Umpqua National Forest
Collapsed during the winter season 2021/2022
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
July 2, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Day 8/10: Lookout Road Trip 2022
We headed out from camp towards HWY-138 once more. Today we were backtracking to Watson Butte and Pig Iron. They are located on opposite ends of the same ridgeline. This made it an easy day for driving since they were both along the same route. From HWY-138 heading east, we turned left on to Mowich Loop Road. The road does as it describes and loops back around to HWY-138. That means there are two opportunities to turn onto this road. If you are coming from Diamond Lake, you will want to take the second turn off to the right that is across from Stump Lake near milepost 67. Technically, both will get you to where you want to go but it’s shorter from this route. We bumped down a pothole filled road until we came to a junction. If you continue straight, it will take you to the Clearwater Forebay. You will want to turn right to stay on Mowich Loop Road. There is a gate here that is seasonally closed to winter traffic. The road improved after the gate but still had a few potholes to avoid. Eventually, you will come to an unmarked T-junction. Mowich Loop Road continues to the right and NF-100 is to the left. We turned left on to NF-100. If you stay on this road it will take you all the way to the gate for Pig Iron L.O. We decided to visit Watson Butte first.
From NF-100, we turned on the first road off to the right. This is the NF-150 spur and does have a sign. We were slightly worried about the roads after seeing the condition of the Mowich Loop Road. The rest of the route was along three number spurs and we hoped we would be able to get close enough to make the hike. We were pleasantly surprised to find the three number roads were in better condition. The only road hazards we met along NF-150 were downed trees. Some of the trees were already cleared by tree cutters, but some were not. We had a buck saw with us and decided to do some road maintenance for the Forest Service. And by we, I mean my partner. I helped clear the area once the trees had been cut though. NF-150 eventually leads to a odd 5-way junction at the Watson Saddle. On the topo map, the road we wanted was labeled NF-164. Based on the directions from the Forest Service, you should take the road farthest to the right. Most of the roads at the junction are not marked though. We were able to find an NF-170 road marker on the road farthest to the right. This was confusing to us since it didn’t match the road numbers on the map and NF-170 should be off to the left. But, It did look like the road most traveled and was farthest off to the right as the Forest Service had recommended. We headed up NF-170 to the right until we were met with a section that started to get brushy. This made us second guess our decision and we headed back to the odd junction. We walked around the junction looking for any confirmation that NF-170 was the correct road. Eventually, we gave up and drove back up NF-170 to the brushy section. We parked in a pull out on the exposed portion of the road just past the brush and decided to start walking.
The Manzanita and Ceanothus were encroaching on the road in some portions and there were a couple down trees, but otherwise it wasn’t in terrible shape. There was a point in the road where it opened up to a view of what we assumed to be Watson Butte. I could see signs of a structure, but it was hard to tell exactly what I was looking at from that distance. I thought it looked collapsed, but I was hopeful my view was just obstructed. We walked for about a mile until we came to the trailhead. There is still a sign noting where the Watson Butte Trail #1443 starts. There was even enough room for a couple cars to park. It is obvious that this trail doesn’t see much use. From the trailhead, it is another 1.1 miles to the summit gaining around 600′ in elevation. We started out by following an old decommissioned road bed until it met with the base of the butte. The trail started to gain more elevation once we left the road. The trail continues faintly through a mostly shaded forest. It was especially faint among the switchbacks. We were able to stay on track by looking for the trail bench in the more overgrown sections. The final push is steep, but eventually opens up to an exposed summit. My partner had made it to the summit before me and I called out to ask if it was still there. He was oddly quiet in response. Eventually, I rounded the corner and saw why. We were too late. We had known Watson Butte L.O. was in bad shape and had been for years, which is why it was on our priority list to visit. There were posts of it standing the year before and we thought we had time. But, we were still too late. Watson Butte L.O. was nothing more than a pile of boards.
I’m not sure if we were the first to discover this or even hike the trail this year, but we were the first to report on it. Nothing can prepare you for coming upon a fire lookout you thought would be standing only to find it destroyed. My partner was in disbelief and even speculated that maybe someone vandalized it. But, to me, it looked like it had succumbed to the elements and time. We had a moment of silence for the lookout that once was before heading back down. It was a sad reminder that we are not going to be able to see them all standing. Some will burn in our ever present fire season, some will be removed by the Forest Service, and others will simply waste away in time. But for now, up a confusing network of poorly marked roads to an overgrown and fading trail you can still hike to what remains of Watson Butte L.O.
Normally, I only like to post pictures I’ve taken myself of the Fire Lookouts but I decided to make an exception for Watson Butte. This lookout was built in the 1930s as an L-4 ground cabin. The Forest Service notes this as being built in 1934, but other sources claim it was built in 1937. Either way it had been standing for at least the last 84 years. Before the lookout structure was built, it was established as a camp and a telephone line was extended to the summit in 1920. It hasn’t been actively staffed since the 1960s. At one point there was talk of salvaging it for the rental program, but this never happened. According to Facebook, the last person to have record of it standing was on May 24, 2021. It most likely collapsed under the snow during the winter of 2021/2022.
4 thoughts on “Watson Butte L.O.”
Wonderful views, but sad to lose yet another old lookout. 😥 I was also saddened to find that the old lookout on Abbott Butte, which I photographed still standing in 2015, had collapsed completely in late 2021 or early 2022. Done in by the wind and/or the snow.
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It was a really pretty summit! But very sad to see it like that. Abbott Butte is another one I didn’t get a chance to see standing either. It’s unfortunate, but not everything can stand the test of time. I’m happy to hear there were people who enjoyed it while it was standing, like you! Do you have pictures of it on your site? Bull of the Woods was one I got to see while it was still standing in 2018, but burned down in the 2021 fires.
There are pictures on my site (search for Abbott Butte 2015) of the old lookout still standing complete. Later its roof collapsed then the whole structure. 😞