This is a pretty cool project this photographer Kyle Johnson did for Filson Life:

This project is an exploration of the 92 lookout towers that remain standing in Washington State. Shot entirely with medium format film, Kyle has set out to capture the experience of hiking to these lingering giants, as well as documenting the scenic views and people he meets along the way.

More about the lookouts:

In the late 1930s to mid 1940s, the United States scrambled to build as many Fire Lookout towers as possible to protect against a growing number of wildfires. Washington State alone had over 600 in use during this time. Lookout Rangers worked this special summer job, acting as a lifeline for the forest and helping to protect what so many people take for granted.

Sadly, in the last few decades many of these historic lookout towers have been abandoned, destroyed or vandalized.

In Washington, only a few are still manned by Forest Service Rangers. Still, during the summer months, many are still accessible and make for some of the most rewarding hiking destinations the Northwest has to offer.

Part One of the series of photos is here. Part Two is here. They are well worth taking a look at, especially if you are fan of the Pacific Northwest.

We have a history of lookouts here in Montana as well, of course, most of which are also abandoned. There are a number available to rent for camping, something Julia and I have talked about doing but haven’t as yet. The summer of 2011 we hiked up to the top of St. Mary Peak, which has an unmanned lookout. Here are a couple photos from that expedition (which was undertaken in mid-July, and we still almost lost the trail a couple times due to snow):

st_mary-1 st_mary-3



9780061859366There is a literary history concerning lookouts as well, specifically the work of Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac, for example. Earlier this year I read Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. I loved it. Here’s the scoop via Amazon:

For almost a decade, former Wall Street Journal reporter Connors has spent half a year keeping vigil over 20,000 square miles of desert, forest, and mountain chains from atop a tower 10,000 feet above sea level. One of a handful of seasoned, seasonal fire-watchers in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, Connors introduces us to his wilderness in this ruminative, lyrical, occasionally suspenseful account that bristles with the narrative energy and descriptive precision of Annie Dillard and dovetails between elegiac introspection and a history of his curious and lonely occupation. Poet Gary Snyder, environmental advocate Edward Abbey, and beat novelist Jack Kerouac once stood watch over the woods, but today, 90% of American lookout towers have been decommissioned, with only a few hundred remaining. The world at large intrudes in Connors’s account of contented isolation only in a discussion of evolving forest fire–fighting policies, in which advocates of ruthlessly suppressing fires are pitted against a new generation of Forest Service professionals who choose, when it’s safe, to let forest fires burn themselves out.

If you are interested in the wilderness, in Forest Service policy, or even just a history buff, this book is worth your time.



4 thoughts on “Lookout!

  1. April

    Awesome. I wanted to book Castle Butte Lookout this summer but couldn’t work out the dates – gotta definitely put that on our list for next summer. Great photos on the Filson site.
    Kind of related: I just started reading The Big Burn by Timothy Egan last night and I am so hooked. Definitely recommend it if you haven’t read it already.

    1. Chris Post author

      I have it, but I haven’t read it yet. I hope to before year’s end. I also have his latest one about Edward Curtis, the guy who took all those iconic photos of American Indians.


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