If there’s a better job anywhere on the planet, I’d like to know what it is.
The work has changed remarkably little over the course of the past century, except in its increasing scarcity. Ninety percent of American lookout towers have been decommissioned, and only a few hundred of us remain, mostly in the West and Alaska. Nonetheless, when the last lookout tower is retired, our stories will live on. Jack Kerouac worked a summer on Desolation Peak in the North Cascades in 1956, an experience he mined for parts of two novels, The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels. He secured the job through a recommendation by his friend the poet Gary Snyder, who worked summers on two different lookouts in the same national forest and wrote several fine poems about the experience. During the 1960s and ‘70s the old raconteur Edward Abbey worked as a lookout in various postings, from Glacier National Park to the Grand Canyon. He wrote two essays on the subject and made a fire lookout the main character in his novel Black Sun, the book he claimed he loved most among all his works. And Norman Maclean, in his great book A River Runs Through It, wrote a lightly fictionalized story about his one summer as a lookout on the Selway Forest in northern Idaho, over the Bitterroot Divide from his home in Missoula, Montana.
From Fire Season – Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout by Phillip Connors – HarperCollins Publishers 2011,
Abbey, Edward Black Sun (fiction)
Asher, Robert H. My Palomar (memoirs)
Becker, Marion F. Palomar Mountain Past and Present (history)
Collins, Phillip Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout (memoirs- Gila NF, N.M.)
Kerouac, Jack Desolation Angels (fiction)
Kerouac, Jack The Dharma Bums (fiction)
Maclean, Norman A River Runs Through It (fiction)
Waite, Barbara Ann Elsie’s Mountain (memoirs – Palomar Mtn)
Wood, Catherine Palomar Teepee to Telescope (history)
Yahr, Warren Smokechaser (memoirs – Clearwater NF, Idaho)
Newland, James D. Cleveland National Forest from the Images of America series (history)