Updated: Jul 14
Fire Lookout Towers, Fire Lookouts and Fire Watchers.
A fire lookout (sometimes called a fire watcher) is the person who looks (or watches) for fires from fire lookout towers in remote areas which are usually on top of a mountain or large hill. When they spot smoke from a wildfire, they relay this information to a local communications center. These fire lookouts are hardy individuals who need to be self-sufficient, attentive to their job, and able to live without human interaction day after day. In some locations, these lookout towers still have no electricity or running water!
We went in search of more fire lookout towers after our fire lookout tower trip a couple weeks ago, and found some amazing views - again. And some interesting people who work in these isolated locations and perform the serious job of helping to preserve our forest lands. This was not a one-day daytrip - we took two days and camped overnight.
We visited four lookouts and chose not to visit a fifth because the grass was growing in the middle of the road, and we didn't want to drive across it and possibly spark a fire. The pictures we share are only a glimpse of the beauty of these locations. You really need to visit one or more of these incredible places to see how truly exquisite they are.
Starting with the first location:
Antelope Lookout Tower
We knew we were headed for another amazing location when we saw some of the views off in the distance.
We were NOT disappointed! Look at what you can see from the Antelope Fire Lookout Tower.
Antelope Mountain Fire Tower Lookout is at 6,456 feet and originally built in 1930. It was replaced in 1974 and is staffed every summer. Like other staffed fire lookout towers, this is the lookout's summer home. Please be respectful and ask permission before climbing up the tower. There are several roads that lead to the area and are easily traveled with a high clearance AWD or 4WD vehicle.
Inside, we were shown some of the tools used by the fire lookouts/watchers. One of these is the Osborne Fire Finder, a sighting device that sits in the middle of the fire lookout tower and looks like a large circular table. It is used by fire lookouts to find a directional bearing to the smoke. When the fire lookout spots smoke, they are able to swivel the Osborne Fire Finder 360 degrees to identify the direction of the smoke. The distance from the fire lookout tower and the approximate elevation of the smoke is determined by checking a topographical map of the area to find out where the fire is, which is communicated to the fire crews. And what is really amazing is that this instrument that is still used today was invented in the 1840's!
Views include Calamity Butte Lookout to the southwest, Otis Mountain to the south, Castle Rock to the east, Monument Rock Wilderness to the northeast and Strawberry Wilderness to the northwest.
Geocaches at this location:
Antelope Mountain Lookout GC3KVZD
You are looking for a camo-painted plastic jar. No hint.
Antelope RAWS (Remote Automatic Weather Station) GC3KWOC
Weather stations like this report weather readings each hour. The data is used to calculate fire danger, help provide firefighter safety and help with weather forecasting.
Walk to this cache - don't drive. It's not very far.
Camo-painted plastic container. No hints.
Repeater: Sheep Mountain 145.430 K7AA
Bingham Point Lookout
We next tried to reach the location for where the Bingham Point Lookout Tower used to be, but this is the lookout where we decided to turn back because of the grass in the road and possible fire danger if we drove over the dry grass.
Crane Point Lookout
We continued on to where the Crane Point Lookout station used to be. This site is at 6,414 feet and was first used in the 1930s with a fire watcher and a cabin. The cabin is gone but there is an existing wooden platform on top of a large rock. Fire crews now use it as a vantage point when they are on patrol. The road to the site is good and does not require 4WD but a vehicle with high clearance is recommended.
Big Creek Campground
We were lucky to find a spot to camp at Big Creek Campground near Seneca and Prairie City in the Malheur National Forest. There were two spots left, with a family reunion taking up the remaining spots. This was the 71st year for the family reunion and all generations of this family looked like they were having a great time! We even got to enjoy the company of a Black Lab named Finley and a Corgi named Bear! Plus we saw at least three other Corgis running around the campground! This campground is also a great spot as a base for exploring the nearby Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.
Frazier Point Lookout
The next lookout after camping overnight at Big Creek Campground was the Frazier Point Lookout, a site on the National Historic Lookout Register. The original lookout spot was built as an emergency lookout in the early 1930s and sits on a rock point about 1/2 mile southeast of the newer 100-foot timber tower built in 1936 with a 7'x7' cab on top, plus ground cabin living quarters that were staffed every summer until 2008. The original cabin burned in the 1970s and the garage was then converted into a cabin. The tower has been condemned and may be removed in the near future. Look at the angle of the stairs at the bottom compared to the angle at the top! But don't try to climb the stairs because the tower is closed, and access is blocked.
The drive to this site was easy and beautiful. If you don't have AWD or 4WD, you may need to walk a short distance to the tower.
Geocache: Frazier Lookout L.O.T. GC2A94D
Camouflaged one liter water bottle with a few goodies in it. Please replace the log book on top to make it easy to remove. No hints.
Again, the views are amazing! (I know I keep saying that, but it is so true!)
The drive to and from Frazier was easy and beautiful, although there were a few fallen trees as you can see in the picture of the Jeep below.
Calamity Butte Lookout Tower
Our last lookout for this trip was Calamity Butte Lookout Tower at 6,695 feet. This site was established in 1927 and the Region-5 cab is still there and listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. Construction for a new 50-foot pole tower with an octagonal cabin started in 1996 and took several years to build. Calamity has been staffed every summer since 1927. The views from here are outstanding - yes, there I go again! The Region 5 cabin (California-style) built in 1927 is still there and was used until the newer tower was built. Please only come up to the site during daylight hours and also remember to be respectful and don't climb the tower unless you are invited - this is the lookout's summer home, plus he or she may be very busy doing the important job they have of early fire detection.
The road to this site is fairly good until about the last 3/4 mile where it gets steep and rocky, so 4WD drive is recommended, or you can walk that last part to the top.
Every direction you look is beautiful!
Visiting four (almost five) fire lookout sites in two days was exciting! We saw some absolutely gorgeous country in Eastern Oregon. What a beautiful country we live in and what variety we have to enjoy! This was longer than our daytrips but even if you only have one day, there is probably a fire lookout tower or a hill that you could climb and see something you may not have even known was there. For some inspiration, go to Geocaching.com and look for something that looks interesting - we found many unusual locations we would never have seen by looking for a daytrip location through Geocaching.com.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
The message here is that even if you aren't sailing somewhere, get out there and explore, dream and discover. As we say, daytrips are better than daydreams.
STARTING POINT: Boise
DISTANCE FROM STARTING POINT: Round trip from home was a little more than 500 miles, including all of our side trips down roads we just had to explore!
TIME TO REACH: Our trip was two days, including one night camping, but this trip could be shortened by visiting fewer sites.
ROAD SURFACE: Dirt roads
WHEN ACCESSIBLE: Summer
RECOMMENDED VEHICLES: 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with high clearance
PET FRIENDLY: On leash recommended for all fire lookouts. Remember that the staffed lookout towers are someone's home.
WHEN WE WENT: Early July 2022
I'm Here - Now What?
Bring your smart phone or a GPS
Bring your kids, if you have any!
Bring your dog
Hiking - wear good walking shoes
Wildlife and plant viewing
And a sense of adventure!