After our lovely trek through the Wallowas and a little work side-trip in Idaho, we headed to Eastern Oregon to visit our friends Joni and Philippa at their cabin in Spray. It’s a truly gorgeous area near the Painted Hills (which is another of the 7 Wonders of Oregon per Travel Oregon). On our way to the cabin, we spotted a sign for a fire lookout, of course we had to check that out! The Tamarack Fire Lookout is about 9 miles off Highway 207. The road starts off smooth and straight, but by the last mile is steep and rough. As usual, we weren’t actually sure we were headed the right way as the road got rougher and rougher, but finally we arrived to a rather epic sight. The lookout is the tallest (by far) we have visited and took some serious pep talks to climb to the top on a windy and chilly day (the wobbly first section of steps didn’t help). The 96 foot metal tower was built in 1933 with a small lookout room on top. There’s a cabin near the foot of the tower that is available for rent during the off-season. We are really looking forward to revisiting the Tamarack Lookout and meeting the hardy soul that is going to be staffing it!
Travel Oregon calls the Wallowas one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon and we couldn't agree more! We took a chance on the weather and headed to Joseph, a great little town known for it's art scene (particularly bronze sculpture) as well as easy access to Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains. During the summer, the Wallowa Lake Campground is packed wall to wall. However, in late March, we had the park almost to ourselves! They received a couple inches of snow the day before which was melting and manageable in the Airstream by the time we arrived. The weather gods were smiling on us with blue skies and temps in the 60s, which is pretty much a miracle in Oregon in March. We took the kayak out on the lake, checked out the Chief Joseph Trail hike and explored Joseph - including a quick visit to the Jennings Hotel. The Jennings is the "world's first Kickstarter funded hotel and artist residency" and is a great addition to Joseph. I was a backer of the Kickstarter and was curious to see how things were coming along. Greg Hennes, the owner, was hard at work on some drywall in the hallway when we arrived. He's done an amazing job restoring the old hotel (including a gorgeous sauna). We may have to give up a night in the Airstream some time to stay there! As luck would have it, we were able to attend the monthly square dance that's held in Enterprise. Caleb Klauder and the Cully Cut-Ups came over from Portland to play so we had to check it out. Sadly, my memory card with all the insanely cute kids square dancing seems to be toast, so you will just have to take my word for the fun experience of this truly lovely, charming and fun community dance. And we even danced! If you have a chance to get out to Joseph and the Wallowas, take it and run - especially in the Spring or Fall.
Fire lookouts are quickly becoming another favorite subject. On Saturday we headed out to Cinnamon Butte Lookout. This lookout was actually accessible by car (and has a HUGE helipad). We lucked out with the weather all weekend – and had an incredible panoramic view from the lookout. Taylor was spending his third summer as a lookout on Cinnamon Butte – although this year, he had the company of his insanely cute pup Rocket. We had a great time hanging out and chatting with Taylor and Rocket about night photography, lightning strikes (including one time Taylor was basically trapped in bed for 13 hours during a lightning storm – the bed is insulated as is the ‘lightning stool’).
After such a great experience at Cinnamon Butte Lookout, our priority the next day was to check out the Illahee Rock Lookout. This lookout was a bit more remote. We followed the somewhat vague directions in the brochure and ended up at a dead end after about 6 miles on a gravel road. We found a ‘trailhead’ and walked about a mile, then turned around to check out the ‘other’ trail where we finally saw the lookout perched above the ridge. After finally finding the right trailhead (a good tipoff was the huge US Forest Service engine truck in the tiny parking area), we set off on the 1 mile hike to the lookout. The hike was steep and gorgeous – it felt like something out of a fairytale as we wound our way up to the lookout. At the top, we passed the original lookout (which was boarded up) and finally made it to the lookout. Another amazingly clear day provided spectacular views as we walked up the stairs to say hello to the fire lookout. Lise Wall had been stationed at the Illahee Rock Lookout for the past 14 (!!) summers. She gave us a ton of information about the area for future explorations and really warmed up with talk of photography, particularly the use of film. She asked us if we knew of a good ‘local’ place to get her film developed, so we sang the praises of Blue Moon. We ended up trading portraits – she took a picture of us with her Rolleicord and I did a couple shots with my instax and left one with her. It was a really wonderful experience and only increased our desire to do some more work to photograph and document fire lookout towers and the dedicated people who work in them.