Columbia Basin | Columbia-Yakima Hills
Yakama Indian Reservation
Location: 46.257481, -120.753469
Summit Elevation: 4,182′
Lookout Type: Two story concrete base with steel cab
Site Established: 1920
Current Structure Built: 1976
Date Visited: 6/14/19
Satus is one of two fire lookouts still standing on the Yakama Reservation. Because Yakama land is closed to the public, they are often considered the toughest lookouts to visit in the State. In 2019, the Yakama Nation provided both a spring and fall guided tour to a small group of fire lookout supporters in exchange for volunteer help to open and close Satus for the season. Visiting and talking with members of the Yakama Fire Management team was one of the highlights of my fire lookout journey and I hope that others in the future will have an opportunity to visit this special land and meet its wonderful people.
Photos from 2019.
Once upon a time, the lands of the Yakama spanned from the Cascade Mountains all the way to the Columbia and beyond. In 1855, the 14 bands and tribes of the Yakama Nation ceded 11.5 million acres of that land to the United States as part of the Yakama Treaty. Today, the Yakima Indian Reservation covers roughly 1.3 million acres (about 2,000 square miles) of south central Washington including the eastern portion of Mount Adams. Most of the reservation is closed to non-tribal members. Two lookouts still stand on Yakama land: Satus and Signal.
Satus Peak is known for severe wind and over a different structures have been blown away or severely damaged by wind. In fact, this area is known to the Yakama as The Place Where the Wind Lives. Numerous structures have been on the summit, starting with a cabin in 1920, a 10’x10′ cab in 1933, another cab in 1957, a heavy timber and frame cab in 1960, then a steel and wooden cab on 4′ concrete pillars in 1967. A lookout staffing the structure in 1967 told a story of cowering behind the firefinder during a windstorm that blew out the windows and caved in a wall.
The present steel structure was built in 1976 on a 2-story concrete foundation. It is constructed of reinforced iron beams and walls with steel-framed triple strength Thermopane windows. The lookout at Satus is staffed every season though the Yakama National Fire Management team says that finding lookouts is very tough.
Visiting the Yakama Reservation.
Members of the Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) successfully arranged a tour of Satus and Signal lookouts with the Yakama Nation in 2009 but no one since had been able to do so.
In 2018, a group of lookout supporters began talking with the Yakama about the possibilities of a guided tour and in 2019 the Yakama Nation extended an invitation to be part of a fire lookout work party that would allow us to visit both Satus and Signal. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been part of this group. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Yakama lands and meet some amazing members of the Yakama Nation. Together with five other fire lookout enthusiasts, I partnered with members of the Yakama Nation Fire Management team to help open Satus Peak for the season, which involved the removal of at least 16 heavy steel shutters. In exchange for our help, we were also treated to a tour of Signal Peak, allowing us to visit the last two remaining fire lookouts on Yakama land.
The tribal members who guided us, Arnold, David, and Brian, were the most wonderful and welcoming hosts, telling us great stories and sharing their immense love for their land. It was an incredibly rare privilege to be invited to Yakama land and it’s an experience I won’t ever forget! After our visit, the Yakama extended another tour to lookout fans in the fall in exchange for help closing down Satus after the season.
Tours were suspended during Covid but it’s my hope that they can continue in the future for others. My tour of the Yakama fire lookouts was one of the most memorable adventures on my journey to visit all of Washington’s lookouts.
Access to Satus and Signal are restricted since they are on Yakama lands. The Yakama did provide both a spring and fall tour in 2019, the first in over a decade, in exchange for volunteer help to open and close Satus Peak. There is no guarantee this will happen again but I hope there is opportunity in the future for others to visit these lookouts and meet some of the wonderful people of the Yakama Nation.