Table Mountain was a nice way to end a long day. After dinner, we headed out of camp once more to catch the sunset. We took the Hyatt Prairie Road and turned on the road towards the Table Mountain Winter Play Area. It was only 2 miles to the lookout from this junction. The road condition alternated between pavement with potholes and good gravel. We stayed on the main road until we reached a 4-way junction. None of the roads are marked but you will want to take a right. You will meet a fork in the road shortly after this junction, stay right again. We decided to park here and walk the remaining distance since there is a gate. There is also a pull out just before the gate that offers parking for a couple cars.
The evening temperatures had dropped significantly from the 90+ degree day and made the short walk up very pleasant. This summit does have quite a few communication towers on it, but was surprisingly pretty. The tower is blocked off to visitors by a barbed wire gate. We were still able to spot Robinson Butte, Parker Mountain, Chase Mountain, and Soda Mountain from the base. Robinson Butte looked like David with Goliath Mt McLoughlin looming over it. We stayed on the summit for as long as possible watching the colors change from warm yellows to different shades of pinks and purples. We wanted to stay longer, but driving back in the dark didn’t sound appealing to either of us. We were also moving camps for the first time this trip and needed to prep for a longer drive day.
A 30′ pole tower with live-in cab was built on Table Mountain in 1931 by what was then known as the Crater National Forest. The Moon Prairie CCC camp added a garage and wood shed in 1933. It was replaced in 1958 with a 30′ treated timber tower and ODF-style cab. I believe it was decommissioned in the mid-1960s given that the garage was torn down and burned in 1963. The last noted use was in 1975 when it was staffed while Parker and Chase Mountain were being remodeled.
Our alarm went off begrudgingly at 6:30AM, a time at which we would wake many more times this trip. We had a jam packed road trip planned to visit 17 Fire Lookouts, potentially 18 if things went our way, in southern Oregon over the next 10 days. My partner and I knew we needed to get up if we wanted this to work, but the lack of sleep had us calling for the snooze button. I made the mistake of thinking I could squeeze in an afternoon hike and dinner with my friend before finishing off my needed prep the night before. Of course, things took longer than expected and I wasn’t in bed until well after midnight. My partner works a swing shift, so he’s typically not home until around that time as well. Needless to say, we are not early risers by any means (although I was for a brief time during my mid-twenties). Eventually we were able to collect ourselves enough to climb out of bed and start packing the car. Our plan for the day was to bomb down I-5 towards the most southern portions of Oregon. We would hit Sexton Mountain then cross over HWY-140 to Robinson Butte, and if time permitted we would head up to Table Mountain on our way to camp.
Sexton Mountain is located just off I-5 outside of the community of Sunny Valley. We were following directions from the Geocaching site that mentioned a route suitable for most vehicles. From I-5, we took exit 71 and turned left onto Sunny Valley Loop Road. You will want to take a right on to Placer Road that is immediately after the single lane covered bridge over Grave Creek. You will take another right onto Beecher Road that will eventually turn into BLM Road 34-6-12 that takes you to the junction of BLM Road 34-6-23 with a locked gate. It is around 5 miles from Placer Road to the gate. The road was passable but not necessarily great for low clearance vehicles. On the steeper sections there was wash out from water run off to straddle and the flatter sections had pot holes to avoid. The junction before the gate has ample parking for a few cars, though I doubt you will see anyone else. From the gate, you will need to road walk a little under a mile to reach the summit.
Summer decided to finally show itself with 90+ degree weather forecasted for the upcoming week. Given our recent bout with a wet spring, we had little to no time to acclimate to this warmer weather. I could feel the moisture leave my body the second I stepped out of the car and started hiking up the road. I was drier than the Alvord Desert despite constantly consuming as much water as possible. The hike to the summit isn’t long but it felt fairly steep. I struggled my way to the top with every hot dusty step. On the hike up, we were surprised to see two jeeps bumping down from the summit. At first I thought they must be some sort of maintenance crew since they were behind the gate, but then they took off on a bumpy road that seemingly headed down the side of the mountain. The summit is littered with communication towers and the lookout tower itself is locked behind a barbed wire fence. There wasn’t much of a view from the base either. It was definitely one of the least pretty summits we’ve been to so far. The original historic D-6 cupola cabin from the 1920s was cool though. We spent very little time on the summit due to the oppressive heat and pressed on to Robinson Butte.
Sexton Mountain was first established for fire detection in 1914 with a tent camp. A D-6 cupola cabin was constructed in 1920 and was used as the main lookout until 1932. They moved the existing D-6 cupola cabin over, lowered the cupola, and converted it into living quarters while a house with taller cupola was built for their working quarters. In 1962, the house with taller cupola was moved and turned over to the US Weather Bureau. A 30′ timber tower with Amort ODF cab was built to replace the house. It was maintained and used up until April 2006 when some vandals burned it to the ground along with some repeater antennas. The damages were estimated around $500,000 according to the Oregon State Police. A replacement all-steel 40′ live-in tower with flat roofed cab was built in 2007 and staffed well into the 2010’s. It is now only used in emergencies and the original D-6 Cupola from the 1920s can still be found on the summit.
Henkle Butte is a lookout ran by the Oregon Department of Forestry and staffed every summer. It sits on top of a butte that overlooks expensive neighborhoods in Deschutes County. The tower isn’t accessible to the public but can be viewed from the road. It’s listed on geocache and peak bagger sites, but it’s unclear if the summit is accessible to the public. Be aware a lot of this area is private property and posted signs should be respected.
Henkle Butte got it’s name from a competition. The commander stationed at Camp Polk offered a prize to the soldier that could make the quickest trek to and from the butte. It was around two miles northeast from the camp. The butte was named after the winner, Jeremiah F. Henkle. He was stationed at Camp Polk during the winter of 1865-1866. It is commonly mislabeled as Hinkle Butte. The first live-in fire tower wasn’t built until 1943. It was constructed from recycled material by the CCC as a 42′ tower with a 14×14 L-4 cab. The current structure was built in 1961 as a 3-story enclosed ODF cab.
My partner and I had visited Halls Point L.O. earlier in the day and were now headed to White Point L.O. from my parked car. It was only about a mile road walk from the road junction of FS-200 and FS-290. You will stay left on FS-200 until you reach a gate to get to White Point L.O. The gate was closed but not locked. On the final stretch of road to the lookout there is a large green metal billboard sign. I found this very odd and out of place. Apparently it used to say “White Point Drive-In Theater”, but had no signage when we visited which only adds to the mystery. After spending so much time ogling Halls Point L.O., this one was disappointing in comparison. I also found it interesting that Halls Point L.O. was painted white but White Point L.O. had a dark finish. A trip report from 2011 stated that this had been an actively staffed lookout for years but that the current lookout was worried about losing their job to infrared cameras. It looks like they have since been replaced by said cameras which was unfortunate to see. The catwalk was closed off for access and the windows have been boarded up. There was a 24-hour surveillance warning sign along with a camera. It was hard to tell if there would be much of a view on a clear day. The trees and shrubs seemed to be taking over the area. By the time we were at the lookout, we were in the heat of the day and I was tired from constant smoke inhalation. We didn’t spend too much time here before heading back to the car.
White Point L.O. is an Oregon Department of Forestry lookout instead of the typical Forest Service lookout. The first lookout at this site was built in 1951 with a 40′ tower and 14’x14′ live-in cab. It was replaced in 1974 when they dismantled the Burnt Peak L.O. They reused the wooden tower uprights from Burnt Peak L.O. to build a new 30′ tower with ODF cab. On the Oregon Lookout site it is described as a 28′ tower fitted with a 14×14 Amort flat roof cab.