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.



Points Puget Sound

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 9.03.43 PMKicked off my first work trip of the year last week with a flight into Seattle, then a drive up north to a little town called Sedro Woolley. It was a great way to kick off the year, as the Pacific Northwest remains one of my favorite places on earth. I planned to head for Bainbridge Island as soon as I arrived, ostensibly to visit a bookstore there: Eagle Harbor Books. Really it was just an excuse to ride the ferry across the sound. On the flight over I read the excellent book Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine, which takes place on Bainbridge. Here’s the story on that book:

Closer to the Ground is the deeply personal story of a father learning to share his love of nature with his children, not through the indoor lens of words or pictures, but directly, palpably, by exploring the natural world together as they forage, cook and eat from the woods and sea.

This compelling, masterfully written tale follows Dylan Tomine and his family through four seasons as they hunt chanterelles, fish for salmon, dig clams and gather at the kitchen table, mouths watering, to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Closer to the Ground captures the beauty and surprise of the natural world—and the ways it teaches us how to live—with humor, gratitude and a nose for adventure as keen as a child’s. It is a book filled with weather, natural history and many delicious meals.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Patagonia consistently delivers my favorite books.

Bainbridge Island is a nice little town, quiet in the offseason. I looked in a few shops, had lunch, and hung around the harbor a bit. It was a cloudy/sunny off-and-on kind of day, brisk for the locals but perfect temperature for me in t-shirt and a vest, and I loved it. Here are a couple more shots (click to make larger) from the ferry.


See that building in the foreground, Pier 70? It was the setting for that MTV show “Real World Seattle.” Before that it was a rock club, and my band played there several times back in the day.




I will be back for a pleasure trip to Seattle this summer, no doubt about it. I’ve been wanting to make a weekend run that includes a Sounders game one night and the Mariners another.

I’m home a week, then I’m off to my second trip of the year: Portland, OR. Should be another excellent run.