BUCK ROCK FIRE LOOKOUT
Environment: Mountains, fire lookout
Activities: birdwatching, camping near by, dog walking (on 6' leash; scoop poop), hiking, horseback riding near by, picnicking (picnic tables and restroom near lookout, but no water), rock climbing, visiting lookout, volunteering
Open: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily during fire season, usually June to October, but may be closed due to fire activity or adverse weather conditions. A sign below the lookout informs visitors if the tower is open. No more than six people at a time are recommended on the lookout as there is very little room on top. Please keep in mind that the lookout is used as office and residence for the firewatcher on duty.
Site Steward: Buck Rock Foundation, U.S. Forest Service/Giant Sequoia National Monument
Opportunities for Involvement: membership, donate, volunteer
Links: Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument; Buck Rock Foundation
Directions: Map and directions are at the bottom of this page.
"In the morning, she was the first to watch the sun emerge from the hills to the east, and in the evening, when it was dark beneath her, the valleys and ridges gripped by the insinuating fingers of the night, she was the last to see it set." -- T. Coraghessan Boyle
"I've got a great office with a great view and a deluxe built-in Stairmaster." -- Helen Roe
"If a fire lookout does his or her job well, few people will ever know. The primary objective is to spot a fire -- 'a smoke,' in lookout lingo -- while it is still small and help fire crews extinguish it before it races across the landscape. The only way to do that is to climb the tower and watch, hour by hour, day by day, from the time the snow melts until it returns." -- Shaun McKinnon
"Somewhere in the history of fire watches, the tower and the lookout acquired an almost mythic quality, immortalized and romanticized by writers who spent a season or more climbing the stairs, looking for smokes." -- Shaun McKinnon
"Once only utilized for the detection of fire, lookouts are now considered functional for non-traditional uses and are being restored to serve as museums, interpretive centers, wildlife observation posts and vacation rentals." -- Buck Rock Foundation
". . . the sheer bubbling joy of living on the crest of the sky . . . It was like floating untethered, drifting with the clouds, like being cupped in the hands of God." -- T. C. Boyle
Photos for this article by: Laurie Schwaller; and courtesy of Anthony Bevilocqua, Buck Rock Foundation, karl44, M. Geer, M. Darters, A. Gunther, and C. Stewart,
The Story of the Buck Rock Fire Lookout — The Place to Go For High Adventure
by Terry Ommen
Perched atop an enormous granite rock on the northern boundary of Tulare County is a historic building called the Buck Rock Fire Lookout. It is a working lookout, but it is much more. At an elevation of 8,502 feet, this observation post is an amazing place…one that Huell Howser, host of the hit television show California’s Gold, strongly endorsed, saying, “For high adventure, this is the place to come.”
This granite outcropping first served as a lookout post for fires in 1912. To get to the top, early fire watchers had to scramble up a tree trunk that leaned against the rock, and then, using a series of makeshift ladders, make their way up the steep face to the summit and its 360-degree panorama of a vast portion of the southern Sierra. Not only did they have a great vantage point to spot fires, they had an amazing view of a spectacular section of a mountain range known for its beauty.
In 1923, a one-room cabin, or cab as it is called, was built on top of the rock, and this live-in style structure became the prototype for many other lookouts that followed.
Hundreds of fire watchers have served lookout duty at Buck Rock over the years, but none has been involved with it any longer than Leatrice Evinger Dotters. She started as a fire lookout on June 6, 1944. While most men were off to war, Lea took over what was traditionally a man’s job, and did it for $120.00 per month—the first female firewatcher at Buck Rock. She worked there the entire fire season and has been connected to this special place ever since.
At one time about 600 fire lookout facilities served California, with about 8,000 nationwide. Over the years many have disappeared.
Buck Rock might have been lost too, had it not been for U. S. Forest Service employee Kathryn (Kathy) Ball Allison.
In 1997, in anticipation of a major lightning storm, Kathy was moved from Delilah Lookout to Buck Rock, which had been staffed only during emergencies since 1987. The reassignment decision was a good one. While at Buck Rock, Kathy reported multiple fires, made weather observations, relayed radio transmissions, and monitored the fire well after the firefighters left the scene. The Choke Fire, as it was called, proved to be a big one, involving hundreds of firefighters. Once it was out, Kathy returned to Delilah, leaving Buck Rock unstaffed again.
But Kathy didn't forget Buck Rock. Saddened by the prospect of its closing, she led an effort, with help from co-workers, to create an advocacy organization that would support not only Buck Rock, but all lookouts. From that, the Buck Rock Foundation, www.buckrock.org, was formed, a non-profit corporation “dedicated to preserving the tradition of forest fire lookouts and other historically significant buildings.” In 1999, with the help of the Buck Rock Foundation, Buck Rock was re-established as a primary location for fire detection and has been staffed seven days a week ever since during fire season by Forest Service personnel in partnership with Foundation volunteers who provide relief. Visitors can climb the safe, but thrilling, 172 steps to the cab and its catwalk when the lookout is open.
Buck Rock has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. Kathy has been the foundation’s only president. Lea Dotters credits Kathy's effort in the creation of the foundation and keeping Buck Rock a working lookout. “I just can’t say enough about her and her tireless work on behalf of Buck Rock and all the lookouts,” she said.
NEWS FLASH: CALIFORNIA CONDORS VISIT BUCK ROCK! See TCT Facebook page for a link to info and more photos.
Address: 2.5 miles north of Horse Camp USFS Campground
N36° 43.9038'/W118° 51.7474'
From Visalia head north on Hwy 63; turn right onto Hwy 180E into Kings Canyon N.P. At the "Y" turn right (south) onto CA-198/Generals Hwy. Exit Generals Highway onto Big Meadows turn off (FS Road 14S11), and drive 3 miles to Horse Camp; turn left onto 13S04. Follow the signs, driving 2-½ miles along a dirt road to Buck Rock Lookout.
Note: You can enjoy a great loop trip by going South on Generals Highway through Sequoia NP to Three Rivers and back to Visalia.