Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands


Ground Tower

Lookout and Jaley's first pictures 002Lookout and Jaley's first pictures 018Ground Tower

“Ground tower.” Sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s what the followers of lookout nomenclature call this type of lookout, simply because this one sits on the ground, where many lookouts are perched on stilts making them true towers.

All of the above makes me sound like an expert on such topics, where in reality I know next to nothing about them. My brother, Dick, is the one in the family that follows such fancy. I was invited on a trek to this lookout by said brother, the third or fourth I have seen in his company.

The subject is of such interest to him, that I and two others joined him in taking apart a similar tower perched on a pile of unbelievably large boulders on top of a mountain just north of the Columbia river. That tower, after much labor and clever cables to slide the pieces to a waiting trailer, ended up as the center of a 40′ by 40′ log cabin my brother built on San Juan Island, possibly the only official US Forest Service tower to be built as part of a private home in the northwest. I’ll find a photo of that unique island home for a future post.

Here’s the thing, and it should be obvious, about these towers: the VIEW! The tower in this photo sits nearly equidistance in the middle of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens (or what’s left of it.) No wonder there are so many windows! The view has to be experienced to understand how spectacular it is, and to have a snug cabin in which to stay or even just to get in out of the wind makes the experience just that more memorable.

My brother could explain why, but the Forest Service doesn’t need these fire lookouts any longer, and often they are demolished so as not to be a liability what with the public clambering around on them, plus there’s no money to maintain them. Private parties and enthusiasts sometimes talk the Forest Service into letting them maintain the buildings so they won’t be torn down. For instance, the trip to this tower was specifically for painting it and repairing that shutter where Dick is standing. These are folded against the building and a cable wrapped around them to cover the windows in the strong winds of winter. This is the “before” photo. A crisp white structure with a yellow door now sits atop Burley Mountain.


One response

  1. This is a great story and pictures! You have been prolific in the last couple of days, you have added 4 new posts! Keep it up! This is Burley Mtn in
    southern Washingtion Cascades At one time there were over 2000 lookout towers in Washington State there are currently about 200. Of those only 10 are in use as lookouts. A great story would be about a day of the life of a lookout! Brother Dick Morrison Chehalis, WA

    April 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

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