I discovered my first fire lookout tower when I was on a road trip the summer after I graduated high school. My best friend and I were driving around on forest service roads outside Hamilton Montana, looking for a place to spend the night camping in my van, when we arrived at the summit of a mountain and discovered what seemed to us like a magical cabin on top of the world. I had heard of fire lookout towers before in some of the writings of Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac, but had never really beheld one in all its glory. This lookout was currently vacant, but locked, so we camped out next to it that night and watched the sunset from the balcony. I vowed after that night that I would one day spend some time staying in a lookout. I would hire on with the Forest Service, or do whatever it took, but I was going to rest my head in a bed high above a mountain top before I could call my life complete.
I can't even begin to describe how excited I was the day I discovered the book, How to Rent a Fire Lookout Tower in the Pacific Northwest, by Tim McFadden and Tom Foley. I took it home and poured through the pages, delighted to find that my lofty dream was easily attainable. With the advance of technology in wildland fire management, many lookout towers had been de-commissioned over the years, and were now available for overnight rental at a rate far more economical than a hotel room. By this time my children were old enough to be safe with heights, so I got on the website for Recreation Rentals of the Pacific Northwest: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/recreation/rentals/, and booked a weekend in September at Bald Knob Lookout in the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.
We set off on our adventure following the Coquille River through the mountains to the small town of Powers, and headed up the winding gravel roads to the top of Bald Knob, passing through the locked gate with the combination given to us at the Powers Ranger Station, and coming around the bend to behold the very impressive 16 X 16' cabin sitting 20 feet up in the air. We wasted no time climbing up the three flights of steep stairs to the catwalk, and just stood there taking in the view. From there, we looked out at the Rogue River winding through a roadless wilderness area below, and the rolling blue silhouettes of mountain peaks as far as the eye could see. The Autumn air was warm, gentle breezes carried the smell of dry fir needles, and it was so still and quiet you could almost hear your own heartbeat interrupted only by the occasional cry of a far-off hawk.