed on conditions and why certain restrictions need to be complied with. If he has made any poor choices I have not been aware of them.


The wind seems to go with drought and wildfires. It picks up the dry dirt on our land and chokes us with sand and ash from the wildfire two years ago. It has blown away so much top soil that we have newly exposed rocks and tree roots. The wind blows ash and dirt that burns our eyes, chokes us and inflames our sinus. We feel the grit in our teeth and grime on our skin. The drought, coupled with the wind, dries out our skin and I find myself using more and more hand salve to keep my fingers from cracking which can be very painful.


Perhaps the most annoying aspect of drought is the insects. House flies and other biting flies have disappeared but some little speck size flies are still around. Those minute flies and tiny spiders are mostly because of their size unobserved until you develop an itch on exposed skin. I do not like to slather myself with insect protection so I constantly have bites on my neck, head and hands. 


I’m not sure if it can be blamed on the drought or the past wildfire but we have trapped more pack rats this year than ever before. We normally get between three to six pack rats this time of year when the nights start to get colder. So far we have trapped 30 pack rats this year to date and three to nine mice each night. It could be due to our being an oasis of green in a burn scar area and they all just gravitate to us for that reason. It could be due to drought because we have the only year around springs of water for quite a ways. The birds, elk and bear all like those springs too and frequent them often. In the past there was the lake at the end of our road (see photo), but that has gone dry.

Surviving Drought

The question was, how do we deal with drought to survive? Two words come to mind: patience and stubbornness. We patiently wait for moisture that will alleviate the drought and hold on with stubborn perseverance. It will not always be like this, or so we hope, and it will change back one day. We go on with our lives and endure the hardship while hoping for some moisture again.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site atBruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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