At times, Grant County residents may feel the lure of the Oregon Coast and its scenic lighthouses. Inland we have our own take on the lighthouse scene the towering but much more accessible fire lookouts.
In the 1930s the U.S. Forest Service was working to put a fire watch on every mountain top.
More than 3,000 men and women in the Northwest spent summers on such lookouts during two decades that followed.
Over the years, literally thousands of these lookouts were built across the Pacific Northwest.
During World War II, the lookouts of the Northwest were operated year-round to keep watch against an enemy attack from the air. Technology and time have phased out many, and some have been dismantled because of liability issues.
In Oregon about 200 are still standing, with a few still staffed during fire season. Most are accessible to the public by car and offer spectacular views.
In Grant County, residents and tourists alike can enjoy those views by taking a day trip.
There are three lookouts that lie within an average of 30 miles near to John Day. They can be viewed in three different outings or because of proximity can all be viewed within a day on a journeying from John Day.
Fall Mountain: Travel approximately 15 miles south from John Day on Highway 395. Turn right on Forest Service Road 4920. Follow it 5 miles to Road 4920. Then turn right on FS Road 607, continuing about a mile to the lookout.
Fall Mountain Lookout was built in 1933. It has an elevation of 5,949 feet and sits about 18 feet off the ground.
No longer staffed, it is available to rent from the Forest Service. Guests can watch the sun rise and set, spot wildlife from the catwalk and enjoy a summer storm. The lookout is one of the few with electricity and can accommodate two people. A newer restroom sits at the lookouts base.
But what is most amazing is the 360-degree view of the surrounding Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, as well as the towns of Seneca and Mt. Vernon. In addition to the view, visitors to the area enjoy hunting, hiking and viewing wildlife.
Dry Soda Lookout: From John Day, go south about 9.5 miles on US Highway 395, 8 miles southeast on County Road 65, and west about 4.5 miles on Forest Road 3295. The last few miles are rough and may require four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicles.
Built in 1941, this lookout sits 60 feet in the air and is staffed every summer. It has an elevation of 5,593 feet. It is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. There is a gate several hundred feet from the tower, mainly used to keep the cows out.
The views here are no less spectacular than the view at Fall Mountain.
Frazier Point Lookout: Travel south from John Day on Highway 395 for 9 miles turn left onto County Road 15.
Frazier Point Lookout is at an elevation of 6,290 and sits 100 feet off the ground. This lookout is no longer staffed, having wooden stairs that are extremely steep and unsafe.
The view from below the lookout is spectacular. The history of this lookout is by far the most interesting of the three lookouts listed here.
Ray Krester, author of Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, included several stories about Frazier Point in his book. Several lookout workers did not last long on this extremely high tower.
One of the tower workers, lightheaded from her day in the windswept tower, lit her lantern too close to the fireplace and burned down the log cabin.
The next towerman stepped out onto the catwalk one day, shouted into his radio mic I think I will fly away now. Efforts to raise the towerman were unsuccessful. A helicopter crew was dispatched; they reported that the man was sitting at the bottom of the lookout mumbling about eagles soaring. This was his last day at Frazier Point.
Another unsubstantiated story told of an unfortunate accident in which a 4-year-old boy fell from the tower landing, prompting the Forest Service to screen in the stairs and landings of every lookout in Oregon.
Despite its history, Frazier Point is in a beautiful setting, with picturesque views, a picnic table, Forest Service guard station (locked), and several trails to hike.
What is great about all three of these lookouts is they are just a short trip for residents of Grant County, and visiting tourists. Be sure to take a camera and a lunch.