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Monday, August 3, 2020

Buck Mountain

Buck Mountain fire tower
Remember 1973? The year was rife with high-tension world events, political controversy and noteworthy bright spots. There was the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, the opening of the World Trade Center and U.S. involvement in Vietnam was winding down with the Paris Peace Accords.
View from the summit of Buck Mountain.
On the home front, tennis great Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a match hyped as “the battle of the sexes” while the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade spurred debate over women’s reproductive rights that’s still roiling today. But all this was overshadowed by two events that got personal.
The hike's last mile is open to foot travel only
First, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo caused angry confrontations at the gas pump, price gouging and fuel shortages. Next, in an ominous precursor to 2020, there was a run on toilet paper. Ostensibly, Led Zeppelin’s North American Tour moored an otherwise utterly confusing year. Turns out 1973 was a reminder that just when things seem to be going great, disruption comes to bite us on the posterior with historic regularity. Decades before the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020 wreaked havoc at the onset of the new coronavirus lock down, other world events lead to shortages of an array of crucial (albeit less personally distressing) materials. Perhaps your great-grandparents shared stories about deprivations brought on by the Great Depression or World War II rationing and how patriotic citizens organized collection drives for tires, scrap metal and even rags and paper to help in the war effort.
The hike follows Forest Road 229B
Or maybe you or your parents recall the chaos of 1973 when rumors spread by late night comics—on the pre-Twitter platform of TV-- about unsubstantiated toilet paper shortages caused people to freak out and raid store shelves of the precious commodity. In the words of legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, 2020 echoes, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” While there may never be a monument erected to the potty paper panic, a couple of relics of past scarcities are preserved on Arizona mountaintops.
A blueberry elder tree blooms on Buck Mtn.
Perched atop a knoll halfway between Happy Jack and Clints Well, on the Mogollon Rim 40 miles south of Flagstaff, Buck Mountain fire lookout is one of only a few surviving CT-2-type towers in American forests. Arizona has two of the rare wooden lookouts; the other is East Pocket near Sedona, also in Coconino National Forest and both towers are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
View from Forest Road 229B.
Mock pennyroyal grows along the route.
If it seems weird to construct a fire tower from combustible materials, consider that at the time it was built, construction staples like metal, the usual choice for lookouts, were simply unavailable or were being diverted to war manufacturing while wood could still be harvested from forests near construction sites. You make do with what you have. The 30-foot high structure which is capped with a 14’x14’ cabin and catwalk was originally constructed in 1939, rebuilt in 1943, fixed numerous times and restored in 2003 using materials and processes that retain its historic character.
Buck Mountain lookout was built in 1939.
For safety and preservation, the tower is not open to the public. The hike to the tower follows FR 229B, a scenic forested dirt route that makes a mild uphill climb. The road is open to motorized travel up to the 1.5-mile point where a gate blocks the way and only foot travel is allowed on the final mile to the tower.
The route cross a cattle guard on FR 229B.
Slightly steeper than the lower road, the summit walk segment passes among shady stands of pines, oaks and flowering shrubs. Judging from the chatter in the treetops, this area appears to be a haven for birds.
Buck Mountain is a haven for birds.
I observed woodpeckers, ravens, Stellar’s jays, hawks and dozens of other species that swooped by too quickly for me to identify. Roadside log piles and fresh stumps from recent thinning operations for forest health in the area have revealed views of the surrounding landscape that grow in spectacle as the dusty two track ascends the mountain’s southwest flank. Near the top, the forest opens up to allow peeks at the mound of Apache Maid Mountain, Sedona’s red rocks to the northwest and the rugged gorges of West Clear Creek and Fossil Creek Wilderness areas to the south.
View of Sedona from Buck Mountain.
Summit marker below the fire tower.
The road tops out on a small clearing where the tower, the remains of what looks like an outdoor grill and a newish restroom building are spread out on the mountain’s high point. A dirt path that makes a loop around the complex serves as tour guide a for enjoying far-reaching vistas.
White prairie aster blooms Aug - Oct.
At the base of the tower (again, it is closed to public visitation) a concrete slab inscribed with Civilian Conservation Corps initials, a brass summit marker and a tiny sandstone memorial add tidbits of discovery to the hike. On the way down the mountain, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check to see if the restroom had any toilet paper. It was locked. 
Ponderosa pines shade the summit of Buck Mtn.
LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip 
RATING: moderate 
ELEVATION: 6,794-7,571 feet 
GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, go 42.5 miles south on Lake Mary Road (County Road 3) to Forest Road 229 on the right past milepost 302. Go 2 miles on FR 229 to FR 229B on the left. Park in the dirt turnouts. There are several dispersed campsites along FR 229 but there is no camping allowed at the tower. 

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