A Visit to Burly Mountain Lookout

Burley Mountain Lookout was a product of the 1910 'Big Blowup' fires that devasted large areas of Washington, Idaho, and Montana

Cispus Valley

Although people have called this area home for thousands of years, we’ve only been coming out here over the last few years. It all started after I had read a book on the Mt. St. Helens eruption and wanted to get a close look at the crater from the Johnstone Observatory. Since then, we’ve just been extending our exploration in an ever-widening circle which in turn led us to the Cispus Valley, which in turn led to the Burley Mountain Lookout.

The geological history of Cispus Valley dates back to around 50 million years ago when the area was covered by a shallow sea. Over time, sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale were deposited on the sea floor, eventually forming the region’s bedrock.

Around 20 million years ago, the area experienced significant tectonic activity as the North American and Pacific plates collided, resulting in the uplifting and folding of the bedrock. This process also caused the formation of the Cascade Range, which can be seen to the west of the valley.

 

Yellowjacket Creek
A nice spot on Yellowjacket Creek to have a picnic.

Glaciers played a significant role in shaping the landscape of Cispus Valley during the Pleistocene epoch, which lasted from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. Glacial activity carved out the valley’s steep, U-shaped canyons and left behind large deposits of glacial till, a mixture of clay, sand, and rocks.

In more recent times, volcanic activity has also contributed to the geology of the region. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 deposited volcanic ash and debris throughout the area, which has since become incorporated into the soil and geology of the valley.

Today, Cispus Valley is a diverse and geologically complex region with a rich history of geological processes that have shaped its landscape over millions of years.

Support

Our mission is a labor of love, but it does come with overhead. If you’d like to support our efforts we’d certainly appreciate it. Currently, we’re actively participating in the following field research:

  • COASST Beached Bird Surveys
  • Wild and Scenic River Project

Thank you.

advertisement

Burley Mountain Lookout was a product of the 1910 'Big Blowup' fires that devasted large areas of Washington, Idaho, and Montana

Affiliates

We are the learned society for geography and geographers.
as-seal-gr
Working to provide opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to make a difference as they play in the outdoors.
coasst-logo
Working to translate long-term monitoring into effective marine conservation solutions.
Sea Grant Washington
Provide integrated research, communication, and education to coastal communities that lead to the responsible use of the nation’s oceans.

Latest Instagram

I woke up to a spectacular clouds show this morning. It was ever-changing and dramatic. I think it was due to a front moving in and then hitting the Olympics. ...

Boarding the MV Coho bright and early for a journey to Victoria, British Columbia. ...

Did you notice the breathtaking sunrise this morning? It was a refreshing change to see it without any rain. ...

Camping at Fort Worden this weekend. Nice to have the temperatures moderate and get outdoors. Even had a spot of sun as we passed the lighthouse on our walk. ...

It's sunny, but man, it's frigid out there! ...

We are enjoying the tranquility of a waterfall deep in the Olympic National Forest. ...

Taking a break on the trail to Goat Rock's summit for coffee. The trail leads from the park under the iconic Deception Pass Bridge. ...

Near the Tieton River bank, we found a blooming Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). Visit our website for more details and photos from this trip. ⁠ Media Description: Brittle Prickly Pear ...

Hey, we're going camping this weekend at Fort Flagler State Park. Looks like there's a wild front coming through and the winds are really starting to howl. The good news is that we pretty much have the whole campground to ourselves. ...

Yellow Salsify reminded us of our childhood, and yes, we spent considerable time blowing the seeds into the breeze.⁠ Media Description: Yellow Salsify. You can find more photos and read about this adventure with the link in the bio. ...

This set of pillars made from columnar basalt at the terminus of Frenchman Coulee is popular among rock climbers.⁠ Read more about this in the link in bio. ...

We started our hike to the Frenchman Coulee Waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge early in the morning to beat the heat. However, when we reached the bottom of the waterfall, it was already scorching hot. Follow the link in the bio to read more. ...

Point Wilson Lighthouse at night. This is a hand held shot with the new iPhone. Hard to believe where tech has taken us. ...

Large waves from the evening storm crashed against the rocks at the base of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. ...

Spending the weekend on the Washington coast near the mouth of the Columbia River. Last night it poured in camp, but this morning the sun broke throught for a bit. Make everything seem a bit warmer. ...

Burley Mountain Lookout

Nestled amidst the pristine forests of the Cascade Range in the state of Washington, Burley Mountain Lookout stands as a testament to the long history of fire detection and prevention in the region. Serving as a vital component in the early fire detection system, the lookout has since evolved into a symbol of the area’s rich past and inspires admiration among hikers, naturalists, and historians alike.

The Origins of the Lookout

The Burley Mountain Lookout traces its origins to the early 20th century, during an era marked by devastating forest fires across the United States. The Great Fire of 1910, also known as the “Big Blowup,” raged across Washington, Idaho, and Montana, incinerating over three million acres of land and claiming the lives of 87 people. This catastrophic event prompted the U.S. Forest Service to establish a more comprehensive fire detection system, leading to the construction of numerous lookout towers, including the Burley Mountain Lookout.

Built in 1934, the Burley Mountain Lookout was a critical element of the fire detection network in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The lookout consisted of a single-story wooden cabin with a cupola on top, allowing for a 360-degree view of the surrounding terrain. The cabin was strategically placed atop the 5,331-foot Burley Mountain, providing unparalleled visibility of the region.

advertisement

article gallery

The Golden Age of Lookouts

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Burley Mountain Lookout flourished as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) efforts to enhance the nation’s forests and parklands. The CCC, established in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, sought to provide work for unemployed young men while also improving public lands. During this time, the CCC constructed roads, trails, and bridges, as well as more than 800 fire lookout towers, including the Burley Mountain Lookout.

The Burley Mountain Lookout’s primary function was fire detection. A lookout staffed the cabin during the fire season, keeping watch for signs of smoke or flames. Once a potential fire was spotted, the lookout would use an instrument called an Osborne Firefinder to pinpoint the location of the fire and communicate the information to the nearest ranger station. The swift detection and reporting of fires often proved crucial in preventing small fires from becoming larger, uncontrollable blazes.

Decline and Restoration

Advancements in technology, such as aerial surveillance and remote sensing, led to a decline in the use of lookout towers by the mid-20th century. As a result, many towers fell into disrepair or were dismantled altogether. The Burley Mountain Lookout was no exception, with staffing discontinued in the 1960s.

However, recognizing the historical and cultural value of the Burley Mountain Lookout, a group of dedicated volunteers and preservationists formed the Burley Mountain Lookout Restoration Committee in the 1980s. Through their efforts, the lookout was restored to its original condition, complete with period-appropriate furnishings and equipment.

Present-Day Significance

Today, the Burley Mountain Lookout is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a popular destination for hikers and history enthusiasts. The lookout offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Cascade Range, including nearby Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. While the days of the lookout’s active fire detection service are long gone, it is a poignant reminder of the region’s history and the enduring importance of preserving our natural heritage for future generations.

Please share this:

More to explore

Temperate Rain Forest
Films

Toleak Survey Short Film

Here’s a short video that shows our typical environment when we got to Toleak Beach to conduct our COASST beached bird surveys.

Read More »

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.