Deschutes National Forest
Abandoned; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
May 15, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Sunday was our last full day of the trip. Our only set plan was to attempt to locate the Pumice Springs crows nest. I was given the choice to add on East Butte or Fox Butte since my partner had already been to both last year. I decided Fox Butte made the most sense since it was closer to our camp and recently slated for decommission. My partner’s dad decided to hang back at camp instead. After breakfast and packing a lunch, we headed out on NF-23 to NF-550. It didn’t take us very long to get there from camp. There are three water bars along NF-550 that will need caution if you are in a lower clearance vehicle. We obviously had no issues in the truck and parked at the signed junction for Fox Butte. There is a locked gate up the road that doesn’t have a pull out or turn around spot. We were well aware of this gate beforehand and didn’t attempt to drive up. The lookout is about a mile or so road walk from this junction. As we headed up the road, we were surprised to find the gate was actually open. I speculated that maybe the Forest Service was on top of their plan for once and had already torn down the lookout. Luckily, I was wrong and someone had just cut the lock. We made sure to close the gate on our way out in hopes to deter at least some vandals. The weather was clear and it felt like summer as we hiked the road. Once on the summit we checked out the L-4 ground cabin that had seen better days and climbed part of the Aermotor tower. My partner climbed all the way to the top, but I stopped on the second landing. It seems to still be in somewhat decent shape, but be wary to climb at your own risk. We spent some extended time on the summit since this would most likely be our last time up here before it’s gone.
After hiking back down to the truck, we headed out on NF-23 towards Sand Springs Campground. We were following directions based on a Geocache that was supposed to take us to the area of the crows nest. We turned left at the four way junction near Sand Springs Campground than right on to NF-900. The cache and crows nest were supposed to be right off the NF-900 road according to the coordinates. We wondered around the area for 2 hours trying to find the tree but all existing pines looked too young to host a crows nest. It was definitely not down this road. Another source had mentioned it was located half way between Pumice Springs and Sand Springs. We drove out towards Pumice Springs and kept an eye out for significantly taller trees in the area. I assume it is probably farther off the road than the eye can see but we didn’t have the hours to spend hiking off of every road in the area. We were unsuccessful in our attempt which was disappointing. This just means another trip to the area is in our future.
Fox Butte started as a lookout site in 1919 when a heliograph was set up on the west point. A year later, in 1920, they ran a telephone line to the butte from the Cabin Lake Ranger Station. A standard D-6 cupola was built on the western summit in 1924. The lookout was later destroyed by the Fox Butte Fire in 1926 that burned over 15,000 acres of timber. They started to rebuild a new lookout tower the following year. This was noted as a pole tower with ground cabin for living quarters. In 1933, they started construction on the eastern summit of the existing 80′ steel Aermotor tower. The living quarters from the western summit were moved to the eastern summit for use with the new tower. A 16×18 wood frame garage was added in 1934. The living quarters were eventually replaced with the L-4 ground house moved from Sixteen Butte in 1948. There is record of it being consistently staffed up until the late 1950s. It could have been used for longer but I wasn’t able to find a definitive date on when it was abandoned. The Forest Service briefly used the lookout for a season in 1995 while the East Butte L.O. was being reconstructed. It is now apart of their proposed plan to be removed.
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