Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sleeping in a fire lookout



Back in the day, I filled in as a relief fire lookout in Kings Canyon National Park. What I remember best about those times were mild fear that a fire would start and I would have to accurately pinpoint it using the fire finder, and annoyance at all the people who sweatily hiked to the base of the tower and asked to come up. In the time since, I have dreamed of working at a lookout all summer--just think of how much writing I could get done (minus tourists of course).

There are a few fire lookouts that ordinary souls can rent, though the competition is fierce. Through a lucky circumstance we were able to snag a night at the Green Ridge Lookout, which overlooks the Metolius Basin. Normally you have to leap onto recreation.gov and reserve it as soon as it comes open (January 1, I think). This lookout in particular is staffed in summer, which means there are only a few precious weeks for us regular folk.

Ruby scans for fires on the deck below the lookout cabin.

You can drive to this lookout, kind of spoiling the romantic vibe of a solitary hike to a remote peak. However, there's a gate with a combo lock, which keeps most people away, even though it's a short trot down the road to reach the lookout. We arrived late in the afternoon, just in time for a short hike/bike ride on the Green Ridge trail.

Views along the trail
This trail is still in the planning stage, so it petered out in a couple of directions. When it is finished, it is going to be spectacular. It hugs the rim, with some great views. I ran along another part of it the next day, chasing J on his bike (honestly, I do this a lot, because the trails he rides are too technical for me. I find I can keep up on hills. Any other time, not).

A crimson sunset fell over the lookout and a robe of stars spread out over the Cascade volcanoes. Somewhere down below us, there were thousands of people, but up here, there was only a cool breeze. This lookout has unheard of amenities, a stove, refrigerator, and an outhouse that is among the nicer kinds. I could live up here forever, I thought.



about this lookout



21 comments:

  1. Lovely getaway....sounds cooler, too! Fire lookouts are so intriguing....and built in some of the lovelier spots in the West.

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    1. I love them!I don't have the desire to hike to the ones that are on a hot treeless slope, but the remote ones are interesting.

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  2. Brings back the best of memories. My dad took care of lookout radios so he'd save those jobs for the weekends and we'd get to visit as a family. These were usually quite remote with little visitation so the rangers were always happy to see us, especially kids. I remember getting cookies on a few occasions. I could see you spending a lovely summer on one. I think it would suit me well also.

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  3. The few times I filled in as a lookout observer I had the same fears! Trying to keep track of lightning strikes, count ridges, etc. Fortunately, no lightning during my times....

    That was on a lookout on the Kootnai NF, a two mile drive then a two mile hike behind the old ranger station used as a work center. The wife of the seasonal station boss that summer was the lookout--they'd manned another lookout together the previous summer and he was a retired smoke jumper. It was close enough we could run up after work and got to know the trail well enough to not need a light coming down.

    This was back in the 1970s, with more lookouts in use, mostly with women observers--still had district leaders not wanting women around, so it was a good place to "put" them. The contract helicopter pilot in a little 3-person Bell enjoyed making evening visits to the more remote ones. He was a nice guy so the lookouts didn't mind the visits.

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. I was even more nervous the first few times I filled in as evening/weekend district dispatcher on the Bitterroot, worried about a sudden, big fire. But felt better when my boss told me if that happened I'd have the full authority he would have to call out necessary resources. Still, I was glad it was always quiet!

      Tom
      Fairbanks

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    2. I've heard that about women. In some places they were called Cloud Girls. There's a book in that...

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  4. Why did they build that lookout off the side of the ridge instead of on top?

    Tom
    Faibanks

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    1. I wondered that too and it was explained that the other lookout nearby has a 360 except for that piece down into the basin. Thousands of people go there so it was decided it was important enough to place there.

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  5. I have always admired the fire towers. It wpuld be the coolest thing to work or live in one or both. Do they man fire towers anymore?

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    1. Yes, a few of them. Others just have cameras.

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  6. Oh you were so lucky! I'd love to spend a night in a fire lookout tower. I should just get on the web and try and reserve one....

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    1. Good luck, people descend like vultures! You have to be early!

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  7. Fantastic! This sounds like such fun. I always thought I'd love to work in a lookout.

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    1. Same, maybe we should both just chuck this stupid office stuff and do that instead. Hat Point?

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  8. Replies
    1. I agree, people during the day but quiet at night.

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  9. And a fiery sunset to boot. Awesome!

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    1. Too bad it's booked for the rest of the year!

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