Our National Forest system has some real gems hidden inside our forests. Within the National Forest that surrounds my life are historic fire lookout towers. These towers were created so that wildfires could more easily be spotted from high mountain peaks and ridges. They were originally built back in the 1920's and 30's in response to the catastrophic 1910 wildfires. Most were decommissioned in the 1970's and 80's, and today anyone can rent them. Staying a night, or even climbing up many of them, is not for the faint for heart. Most of the towers are 45 feet above the ground, on top of a bare mountain peak or ridge. As a result, the views from all the lookouts are absolutely amazing.
Since I found out about the tower rental program 5 years ago I have wanted to rent one. I finally did it. I was fortunate to rent one of the towers that allows dogs, and it was only one of three in the Forest that was built very close to the ground. Good thing...I hate heights.
So earlier this week, despite the 95+ temperatures, I packed up the dogs and myself and made the long drive up, up, up to the lookout.
The building sits atop a mountain peak at 5,400 feet. It is spare, with no electricity or water, and is an open 14x14 foot room with 2 twin beds, a cook table, a small sitting table, and a wood stove. The walls are windows and the porch wraps all the way around.
I was concerned with the dogs being overly excited while camping, so I brought a large baby gate to place at the stairway so that I could relax and not have to manage their behavior 100% of the time, not have to keep them tied up while not paying close attention.
The baby gate ended up being the single-most best item I brought with me...because the entire ridge was covered in ground squirrel holes, and Danee got wide-eyed and wild at each peep she heard. I've never been able to effectively turn off this terrier hunting instinct, so thankfully I didn't have to deal with it once the baby gate was in place.
Sadly for me, I ended up renting the lookout during one of our major heat waves...which is still going on.
By the time I got up there, the temperature was already in the mid 90's. And given that the walls are windows, and only 4 of those windows open, it was in the 90's inside the building too. I was bummed, and the dogs and I were hot. There is very little shade on top of a mountain peak. But after unpacking, and relaxing for an hour on the shady side of the porch, we went exploring in the woods, on the lower road and a few side trails, for a couple of hours before dark. I was delighted to discover the entire ridge line was covered in ripening huckleberries! I picked, the dogs picked, and we ate lots.
The heat required lots of rest, which we were happy to do...
We spent the night practically under the stars, with an amazing sunset and an equally gorgeous sunrise. In the morning I made each of us fresh huckleberry pancakes. Yes, the dogs got their own pancakes...hey, they were having fun camping too, so why not?
We hiked around a bit on the drive back down the mountain and hit the river to cool off before heading home.
And then like that, our trip was over. I could only stay one night, but it was enough. I will happily rent another fire lookout tower next year...however, maybe next time I will try to rent it earlier or later in the season so it won't be so hellishly hot.