Ochoco National Forest; Managed by Malheur National Forest
Emergency; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
June 17, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
After visiting Bald Butte L.O., we headed farther west along NF-41 until we reached NF-4120 off to the left. This road will take you all the way to the summit of Dry Mountain. There are a couple junctions along this road that could be mistaken for the route if you’re not careful but it is all signed and should be easy to follow if you’re paying attention. From the Junction of NF-41 and NF-4120 it is 12 miles of gravel to reach the fire lookout. The first 8 miles of gravel are well maintained and passable to any vehicle. It’s a really pretty drive through a canyon and ponderosa forest. The last 4 miles are a bit rough and rocky that could potentially be hazardous to low clearance vehicles. I was thankful for the additional clearance on the HR-V during this section and it had no issues driving all the way. My partner and I speculated whether we would be able to drive this section in my Civic. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it but I think we could have made it with a lot of caution, getting out to move rocks, riding high lines, and slow driving. It’s definitely a road for the heartier 2WD adventurers.
On the summit, there is a cabin and Aermotor tower with a couple communication buildings. The cabin is completely wood rat infested and I was only able to comfortably look inside from the frame of the un-locked door. My partner climbed all the way to the top of the Aermotor where he found a 2006 Burns Interagency Fire Zone Mobilization Guide and an old log book that the lookout attendants used. His mom and I only felt the need to climb part way up the tower to a few of the landings. You are basically on the edge of the forest and there is a lovely view into the valleys below. For some reason, there were a bunch of mosquitos in this area. It would be the only time we ran into them this trip but we all walked away with a few bites. They were so distracting that we even forgot to take our group picture with the lookout. My partner and I realized this after bumping down the road a ways but it was a bit too far to justify turning around. We were both pretty bummed even though it’s mostly for posterity.
After leaving Dry Mountain, we were able to find a nice camp with a view of Bald Butte and even enjoyed a camp fire. It wasn’t until we were getting ready to go to bed that it started raining on us. Yes, that’s right, more rain. Thunderstorms rolled in later that night and struck within less than a mile of our camp twice. My intrusive thoughts kept me up for most of the night after that. I ran through what I knew about thunderstorms and why or why not I would be its next target. Is being in a tent safe with metal poles? Does my air mattress act as a buffer since I’m not touching the ground? Is it more likely to hit the lightning rod on Bald Butte, the car, or the tree next to us? Is it better to be curled up or lay flat? Does moving around help or hinder? Does it matter if we’re on the highest point or not? Of course, the storm passed quickly and we were all fine, but it made me think about safety tips. There seems to be more thunderstorms on our recent trips and I’m sure there will continue to be more in the future as weather reaches more extremes and climates change.
Lightning Safety Outdoors
- The flash-to-bang method is the quickest way to calculate how close you are to a storm. It is calculated by how many seconds pass between the flash of lightning to the sound of thunder. You will then need to divide by 5 to estimate the distance it is in miles. I used to only count the seconds as the distance in miles which means some thunderstorms have been closer than I initially thought. If the time between lightning and thunder is less than 30 seconds, it is close enough to be dangerous.
- Minimize contact with the ground. Lightning is typically looking for the easiest path of least resistance to the ground. The best position to be in is crouched in a ball-like position with your head tucked and hands over your ears, avoid laying flat.
- Avoid elevated areas. If you’re on a peak or high point, attempt to reach lower ground and avoid sheltering under isolated trees. Lightning will most likely strike the tallest object.
- Avoid water and metal since both can carry an electrical current. If you’re in the water or on a boat, head to shore immediately.
- Find shelter. If going indoors is not an option, your hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled up or lower trees in a forest will work. Do not use a cliff or rocky overhang as shelter.
- Avoid open spaces. Avoid open vehicles and open structures since these will not sufficiently protect you from lightning.
- If you are in a group, separate. This will help reduce the number of injuries if lightning strikes the ground.
In 1929, a platform was constructed near the top of a yellow pine tree making a 110′ crows nest. This was the highest platform occupied by a lookout on the Ochoco NF. A ground cabin was added in 1930 for the lookout’s living quarters. The existing 70′ Aermotor tower with 7’x7′ cab was built in 1932. It was moved to emergency use in the 1970s, but has been staffed more recently in the 2000s during extreme weather by the BLM. As of 2017, it has been listed for decommission by the Forest Service.
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