Written by Martha in November, 1960
FORWARD: This is an actual account of a honeymoon during the summer months of 1960.
The author and her husband spent this time at the lookout tower on Ash Peak,
in Sequoia National Park, California.
Located high in the mountains, atop Ash Peak, is a lonely lookout tower, which has a lovely view of Sequoia National Park. It was in this lookout tower where my newly acquired husband took his bride for a three month honeymoon, two and half miles from the nearest road. The tower was approximately seven feet by seven feet atop seven flights of stairs. Below this majestic room we lived in a one room cabin large enough for one person to turn around in—and that’s about all! With all the beautiful scenery surrounding us, we weren’t supposed to mind the lack of plumbing and other modern conveniences; which everyone takes for granted nowadays. However, we were blessed with one of the few double beds in the park!
For kitchen sinks, we used two dishpans. The dishpans also served as wash bowls and bathtubs. To fill these lovely items…I used a water dipper and two large garbage cans. Of course the cans were covered for sanitary reasons…the garbage cans I mean, as they contained our complete supply of water. Our fresh water arrived weekly, via the mule train, by courtesy of our faithful packer and relief man.
On the second day of our stay we saw a large brown bear in the vicinity. From the tower, he seemed like a nice old fellow. But, the following day I was located in another building in the area, lovingly referred to as the “30-yard dash”; and heard movements in the bushes behind the building. This was bad enough, as my thoughts were reminiscing to the brown bear, but the building being so small; I had propped the door open and was unable to reach the handle to close it. After remaining scared stiff for a moment, I managed a yell to my husband; who assured me that it was only a squirrel.
Having learned my lesson, that it wasn’t possible to close the door once you were seated, I promptly located an old ax handle; hereafter referred to as the “bear stick”, that was kept in our “30-yard dash” for emergencies.
On my first trip up the trail, I was privileged to ride the horse and pull the mule; so as to gain a better impression of the trail. Jim and our relief man walked the trail and then the horse and mule were taken back out by the relief man. After six days, of doing nothing, I decided to hike to town and buy a steak to celebrate our first week anniversary. After finally making it back, the area seemed beautiful, I decided that it would be a long, cold day before I was bored enough to attempt that long, hot trail again.
The following day, while I was recuperating from my aching legs; an exciting thing occurred.... F I R E. I rushed up the tower, at my fastest pace (pretty slow) and saw that it was only two miles below us and burning fast. Within the following hour, the order came to pack what we could carry on our backs and move out. What a trip. Carrying what we could, we proceeded down the trail in the hot mid-day sun. The car was a welcome sight after the grueling ordeal of that trail.
(somehow the end of this story disappeared and I've reattached the remainder of the story)
As our quarters were located at the tower, we found ourselves living like gypsies during the following week and a half. One of the rangers offered to share his quarters with us. The trouble being that he lived with another ranger and there was only one bedroom, the first night I found myself sleeping under the kitchen table, while my husband slept on the bedroom floor. This arrangement lasted for several days, after which I declared my wish to see anything other than the kitchen table above my head at night. So, we joined the park visitors and slept under the stars, forgetting the animals that roamed about at night.
During the daylight hours, I joined my husband, who had been located on top of Moro Rock, at his “lookout”. This consisted of climbing up approximately 300 rock stairs to reach our daily post. After the morning trek up, we seated ourselves, as comfortably as possible, on the rock and watched the fire burning closer and closer to our lookout tower that was filled with our possessions. After a week of this for nine hours a day, I couldn’t decide which hurt the most; our rear extremities from sitting on the rocks or our beautiful sunburns we were acquiring. And this we were calling a honeymoon?
After my constant complaints to the Assistant District Ranger, we were permitted to return to the Colony Mill Ranger Station, where our packer lived, and was our second home. After the first night, we were informed that the fire was under control and they were moving the fire camp to Colony Mill. The fire crew consisted mostly of prisoners, so we had to move again. This time we were permitted to return to our lookout, which had been saved, and start to live semi-normal lives again. The fire had come with a quarter of a mile of our tower and was still burning on parts of the trail; so we were privileged to ride in the helicopter. Upon arrival; we were quite surprised at the appearance of our home. The fire line had been made up our ridge, and we found our home situated directly on the fire line. They had cut down nearly all of our trees and made a mess of the whole area. In order to accommodate the helicopter, they made a beautiful heliport next to our cabin at the base of the lookout tower. This was nice, except that the helicopter continued to bring in the fire crews everyday for nearly two weeks. With up to sixteen landings a day, on a dirt field, the dust continued to fly into every crack and crevice. I found that there was plenty to do just keeping the dust wiped off the kitchen shelf and other items, too numerous to name. During this time I was told to wear long sleeved blouses and long pants; keep inside a much as possible, with the door locked. I was also told to keep the sheath knife with me at all times. This was all very exciting in the beginning, but seemed very unnecessary after a while. I was surprised at how much the prisoners respected me and seemed to keep their distance. During this time, I had a grand opportunity to listen to their own particular language. One of their frequently used terms was, “Don’t bug me, I’m tripping>‘ Translated into the common terminology this phase means, “Don’t bother me, I’m day dreaming.”
Finally, they put out all of the hot spots and the daily helicopter trips came to a stop. After the excitement died down, we started to glance around at the equipment left by the fire fighters. One of the items was left was a back pump. This is a black rubber sack with a pressure nozzle attached. When strapped on the back, it is a very useful item in fire fighting. They had left the back pump lying in the sun, and after testing the water; we found it quite warm. Due to the high fire danger in the park, we had been on standby for several weeks; which meant that we worked on our days off. This being the factor, we hadn’t been near running water for quite some time to take a much-needed shower.
A brilliant ideal struck us and we decided to make our own shower. As soon as the sun settled down for the night, we took turns setting on the tower stairway, and spraying the soap off of each other. The idea was just great, until the smell of rubbery water began to take effect. That was the last of our homemade shower!
As things returned to normal, I began to return to my activities of reading books and helping in the tower. I soon began to realize that the occupation of a lookout could become extremely tiring at times. Nothing to do except watch for fires and listen to people talking on the short-wave park radio. But then we always had lightning storms to make up for the lack of excitement during other periods.
After one of our storms, we had retired to the cabin for the night; when a familiar voice came over the radio. One of the backcountry Rangers was reporting that the tourists in the area had spotted a fire. He stated that the fire should be visible from Ash Peak. With this information, we were sure that they would be calling us any minute for a report. This was fine, except that my husband was in the middle of a sponge bath and unable to do much in the way of anything at the moment. Frantically reaching for the transmitter mike, he made his report stating that he couldn’t see anything as of yet, I was holding back the curtain of the window and he was halfway gaping out of it. Within seconds he was in his pajamas and running up the tower steps, radio in hand (we always brought it down with us at night; to make his actual report. The situation turned out fine, as we were unable to see the fire from our location; a fact which the Fire Control Officer soon remembered himself; but not until Jim nearly broken his neck going up those stairs.
The last lightning storm occurred the Friday before we left the mountains. The storm didn’t begin to break until after dinner. By dusk they were really tarting to strike all around us, and we were charting them for future reference as fast as we could. By nine o’clock the storm was in full force and the lightning was coming down in two or more forks over the complete area. What a beautiful sight. The complete sky would light up as we were standing there in the darkness of the tower; with rain dripping in from every corner; we had stuffed a magazine into one of the broken windows and held it in place with the back of the chair. Other than being extremely cold, I think the ideal of lightning striking the tower was the most frightening experience that night. Although the tower wasn’t hit that evening, we had one strike within several hundred feet of the tower earlier in the season; last year they had had a direct hit on the tower. This being the possibility, everything in the area was grounded; including the bed in the cabin. The only bad part of it was that one wasn’t supposed to touch anthing metal if lightning did hit, so with approximately two feet of space on each side of the firefinder (this was the instrument that we gave fire readings from) there wasn’t too much room to move around in without danger of touching something metal. By midnight the storm was over and we had spotted one fire and given a negative report of a fire on our peak that had been reported by another lookout. Slipping down the wet stairs we headed for the welcome bed and set the alarm for five o’clock, so as to be up at the break of dawn to watch for more fires started by the storm.
And so another honeymoon hit the dust and we left our hills and returned to the low-lander’s life with all the modern conveniences. All that was left were our wonderful memories of an unforgettable honeymoon, filled with many unusual occurrences; and a lifetime ahead to reminisce about them.
NOTE FROM JIM TO MARTHA’S MOTHER
I don’t know what Martha wishes or expects me to write about since she just ran out of news, perhaps, she expects me to invent some. I’ll try one way or another.
Martha has adapted herself very well toward the monastic type life that a lookout leads, but she looks forward with such enthusiasm to our non-existent days off. We may get a day off today and then all stops will be pulled. She’ll run down the trail like a doe chased by a buck and deter me from stopping to talk to my friends at the Park Headquarters. Down we shall go to Visalia, the local metropolis, which even has a show, and there we shall spend our evening, but not before we go to a Motel. At this oasis, we will enjoy the unheard of pleasures of running water sprinkling through shower-heads, even though we have a substitute occasionally. The substitute consists of spraying each other with the back pumps that the fire crews left behind.
After a good nights sleep we shall collect our dazzled wits together with our pocket books and buy food for two weeks, but this will only happen after I use all the hot water up that the Motel has for shaving. Then we shall make our way back to our Peak of Ashes, tired, but happy, although remember this will only happen if we get our day off.