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Finding the West White Pine Lookout


West White Pine Lookout

Of the two dozen or so fire lookout towers in Colorado, West White Pine was closest to Fort Collins, almost directly to our west.

Built in 1939, the tower remained on its mountain top until sometime in the mid-1970s.

Then, a helicopter took the cabin and more or less plopped it into the middle of Lee Martinez Park, in the north part of Fort Collins. There it remained, uninterpreted and unrestored, for years. Later, with little fanfare, it moved to the Environmental Learning Center at Drake and Ziegler, where it remains today, uninterpreted and unrestored.

You’ve probably never seen it there, have you?

They didn’t make it easy to find. Perhaps because preservationists want to restore  it before much more tourist traffic visits.

Fire towers are disappearing everywhere, says Susan Epstein, volunteer for the Forest Fire Lookout Association and a former fire lookout. Only 6 active lookouts remain in Colorado.

West White Pine, 1952

West White Pine, 1952

Epstein and I recently hiked to the West White Pine “cab” at the Environmental Learning Center. Taking one wrong turn after another, our walk turned what should have been a 20-minute stroll  into a 3-hour tour. But it made finding the “damn tower,” as we fondly called it after Hour 1, that much more rewarding.

And that’s why I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is. Set aside some time. Take a hike; look for it.

Oh, you could probably just ask someone at the ELC, but keep in mind that they can sometimes mess up directions and send you to the wrong corner of the park. (So help us, we know.)

Here are a couple hints:  You start in the main parking lot, off CO Rd. 9 and Drake. Not the Prospect Ave. side.

Hike around to the southeast corner, taking every unintuitive right turn you see. Stay close to the river.

With luck, you’ll see a corner of the tower across the river. With even better luck, the river will be low  enough to cross, but do so at your own peril.

If  you do get across, you’ll see a road and wonder why you couldn’t just drive to it in the first place.  It’s a private road, only accessible by Authorized Personnel of the City of Fort Collins.

West White Pine, 2009

West White Pine, 2009

10 comments to Finding the West White Pine Lookout

  • Ah, I used to dream of living in one of those, with a powerful radio and some tapes, and… and after a while, the stuff I wanted to have there with me got bigger than the station, even in my fantasy.

    I remember walking to the base of one of these, somewhere in the mountains, with Dad, hoping to get to be a member of the Squirrel Club, and maybe go up to the top. Nobody was there, though, so no Squirrel Card, and no friendly ranger to let me look at the landscape from his vantage point.

    I can’t even remember where it was. Up the Poudre, maybe? Somewhere between Fort Collins and North Park? Most likely it was no more than a couple of hours from town. Who knows, it might have been that one up there.

  • Susan

    Kip, the lookout you remember may have been Deadman Lookout, still actively staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers. It’s a tall, steel tower, west of Red Feather Lakes, off Deadman Road. It’s on the National Historic Lookout Register, and you can find out more about it at http://www.firelookout.org/cohost-co/deadman.html.

  • catfc

    I’ve been in a couple of active towers, and they have the same appeal as old boats and tiny houses (http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/). Like Kip, I fantasize about how I could live in this beautiful micro space. Then I start thinking about where I’m going to put my washing machine ….

    Hey Susan, was I incorrect that West White Mtn was closest to Fort Collins? Or was Deadman closer? Also, did I get your credentials correct?

  • Oh yeah, tiny houses! I’ve looked at those — not seriously, though.

    Another wonderful fantasy from my early years was thinking about having a caboose in the back yard of the family home that I could live out in by myself. No doubt returning to the house at mealtimes! From my comfy bed up in the cupola, I’d have had a view of the whole neighborhood.

    I also used to wish for a bunk bed with desk, storage, etc., underneath. It never happened, but my daughter (age 7) got one this week, and she’s a happy camper.

  • Susan

    Cat, you were correct. West White Pine is closer than Deadman, at least as the crow flies. And yes, you’ve got my credentials right. Thanks!

    I’m a fan of tiny houses, too. Once met a woman in Mendocino, CA, who had built her own tiny house in the nearby pygmy forest. I bet it was about 10’x10′ and she had built an outdoor barrel-stave hot tub, to boot. Delightful!

    We’ve also stayed in the “guest caboose” with friends at Wagon Wheel Gap, near Creede. It’s narrow gauge, so it was very cozy for two, and we did eat in the house (former RR depot).

  • Love reading about these neat little nuggets of local information, thanks!

  • John T

    You’ve done it again — great pieces and a couple of more links that I will favorite to keep track of– Thanks for your dedication to keeping the stories alive

  • If you’re ever in Mesa Verde, there’s a short hike to an old fire-watching site — not a tower per se, I think, because its perch on the edge of a butte made it not need a tower — that’s definitely worth the short trip. The views are outstanding. And the damage from the fires in the last decade there are a reminder of just how necessary that kind of watch has been.

  • noë

    Cool story! Without the tower, West White Pine looks just like a picnic shelter in the park.

    As to tiny houses, I guess my RV counts as one. It’s fun to live in for short periods of time, but I’m awfully glad I have a bigger space to go home to.

  • nisperos

    I want to know where others think Deadman Lookout got its name from?