Some summers are destined to generate cherished memories. For married high school sweethearts Don and Nancy Hammond, they happened in 1972 and 1973, when Don’s lifelong dream of being a United States Forest Service fire lookout came true.
Don’s first post, the Dunn Peak Lookout, was located eight miles northwest of Avery in Idaho’s St. Joe National Forest. Once they arrived, they breathlessly lugged provisions and water up steep stairs to its fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cab two stories above the forest floor. Furnishings included a single bed, small bookcase, cabinet, and table, and a wood stove. There was no electricity or running water. A battery powered two-way Motorola radio would be their only connection to the outside world. That night—engulfed by lightning strikes and filled with adrenalin—they faced their first storm.
Unless it was foggy or raining, the Forest Service required Don to conduct binocular searches from the catwalk at least twenty minutes of every hour while he was on duty. He watched for smoke during the day and the glow of fire at night, and learned to distinguish between blue smoke plumes and white wisps of fog. Despite the primitive conditions, Don, Nancy, and their Dalmatian, Misty, settled in and came to love their lookout life. They spotted wildfires, were startled by their first cougar scream, encountered a wide variety of human and animal visitors, discovered delectable huckleberry patches, and simply enjoyed the enchanting beauty all around them.
The Forest Service decided to close the Dunn Peak Lookout, so the couple spent the summer of 1973 at the Middle Sister Peak tower, ten miles southeast of Avery. In The Last Lookout, Nancy shares stories from those two exciting, magical fire seasons, along with their return as volunteers 37 years later. Interspersing regional fire history as well as dangers and details of the work, she journeys back to the narrow catwalks and stunning panoramas—a place where storms are building, the forest is dry, and any lightning strike could ignite a raging wildfire.
“The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak is the story of a newly married urban couple who take on the Idaho wilderness in this unique memoir about living in one of the last manned fire lookout towers. Hammond offers rich details about the history of this now lost occupation as well as describing scary encounters with people, wildlife, and worst of all, fires. A great read for anyone wanting a bird’s eye view into the lives and daily challenges of a young couple living on a remote mountaintop in anything but an ivory tower.”—Susan Richards, New York Times bestselling author of Chosen by a Horse
Illustrations / 6″ x 9″ / 284 pages / ISBN 978-1-63864-008-0 (2023)