Standing at the rail of the catwalk around
Gird Point Lookout, I could see the lights of Hamilton twinkling
far off to the west. The night air was settling in cold and
felt icy. Above the stars looked close enough to reach out and
pick like apples off a tree.
We had finished dinner and a round of marshmallows
on the campfire down below and now everyone was turning in for
the night. The bunks in the lookout were full, so I pitched
my sleeping bag on the catwalk outside.
Late in the night I woke to a blinding
light as the half moon stood high in the sky staring me in the
face. I closed my eyes to listen to the night sounds of the
high alpine forest. A slight breeze blew over the rocks around
the lookout and somewhere far below were the smashing and crashing
sounds of a bear ripping into a rotten log looking for food.
I raised my head and strained to see him in the moonlight, but
the noise came from the shadows of the trees at the base of
the meadow below. But it didn’t matter; I felt safe high in
Historically, lookouts were built to aid
in fire suppression. The Forest Service began building them
around the West after the huge fires of 1910, when nearly 3
million acres of forest was burned in western Montana, northern
Idaho and eastern Washington.
Lookouts were strategically built on high
points that gave a commanding view of the surrounding country.
Many are built on craggy mountain tops exposed to every kind
of weather: lightning, high winds, and scorching sun. Many are
simply small one room cabins high above the ground on stilts.
In the 1930s, the government sent men who
were unemployed by the Great Depression out to build many more
lookouts. The Civilian Conservation Corps was part of President
Roosevelt plan put men back to work and the CCC built several
lookouts in Montana. Many of the lookouts are built far from
roads well into the wilderness. But a few are close enough to
On the Bitterroot National Forest, there
are three lookouts available for rental: Gird Point, Medicine
Point and McCart. These lookouts have beds, cook stoves, wood
stoves and cooking utensils.
The Bitterroot also is home to 11 other
lookouts, many of which are still manned each summer as part
of the agency’s fire detection program. The employees manning
the towers spend each day looking for fires, which they report
back to the Forest Service. Many of the people who man the remote
wilderness lookouts will go days or weeks without seeing another
For more information on renting lookouts
in the Bitterroot, look on the Web at
www.fs.fed.us/r1/bitterroot or call 363-7100.
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