This winter has been rough on us in every aspect; mentally, physically, and financially. We traded in our hiking sanity for house hunting this last November. This continued well into December and January leaving little time for any outdoor fun between holidays, birthdays, and other associated events. We finally had an offer on a home accepted at the end of January. After that we felt like we were in the home stretch to getting back outside, but the house hunting was only replaced by paperwork, moving, and home projects. Don’t get me wrong we are very excited to be home owners and to have a space that we can do with as we please. But, we are having a hard time finding the balance to get back outside between our opposite schedules and ever growing project list. The everlasting snow and wet winter weather hasn’t helped any either. I won’t elaborate on the nitty gritty since I’m sure many of you are already seasoned home owners and too familiar with the ups and downs that come with it. This isn’t to say we haven’t been outside at all this winter, but it has been far less than either of us would like.
We decided to put down our tools and carve out some time for something fun this last Sunday. The weather wasn’t promising and threatened for some lower elevation snow that almost kept us home. The Tillamook Forest Center has been on our list to visit, but it has been closed the last couple of years due to the pandemic. It finally re-opened its doors to visitors on March 17th with limited seasonal hours. They plan to resume regular operations in May. We decided this fit the bill for what we needed. We could check out a fire lookout, enjoy some fresh air away from our house, and read up on some history of the area. It is only 50 miles outside of Portland and is easily accessible off of HWY-6 within the Tillamook State Forest. I checked the trip check camera’s before heading out and everything looked free and clear. There was still a lot of fresh snow built up along the sides of HWY-6 though. A reminder to us that our higher elevation fun was going to be delayed even longer this season, I guess the groundhog was right about this one.
We got to the Forest Center around noon and started by climbing the lookout tower. The stairs were metal and nicely graded for public access. We only had the cab to ourselves for a brief moment and decided to climb back up on our way out instead. It gets easily crowded on a small catwalk, so be mindful of other people. We headed down to check out the interior of the museum and gift shop as well as deposit our donation in their adorable fire lookout kiosk. I am working on collecting magnets with fire lookout towers on them and their gift shop did not disappoint. We spent a good amount of time checking out the exhibits they had in place and reading up on the history. We didn’t stop to watch the 15-minute film “Legacy of Fire” that plays throughout the day, but I am sure it is worth a watch! The center definitely sparked my interest in expanding my knowledge on the state forest and the historic burn. We headed outside to walk along the interpretive trails that surround the center. While heading toward the trails, we noticed that the tower was currently unoccupied and decided to climbed it again to take some more pictures before continuing on. The back of the center is defined by its 250′ long pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the Wilson River. It connects to the Wilson River Trail and Jones Creek Campground on the other side. We didn’t cross the bridge since we didn’t get up early enough for a longer hike along the Wilson River Trail, but we will be back to the area some other time for the things we missed. After walking along the Riverview trail, we found a picnic table directly in the sun that was calling our name for a late lunch. We soaked in as much vitamin-D as the clouds would allow before packing up to head home. The FFLA and many fire lookout enthusiasts would not consider this an actual fire lookout tower given that it was only built for display, but I still consider this our first of the season.
This fire lookout has no true history in fighting fire on the forest, but it was built in 2006 as a replica with education in mind. The tower stands 40′ tall and is open to the public to climb when the center is open. The center is based around the history of the Tillamook Burn that devastated the forest in a series of large fires. It expands from that to provide information about the indigenous people, the first homesteaders, and how proper forest management can protect from future fires. I was surprised to find out that the Tillamook State Forest is a mostly hand planted forest due to the burn. The center is owned and operated by the Oregon Department of Forestry, but it is an extension of a major public-private partnership that took 10-years to develop. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated if you plan to visit. Make sure to check operating hours before visiting.
Ever since our first trip up to Rocky Butte (post) last winter, we have wanted to connect the trail to Grasshopper Point. We also wanted to squeeze one last backpacking trip in before calling our end of season. This isn’t a traditional backpacking destination given that it’s not in a wilderness and the trail is short. We planned to hike to Rocky Butte and drop our gear before continuing our hike to Grasshopper Point. Directions to the trailhead for Rocky Butte can be found in my previous post. There is an old fire ring on the summit of Rocky Butte that was most likely left over from when it was in service and where we would set up camp for the night. Oregon Hikers (post) has marked this hike as a lost hike, so continue at your own risk. We pin pointed our bearing with a compass and ranger district map before starting the remainder of our hike. Or I should say, my partner did this and I watched to learn. This is helpful if you know where you are currently located on a map and where you are wanting to head. It will help keep you on track in the general direction from point A to point B. Continuing up and over Rocky Butte the trail is still well defined. We followed this to the first road crossing with NF-130 and picked the trail up down the road to the left. From here the trail alternated between visible tread and following the flagging. There were only a few spots that caused us to pause and search a bit harder for flagging, cut logs, or a blaze in the trees. The cross-country hiking here is fairly easy and could still be accomplished by following the path of least resistance along the compass bearing. We reached a second road crossing with NF-140 that had an OHV trail #475 sign on the ground pointing towards an old decommissioned road. We followed this well worn tread until we spotted an old trail sign for #475 nailed in a tree off to the left. Reading the detailed description from Oregon Hikers led us to believe we should turn here. There was also another old sign nailed to a tree off to the right side of the OHV trail. This implied that the hiker use trail crossed the OHV trail here. After searching around the signed tree we were unable to find any obvious tread or flagging to indicate a trail. We decided to follow the OHV trail instead since it was well defined and if it truly did follow the old NF-142 road it would get us close enough to cross country back to the actual trail.
We followed the road tread until it petered out and turned into a user trail with flagging to the left. This eventually connected to a more obvious trail that we could only assume was the one we needed. It seemed well defined heading both left and right, but given the lack of trail near the signs we found we didn’t believe it stayed that way for too long. We turned right to continue towards Grasshopper Point. There were patches of snow through out the trail as we gained elevation, but now most of the trail was covered. Someone had been here fairly recently as we started to follow footprints. I assumed they were a hunter given that it was Elk Season and not many other people head out this way during this time of year. It’s always good to be aware of your state hunting seasons when recreating in the shoulder season. We like to use the big game magazine to gauge the risk of the area by checking the type of hunt and number of tags taken out. We also wear blaze orange beanies while hiking during hunting season. This felt particularly necessary since we were hiking on a less traveled trail and somewhat cross-country. We followed the snowy track and footprints all the way to the NF-4860 road crossing. There is a post here to mark the trail for OHV users. The footprints and trail continued directly across the road to head up the final side of the point. We followed the footprints and flagging for a while but it seemed like the trail started to head down the slope. The footprints had also disappeared and deviated from the trail here. We decided to head straight up the slope instead of following the trail down. This is were things got confusing for us. We figured we were very close but couldn’t find anything in the obvious clearings. The description we had of the area wasn’t very helpful either and, if anything, confused us more. We spent a good chunk of time backtracking and circling around the broad summit. We were about to give up and start heading back when my partner stumbled upon the foundation blocks. Success! It looks like some of them have been moved from their original location, but they are still there. I will continue the directions from where we left the “trail”. After heading up the slope to the flat summit, you will continue farther until you reach a well defined road. This road was not listed on our ranger district map. Where we came out there was a post which made us think this was at one time a trail. Take a left on the road and follow it. The road makes a bend to the right where we found another post with a US Forest Service marker off to the left. This also seemed to be marking a “trail” and might be where the trail we were following earlier comes out but I can’t say for sure. We continued on the road past the bend. Shortly after this the road makes a fork. The left fork is faint while the right fork is defined. If you head down the faint left fork you can find the foundation off to the left of the road. It is in a rocky area and might be hard to spot if you’re not looking closely. We saved ourselves any further confusion on the way back by going the same way and avoiding the other potential “trails”. This hike was around 4.7 miles RT with 1,010′ in elevation gain.
Grasshopper Point (5,385′).
Former Fire Lookout Site Register: US 597; OR 38
A tower was first built on Grasshopper Point in 1933 as a 72′ timber tower with L-6 cab. The following winter it was blown over during a storm. They re-erected the tower in 1934. I’m inclined to believe they built it taller given other sources list it as an 84′ treater timber tower, but it’s also possible these are conflicting heights. It was used as an Aircraft Warning Station in the 1940s. Old photos show there was a cabin for living quarters and another structure that was either used for storage or a garage at the base. It was last staffed in 1964 and destroyed sometime between 1967 and 1969 by intentional burning.
Rocky Butte (4,796′).
Not registered on the National Historic Lookout or the Former Fire Lookout Site Register.
There is minimal information on when Rocky Butte was built but it pre-dates 1930. It was most likely abandoned in the 1930s or 1940s, but still stands today. This crows nest sits atop a 60′ Ponderosa pine. The guy wires, some of the top boards, and most of the ladder are still present.
Mt. Hood National Forest; Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area
October 23, 2022
The fires this season might have been late to arrive, but they have also been late to leave. Rain was finally in the forecast for the weekend after an unusually dry and smoky start to October. They were even calling for snow on peaks as low as 5,000′ which meant we would have to start limiting our options. We decided to focus on former lookout sites close by after I vetoed driving down to Bland Mountain and Tiller area for a one night trip. I was craving a slower weekend after being in Minnesota for a week, camping with Garnet’s dad for a weekend, and then Arizona the weekend after that. We settled on Pepper Mountain for one and decided to add Larch Mountain since they were off the same road. The gate up to Larch Mountain was still open for the season too (it closes around mid-November depending on snow levels). We headed out of town just after 8AM only briefly following I-84 into the Columbia River Gorge until we reached exit 22 towards Corbett. We followed Corbett Hill Road and signs towards the Vista House until it met up with E Larch Mountain Road. You will want to take the fork off to the right to head towards Larch Mountain. We stayed on this road for a little over 4 miles and turned left onto SE Brower Road. From this road we were looking for NF-1500 off to the right. This can be found just under 2 miles down Brower road and has a notable shelter at the junction. This is used as a private drive as well so we parked in a pull out just a few 100 yards past the road. This is where we started our hike up to Pepper Mountain.
We hiked along the NF-1500 road to a junction just before we reached the residence. There is an old overgrown road off to the right of the house that you will want to take. We followed this until we met a fork in the trail. It is a faint junction, so pay close attention. If you head left, it will take you to the summit. If you head right, there is a view point out towards the Tualatin Hills. The trail heading left has a lot more brush and is less defined, but was still easy enough to follow. I would recommend long pants for this hike no matter the season since there are a lot of prickly berry bushes along the route. As we were hiking up, we spotted a cable along the side of the trail. I thought maybe it could be an old guy wire from the former lookout, but others mention it was used for logging the area. The trail eventually dead ends at a small clearing on the summit that was the former lookout site. There are no remaining views which made it an appealing pick for a rainy weekend. Most trip reports from the area mentioned there were no longer any remains on the summit. We found that hard to believe and did a thorough search of the surrounding area. I found a hole which I thought looked like a filled in pit toilet area (it’s possible it was just a hole though) and my partner was able to find some old cement blocks that must have been part of the foundation. Some were fairly mossy and appeared to just be large rocks at first, but upon closer inspection were obviously man made. They looked like they had been dug up and tossed from their original location. We speculated this probably happened whenever they logged the area. Fairly satisfied with our find, we headed back to the car to continue on to Larch Mountain. This hike was roughly 2 miles round trip with 700′ in elevation gain.
We headed back from SE Brower Road and turned left to head farther up E Larch Mountain Road. I didn’t do much prior research on how to get to Larch Mountain, but I was fairly certain this road would dead end at the summit. If not, I knew it was a popular enough area to have signs. Shortly after leaving Brower Road, we entered the Larch Mountain Corridor. This is a protected area around Larch Mountain designated for recreation. As we drove further up the mountain, we started passing multiple cars in pull outs. We joked that this was all the overflow parking for the Larch Mountain trailhead, but figured that they were more than likely mushroom foragers given the recent rain. That is until we passed the base camp of some very official white vehicles with flashing lights. It was a search and rescue operation. Who or what they were looking for was unclear, but there were a lot of them. Almost every pull out up to the summit of Larch Mountain was filled with official or volunteer vehicles. We continued on since there was no area closure or blockade, but it was a bit unsettling. A half of a mile from the summit we started seeing snow. It was mostly melted on the pavement, but it looked like it received at least an inch or two recently. This was a surprise given that the forecast only called for snow in the 5,000′ range. We seem to be making hard shifts into our seasons this year. We reached the summit shortly after we met the snow and parked the car. There were 11 other cars here around noon. I assume on a clear sunny day this parking lot is already full by this time.
From the parking lot, we decided to set out to find the old foundation spot first. We were able to locate this quickly by heading up the paved trail between the bathrooms and picnic area. It was less than half a mile from the parking lot. There isn’t much left besides a few foundation blocks, a cement slab where the storage shed was located, and the retaining wall. But, I’m glad they didn’t pave over it when developing the area. I believe you can connect to Sherrard Point from here and make a loop, but it looked slick with the recent snow coverage. We headed back to the parking lot and headed to the right where there’s a sign for Sherrard Point. This is a flatter portion of the paved trail that will take you to the stairs that lead up to the point. It is also less than half a mile from the parking lot. Both areas play a role in Larch Mountain’s fire history. We decided to have our lunch on Sherrard Point since no one else was here at the time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a view due to the clouds. We had planned to continue our hike around the crater of Larch Mountain to get some additional exercise, but the unplanned snow and minimal day light left dissuaded us. We saw what we had set out to see and that was enough for us this time. We took the lazy approach to this summit by driving there and not hiking around the rim. But if you’re up for a challenge, Larch Mountain can also be accessed from the Multnomah Falls trailhead via a 14 mile round trip hike. As we drove back down the paved road, we passed the Search and Rescue team again. This time they had all gathered in a group and some of them even had overnight packs on. We tried to do more research on this when we were back in town, but they hadn’t posted anything about it. A healthy reminder to research an area before you visit, know your limits, and come prepared with the 10 essentials. We all assume a risk when recreating outside, but accidents can happen. I hope whoever they were searching for is ok and located quickly.
Pepper Mountain (2,137′).
Former Fire Lookout Site Register: US 1759; OR 504
Built in 1937 as a 10′ wooden tower with L-4 cab. It was briefly used for the Aircraft Warning Service between 1942 and 1943. The tower was abandoned in 1955. It was removed sometime afterward 1957, but I couldn’t find a specific date or year. Old panoramic photos from 1933 show a crows nest style lookout in the picture. I am unsure how long the site was used for fire detection prior to that picture.
Larch Mountain (4,058′).
Former Fire Lookout Site Register: US 609; OR 50
The site was established for fire detection as early as 1910 when a fire finder was used on the rocky outcropping of Sherrard Point. Between 1914 and 1915 a platform cab was built atop two 90′ fir trees. It was replaced by a 90′ steel tower with 7’x7′ cab and accompanying ground house in 1924. This site was used for the Aircraft Warning Service as well between 1942 and 1943. The last structure to be built on the summit was in 1945. They replaced the steel tower with a tall timber tower and L-4 cab with observation deck below for visitors. I am unsure of the actual height of the tower due to conflicting information from multiple sites, but it was somewhere between 80′ and 100′. The lookout structure was removed in 1976.
The FFLA stands for Forest Fire Lookout Association and was founded in 1990 by a small gathering of enthusiasts. It has since grown to over 1,400 members across multiple local chapters within the states. Its main goal is to help spread awareness and advocate for the protection, restoration, and maintenance of historical Fire Lookouts. This is accomplished through grants, donations, and the partnership of volunteers, local public groups, and government agencies such as the Forest Service.
It has been two years since the last FFLA conference was held due to the Pandemic and six years since it’s been in Oregon. I wasn’t a member nor was I even aware of the Forest Fire Lookout Association at that time. I didn’t even visit my first Fire Lookout until 2017 (post). This particular conference was also important since it would be the first with their new chairman. I originally wasn’t going to go due to prior plans for that weekend, but things changed and I decided to commit to going by myself. I was a bit nervous since I would not know anyone there and would likely be younger than most. I also had no background in Forestry or Fire Lookouts to offer besides the fact that I found them interesting and wanted to be more involved. My partner was going to be out of town on his annual week-long camping trip with his dad. I was relieved when he decided to change around his plans a bit to meet me there. I have no problem traveling on my own or visiting places alone, but the social interactions are what made me the most nervous. My partner could talk for hours about Fire Lookouts and their history. He also has a better memory for it than I do. I didn’t have confidence that my own knowledge and interest would hold on its own.
This year the conference was being held in Enterprise, Oregon. My partner would be driving separately from their camp in the Ochoco NF to meet me at the Wallowa Lake State Park. And I would be heading over from Portland mid-day Thursday. It is roughly a 5-1/2 hour drive from Portland to Enterprise and closer to 6 hours to Wallowa Lake State Park. As the conference drew near, we were both contemplating whether we should still go or if it would even still happen. The Double Creek Fire had recently taken off and was currently burning at 155,297 acres with 15% containment (source). There were also the smaller Nebo, Sturgill, and Goat Mountain Two Fires burning in the near by Eagle Cap Wilderness. These were all coming together to cause poor air quality and heavy smoke for the area. Normally, these conditions would cause us to look for other plans. The FFLA didn’t seem too concerned though based on their updates and posts. The state park also had no notices or cautionary warnings about the fires. We figured if they cancelled our reservations that would be the final sign for us not to go. The cancellation never came and the air quality started improving by the day. We ultimately decided to go since the conference probably wouldn’t be held in Oregon for another few years. And it might be our only chance to meet some of these people in person. The weekend forecast called for rain and potential thunderstorms. I was hopeful the rain would be enough to dampen the smoke and that the thunderstorms would be minimal. I ended up working a lot later than expected on Thursday and didn’t make it to our camp until after 9PM.
We woke up extra early to give us enough time to make breakfast and head over for check-in around 8:30AM. I was worried about being there late, but we ended up getting there fairly early. We noticed they had muffins, fruit, and coffee set out for the members to enjoy (something that would have saved us some time this morning if we had known beforehand). I was thankful for the coffee since I didn’t have time to percolate any in camp. We found some seats and nervously waited for the conference to start. Bob Bonstead, the head of Friends of Blue Mountains Lookouts, was hosting the conference this year. I had e-mailed him earlier this summer looking for potential volunteer opportunities, but I was a bit too late to be apart of their planned work parties for the season. He started the conference by a short presentation and introduction to our new FFLA chairman, Brad Ells. We also individually introduced ourselves with a short description on where we were from and our background in Fire Lookouts. It was fun, and a bit weird, to finally match faces to well-known names in the community. I’ve read so much about some of these people I felt like I already knew them. Like I said, weird. After our introductions, the presentations began for the morning and were as followed.
Welcome/FFLA State of Affairs.
Ray Kresek’s Fire Lookout Museum.
Cougar Pass L.O. & Commercial/Residential Pole Lookout Construction.
Pilchuck Restoration Lessons Learned.
During one of the breaks between presentations, I overheard someone asking the check-in if someone named Garnet was here. He was in the bathroom at the time, but I stopped to see how or why they might be looking for my partner. The person who had asked was the Lookout Relief, Bob, for Desolation Peak and Table Mountain. He had heard about my partner through his group chat. My partner had visited Mt. Ireland L.O. the day before to help break up his drive to the area. He had met the Lookout Attendant, Warren, and his wife currently on duty. They apparently bonded about their interest in Fire Lookouts and talked for hours. Warren enjoyed it so much that he mentioned him in the group chat and Bob wanted to meet him too. Garnet eventually came back and I waved him down. They talked for a while, but we had to sit back down for a few more presentations. When the conference stopped to take a break for lunch they talked a bit more and exchanged numbers. It was too bad since Bob had to leave to be back on duty, otherwise we would’ve tried to get to know him more. After lunch the conference hosts lookout tours in the area starting at 1:30PM and then a dinner at 6:30PM. We had brought a lunch with us but needed to make a quick stop at the store, gas station, and decided to head back to camp to swap cars. This made us late for the tour caravan. We still managed to see two Fire Lookouts that evening though, one of which lead us to completely missing the taco dinner that night.
We continued our theme of being late this morning. We had decided to sleep in a bit since we knew there would be some food provided for breakfast this time, but we still had a hard time sticking to the schedule. We came in and quietly stood in the back while the former chairman gave a speech about the projections for the association. There were more people here today and less available chairs. Eventually, someone kindly waved us over between presentations and made room for us to sit the remainder of the time. The presentations for the day were as followed with a break in between.
FFLA Past & Future.
Hat Point L.O. and the Battle Creek Fire.
Piecing Together Olympic Fire Lookout Stories.
AI Software for AlertWildfire Camera System.
Geocaching Lookout Challenge.
Bootleg Fire Forest Management Differences.
Afterwards, we took an hour break for lunch before meeting back up for another lookout tour. We brought our lunch and stayed at the post to avoid being late again, besides making a quick run to refuel. A few other members stayed behind to eat their lunches as well. We had the pleasure of mainly talking and eating lunch with Leslie Romer, the author of Lost Fire Lookout Hikes and Histories: Olympic Peninsula and Willapa Hills. It’s always interesting to hear about someone’s background and what brought them to the Fire Lookout community. We checked out some of the items up for silent auction and by then it was time to head out for the tour. We followed the caravan to the lookout we’d be touring for the evening. There was potential for everyone to visit Elk Mountain which is private as well, but the rancher didn’t want any vehicles with a catalytic converter driving through the tall grass. This eliminated almost every vehicle there. We decided to make a stop over at another lookout on the way back. We would’ve tried for a third, but we didn’t want to miss out on another dinner. We were still a few minutes late, but made it in time to eat Pizza and hear some of the final presentations. The night ended with the conclusion of the silent auction. I won my bids on a framed snowy picture of Swiftcurrent L.O. in Glacier NP and two books, Biography of a Small Mountain by Donna Ashworth and A Well Worn Path by Jay H. Cravens. Garnet won his bid on the book How High the Bounty by Jessie Louetta Wright, but was out bid on a shirt.
The conference was hosting an all day tour to multiple Fire Lookouts in the area. Unfortunately, we had to drive home and didn’t have time to partake in this portion. They had plans to visit Hoodoo Ridge, Lookout Mountain, High Ridge, and Howard Butte. They also offered directions for additional Fire Lookouts in the area and alternative loop options if you wanted to make your own self-guided tours. We debated making a stop over at High Ridge L.O. on our way home, but we ultimately decided it was too much with the drive if we wanted to make it home at a relatively decent hour. It also started raining before we left which was another deterrent but a good sign for the wildfires.
I learned quite a few different things during the conference that I found interesting. The first was that the white conduits you find in trees near existing or former Fire Lookouts that were used to string the telephone lines are from 1913 to 1929. The newer ones from 1929 to present are brown to help blend in with the environment. I also learned that it’s best to use an oil-based alkyd paint when refinishing a lookout, otherwise moisture can get trapped in the wood and create rot. The Rhino tool used by most fire crews now was invented by the FMO in the Umatilla NF, Gordon Reinhart, in the 1970s. The copper wiring on a Fire Lookout will look new when it’s been recently struck by lightning. And, unfortunately, the Double Creek fire currently burning in the Willowa-Whitman NF is the largest in that particular forests history.
There were two main weaknesses that I noticed the FFLA is facing right now. One is younger members and youth community outreach and the other is our societies reliance on technology, social media, and camera surveillance systems. A few members tried to bring up the topic and ideas to generate interest for younger members, but each time it seemed to be dismissed with a general response and no follow up. As some of the youngest people in the room it was a bit disappointing. I am sure it is a concern to the board members, but they seemed unsure on how to handle it. It’s a hard truth to face, but the association needs younger members to keep it alive. The second issue is a bit more complex. The presentation on the AlertWildfire Camera Systems was very informative and sparked a debate about lookouts versus cameras. I strongly agree that a Fire Lookout staffing a tower is more effective than just a camera, but trying to fight technology is a losing battle. Cameras will continue to be built and are here to stay, but I think there should be an attempt to change the narrative. Instead of us versus them, it should be viewed as an added tool and resource to Fire Lookouts. I understand that in some cases, like most of the ODF towers in Oregon, this has replaced people’s jobs. But, as the presentation showed camera detection is not accurate and can mistake clouds for smoke. It also showed that those staffing a Fire Lookout can have blind spots that could be spotted by cameras. Technology doesn’t always have to be the enemy. I know that’s easier said than done, especially working with government agencies that are already under funded and under staffed. Technology is also a helpful tool in reaching a younger generation that has grown up with it and heavily relies on it for information.
If you are interested in learning more about the FFLA or becoming a member, you can visit their website.
We headed back out to HWY-3 from Courtney Butte once we were free from the confines of the caravan. We headed south towards Enterprise for another 20 miles until we reached the turn for NF-46 off to the left. According to the map, Red Hill would be situated just off of NF-46 and should be obvious. Though we knew this wasn’t always the case, an immediate example being our visit to Lookout Mountain the previous evening. As we headed up NF-46, I was less confident that we’d have enough time to get there and back before dinner. I wasn’t going to miss out on that this time! I gave us a cut off time of 5:30PM. If we hadn’t made it there by then we would ultimately turn around and plan to visit on Sunday instead. The first portion of NF-46 is paved and wide enough for two large vehicles to pass each other, it looked like relatively fresh pavement too. Once it turned to gravel there were some pot holes from wet condition drivers in certain areas. It was a mostly decent road and you would be able to drive it in a passenger vehicle with some caution.
We reached Red Hill almost exactly at 5:30PM. It was about 22-1/2 miles from HWY-3 to the lookout. There was a sign 1/4 of a mile from the turn off to Red Hill that just said “point of interest”. We thought that was interesting, but knew it was referring to the Fire Lookout. There was also a small sign for Red Hill L.O. at the turn. The lookout is located in a open field and would be hard to miss even without all the signage. We had planned to head to Kirkland Butte as well since it was so close, but there just wasn’t enough time to do it all. We would be back in the area sometime to get the ones we missed.
We parked and walked around the base of the lookout while taking pictures. We knew we couldn’t spend too much time here and gave ourselves 10 to 15 minutes to explore around. The first flight of stairs is completely removed to keep people from climbing the tower. I’m sure it helps to deter vandalism as well. The cab wasn’t in the best of shape, but the super structure looked fairly sturdy. This would make a good project for the FFLA. We left around 5:45PM and it took us almost an hour exactly to get back to the VFW post. I would’ve liked to spend more time on Red Hill, but I also really wanted the Pizza dinner they were offering.
The site on Red Hill has been used for fire detection since 1922, possibly even as early as 1917. The first tower was a tree with added spikes to aid in climbing. This tree was over 115′ and the lookout attendant would climb to where the tree forked a few feet from the top. It even had its own 25′ flag pole attached to the top. In 1924, a pole tower with 10’x10′ cab was built to replace the tree. The current lookout was completed in 1949 as a 40′ treated timber tower with L-4 cab. It has since been abandoned and is in bad enough shape that they removed the first flight of stairs to prevent people from climbing the tower.
The Saturday lookout tour hosted by the FFLA Western Conference was to Courtney Butte. This is another Fire Lookout located on private property and requires prior permission by the land owner to visit. Similar to the day before, we were expected to meet back at the VFW post after our lunch break around 1:30PM. Garnet and I made a point not to be late this time. We drove the HR-V this morning and only left the post to make a quick trip out to refuel. Otherwise, we brought and ate our lunch there. We were ready this time when the caravan rolled out almost exactly at 1:30PM. From the post, we all took a right to head out of Enterprise on HWY-3 towards Flora Junction. We stayed on this highway for over 30 miles through alternating sections of National Forest and private land. At one point we passed a junction that pointed left towards the community of Flora. My partner pointed this out and questioned whether that was our turn. The caravan had continued straight though, so we followed them instead. I nit picked at the written directions they had given me. I rationalized that it didn’t specifically say “turn at Flora Junction”, just that we needed to head towards it. I figured since we passed it we were looking for the turn to Courtney Butte Lane now. Eventually, the highway started to head steeply down the canyon towards the Grande Ronde River. It didn’t feel like we should be going this far, or down for that matter, but we continued to blindly follow the caravan. As we were half way down the grade, the head of the caravan pulled over to turn around. Oops! They did in fact miss the turn back at Flora Junction. We all quickly fixed our mistake and turned around to head towards Flora once again.
From HWY-3, heading south-bound now, we turned right onto Flora Lane. We only stayed on this road for 1-1/2 miles before reaching the junction with Courtney Butte Lane. Flora Lane continues to the right to reach the Community of Flora. While, Courtney Butte Lane is straight on and will take you all the way to the ranch. The road turned to gravel here and became a dusty show with the caravan. We stayed on this road for around 5 miles before reaching the Fire Lookout. We only had to pause briefly to open and close the gate. I assume this was to make sure no cattle escaped during our visit. We all parked in a line near the tower and got out to start exploring the area. I started by walking around the tower to take pictures. The owners were there to give us a brief presentation on their lookout and what they’ve done with it. The railing had some custom designs on it, one of which was a rattlesnake. The owner said they had that made, not only because it was rattlesnake country, but because one of their dogs was bit by one twice while here. The tower had some add-ons to convert it into a more live-able space for guests and it looked like it was kept in great condition. The cab still had its Osborne fire finder and stand. While walking around on the catwalk, we ran into the Fire Lookout attendant that staffs Spodue Mountain L.O. on the Fremont-Winema NF. She asked if we had been at the conference the whole time and we told her that we had. I mentioned that we had met her counter part, Sharon, earlier this summer on Calimus Butte. The only reason we hadn’t made it over to Spodue Mountain during that trip was because we thought it was still apart of the fire closure area. She mentioned that she vaguely remembered Sharon talking about our visit.
After taking some more pictures on the catwalk and in the cab, they gathered the group on the stairs to take a few pictures with everyone. I took some more pictures at the base for good measure and we eventually felt like we had our fill of Courtney Butte. We decided to pull out a map of the area while we waited for people to start leaving. The closest option if we wanted to visit another Fire Lookout before dinner was Red Hill. Kirkland Butte was also very close to there and would be a good second option if we had enough time. We unfortunately were boxed in by the caravan of cars and had to wait for them to move. Most people weren’t heading on to another lookout after this, so there was no sense of urgency to leave. This was our own fault though for not trying to park in a better spot for leaving early. Some of the other cars started leaving, but we had to wait for almost all of them because we had been near the end. Finally, the last car in front of us was getting ready to leave and we were free to continue on to Red Hill.
In 1955, a 3-story enclosed ODF cab was built on the site of Courtney Butte. Prior to that, in the early 1950s, it was used for fire observation and the Ground Observer Corps station. It was regularly used by the ODF during emergencies into the early 2000s. The current owner mentioned that the ODF will still occasionally send someone up during thunderstorms. I am unsure when it changed hands to a private owner, but they have since modified and added to it for over-night stays. It’s not listed for public rental, but they let their friends and family stay in it. They seemed open to visitors as long as you get prior permission.
We headed down Whiskey Creek Road from Tope Creek L.O. towards HWY-82. Instead of turning back the way we came on Jim Town Road, we stayed on Whiskey Creek Road to meet up with HWY-82 in Wallowa. The directions we had for Howard Butte L.O. were part of a loop driving tour the FFLA Western Conference was planning on hosting Sunday. This meant we would be coming from the opposite direction mentioned which really only mattered for where the turn off would be along HWY-82. Once we made the turn-off the directions would be the same. We were also not going to be able to stay all day Sunday for this part of the lookout tours, so it was nice that we had time to see some others while here. We turned right onto Yarrington Road which was around 6 miles outside of Minam. The directions said it turned into county road 49 after 3 miles, but it seemed like we just stayed on the same road for roughly 12 miles. This road dropped down to cross the Grande Ronde River over a bridge and met up with Moses Creek Lane that took us to Palmer Junction. At Palmer Junction, there is a paved road that leads off to the left while the gravel continues off to the right. We kept right to stay on the gravel. As we were continuing on the gravel the road forked, this wasn’t mentioned in the directions but it looked like the fork to the right lead to a private residence. The left fork headed up which is typically a good sign when trying to reach a Fire Lookout and we continued in that direction. The last note on the directions mentioned that there should be a road that heads up the side of the butte to the lookout after 5 to 5-1/2 miles. It didn’t mention what side the road would be on or how far up from the road it would be. That made us assume it would be an obvious junction. After a while of driving, we realized it was getting late and that we wouldn’t make it back in time for the dinner. We also got the sneaking suspicion we were on the wrong road. We stopped after seeing a road marked with a Forest Service road number. Howard Butte is on state land and wouldn’t be marked as such. We decided to re-orient ourselves on a map.
The map we had confirmed our suspicion, we were pretty far off track for getting to Howard Butte L.O. now. We should have forked to the right to head down and across the Grande Ronde River again instead of heading up. We were kicking ourselves for not having the map open while trying to navigate. We had a few options now. The first was to scrap the plan and try to head back to make the dinner at the VFW post. Though it would be unlikely that we would make it back in time. The second was to back track to the correct turn and still try to get to Howard Butte. The third option was to continue further into the forest to reach Lookout Mountain and possibly Hoodoo Ridge too. We had gone far enough off track that we were fairly close to Lookout Mountain now. We figured we could try to stop somewhere, like Terminal Gravity Brewing, in town for dinner with the two latter options. We both agreed Lookout Mountain was the more appealing option and we’d be back in the area to visit Howard Butte some other time.
We continued on what was now NF-6231 with our new objective in mind. We stayed on this road until we reached a large four way junction with NF-62 and turned right. The map we had pulled out was the recreational forest map instead of our usual ranger district map. This showed Lookout Mountain being located right off NF-62 and we figured we’d be able to see it from the road. This wasn’t the case, but I luckily saw a gated road with a “no parking” sign posted on it as the road we were on started to head down. We stopped in the nearest pull out and walked back to check it out. Upon closer inspection, there was also a Covid-19 warning sign posted from when all the Fire Lookouts were closed to public access. We knew we had found the right road and started walking. This is NF-370 if you have a more detailed map, but I didn’t see any sign for it while there. The gate is recessed from the road as well so it could be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
It was already late in the day, much later than we normally would visit a Fire Lookout. Especially, one that we know is actively staffed. It’s better etiquette to visit between the hours of 9AM and 5PM like you would a business. A reminder that this is their personal space and home for the season. We walked up with that in mind and the intention of only getting pictures of the tower from the ground. The lookout attendant was on the ground working out with a punching bag when we walked up. We gave him his space while we took some pictures and looked at the view. He eventually noticed us and we gave him a wave. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to us to chat. He said he saw us when we first walked up but assumed we were just hunters until he noticed the lack of guns and my camera. He offered to let us climb the tower and take a look around. We told him we didn’t want to impose, but he said it was no problem. This would be the tallest tower I’ve made it to the top of with no issues to date. We talked with him for a while about his background and experience as a lookout. The sun was starting to set and we didn’t want to bother him for too long. We thanked him for his time and headed back to the car.
Before we had left he mentioned the easiest way out was to head back down NF-62 and follow it out until we saw signs for Elign. We followed his direction and turned at the signs for Elign which landed us back at Palmer Junction. This was confusing to us since he said that we’d eventually meet pavement. We also didn’t want to go back the way we came since the road wasn’t great and it was already dark. I thought maybe he meant the paved road that lead out of Palmer Junction, but it only lead us to a dead end at the fish hatchery. We continued back on the gravel road we came from and decided to stay on Moses Creek Lane instead of crossing the Grand Ronde River. This turned out to be the right call as we soon found the pavement and were able to follow it out to Elign. Side note: I would recommend starting in Elign and taking this route to get to Lookout Mountain, it’s low-clearance compatible too. The unfortunate part was Elign is over 50 miles from Wallowa Lake State Park and we still needed to figure out dinner. We realized quickly most places were going to be closed by the time we reached Enterprise. We figured our only option would be to stop at a bar that was open later or head back to camp for the food we already had with us. We cased a few bars as we drove back but none struck our fancy. Eventually, we were too tired to even want to order and wait for food anywhere. We surrendered to the fact that we had plenty of food in camp and had a sad dinner of snacks when we finally got back after 10PM.
Matt has been a lookout attendant on Lookout Mountain for 14 seasons. He is from Montana and currently resides in the Billings area during the off-season. He used to live in Portland, Oregon and professionally ice-skated for a while. He also used to staff Bear Mountain L.O. in Idaho that required roughly 8 miles one-way of hiking to reach. He was struck by lightning once while staffing Bear Mountain. He said he had his elbow on the refrigerator when the tower was struck. It sent a bolt from his elbow down through his leg. No scars or major injury, but it did knock the wind out of him. He said a good way to tell a Fire Lookout has been more recently struck by lightning is to look at the copper wires. If they look shiny and brand new, they were most-likely recently stripped by a lightning strike. If he could staff any Fire Lookout, he would choose Mineral Peak near Missoula, Montana since it holds a lot of sentimental value and is where he grew up visiting lookouts.
Lookout Mountain was first established with a 60′ round timber tower and enclosed observation cab in 1935. The existing L-4 cab with 87′ treated timber tower replaced this in 1948. A few sources list this as an 82′ tower, but there were two Lookout Mountains in this area at one time. One was 87′ and the other was 82′, I believe the latter was the height of the one that has since been removed. This lookout was actively staffed until 2001 when it sustained damage during a strong wind storm. It was deemed un-safe to staff upon inspection and the lookout on duty was moved to High Ridge L.O. while repairs were completed. Repairs and remodeling were made in 2004. A crane was used to lower the cab from the tower to make the work easier. It received a new roof, wider catwalk, new hand rail, and door during this update. The tower also received work on the cross braces, stair treads, and lightning protection system. It is now actively staffed every season again.
The Friday lookout tour hosted by the FFLA Western Conference was to Tope Creek. This lookout is located on private property and requires prior permission by the land owner to visit. We were expected to meet back at the VFW Post after our lunch break at 1:30PM to start the caravan to the property. Garnet and I had headed back to our camp at the Wallowa Lake State Park during the break to swap our vehicle. We had made the decision to drive my Civic to the conference in the morning with the intention of carpooling with someone. But, after a lack of hands raised for those with available seats to carpool, it seemed easier to drive ourselves. Garnet was borrowing his mom’s HR-V for the week which has better clearance. This decision ultimately put us behind schedule and we didn’t get back to the post until 1:45PM. There were still some vehicles parked here, so we got out to check if they had already left. I asked someone in the building and they confirmed what we had thought. We were both stressed since this wasn’t a good start and we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to visit this one. A member had also previously warned that if you’re not willing to drive fast on gravel roads you would be left behind. Luckily, they had printed out directions on how to get there, so we started in that direction with the hope that everyone would still be there.
From Enterprise, we headed west on HWY-82 towards Wallowa and Lostine. We turned right onto Baker Road which is around 4 miles outside of Lostine and can be distinguished by the Wolff Ranch sign. We followed this road until we came to a T-junction with Jim Town Road. There were no road signs here, but you will want to take a left. This brought us to another un-signed T-junction with Whiskey Creek Road. We took a right and stayed on this road until we reached the first house off to the right. The house had a distinguishable bright blue metal roof. We turned right on the road immediately next to it and hoped we were on the right track. We followed this road for a little over 7-1/2 miles until we saw a two-toned blue metal rod marking a road off to the left. We turned and followed this road until we reached a hand-carved W sign. You will want to bear right here to reach the property. The roads getting here were mostly passenger vehicle friendly until we turned onto the road at the blue metal rod. It had some looser sharp rocks on this section of road that gave someone else a flat tire.
We were the last to arrive, but were relieved to see everyone still there exploring the property. I walked around to take some pictures and we signed up to get in line to climb the tower. The structure was a bit rough around the edges and they only wanted 4 people climbing it at a time. Once it was our turn, Garnet headed for the top. I made it to the third landing before I got a bit squeamish of the height. Forrest had passed me on his way down and he said it only got steeper from there, which didn’t help my confidence. I started up towards the fourth landing, but decided I didn’t need to freak myself out and headed back down. I find the 100′ towers that taper towards the top are the ones I have the most trouble climbing. These are typically the Aermotor or L-6 designs. I walked around the property to take some pictures of the sculptures and talked briefly with a few other members while I waited for Garnet to descend. Brain Wizard, who owns the property, is an eccentric artist and author. He lives on the property year round as a survivalist and was snowed in for 120 days last winter. We talked to him briefly while we were waiting for our turn to climb the tower. He mentioned he used to do terrorist surveillance and intel. Some of his work can be viewed on his website. It seems he is open to visitors with prior permission, but I would be wary of visiting without a group. He made a slight off-handed comment directed at me during our visit.
As everyone was getting ready to leave, we decided to look at possibly visiting another Fire Lookout in the area before dinner. This was a benefit to driving ourselves. The VFW Post was hosting a taco night for the conference, but it wasn’t until 6:30PM. This meant we had a little over two hours to kill. Howard Butte L.O. looked the closest on the map, so we headed in that direction next.
Pictures of Tope Creek cab courtesy of my partner.
Tope Creek was built in 1936 as a 103′ timber tower with L-6 cab by the US Forest Service. The cab is listed as 7’x7′ on some sites, but noted as 8’x8′ on the NHLR. I found similar inconsistencies in the listed height from 100′ to 103′. I am unsure which dimensions are accurate. The 14’x18′ one-room ground house, used for the living quarters, was not added until 1938. Ownership was later transferred to the Oregon Department of Forestry and was staffed into the 1970s. It was eventually classified as surplus and sold to a private owner, Zella Guyness, during a state auction in 1978. The tower is still maintained by the current private owner, Brian Wizard.
Siuslaw National Forest; Cascade Head Experimental Forest
Abandoned; Partially standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
April 23, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
Green Point, not to be confused with Green Mountain, Green Butte, Green Peter, or Green Ridge, is a crows nest located outside the community of Otis within the Oregon coastal range. You can access the community of Otis via HWY-101 or HWY-18. From Otis, you will want to follow the Old Scenic Highway towards the Cascade Experimental Forest Headquarters. Continue on past the headquarters until you reach a four way junction. Turn right here onto NF-1861 until you reach the road with a gate off to the left. Park here. All roads were in good condition for driving a low clearance vehicle.
The above map shows our rudimentary route. The black dots indicate our driving route with the larger dots representing Otis, Green Point, Cascade Experimental Forest Headquarters, and our parked car. The purple indicates our hiking route. We parked the car in a pull out across from an old road with a gate. You could potentially park at the gate, but someone was already parked here during our visit. I’m not sure what they were doing since they were just sitting in their car, but I’m sure they thought the same about us. Especially, after we headed uphill into the brush. We had drove to the junction past this gated road initially because there was supposed to be another road off to the left that headed closer to the summit. We weren’t able to find any indication of an old road along this section. We hiked a bit up the gated road, but it just followed around the point. It was also significantly overgrown and brushed over by prickly berry bushes. It seemed easier to head cross-country to the summit instead. We started up at an angle from the junction towards the high point. It was fairly easy and open walking for a while, but as we grew closer to the summit we were met with downed trees and thicker brush. I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park, it is the coast range after all, but this section made me want to turn around. My partner encouraged me to continue on and we eventually broke through into another open area. We followed some game trails until we reached the plateau that is Green Point. It is fairly flat on the summit with a nice park-like stand of trees. We searched around for a while until we found the correct tree. It was on the more northern side of the summit right before it slopes down again.
Heading back down, it was much easier to find a more open route that avoided most of the brush. We were even able to find the old road bed. It was only visible due to the cut bank, otherwise completely overgrown. It was virtually invisible from the main road and un-walkable. Actually, the whole area was overgrown near the main road. We had to push through a dense thicket to get back on the road to our car. There were two bikers stopped and talking on the road where we were headed out. I’m sure they were caught off guard when we emerged out of the brush for no apparent reason. We tried to act casual and headed back to the car. The only marker to identify where to start is a paper plate nailed to a tree with a 3 spray painted on it. This is the better route even if it might not look like it from the road.
Green Point used to have a 53′ pole lookout tower with L-4 cab and garage built by the CCC in 1939. It was used for aircraft surveillance in 1942 and later destroyed in a windstorm during 1951. The crows nest pre-dates the tower and was added to the summit in 1933. I’d say this one doubles as a former fire lookout site and existing lookout.
Our alarms were set for 5:30AM in an attempt to get an early start. We were both pretty grumbly this morning and hit snooze until a little past 6AM. I let my partner get up first to start making breakfast while I sleepily packed our tent. We weren’t moving very fast this morning. By the time we were done eating, packed up, and on the road to the Northern entrance of Crater Lake NP it was already 8AM. The kiosk was not opened yet, but we already have a National Parks pass for the season and let ourselves in to the park. We kept right once we reached the rim road to stay on the western side of the crater. It didn’t take very long for us to reach the parking area for The Watchman. It is painfully obvious where you need to park. Not only is it well signed, but the lookout is visible from the road. It is one of the busiest trails in the park and we assumed we would see a lot of people here. There were only a few spots left in the main parking area which has enough room for at least 20 to 30 cars. We parked and headed up the well graded trail. It’s a short 0.8 miles with 400′ in elevation gain to the summit. There were these neat blooms along the beginning of the trail that resembled something out of a Dr. Seuss novel. I know I over-use that reference, but these truly do look like miniature Truffula Trees from The Lorax. I later found out they are known as the Western Pasqueflower, or Anemone Occidentalis. I want to try and get better at identifying wildflowers in Oregon. I always ask my partner if he knows what the flowers are called, but he’s better at identifying the types of trees and birds. We passed a large group and a few other people on our way up that were heading down to the parking lot. The trail was still mostly shaded this morning which made for a really nice temperature. My partner reached the summit before me, per usual, as the last few people were leaving. We were shocked to have the summit briefly to ourselves. The lookout was blocked to public use but you still get a great view from the base. A couple joined us shortly after, but they didn’t stay long. We soaked in our time at the summit waiting to see when the next person would arrive. We stayed up there for at least 15 to 20 minutes without anyone else before deciding to head back down. We were up there fairly early, but it was still shocking to have it to ourselves. As we leisurely hiked down, we realized we were just slightly ahead of the crowds and had come at the perfect time. There were roughly 45 people heading up the trail on our way back down. The parking lot was full when got back to our car and people were starting to park in the overflow area. It seemed that a good amount of them were just stopping to check out the view point before moving on than actually hiking the trail. The flow of cars seemed to be pretty even on those coming in versus those leaving. The next time we’re in the Crater Lake NP we hope to hike to its highest point on Mount Scott.
The first trail to the summit was established in 1916. It was shortly followed by the construction of a cupola-style lookout in 1917. The site was always intended for dual use of a Fire Lookout and an educational interpretive site. The existing two-story observation station was built from native materials with the intention of blending in with its surroundings. It was designed by Francis Lange as part of the 1920s Crater Lake Master Plan. Construction on the station started in 1931 and was completed in 1933. It was recently restored in 1999 and re-opened for public access. The mountain top museum had been previously closed since 1975. It is still occasionally staffed by a National Park Ranger in extreme emergencies.