Fremont-Winema National Forest
Active; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
June 28, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Day 4/10: Lookout Road Trip 2022
We headed northwest towards the community of Sprague River. From HWY-140, we turned right on to Sprague River Road and followed it to Lone Pine Road. Immediately after turning right on to Lone Pine Road you will take another right on to NF-44. This road skirts between National Forest and private land. You will turn left on to NF-4542 from here. This road passes through an older burn area that is now covered in a dog-hair thicket of Lodgepole Pine. You will eventually come to a junction with NF-4555 off to the right that has a sign for Calimus Butte. Take this road to NF-150 which also has a sign for the lookout. There is no gate and the roads are manageable, so we were able to drive all the way to the summit once again. All the roads leading up to NF-150 were very good graveled or cinder roads. The only road that requires some caution is NF-150, but it’s not terrible.
We finally reached a lookout that we expected to be staffed with someone actually here. A reminder to respect the space of the lookout attendants and only approach or climb the tower if you’ve been invited to do so. After parking the car, we walked to the side of the lookout to take in the view. We hoped we would be invited inside since neither of us had been in a cupola before, but we never expect it either. The cupola style lookouts are my partner’s favorite. We heard some voices inside and eventually received a greeting from the lookout. She had poked her head out of the cupola window and apologized for not seeing us earlier. She offered to give us a tour, if we wanted, and we excitedly accepted. The lookout who was staffing Calimus Butte this season was named Sharon, she was accompanied by her dog and cat. One of her grandsons were visiting at the time as well. It was a full house. She showed off her National Historic Lookout Register from the FFLA and gave us a brief history on the lookout. We all climbed up to the cupola where she pointed out points of interest. This included surrounding peaks and other lookouts in the area. She also mentioned that she used the DragonPlot system and gave us a brief overview on how it works. The only other time we had heard of this system was on Sugarloaf Mountain when we met the weekend relief. It was interesting to see it in action and what it can actually do. She has the main computer for the system, while Sugarpine and Spodue mountain only have the tools and rely on her to get the information for them. Sharon was full of interesting stories of her time as a lookout at different towers. She was also very knowledgeable about the surrounding area and southwestern Oregon.
We told her about our current trip and that we were headed to Sugarpine Mountain tomorrow. She told us that the lookout was staffed by Ed who was a sweetheart. She also gave us the tip to camp at Head of the River, which is a primitive free campground. We did our best not to bombard her with too many questions, but we could have talked for hours. After saying our good-byes and taking a few more pictures, we headed out to the Williamson River Road. This is the road you would take to get to Calimus Butte if you were heading in from HWY-97. We turned into the forest to check out Head of the River and other potential dispersed spots. Unfortunately, the area just past the Head of the River was where the 2021 Bootleg Fire Complex burned. This fire was even spotted and called in by the Calimus Butte L.O. We drove through it a bit to see how bad it was, but it was not an area you’d want to camp in currently. We picked a spot at the Head of the River and set up camp for the night.
Sharon has been a fire lookout since she was 17 years old and grew up in the Galice OR area. She got her start when her boss at ODF needed someone to staff a local lookout. He told her she was going to do it since no one else would. Throughout her years as a fire lookout she has staffed many different towers; Sexton Mountain, Manzanita Mountain, Calimus Butte, Little Greyback, Onion Mountain, along with some in Idaho and Colorado. She jokingly considers Ron Kemnow her stalker because he has visited her at multiple different lookouts within different states unintentionally. One time was even during a thunderstorm. He lives close to Calimus Butte in the Sprague River Valley below. She was the last person to staff Onion Mountain through a contract with ODF and the Forest Service in 2009. She has staffed Calimus Butte for 5 non-consecutive seasons with the Forest Service. Her seasons on Calimus Butte typically run from Memorial Day to the end of October.
The history on Calimus Butte dates back to 1919 when a telephone line was strung to the summit with tent camp. A year later a 16×16 lookout with cupola was built. In 1922, the 14×20 2-room guard cabin was completed 2-1/2 miles from the summit. These were both built on reserved land for the Indian Reservation. In 1930, the cupola cabin was replaced with the existing D-6 cupola that stands today. Those who have managed this lookout has changed hands a few times throughout the years. In early years, the Forest Service had an agreement with the Klamath Indian Agency, who owned the lookout at the time, to help staff and maintain the lookout under contract. In 1961, the Termination Act lead to Calimus Butte Lookout becoming the responsibility of the Klamath FPA. It didn’t become the full responsibility of the Forest Service until the 1970s. It has been maintained and updated throughout the years, but its age is still a concern. It is still actively staffed every season.
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