Jul 152010

If you have ever wondered about the life of a fire lookout, or contemplated a career as a lighthouse keeper, you should spend  a day at the Morton Peak Lookout, a 30-foot working fire tower perched on the bald top of a mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest.  The Morton Peak Lookout is one of the only fire towers in the state that is open to the public and available for an overnight visit.

The Lookout

Last week, I loaded my pup, lots of good books, and plenty of water into my car for a two day visit to the Morton Peak Lookout.  The arrangement is very do-it-yourself.  I picked up keys from the Mill Creek Ranger Station (in Mentone, CA, just past Redlands), climbed a precipitous dirt track (high clearance necessary), and unlocked the trapdoor to the catwalk and cabin at the top of the fire tower.  The cabin holds a small bed, a few chairs, fire watching equipment, and a telescope.  It also contains a squat table top with curious glass feet that resemble inverted decorative candle holders.   Later I found out that this stool is actually an insulated platform for riding out the sometimes violent lightning storms that pass through the area.

Room with a view

The vantage from the lookout tower was superb.  While I was there, a thick marine layer blanketed the lower elevations, leaving me with the feeling that I was floating on an island in the clouds.  On clear days, I was told that you can see all the way to Catalina.
Dog on duty

Although I originally intended to hike the Santa Ana River Trail, I ended up staying in the fire tower for most of the day to escape the intense heat and biting flies.  There was a nice breeze thirty feet up on the shaded catwalk, and hummingbirds and blue jays visited from the neighboring tree.  Toki, my dog, surveyed the landscape while I read my book.  We climbed down only for dinner and a twilight walk before retreating to our fire tower cabin for the night.  For my own peace of mind, I secured and locked the trapdoor to the catwalk overnight.  The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to my puppy staring out of our window.  I also heard a curious noise – could it be a family of baby bobcats drinking at the watering hole below, I thought hopefully!?  In fact, it was a pair of quail “meowing” right outside of our window.

Sunset views guaranteed

Later that morning I met Tom, a long time volunteer who mans the fire tower once a week.  He showed me how to use instruments to call in the exact location of a fire, and taught me the difference between white smoke, gray smoke and black smoke (usually this indicates a man made structure).  I spent another pleasant day reading, watching the changing light on the  surrounding landscape, and occasionally scanning for hikers, animals and fire.  It’s a serene way to pass the time, unless of course a fire breaks out.  On my trip, however, the day passed uneventfully.  An hour and a half later, after a harrowing drive home through rush hour traffic, it felt like just a dream.

Taking a moment to stop and smell the flowers

If you would like to book an overnight stay at the Morton Peak Fire Tower, call Big Bear Lake at 1-800-4-BIG-BEAR.  Consider planning your visit for October for cooler weather and fall foliage, or in April, when the wildflowers are at their peak.  Click the link for more photos from the fire tower .

  3 Responses to “Fire Tower Lookout: A day and night above the clouds at the Morton Peak Fire Tower”

  1. I would like to exchange links with your site weekendr.blogspot.com
    Is this possible?

  2. Hi – I always love to hear from from fellow bloggers. You can send your site to my email address: weekendr.blog@gmail.com and I'll check it out. Thanks for visiting!

  3. wow, so cool! that looks and sounds amazing, I hope to remember to book a few nights sometime.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>