Columbia Basin | Columbia-Yakima Hills
Yakama Indian Reservation
Location: 46.227062, -121.137382
Summit Elevation: 5,100′
Lookout Type: 68′ Aermotor tower
Site Established: 1920
Current Structure Built: 1964
Date Visited: 6/14/19
Signal Peak 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.
Signal’s first fire lookout in 1920 was a pole tower with tent camp, later replaced in 1935 by a 3-legged 55′ wooden tower with 8’x8′ cab and ground house with living quarters. The current 68′ Aermotor tower was moved in 1964 from nearby Panther Creek. Aermotor steel towers were built by the Aermotor Company of Chicago, IL, founded in 1888. In the 1920s, a few steel towers started showing up in the Pacific Northwest and in the 1930s, several more were built predominantly east of the Cascades.
Curiously, the lookout has no guy wires and one of our Yakama tour guides joked that as a child, he and his friends would climb the lookout and rock it back and forth. He also told us a story of a lookout locking herself in the ground house because of a Bigfoot that had come up the road. It was amazing to hear some of these stories, legends, and tales!
The views from Signal Peak.
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.