The phone dinged, and as I read the message, I couldn’t help but smile. “We were just gifted Little Guard lookout and another in Montana for the 4th of July weekend. Are you in?” was more or less what it said. I knew I didn’t have to reply back; of course, I was in, everyone knew that, but I replied “Yes” with a childish grin on my face, and the planning began.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my rig was loaded with gear for the weekend, and I was watching the clock like a hawk. As soon as it hit 5 o’clock, I was out the door and on the highway from Coeur d’Alene to Kingston, ID.
Little Guard is a historic lookout about 25 miles north of Kingston, ID, and was one of the last area lookouts to see active duty. The current building is the third one to sit on the site, but the first was erected over 100 years ago in 1919. While it’s one of the more accessible lookouts in the area, I had actually never been. As I drove north along the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene river, I mentally replayed every picture and bit of info I could find online about the historic lookout because that’s the type of Lookout Nerd I am.
After about 25 miles of pavement heading deeper into the wilderness, I traded the hardtop pavement for a dirt and gravel road. These roads are my favorite, and I have been known to channel my inner rally car driver. Most of this particular road to the lookout is in good condition; it’s only the last 2 or 3 that get bumpy and off-kilter a bit. You have to make a quick stop to open the gate, but once you do that, you are almost there.
As you drive the last few hundred yards, the lookout starts popping into view. I crane my neck out the car window to see whatever glimpses of it that I can. But as I round the last bend, the lookout fills my windshield. I made it!
The first thing at a new lookout is always the same for me – exploring. I need to check out the space. Little Guard is an L4 cab set on a concrete block structure that doubles as a kitchen with a propane stove, fridge, some counter space, and holds some Forest Services radio gear. There are some excellent old photos down there as well.
It’s only a short stairway up to the tower, and a quick walk around the catwalk let me get a first glimpse of the 360-degree mountain views and glimpses of the river below. The inside was appointed similarly to most towers with a desk, an Osburn Firefinder, and a few bunks.
A few friends that live close by brought their families up to enjoy a cool, crisp summer night. Most of the evening was spent on the catwalk with those friends getting caught up, swapping stories, and enjoying each other’s company during the beautiful sunset.
A little later into the evening, our hearts skipped a beat when we heard a noise down below. Someone hollered for Newt, Cat’s dog, thinking it was her, but she was in the lookout. It turns out it was a decent size buck sniffing walking around the first story of the lookout; maybe something salty had spilled at some point.
There was no moon the night we were there, which meant it was time to take out the camera and try to shoot a little night photography. After midnight, I finally decided to call it a wrap on the photography and call it a night.
I tried not to wake anyone up when I came back in the lookout and failed before grabbing my sleeping quilt and air mattress. I decided to sleep out on the catwalk that evening which has become my new favorite thing.
Right after I laid down, shifted around a bit, and found that perfect comfy spot, I heard VERY LOUD rustling directly below me. I sat right up, my heart skipped a beat, but it was only that darn buck again.
From there on, I slept like a baby until the early summer sunrise crept up around 4:30 am and blasted me in the face with every ray of sunshine that it could. I pulled my quilt over my head and tried my best but could not ignore it past 5 am. Luckily the lookout started heating up around that time, and everyone else woke up as well.
Groggy morning hello’s were heard, I think there was a breakfast made, and we packed up pretty quickly. After clearing everything out of the lookout, we always sweep and clean up after ourselves, trying to follow the mantra of leaving it cleaner than you found it.
Usually, I would be sad as I pulled away, but not this time. We were leaving this lookout to head to another. That weekend’s adventure was only halfway through.