Alta Picks

Camp Like Kerouac in a Fire Lookout Station

From fire-prevention campouts to publicly maintained casting ponds, this quarter’s Alta Picks offer a breath of fresh air. 

In 1956, Jack Kerouac spent 63 days as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington State. His time at a tiny cabin perched at an elevation of 6,102 feet in the Cascade Range helped inspire his novels Desolation Angels and The Dharma Bums. While the cabin isn’t open to the public, you can still follow in Kerouac’s footsteps and sleep close to the stars by renting one of dozens of U.S. Forest Service fire lookout stations across the West. For instance, there’s the Werner Peak Lookout cabin, at 6,960 feet in Montana’s Whitefish Mountains, or the Green Ridge Lookout tower, a 20-foot-tall structure located 2,000 feet above the Metolius River in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest. Aside from some of the best views in the West, these sites promise unrivaled peace and tranquility. As Kerouac wrote in Lonesome Traveler, “I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of ‘thinking’ and ‘enjoying’ what they call ‘living,’ I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds.” recreation.gov

GOLDEN GATE PARK CASTING PONDS

In the weeks preceding the opening of trout season in California—on the last Saturday in April—many Bay Area anglers head to the casting ponds in Golden Gate Park. There they can hone their casting techniques and learn new skills. Opened in 1938, the ponds consist of three pools that offer a combined surface area of 72,000 square feet on which beginners and experts alike can practice their art: hurling an imitation insect some desired distance and getting it to land as if it were a creation of nature—no splash, no ripple, just a magisterial floating down. The ponds and adjacent WPA-style Angler’s Lodge are operated by the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club, which aims to promote fly-fishing as well as the sports of fly- and plug-casting. Lessons and trips are offered throughout the year, and members are often at the ponds to offer free tips and advice to trout fishers of all skill levels. ggacc.org

SKAGIT VALLEY TULIP FESTIVAL

Even Oprah Winfrey’s magazine sings the praises of Skagit Valley, and it’s all because of the bulbs. Every April (Editor’s note: the festival is cancelled for this year due to COVID-19, and is slated to resume next year,) the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in northwest Washington hosts some of the nation’s most incredible garden displays. The well-manicured fields seem endless, and they feature tulips of every imaginable shade and scientific breed. Designed primarily as a driving or bicycle tour, the festival is also an opportunity for visitors from around the country to stop and stay awhile—the event includes a photo contest, a wine tour, an art show, and a parade. There is no predicting Mother Nature: the bulbs blossom on their own schedule, at varying times throughout the celebration—a wonderful reminder to stop and smell the tulips. The agricultural pride of Skagit Valley is full of surprises, in more ways (and colors) than one. Cancelled for 2020, planning for 2021, tulipfestival.org

WILD HOPE

Everywhere you look, environmental catastrophe is in the headlines, but a small nonprofit magazine based in Northern California is out to prove that the natural world isn’t all gloom and doom. Produced with volunteer labor and published twice a year, Wild Hope is dedicated to sharing positive “field notes and images from nature’s front lines.” Its gorgeous, art-filled pages tell stories from around the globe, and a good portion come from the West. Among the magazine’s dispatches are tales of efforts to reintroduce grizzlies into Washington State’s North Cascades; smartphone apps designed to guide laypeople through encounters with wounded wild animals; and a man in Idaho who has built some 400 nesting boxes for bluebirds, providing homes for some 27,000 newborn birds. Sitting down with an issue—the publication is sold online and at many bookstores—has the same effect as taking a hike in an old-growth forest: you emerge feeling refreshed, a bit awestruck, and, yes, a little more hopeful about our remaining wild spaces. wildhope.org

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