Despite many adventures, my Oregon bucket list never seems to shrink. As soon as I knock an item or two off, it grows by 5 more. Last year saw horseback riding with Kiger mustangs and summitting the snow-covered Steens mountains. It also saw me hot-spring soaking and finding pianos on the playa of the Alvord Desert. This year is shaping up to knock another item off my list: staying at one of the few remaining mountaintop fire watch towers.
Due to their harsh and remote locations, fewer than 20 are left in Oregon and many are only open short portions of the year. Reservations are required, and getting a reservation is hard as they are almost always booked solid for the 6 month window of dates the moment they become available. One must diligently visit the reservation site very early every morning (east coast time no less) when dates are opened. After getting one of the rare reservations last year, I was thwarted when the road to the Lake of the Woods tower washed out and closed it for almost all of 2017 and 2018. This year, after about 2 months of on and off trying, I managed to get a 4 day reservation for the exceptional Gold Butte lookout. It’s located via hike out onto the summit of the butte and is known for having some of the most spectacular views of all the watchtowers.
It’s also a historic building. It was originally built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and usually manned by a married couple. During WW II, it was part of the Aircraft Warning System as an early invasion watchtower. In the 1970/80’s it was heavily damaged by carpenter ants. It might have been demolished like other towers if not for the efforts of the Sand Mountain Society – a fire tower preservation and restoration group. They painstakingly numbered pieces then rebuilt and replaced damaged sections exactly as it was first built, making a stay there almost exactly as it would have been in the 30’s.
Staying at one of the fire towers requires that you backpack in everything you need: water, food, and supplies. Firewood, a bed, table, fire stove, pit toilet and a few small items are provided – but there is no power, no phones, and it’s miles to your nearest neighbor. During the day you can read, hike, swim or fish at the nearby lake, or greet other hikers visiting the summit. The evenings you can watch the unbelievable sunsets and cook in the woodburning stove, then drift to sleep miles from civilization.
I’m personally looking forward to it more than my next trip abroad. I can’t wait.
Here’s a good write-up and video about the lookout