|A towering campsite getaway
Story and photos by Billie Jean Plaster
By the time we reached Deer Ridge, the sun was behind the Selkirk Mountains that lay across the valley. In the last few moments of dusk, we hurried to unload our camping gear and haul it up the
40-foot lookout tower that was to be our home for the weekend. A five-gallon bucket on a pulley helped with some of the gear; the rest was laboriously carried by hand up the lookouts 52 wooden steps. As we reached the top for the first time, I felt myself swoon and get slightly weak-legged as I noted Deer Ridge Lookouts imposing height.
This weekend was the first full moon in August 2001. For a mere $50, we had two nights in the 14-foot-by-14-foot cabin atop the tower overlooking the Moyie River valley northeast of Bonners Ferry. At 4,755 feet in the Purcell Mountains, Deer Ridge is not the highest lookout in Boundary County. There are two other retired lookouts that now serve as recreational rentals with the Bonners Ferry Ranger District: Shorty Peak, a 15-foot-square lookout cabin at 6,515 feet in the Selkirks; and Black Mountain, a 14-foot-square cabin atop a 53-foot tower at 6,096 feet in the Cabinets. Then there is Snyder Guard Station on the Moyie River, an old ranger house with all the amenities of home.
The next day, we awoke to an overcast sky. The tower wasnt socked in, however, so we could see the breathtaking views of the Selkirk Mountains to the west. The cabin is basically a box with windows, so views are 360 degrees of unobstructed beauty. A simple table, a few chairs and a twin bed complete its sparse furnishings.
After breakfast, cooked on a one-burner propane stove, we embarked on a hike down trail No. 277, staying on the high side above Deer Creek. The huckleberries were ripe and plentiful. After a two-hour venture through alpine meadows and forests, we arrived back at the lookout with about a gallon of berries as a light rain began to fall. Following lunch, the skies cleared and we headed down to the Moyie River; I took off on my mountain bike, followed by my husband, Mark, and son, Luke, in the pickup. After an exhilarating ride to the bottom, I loaded the bicycle up and we all went for a drive along the Moyie River.
Back at the lookout, Mark and Luke hiked down to Deer Creek in search of fish, while I stayed in the cabin and read the visitors log several years worth of amusing summaries written by folks who came from as far away as Europe.
That evening, we hung out at the lookout in anticipation of the full moon rising behind us over Keno Mountain. Just before nightfall, a white-tailed deer meandered into the clearing below the lookout and browsed vegetation around the tower for about an hour. Our dogs, still tuckered out from the morning hike, slept soundly without even taking notice of the doe. About 9:30 p.m., I stationed myself on the catwalk with my camera and tripod to take shots of the moons gradual ascent over Keno.
We slept lightly that night; every corner of the cabin was aglow with moonlight. Several times I woke up and took notice of the moons place in the sky, ever more westward as dawn approached. Morning came, and we began packing up to make the noon checkout. We reveled in the fact that we hadnt had to endure a lightning storm over the weekend; nor had we broken through the catwalks railing. As we headed toward home, I wondered aloud about which lookout we should stay in next year.
Billie Jean Plaster is a camping wimp who has reservations for Black Mountain Lookout over Labor Day weekend.
To make reservations for any of the rentals available through the Bonners Ferry Ranger District, call (208) 267-5561. For best selection, call as soon as Jan. 2 for the next season.
Black Mountain Lookout: Open from mid-June through September about 25 miles southeast of Bonners Ferry. $25 per night.
Deer Ridge Lookout: Open mid-June through September about 24 miles northeast of Bonners Ferry. $25 per night.
Shorty Peak Lookout: Open July through September about 45 road miles northwest of Bonners Ferry via a 2.5-mile to reach the cabin. $20 per night.
Snyder Guard Station: Listed on the National Register for Historic Places, the house is on the Moyie River 30 miles northeast of Bonners Ferry and is open late May through September. Rates are $35 per night or $175 for one week.