As part of my exploration of the area on the north side of the Gila Wilderness, I checked out two fire lookout towers. After breaking the first night's camp near Snow Lake, it was off to the first one on Negrito Mountain at 8598 feet. This lookout appears to be abandoned, but is listed as inactive. From what Marianne at Bearwallow later told me this tower hasn't been used in about 15 years. The entire cab has been cleaned out of gear, which is stashed as junk in the shed below.
You pass through many miles of burned forest from the 2006 Bear Fire from Willow Creek to Snow Lake, and also along sections of Bursum Road going toward the lookouts. The Bear Fire started June 19, 2006 from an abandoned campfire along Indian Creek southeast of Bearwallow Mountain. It ultimately consumed around 53,000 acres of forest and for a time threatened both lookouts.
Here is a satellite image of the fire: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Natura ... p?id=16881
Next it was over to the tower on Bearwallow Mountain at 9920 feet. This is an active lookout with some historic WPA ground buildings dating to around 1940. The fire watch, Marianne, invited me up for a visit. I had a most enjoyable 45 minute conversation with this engaging woman, who has worked this tower the last 25 years or so. It was obvious she really loves doing this job. She must be a strong hiker too, since she has driven down to the Sandy Point trailhead and hiked the 12 miles over to the tower on Mogollon Baldy Peak to visit the gals working there. Then back in the same day for a nice 24 mile hike!
She called in the 2006 Bear Fire, which started nearby, and was forced to evacuate the tower shortly thereafter. Fortunately the beautiful forest around this peak was spared. Even though there is a newer cabin there, Marianne prefers to stay in the old one since it has better views. Some renovation work was done on it, but she wishes they hadn't removed the ceiling. She told me that the forest service was planning on doing the same to the cabin at Mogollon Baldy, but the gals working there wouldn't let them. Marianne pointed out her improvised wind vane hanging from a guy wire (large bird feather and rock weight). Being a weather geek, I sure liked that. She said there used to be a RAWS weather station there next to the cabin, but it was moved elsewhere.
This is a small 7x7 foot cabin. It has a very small doorway to squeeze through. Dominating the center of course is the Osborne Fire Finder. No outside catwalk, this baby is old school and I love it! Marianne says it is something to ride out thunderstorms in this small cab. When lightning hits the tower, the ground cables start glowing and then comes the flash and noise! She noted that when lightning hits a nearby tree the thunder is louder than when it hits the tower.
On a trip with Cindy to New Mexico in late May, we discovered a book by Dixie Boyle, "Between Land and Sky." It tells of her years as a fire lookout in various places. The first lookout job Dixie had was at this very tower back in 1982. A picture of Bearwallow is on the cover, so I brought it along for this trip, knowing I was going there. I showed it to Marianne, and though she doesn't know Dixie, she had heard of the book. She said now she will have to get a copy for sure.
Marianne didn't want her picture taken, so she took one of me instead. After thanking her for the invite up and excellent conversation, I said goodbye, then took more photos before heading down the mountain to look for a place to camp for the second night.
I wanted to stay at Ben Lilly campground by Willow Creek, but it was full. The other campgrounds in that area, Gilita and Willow Creek are closed due to the fire. I went back up toward Silver Creek Divide, but that was pretty full too, so I dropped down and found a spot I could call my own at the Redstone Park trailhead at about 8500 feet along Silver Creek.