My partner had found Craft Point through Rex’s Fire Lookout site, which lead to a Geocache that provided some direction on how to get there. We were already camping in the area for a visit to Calamity Butte and King Mountain with my partner’s dad. Based on the directions, we followed NF-28 to NF-2815 heading east to NF-046. We parked in a pull out near where the road was blocked off by larger rocks. Unfortunately, I don’t recall much about the road conditions since we were in the truck. But, I’m inclined to believe it was passable with caution to most vehicles. From where we parked, the directions get a bit loosey-goosey and becomes more of a choose your own adventure. We essentially cut into the forest from the road directly towards the ridge line above until we met up with the fence line. We turned right at the fence and followed it along the ridge. A few times we had to cross over the fence to stay safely on the ridge. We came to an exposed rocky section that no longer followed the fence. Here it was unclear which side of the ridge to stay on to best access the higher point. I was ready to call it quits, but my partner wanted to continue on. His dad and I sat in the shade while he explored on ahead. He returned a short while after exclaiming that he had found it. We followed him to the left side of the ridge that skirted below some larger rocks. Eventually, we met up with an old game trail that took us directly to the summit. The last portion of the trail was steep and headed directly up the slope. We enjoyed lunch on the summit. Getting back to the car was a bit easier since we just had to retrace our steps as best as possible.
Craft Point was built in 1930 as a 15′ pole platform tower. The site was never upgraded to a more substantial structure and was abandoned in the 1940s. It’s possible it was used during emergencies, but there is little to no information online about it. It has fallen into a state of disrepair but still stands.
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.
Ochoco National Forest; Managed by Malheur National Forest
Abandoned; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
June 17th, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
My partner, his mom, and I headed out on a 3-day camping trip to kick off her recent retirement. We left it up to her on what kind of trip she wanted to take, whether it be backpacking or car camping. She decided she was interested in visiting some Fire Lookouts with us and we set out to plan accordingly. Bald Butte, Dry Mountain, and Wagontire Mountain were all lookouts we had planned for our road trip this summer. They were a bit farther out than the rest of our route and we figured it would make a decent 3-day trip instead. This way we could re-route our road trip to other Fire Lookouts farther south as well. We headed out early Friday morning towards Hines, Oregon. We decided to drive her Honda HR-V since it can fit three people plus camping gear more comfortably than my Civic. It also has the added benefit of additional clearance for the rougher Forest Service roads. From Hines, we headed into the forest via the Hines Logging Road that is right next to the Sinclair truck stop. It will eventually turn into NF-47 once you reach the boundary. Our plan was to visit Bald Butte and Dry Mountain before setting up camp for two nights. You will want to take a left onto NF-41 after entering the forest to get to both of these. The turn is signed but it was hard to see from the approach out of Hines. We actually drove past it and had to turn around.
On our drive in we noticed there were interesting arrows and signage noting there would be bikes on the road tomorrow, June 18th. My partner and I joked that we always seem to run into these extreme races while out in the woods. It turns out we were right in assuming it was another one. We looked it up when we had service the next day and found the Skull 120/60/30, also considered America’s Gnarliest Gravel Race. It’s a gravel bike race hosted by Harney County to help showcase Eastern Oregon and help bring money into the county. There are three different lengths to the race you can sign up for; 38 miles, 65 miles, or the gnarliest 128 miles. We have also managed to stumbled upon the Baker City Cycling Classic during their Stage 4 Anthony Lakes Road Race in June of 2021. We were driving home from a 9-day backpacking trip through the North Fork of the John Day Wilderness when we had to drive around the peloton. My partner was also passed by some racers from the America’s Toughest Race while camping in the Deschutes NF with his dad in May of 2021. They even had a chance to talk to one of the racers and asked them where they were coming from to which they responded “a long ways away”. The America’s Toughest Race is a combination of foot travel, water travel, and cycle travel through rugged off trail routes. Everyone from your team must finish together otherwise you are disqualified. Anyway, it seems most of these races attract extreme masochists. It’s not what I would consider a fun time outside, but to each their own.
We were glad that we decided to do Bald Butte and Dry Mountain on Friday instead of Saturday. It seemed that a lot of the bike route for the Skull 120/60/30 was along the roads we needed to take to get there. You will be able to see Bald Butte L.O. as you drive along NF-41. It is a surprisingly nice paved Forest Service road that I expected to be gravel. From NF-41, Bald Butte is less than a mile up NF-4117 off to the left. There is a sign but it is covered by trees and I wasn’t able to spot it until we were driving out. Luckily, even without the sign it is pretty obvious which road will take you to the summit. There are some deep washouts and water bars along NF-4117 that would make the drive difficult to impossible for lower clearance vehicles. I wasn’t comfortable driving the HR-V up the road, so we parked near the NF-050 spur and walked the remainder. It was a pleasant walk to the summit and the road had a lot of wildflowers along it. The lookout on Bald Butte, unfortunately, has seen better days. The tower seems to be standing strong but the cab has lost a supporting wall and a few support beams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cab collapses under heavy snow within the next few years. I believe the glass was removed and salvaged by Howard Verschoor though. An assessment done by the Friends of the Blue Mountains Lookouts in 2021 found it to be too unstable for any additional salvage work. They even mentioned that it would be torn down later that year. We were happy to find that they were wrong and the lookout was still standing. There is a wire fence surrounding the base but someone had cut a hole in it and the trap door was open to the catwalk. Climb at your own risk. We savored the views and said our good-byes to the lookout before hiking down to the car and heading on to Dry Mountain.
Established in 1931, Bald Butte originally had a 45′ pole tower with 8’x8′ cab. It was replaced in 1959 with the existing R-6 cab and 41′ treated timber tower. It was moved to emergency use in 1964 and listed up until the 1990s. As of 2017, it has been listed for decommission by the Forest Service.
We woke up to snow flurries in the morning. It was cold but a welcome drier form of precipitation. Due to our previous day pre-pack, we only had to pack up our tent and sleeping gear before heading out. We shoved a quick bagel in our mouths and drove out of the forest back to HWY-395. Our plan was to head farther north on HWY-395 past Mount Vernon to Black Butte L.O. on the Malheur NF. We knew there was a nice dispersed camp along the road to the lookout thanks to an online source. From HWY-395 we turned left on County Road 88 just after leaving the Malheur NF and before reaching the community of Fox. There will be a sign for Black Butte L.O. from the turn on the highway. You will shortly re-enter the forest after you head down this road. From here you will turn left on NF-3955, left on NF-3956, and then left on NF-034 to reach the summit. As we started to gain elevation on the road we realized we would be hiking in snow today. I parked the car a little after the junction with NF-3955 and NF-3956 due to additional snow on the road. The camp we were originally planning on staying at for the night had a fresh blanket as well. We would need to revisit that plan once we were back at the car.
I was moving slower this morning and my partner had hiked ahead. I could still see him until he continued around a bend in the road. He had hesitated at a junction before continuing on straight. When I reached the junction myself I realized the road we needed continued to the left instead of straight. I headed straight to see if I could catch up with him but he was long gone. I mustered up all my lung power to call for him until he came back. Luckily he wasn’t out of ear shot and was heading back shortly after I called out a few times. The road at the junction with NF-3956 is unmarked and can look like NF-3956 continues straight. There are road signs for NF-3956 though, so keep an eye out for those. If you reach the spur NF-146 on the right you have missed your turn. If you’re driving a grocery getter like me, you will want to park at this junction and walk the remaining 2 miles to the lookout. We couldn’t see the exact conditions of the road but even covered in snow it looked really bad with large rocks and wash outs.
The fresh snow made the walking slow and we didn’t reach the summit until 2PM. It’s crazy to think just yesterday there was likely little to no snow here, but it now had at least 3 to 4 inches. Can you believe it’s the end of May?? As much as I complain, I know this precipitation is good for the east side and will hopefully delay the impending fire season. The lookout on Black Butte has seen better days. The solar panel is surprisingly still there, but they have removed the stairs and added a fence around it to help deter vandals. We briefly enjoyed the summit since it was cold and still snowing here and there. We once again said our good byes to Black Butte before hiking down since it is expected to be removed by the Forest Service. After 4 miles of cold feet, we decided camping in the snow sounded less than ideal. It seemed a bit ambitious to add Ritter Butte L.O. to our agenda for the day, but we concluded our best bet for drier camp spots was to continue on to the Umatilla NF.
Black Butte L.O. was constructed in 1933 as a 20′ tower with L-4 cab and still stands today. The tower legs, trap door, and roof were all replaced in the 1960’s. The foundation was later replaced in 1994. It was staffed during emergencies up until more recently. As of 2017, the structure has been listed as condemned and is slated to be removed by the Forest Service.
We headed back out on NF-14 after visiting Antelope Mountain L.O. until we reached NF-185. We were unsure how close we’d be able to get to Crane Point since we’d have to take three different three numbered roads. Three numbered roads in the forest are typically rough and best driven by high-clearance vehicles. Some were noted on the ranger district map as well maintained gravel, but I was skeptical. You will take NF-185 all the way to a major four way junction with NF-1450. From here you will turn right on to NF-1450, right on to NF-380, and then another right on NF-407 to get to Crane Point. We were able to drive all the way to NF-380 with no issues in my Civic. We made it about a mile down NF-380 before we decided to pull over and walk the remaining distance. The road was muddy and soft after all the recent rain. I think it would be a relatively drivable road in drier conditions for most.
I’d estimate we only walked a mile and a half to get to the platform. The road is signed for NF-407 but it would be easy to miss while driving. The platform used for Crane Point is still there along with the stand for the fire finder. It sits atop a rocky outcropping with views toward Monument Rock Wilderness and Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. We were even able to spot Antelope Mountain L.O. and what we thought to be Table Rock L.O. in the distance. I was surprised to find the fire finder stand was not bolted down to anything and still there. It has a heavy metal base, but people will walk off with anything. The platform itself was still in decent condition minus a few boards that had signs of rot. We were lucky enough to get to enjoy this summit rain free as well. As we started our walk back to the car another storm rolled in and we were once again in a rain cloud. A couple out on their ATV even stopped to ask us if we were doing ok. I always think about how odd it must be to come upon a couple just walking down a random Forest Service road. We told them about the old lookout structure just up the road and continued on. They probably assumed we were lost or broken down initially, especially since we drove a Civic and parked it in a seemingly random spot. I personally have never seen another Civic or equivalent car in the nitty gritty of the forest driving around unless I’ve been at a trailhead.
We made it back to camp relatively early in the afternoon and I decided to take a nap in the tent. My partner chose to wonder down the spur road we were camping on to explore a bit more. Eventually the rain storm turned into a thunderstorm. I read a book in the tent for a while before I decided to check and see if he made it back. He was hiding out from the rain in the car by the time I checked. Neither of us were looking forward to cooking dinner in the rain. We waited in the car until what seemed like a break in the weather. Once we were out and cooking it started raining again. We enjoyed our dinner from the warmth of the car. It obviously wasn’t going to get any drier here, so we decided to pre-pack most things wet for tomorrow morning since we would be moving camps.
Crane Point is listed on the Former Fire Lookout Site, but the platform and fire finder stand are still there. I would consider this an existing Fire Lookout site since the structure used is still partially there. It is also noted that fire crew’s will still use this area as a vantage point. The site was originally established in the 1930’s. The tent cabin used for the living quarters is no longer there. There is not much information on this lookout but based on older photos it was at least used up until the early 1960’s.
There are a surprising lack of dispersed camp spots off of the main four and two number roads in this area of the Malheur NF. We didn’t have a lot of day light left after visiting Dry Soda L.O. and Frazier Point L.O. Normally, we’d take the time to bump down every little spur that looked like it had potential until we found one that we both liked. We headed towards our next destinations in hopes that there would be a camp close to both. We eventually found one a few miles from the Antelope Mountain access road around 7:30PM and set up camp for the next two nights. After spending all day in a rain cloud, we were surprised that it had seemed to have cleared off for the evening. We were even able to muster up a nice camp fire before passing out. There was more rain in the forecast for tomorrow and we wanted to savor it while we could. My phone alarm abruptly woke us up the next morning at 6AM. I had forgotten to turn if off from the previous morning. We debated going back to bed for a few more hours but there were clear skies outside of our tent that told us to get up. We decided to get up and catch the nice weather while it was here.
I made us a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes to fuel us for the day ahead. Our plan was to head up to Antelope Mountain and Crane Point. We were camped very close to Antelope Mountain and it only took us a few minutes to reach the spur. The most direct route here is NF-14 to NF-1663 to NF-534. NF-534 is located just past the four way junction where NF-14 and NF-1663 meet. There is a sign for Antelope Mountain at the junction that makes it seem like you just need to continue straight on NF-1663 but you will need to turn right on to the first spur. The road up to Antelope Mountain was in great condition up until the last quarter mile. There seemed to be fresh gravel on this road as well. If you are driving a low clearance vehicle, you will want to park just before the fresh gravel ends and walk the remaining distance. There is no gate to stop you from continuing up the road, but the large rocks might.
We were surprised to see an SUV driving down the road when were parking to walk. We’ve hardly ever ran into anyone else while visiting fire lookouts unless they are off of a hiking trail or actively staffed. It was also still relatively early in the morning, we were on the summit before 9AM. Besides Steliko Point L.O., where we were physically staying in the lookout, this is probably the earliest we’ve been able to reach a fire lookout. It looked like the Forest Service had been up here recently prepping the lookout for the season. The shutters had been removed and were still on the catwalk. A ladder was also on the catwalk to gain access to the solar panel. Antelope Mountain is quite a ways out there, you can even see the edge of where the forest ends from the summit. We appreciated the nice break in weather that provided some decent views, but didn’t stay too long. We wanted to head on to Crane Point before anymore clouds rolled in for the day.
Antelope Mountain L.O. was first established in 1930 when a 30′ tower and L-4 gable roofed cab. This original lookout was unique in that it didn’t have a catwalk. A 16’x18′ garage was constructed on the summit in 1934. An inspection of this lookout was done in 1966 which found many deficiencies that needed repair or replacement. In 1974, the Forest Service put out a bid for work to move the lookout structure from Lake Butte to Antelope Mountain and remove the existing. The lookout on Lake Butte was a 16’x16′ R-6 flat top cab with catwalk and 31′ tower. The work was awarded to the Emert Industrial Corp from Clackamas, OR. They were able to complete this work in the fall of 1974 by loading the tower on a lowboy and the house on a flatbed truck. They used an 80′ boom truck to lift the house back on the tower once they reached Antelope Mountain. The pictures from relocations are some of my favorites from the archives online. Nothing looks quite as out of place as a fully intact lookout cab on the back of a small truck. Antelope Mountain continues to be staffed every summer due to it being one of the most southern lookouts in the Malheur NF that covers the driest portions of the district.
We headed deeper into the forest on NF-15 after a successful visit to Dry Soda L.O. You will stay on NF-15 until you reach the major junction with NF-16. Take a left on to NF-16 and then eventually a right on to NF-1630 that is only a short drive from the junction. NF-1630 is another well maintained gravel road with no hazards for low clearance vehicles. Good gravel, great gravel even! It’s better than some paved roads in Portland. The gravel looked very fresh and we speculated that it was possibly recently re-graded. You will stay on this road for a while until you reach the spur NF-849. It will be hard to miss because there is a sign for Frazier Point L.O. It is only another mile down NF-849. Most cars can make it the majority of the way on this spur. We decided to stop less than half of a mile from the lookout and walk due to some larger rocks in the road and wet conditions.
The lookout and living quarters are not in the best condition and the stairs have been boarded to prevent people from climbing the tower. The trees are tall here so you don’t get any views from the ground. This was fine considering we were socked in a rain cloud anyway. The cabin used for living quarters was unlocked and still had some items left inside; a table, bed frame, mattress, pot holders, and even a pan. I wanted to check out more in the bedroom but there seemed to be a nest of wood rats cozied up in the old mattress and some of the kitchen cabinets too. My partner hates rats and rodents of any kind, so he decided not to come inside the cabin. We said our good byes to the lookout before heading out to find a camp spot. Since it is listed for decommission by the Forest Service, we are never sure if we’ll be back before they tear it down. I’m always hopeful someone with more resources and money can restore or relocate these lookouts instead of having them torn down. And maybe one day I’ll be one of those people.
The existing lookout on Frazier Point was built in 1936 as a 100′ ring connected treater timber tower with 7’x7′ L-6 cab. It is accompanied by a 20’x20′ ground cabin, built in 1938, that used to be the garage. It was converted to the living quarters in the 1970’s when the original 14’x16′ cabin burned down. This tall tower has a collection of interesting stories in the book Fire Lookouts of the Northwest. It seems the height of the lookout had negative effects on a few of the attendants that have staffed it over the years. One of the more notable stories is of an unfortunate accident where a 4-year-old boy fell from one of the landings and died. This story is believed to be the reason why the Forest Service adds screens to the stairs and landings on every lookout. The site was originally established in the early 1930s as an emergency lookout post. They used a rocky point 1/2 mile from the current lookout site. It was actively staffed every season up until 2008. As of July 2019, the structure has been listed as condemned and is slated to be removed by the Forest Service.
Memorial weekend we set out with a plan. We’ve decided to focus on fire lookouts listed for decommission by the Forest Service. Our original plan was to see 6 fire lookouts over 5 days within the Malheur NF and Umatilla NF. It eventually evolved into 7 fire lookouts and ended with 8 total visited. As my partner likes to quote Elwood from The Blues Brothers: “We’re on a mission from God”. Despite neither of us being religious, we do feel a strong drive to see them while they are still standing. Each year the fire season poses a threat to these historic structures as large wildfires become more common and dangerous. The irony is not lost on me that they’ve played a role in the fire suppression that has helped lead to our current situation. But that is a topic for another post.
Our long weekend started on Friday, we woke up at 6AM and began our drive out to the Malheur NF. Our goal for the first day was Dry Soda and Frazier Point before setting up camp. Dry Soda is not on the list of fire lookouts for decommission, but it was on our way. Other trip reports mentioned the roads getting there were drivable to any vehicle. It’s one of the many aspects of the Malheur NF that I love. They always seem to have well maintained gravel roads, even the 3 number spurs, and are usually well signed. From HWY-395 you will turn onto County Road 65. This County Road turns into NF-15 once you have entered the forest. You will stay on this road until you reach the Wickiup Campground off to the right. You will turn right on this road and head up NF-1516 past the campground. This road will take you to a major four way junction where you will want to take another right on to NF-3925. The lookout is gated behind a short spur off of this major Forest Service road. We had no issues driving here in my Civic which added it to the short list of lookouts I’ve been able to drive all the way to.
Dry Soda is an active lookout, but it was still too early in the season for the lookout attendant to be there. Especially with this years late season snow and rain. While we were there, the rain clouds started to roll in for the weekend. I made a joke that we weren’t on Dry Soda anymore and that it should be called Wet Soda instead. We would continue to battle with this storm all weekend. We rejoiced on how easy it was to get here and hoped Frazier Point would be similar as we headed back down to NF-15.
The lookout on Dry Soda was built in 1941 as a 14’x14′ L-4 cab with treated timber tower. A few sources listed the tower height as 50′ and other sources listed it as 60′, but I’m unsure which of these sources are the most accurate. There is also a shed and pit toilet on the summit. The structure almost burned in the 2015 Canyon Creek Fire. You can see signs of how close the burn got on your drive up. It continues to be staffed every summer.
Ochoco National Forest; Managed by Malheur National Forest
Active; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
September 5, 2021
National Historic Lookout Register.
After exploring West Myrtle L.O. and Sugarloaf Mountain L.O. we decided it made the most sense to move camps the next day. Snow Mountain L.O. was in the area by forest standards but it would’ve been a long day of driving from our current camp. We drove out of the Malheur NF and into the Ochoco NF via FS-37 to FS-47 to FS-43. We drove FS-43 all the way to FS-4380 which lead directly to the lookout. We set up camp in the area and decided we had enough time left in the day to see the lookout. We figured if we were successful in seeing the lookout that afternoon, than we would have time to see Tower Point L.O. the following day. We continued up FS-4380 which was a decent road for my Civic until the last mile where it deteriorated significantly. I was able to drive within a 1/2 mile of the lookout, but it was another bumpy road that was graded over a scab and required caution. We parked in a pull out and walked the remaining distance. There were no trees on this summit and we could see the lookout from where we parked. We were surprised to find no lookout attendant onsite and the catwalk locked up. This is noted as an actively staffed lookout online and from what we could see in the windows there were signs that someone had been there recently. We speculated that the weekend fill-in attendant must have already left for the day and the full-time lookout had not arrived yet. We enjoyed exploring the summit undisturbed and what limited views we had before heading back down to the car. We did attempt to see Tower Point L.O. the next day but were unsuccessful. I ended up bottoming out on the ruts in the road and was too distraught to attempt road walking. Thankfully, my Civic only received minor damage to the heat shield.
Snow Mountain was developed as a fire lookout site in 1915 with a D-5 ground cab. They replaced the ground cab in 1930 with an L-4 cab. And later replaced the L-4 cab in 1961 with the present structure. The current standing lookout is a 10′ treated timber tower with an R-6 flat top cab. The summit also has a current Forest Service style vault toilet and communication towers. We weren’t able to climb the lookout but the views from the base would still be panoramic on a clear day.
There is a beautiful hand carved map in the Idlewild C.G. that we stopped at to fill our water containers. It notes most lookouts in this area except for West Myrtle Butte L.O. It is pretty rudimentary when it comes to the actual roads getting to these places but gives a general idea of what is in the area.
We decided we had enough time left in the day, after an easy visit to West Myrtle L.O., to visit Sugarloaf Mountain L.O. as well. We drove back down FS-37 until we passed Yellowjacket Reservoir and reached the junction with FS-3740. FS-3740 has a sign that notes Sugarloaf Mountain L.O. as 5 miles away. The road was basically graded over a scab which made it a bumpy 5 miles to the gate of the lookout. It wasn’t a great road to drive on but passable to my Civic with caution. We parked near the gate and hiked the remaining 0.64 miles to the summit. There was a Forest Service vehicle parked at the top and we were greeted by the fill-in lookout attendant a few minutes later. She was very friendly and chatted with us for 30 minutes before returning to work. She said she’d been serving in that role for the past 30 years. She had previously worked at King Mountain L.O. and Dry Mountain L.O., but Sugarloaf Mountain L.O. was her favorite by far. She hoped that once she retired the Forest Service would let her continue to be the fill-in there on the weekends. She was disappointed there wasn’t a clearer view to show off the forest to us. She also mentioned it made her sad that she had to close the gate to the lookout. You could tell she enjoyed interacting with people and sharing her love of the forest with them. Unfortunately we forgot to catch her name or what kind of work she does for the Forest Service during the week. We didn’t get invited up to check out the cab, but we assumed this was due to COVID-19 precautions given some comments she made during our visit. We enjoyed lunch at the picnic table below the lookout before heading back down the road. As we took a last look from the road, the lookout attendant came out to give us a parting wave and good-bye.
Sugarloaf Mountain has been used for fire detection since 1933 when a 15′ round tower with L-4 cab was built. The 16×18 garage was added in 1934 but has since collapsed. The roof remains can still be found on the summit. The present tower is a 32′ tower of treated timber with L-4 cab. It was built in 1949 to replace the older tower despite it still being in fair condition.
We stopped at Yellowjacket Reservoir on our way back to camp to see if it had water to refill our containers. The campground next to the reservoir was surprisingly empty given the holiday weekend, there were only a few campers and the host. It was a decent sized campground with vault toilets, potable water, and at least 20 spots. The reservoir was larger than I expected too, but still not large enough for motorized boats. It did have a ramp area for non-motorized boats and off-shore fishing though. We also stopped to take a look at the noted Turner Cabin along the road to Yellowjacket Reservoir. It’s technically on private property but it can be seen from the road. It looks to be well maintained by the owners and has even been updated.