Fremont-Winema National Forest
Active; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
June 30, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Day 6/10: Lookout Road Trip 2022
My partner and I packed up to head towards Bald and Walker Mountain for the day. If we finished early enough, we planned to head into the Umpqua NF for our final leg of the trip. We weren’t in as big of a rush this morning since we were only a few miles from Bald Mountain already. We didn’t want to arrive too early and disturb the lookout attendant. We were already situated off of NF-2516 and headed farther north towards the NF-036 spur. The road briefly passes through a section of private residence before re-entering the forest. It was good that we hadn’t tried to find a camp even closer to the lookout the night before. Where we had stopped turned out to be our best option. The forest had turned into another thicket of Lodgepole Pine once we passed through the private area. It was so thick in sections that it felt like we were walled in by trees on both sides. The NF-2516 road is well maintained gravel all the way from Silver Lake Road to HWY-31. From NF-2516, we turned left onto NF-036. If you’re coming from HWY-31, it will be off to the right. We were able to drive all the way up to the gate in my Civic. The NF-036 spur is soft and dusty, but passable. The gate is just after a tight switchback in the road which offers enough room for parking a few cars. We pulled into a pull out just before the gate and prepared to walk. We always like to make sure that we’re not blocking the gate and pulled far enough off the road for additional vehicles to pass. Normally, we don’t meet any traffic in these areas but you never know. This proved to be in good practice since we ended up having a large propane truck drive up during our visit. This only happens every few years to refill the tanks on the summit.
From the gate, it is another mile of road walking to the lookout. This was a pleasant morning walk to the summit. The road starts to open up to views before you reach the lookout and is lined with a variety of trees. We were able to locate White Bark Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Lodgepole Pine. When we reached the summit we could hear the lookout attendant talking to someone on the phone. We figured Ed mentioned to them that we would be visiting, but didn’t want to assume at the same time. We decided to take photos around the base of the lookout and take in the view while we waited. Eventually, the lookout attendant was finished with their call and came out on the catwalk to greet us. Similar to our interaction on Sugarpine, he asked if Ed sent us and we asked if he was Ron. It felt like we were getting passed along on a fun field trip of the area from one lookout attendant to the next. Ron invited us to join him on the catwalk and gave us a brief history of the tower. He was very gregarious and had a lot of knowledge about the surrounding forest. He mentioned he had just wrote a book about forest management and it’s relationship with fires. It’s called Axe-It First. This is why he was on the phone when we arrived. It was published that morning and he had been thanking those that assisted him in the process. We all talked for a long time, 2 hours to be exact, about our current state of things and what needs to change for things to get better. He realized quickly he was preaching to the choir. Ron had many stories to share and was happy to share them with us. So much so that it was hard to find a break in the conversation to even leave. His wife eventually called him and he had to step away to answer. We thanked him for his time and said our good-byes. We wanted to visit for longer, but we knew we needed to keep moving if we wanted to make it to Walker Mountain and the Umpqua NF.
Lookout Ron Rommel
Ron Rommel was born in 1950 and is currently 71-years old. He’s originally from Portland, but currently resides in a community just outside of La Pine. His background is in Forestry and he used to do tree inventory for the Forest Service. He has also worked in manufacturing and has a business degree. He has been a lookout on Bald Mountain for 4 seasons and is employed through the Walker Range FPA. Ron currently works the lookout on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He said he started staffing the lookout when his friend asked if he knew anyone who could help his wife out. She had been staffing the lookout for 30-days straight with no relief. Ron was interested and offered to help. When he first started, it was just the two of them alternating. The lookout is now staffed by three different people. He has communication with 7 different lookouts from Bald Mountain; Odell Butte, Sugarpine Mountain, Round Mountain, Hager Mountain, Green Mountain, Spring Butte, and East Butte. He published his book, Axe-It First, on June 30th. It is what he dubbed a call to action for our government and general population on our current fire management. Although I haven’t read it yet, it is on its way in the mail. I promised him I would help spread the word.
Bald Mountain, also known as Baldy, was first scoped for a fire site in 1907 when they planned on building a trail to the summit. In 1918, a telephone line was strung to the summit where they planned to add an observation station and firefinder. In 1927, they finished building a road on the mountain. A year later they constructed a 40′ steel tower with 12×12 live-in cab. This was a unique design from Aermotor and only a few were constructed like it. In 1941, they removed the old lookout and replaced it with the current one that stands today. It is a classic L-4 cab with treated timber tower and stands just below 30′. This site was originally managed by the Klamath FPA, then the Forest Service, and now the Walker Range FPA. It is still actively staffed every season.