Perched on a Mountaintop: My Time in a Fire Lookout

My epic adventure spending two nights in the Oak Flat Lookout. This historical fire lookout tower sits high on a mountain top and provides outstanding views and an even better experience.

Imagine its 1969. You're a forest ranger who finds yourself in the Sequoia National Forest for the entire summer, endeavoring to protect our beautiful and massive forests from destructive wildfires that can arise at any moment from Mother Nature's wrath or man's carelessness. Its 4:30am and the cool and still blues of the night sky slowly transform, giving way to the sun as it begins to make the horizon in the far-off distance, past the curvature of the earth, glow as if on fire in brilliant hues of yellow and orange with hints of red. You can't avoid the dawning of the new day, after all there's no curtains to draw here, this dazzling display is your alarm clock. Your humble accommodations for the past few weeks, and many more ahead, is the 80-foot fire lookout tower you find yourself in, perched on a mountaintop providing 360-degree views as far as the eye can see. All around you every way you look can be found endless rolling hills, a massive forest sprawling out in a myriad of greens and browns, and no one around for miles but God's creatures. It is your own slice of outdoor heaven on earth. Welcome to the Oak Flat Lookout. 

I recently got a glimpse of what this experience must have been like. I spent two epic nights in the historic Oak Flat Fire Lookout. The tower is located about an hour northeast of Bakersfield, CA in the Kern River Valley, near Lake Isabella. Built in 1934, it was utilized for critical wildlife management and observation of wildfires through the 1980s. Today, it is used for outdoor recreation and is reserve able for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. The Oak Flat Lookout provides a unique outdoor adventure found in few other places that I will treasure for the rest of my days.

Forty steep steps lead up to the tower's one room enclosure surrounded by nothing but windows and a small deck that lines its perimeter. I have to say, I enjoyed the simplicity of these accommodations. The fact that it was only single room with sparse accommodations but two twin beds, a propane stove, oven, heater, and a sink void of running water, made life appear simple. I am used to going back to the roots of being in nature, backpacking and spending time in the back country, but being in the tower was a unique historical way to do just that. To simplify life, one's needs, and be able to enjoy immersion in nature over human comforts and our manmade.

Being up in the tower allows one to see nearly to the curve of the earth way off in the distance as far as the eye can see. Miles and miles of natural splendor are spread out in every direction and it could take days, weeks, or even months, to enjoy it all.  The entire time I spent at the lookout I found myself engulfed in its uniqueness and the overwhelming beauty of the landscape sprawled out all around it. The tower itself stands out as it rises into the sky, standing on the mountaintop with little around it. The lookout commands the terrain for miles around, providing views of everything with a simple turn of the head and shuffle of the feet.

Throughout the trip, I found myself standing out on the deck mesmerized but God's green earth spread out before me devoid of manmade intrusions and people. The feeling of being in your own little world was incredible. I could only imagine spending months during the fire season enjoying and safeguarding this spectacular place. It all looked as if it were a painting created by a master painter displaying a never-ending forest of green rolling rolls in every shade holding untold creatures of the earth and sky. When standing still, the deafening silence all around was only pierced by nearby birds calling out to one another and singing their seemingly whimsical songs. From time to time a hawk, or other bird of flight, would zip by and break the engulfing hypnotic trance of the landscape that pulls you in and never lets go. For hours I stood on this deck or sat enjoying the scenery, often with my camera or a good book in hand, never wanting to be anywhere else or move from my perch. 

The best part of the entire adventure was without a doubt the early morning and late evening. The sunrises and sunsets were truly magical and memorable for a lifetime. Both were some of the most spectacular I have ever had the opportunity to witness. There was something pure and enchanting about the evolving displays laid out before me in their natural splendor. I found myself transfixed by their awestruck wonder. I could not avert my gaze from the seemingly ablaze horizon as I captured picture after picture with my camera. I was intensely reminded of how much I enjoy capturing these moments in time that are so fleeting and never exist the exact same way again. The view from the lookout's deck was truly special and I will treasure it for years to come as a memory of this unique and epic adventure.  Though my time there to take in the natural splendor and historical significance all around me was brief, I could have easily spent far more than that and would happily return again.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Mayson AlgeyerExplorer

I am an avid outdoorsman and photographer with an enormous passion for the outdoors and sharing moments worth capturing from my adventures. These are the stories behind my adventures to share with you.