When the Rock House Fire struck Far West Texas in 2011, it didn’t just leave over 300,000 acres of scorched earth in its wake. It also left bones.
The bleached white bones of wild animals, including the disappearing Pronghorn of the Trans-Pecos, were scattered across the ashes of the high desert, recalls wildlife management graduate student Justin Hoffman. Generations of dead creatures that had previously lain hidden in the tall grass were suddenly revealed, painting a stark picture of how many had died in the previous years from drought and other still-unknown causes.
“Being out here in the field a lot more than I ever have before, you start seeing that the die-off, it’s a lot more significant than I could ever have imagined,” Hoffman says, touring the site of the fire a year later.
And if the image of bones scattered among the West Texas ashes seems like it could have been pulled from the pages of a Cormac McCarthy novel, it’s just one example of how fire can reveal secrets long hidden by the land.