Scramble up the rocky slopes of Devil’s Head, Colorado, and experience the majestic views provided by one of America’s oldest fire lookouts.

As early as 1907, the two-year-old Forest Service had begun to realize the potential usefulness of high vantage points to monitor fires. William Kreutzer, the nation’s first forest ranger, recommended a series of peaks in the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado for this purpose. The most prominent was Devil’s Head, a rocky granite outcropping high above Pike National Forest, near Sedalia, Colorado.

In the wake of the Great Fire of 1910, the Forest Service began constructing permanent stations at these points. In 1912, Colorado foresters established a crude lookout at Devil’s Head. This primitive station consisted of a small alidade table, which is an instrument consisting of a map and sighting mechanism used to pinpoint the exact location of fires around the lookout, and a tiny log cabin on an outcropping. The Forest Service has used the site continuously since the establishment of this early station.

In 1919, the Service built a more permanent structure. It consisted of a ten-foot by ten-foot wooden cabin, flanked by large windows that granted the ranger within a 360-degree view of the surrounding forests. The first lookout to occupy this new station was Helen Dowe, the second woman in United States history to staff an official forest fire lookout. In the wake of World War I, the Forest Service faced a shortage of able-bodied men to operate stations. Dowe was born in Denver in 1889, and spent much of her youth working as a horseback riding instructor in the mountains around Devil’s Head. As such, she knew the area well. Dowe spotted and reported dozens of wildfires during her tenure as a lookout from 1919 to 1921, saving thousands of acres from burning. In her time at Devil’s Head, she gained widespread publicity. As the subject of numerous magazine articles, Dowe became a prominent feminist figure at the height of the national suffrage movement. According to the Denver Post, she received thousands of letters from women around the country who envied her position. 

The Forest Service replaced the old observatory at Devil’s Head Lookout in 1951. The current station is the last lookout in Colorado to be staffed full-time. Pike-Isabel National Forest makes the site available to tourists and hikers, who flock to the rocky outcropping for the lookout’s history and the incredible views from the top. Visitors can access the station via a 1.5-mile hike, and parking is available at the Devil’s Head Trailhead. The last leg of the journey takes hikers up a winding wooden staircase, which works its way up massive granite outcroppings. Lucky visitors may get the chance to talk to the station’s lookout.

Images

Helen Dowe
Helen Dowe Helen Dowe in the cab of the Devil’s Head Lookout, circa 1919. The device to the left is an early iteration of the Osborne Fire-Finder, an instrument used to pinpoint the exact location of spotted wildfires in which two sights would pivot around a map of the area, with the location of lookout at the direct center. Source: Colburn, F.E. "Devil's Head Fire Lookout." July 1919. Photo courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, NC. Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/foresthistory/
Devils Head in Recent Years
Devils Head in Recent Years The current lookout at Devil’s Head, circa 2011. The Forest Service constructed this building in 1951 to update the outdated station. This is the only lookout in Colorado still staffed full-time. Source: Bill. "Devils Head Tower." 2011. Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/
Helen Dowe
Helen Dowe Helen Dowe in the cab of the Devil’s Head Lookout, circa 1919. The device to the left is an early iteration of the Osborne Fire-Finder, an instrument used to pinpoint the exact location of spotted wildfires in which two sights would pivot around a map of the area, with the location of lookout at the direct center. Source: F.E. Colburn. "Forest Service, USDA." Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usforestservice/49691001356/in/photostream/
Devil's Head Lookout
Devil's Head Lookout The earliest iteration of the Devil’s Head Lookout Station, circa 1914. A lookout would have lived in the small cabin beneath the outcropping and used the alidade table beneath the awning to pinpoint any wildfires they spotted. Source: "Lookout station on Devil's Head." 1910-1920. Guy Watson Smith Photo Album #2. Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/douglascountyhistory/

Location

Metadata

Tanner Hammarstrom, Northern Arizona University, “Devil’s Head Lookout,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 22, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/708.