Sometimes you have to disconnect to reconnect, and what better to get away from society than staying at a forest fire outlook.  With various locations deep in the wilderness along the Northwest and parts of the Midwest, these forest fire outlook stations are available for rent during the off seasons.  In January 2014 my friend Christina and I did just that.  We made our reservations for Flag Point Lookout less than a week in advance, grabbed our bulging packs and jumped into the car heading towards Mount Hood, Oregon.

Flag Point Lookout
Flag Point Lookout
Image source: http://1.usa.gov/1dSpHgb

Christina, my 85-pound Labrador retriever Lacy, and I started our way towards Flag Point Lookout.  This station is located on Flag Point Butte on a 6,000-foot hillside near Mount Hood.  The remnants of freshly laid snow were the results of a storm that passed a few days before.  With the combination of a weekday and harsh road conditions, the roads became more desolate the further we got into The Cascades.  After leaving the main roads and splitting off from one side road to the next, we finally started to gain a sense of freedom from society.  The skies were clear and the sun was bright, we couldn’t have hoped for better weather for our escape.  The only things we left were tire tracks in the snow behind us.  We were the only ones who dared to travel these roads in order to get to our destination.

We had one more side road to take, but this road (more like a path to be honest) was narrow and traversed between thick trees.  We made the decision to snowshoe in the rest of the way to the lookout.  We parked the SUV alongside the road and started our strenuous trek to Flag Point Lookout.  A snowcat had blazed the narrow path the day before, removing downed trees and making our journey less harsh.  The continuous uphill hike took 3 and a half hours.  About the time we reached Flag Point Lookout the sun was just about to set, but our work had just begun.

Climbing up the 60-foot tower with our cumbersome packs took what strength we had left in our legs.  As Christina creaked open the wedged door, there was a pile of snow that had built up through a broken window during the last storm a few days prior.  Christina shoveled the snow out of the cabin and patched up the hole while I dried the floor and set our packs to the side.  Our work with the snow didn’t end there.  An outhouse located approximately a hundred feet away from the tower was also packed with snow.  After freeing the outhouse from piles of snow, we carved paths to ease our way from one location site to another.  Soon after we were done shoveling snow and could finally take a moment to breathe, we noticed the stunning sunset.

Flag Point Lookout
One of the many beautiful sunsets at Flag Point Lookout
Photo Credit: Mauri Fabio

The clear skies made for a beautiful sunset.  Like someone spilled watercolors in the sky, there were a mix of oranges, reds, yellows, pinks, blues and purples.  There was no denying the beauty.

By the second day at the tower, the cabin looked and felt “lived in”.  The cabin itself was not huge, being only a 14 x 14-foot room.  There were simple amenities like a wood burning stove for warmth, a propane stove, a mattress, cooking pots and utensils. Basic furniture completed the set up to our cabin.  There was one solar panel on the side of the tower that powers one dimly lit light bulb, but even with that source of light we found ourselves using our headlamps most of the nights.  A sink allows for water to be drained away from the tower, but there is no running water at this outlook.  Our reservation said that 4 people can stay here, but in reality only two can sleep here comfortably.  Every window has a view and the clear skies allowed for spectacular views of both Oregon and Washington, such views as Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, The Three Sisters and the vast surrounding local wilderness.

Flag Point Lookout
My dog Lacy and I hiking around the local wilderness
Photo Credit: Christina Allen

We explored the surrounding wilderness as we snowshoed through untouched snow and found more breathtaking scenery.  We spent nights laughing and planning for the next day.  After a bit, it became second nature to melt snow over the wood burning stove for drinking, cooking and other uses.  We cooked pasta and heated Prego sauce on the propane stove for dinner and drank red wine out of the bottle to wash it all down.  We lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a side of peppered beef jerky, granola, starburst candy, apples and other odd-and-end foods.  The wood burning stove served as our heater during the night and doubled as our nighttime television entertainment as we watched the flames lick the hot glass.

Every sunset and sunrise had their own beauties as they painted the skies with vivid colors.  The second night at Flag Point Lookout there was an illuminating full moon that lit up the night sky while the humungous powerful lights for nighttime skiers lit up Mount Hood’s ski runs.  Day or night there was always something to experience or something beautiful in nature to notice.  Complete quiet, clear blue skies and no other tracks in the snow but our own for miles made the trip pure bliss.

Flag Point Lookout
Mt. Hood View through the front door
Photo Credit: Mauri Fabio

It was refreshing to get away from everyone and the conveniences of society.  We enjoyed the solitude that comes with being completely submerged in nature.  Now and then, everyone should disconnect themselves from distractions to reconnect with one’s self  and to put everything back into perspective.  And staying in a place like a forest fire outlook like Flag Point Outlook is just the place to do so.

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