Climb the stairs of the beautifully restored Ute Mountain Fire Tower and experience the last remaining lookout in the state of Utah.

During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was heavily involved in America’s fire policies through the construction of fire suppression infrastructure. Following the Great Fire of 1910, the federal government became increasingly concerned with the surveillance and management of wildfires. The responsibilities that arose from this concern fell at the feet of government forestry administrations, such as the Forest Service. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the CCC into existence as part of his broader New Deal policies. The founding of the CCC both created jobs for young men struggling during the Great Depression, and provided foresters with an ample work force to help with fire suppression.

During this period, Ashley National Forest in northeastern Utah desperately needed a permanent fire tower. While mountain tops had been used as crude fire lookouts consisting of little more than campsites, no fire lookouts with living quarters had been built in the state of Utah. However, in 1937, the CCC completed the construction of the Ute Mountain Fire Tower in Ashley National Forest. It was the first and last of its kind to be built in the state.

One of the tools utilized at Ute Mountain was an Osborne Fire-Finder. This device served as an essential part of any efficient lookout facility for decades. It consisted of a circular map mounted to a table, typically at the center of a given lookout. A sighting mechanism consisting of two brass posts pivoted around the table, secured to opposite ends of one another. One post had a thin slit in it while the other stretched a single horse hair. At the direct center of the map would have been the location of the lookout. By moving the posts to line up with any smoke sighted, a lookout could record the exact location of a fresh wildfire. Ute Mountain also had a telephone and radio, and either could be used to contact Ashley National Forest’s fire command, who would subsequently rush to the site of the fire and extinguish it if possible.

Unfortunately, by the late 1960s, the tower was in disrepair. In 1967, a Forest Service survey of the structure proved that all four of the tower’s legs were rotting, and the structure soon closed. In an effort to preserve Utah’s only remaining fire lookout, Ashley National Forest nominated the tower for the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The Service soon restored the tower, and the Forest held a rededication ceremony in 1987. However, in 2008 the Forest Service again discovered rot in all of the support beams. They considered demolishing the structure, but the local community believed it was too significant to the history of conservation in Utah. Ashley National Forest restored the tower most recently in 2014.

Today, the site is open to visitors as a historical interpretive site. Accessible by car, guests are encouraged to climb the steps of the tower and peer inside the large windows to experience the living quarters of a fire lookout.

Images

The Ute Tower
The Ute Tower Ute Mountain Fire Tower as it appeared circa 2018. The structure has undergone two major rehabilitations since its construction in 1937. As a historic interpretive site, it appears today much as it did in the 1930s. Source: Radcliffe, Lawrence A. Ute Mountain Fire Tower. September 26, 2018. Photograph. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ute_Mountain_Fire_Tower.jpg
Inside the Lookout
Inside the Lookout The interior of the Ute Mountain Fire Tower as it appeared circa 2019. Note the more recent iteration of the Osborne Fire-Finder mounted in the middle of the cab. Combined with a 360-degree view of the surrounding forest, lookouts could produce the exact coordinates of a fire in seconds with this device. Source: Henschen, Patricia. Interior Ute Mountain Fire Tower. June 7, 2019. Photograph. Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tamarackgold/
An Introduction to the Ute Mountain Fire Tower
An Introduction to the Ute Mountain Fire Tower Information sheet posted at the base of Ute Mountain Fire Tower, circa 1970s. This sheet was included in the information sent to the National Register of Historic Places when Ashley National Forest nominated the site in 1980. Source: Combs, John C. Ute Lookout Tower. Februray 29, 1980. National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/72000947

Location

Metadata

Tanner Hammarstrom, Northern Arizona University , “Ute Fire Tower,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 18, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/711.