The Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout just might be the place to impress your guests who want to experience the great outdoors of Colorado, although it could be a bit much for those coming from sea level.
This vacation rental – sure to garner attention on lists of unusual places to visit – definitely offers spectacular views, sunrises and sunsets like none other – and lots of privacy.
In the 1930s and early '40s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked on numerous projects in the Denver/Evergreen area, it built a lookout tower on Squaw Mountain, at an elevation of 11,486 feet, designed to help spot fires along the Front Range. At one time it was manned year-round by a couple who lived in a stone house they built within walking distance.
As with most of the structures created by the CCC, the lookout was constructed with native stone easily accessible to the building site. In 1940 it replaced the original lookout, built in 1925 by the City and County of Denver, for an improved view extending in all directions.
The tower is two stories, each 14 x 14 feet square. The upper story is glassed in on all four sides with a catwalk meant to enable fire rangers to spot smoke in any direction. Until 1968 it was one of about 40 such towers that dotted the Colorado map. Improvements in fire technology caused it to become outdated and to lie dormant. Only about 14 of the towers in the state have survived.
After the tower received some much-needed attention over a 10-year period, it again fell into a serious state of disrepair. Sondra Jackson Kellogg (photo right) – former principal at Bergen Elementary School and formerly a full-time resident at the Mt. Evans Outdoor Lab – was instrumental in getting the local chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association3 to take on the project of restoring the tower in about 2004.
"It had been vandalized; the shutters were off, and the windows broken," she recalled. Sondra has a particular fondness for fire towers, as she and her first husband, Jim Jackson, spent two summers in the early '60s staffing a tower in the Roosevelt National Forest from dawn to dusk, seven days a week.
But Sondra says it was Nicole Malandri, Recreation Fee Manager for the Clear Creek division of the Forest Service, who really made it all happen with regard to a future for the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout. She's the one who took on the red tape four years ago to get the Squaw Pass Fire Tower on the rental system. Squaw Mountain's lookout is one of just two in the state that can be rented. Fees collected will help will offset the cost to preserve the lookout, and frequent occupancy will keep it from falling into disrepair.
Over a period of about eight years, teams of up to 10 volunteers per day worked on the restoration project, generally on two project days/year, Nicole explained.
For those thinking about renting the lookout, take a high-clearance vehicle to get within 2 miles of your lodging and plan to hike the rest of the way. Renters may need to access by snowshoes or cross-country skis nine months out of the year. The structure is lightning certified, but you'll need to bring along some common sense to accompany the instructions on what to do in case of electrical storms.
The property offers electricity and heat but no running water. But "it has the most beautiful outhouse," says Sondra Kellogg, describing the matching stone structure also built by the CCC that is now fitted with an INCINOLET, an electric toilet that burns human waste.
The building is listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties as well as on the National Historic Lookout Register.
The lookout is available for rent year round and can accommodate four people per night. In addition to a set of bunk beds, there are two metal army cots, a table and chairs, an electric stove and a refrigerator.
With the popularity of winter recreation opportunities in Colorado, the Forest Service is enthusiastic about the potential for use. Since opening for business mid-July, it's being reserved steadily and is already booked for most of August.