Two Nights at Pine Mountain Lookout, Mendocino National Forest

November 2nd, 2014: Bay Area

Thursday afternoon, J and I drove up the 101 towards Mendocino National Forest. We passed through scenic valleys full of fall colors, livestock, and dying grapevines.

After reaching Potter Valley, we followed the directions more carefully into the park.

We crossed Eel River and slowly followed the gravely and unpaved Elk Mountain road for ten miles until the pavement reappeared. We bought firewood at a cat-infested general store at the junction, then recrossed the Eel River and headed up Pine Mountain.

The road became narrow and unpaved again, with deeper potholes. Our rental sedan had adequate clearance for all but a few deeper ruts.

We reached the locked gate to the lookout moments before sunset. J entered the combination, and the gate swung open sounding like a moaning tyrannosaurus.

The general area.

A view from the dirt road.

A view of the dirt road.

Entering the gate to the lookout.

In its prime, the lookout offered a unique 180° view westward. But after decades without logging, trees had reduced the view to 100° at best. In the distance, layers of hills receded into dark storm clouds.

The lookout was without power or water. Two rooms were wood from floor to ceiling and had plenty of windows. The first room had a counter and cabinets, a few fragile folding chairs, and a dining table. The bedroom was all windows, and housed two metal stackable bed frames without mattresses. A few battered-powered LED nightlights were stuck to the walls.

A note on the counter warned us not to leave food there as the resident mouse was able to reach it. Instead, the scrawl recommended using the table.

A park ranger and his archeologist buddy knocked on the door to say hello. They were inspecting the nearby area to make sure people hadn’t been digging holes. Apparently, somebody had been using a metal detector and digging holes around the park. I asked why, but the ranger gave me a vague answer. I suspect there is buried treasure out there.

After eating cold sandwiches and watching the sun set, we retired to our sleeping bags.

Wet kindling.


A metal bed frame.

Our view from the bedroom.


A happy couple at sunset.

Paranoia kept me from sleeping. In the dead quiet of the night, any unusual noise sounded loud and threatening. The mouse scratched at the walls, ran across the floor, and tried his best to get to our food. I imagined him to be an axe-murderer, a group of punk kids, or a gun-toting hillbilly.

Early in the morning, rain began to pour. Water rapped against all the windows, and the wind howled like a moaning tyrannosaurus.

When the rain slowed to a mist, J and I walked around the nearby woods. We found orange bits of clay pigeons, bullet casings, and a variety of moss and animal scat.

We struggled to start a fire with our damp materials, but were able to cook some vegetables for our lunch/dinner.

The air was much colder.

Rain drops.

The morning after rainbow.

Fire wood.

Hiking down the hill.


Damp dude.

Fruit leather bark.

Bearish beauty.

Heating water.

The second sunset.


Cabin noir.

Divided sunset.


Informational signage.

That evening after sunset, two friends arrived after getting lost on the mountain roads.

We grilled food, drank wine, and chatted until another early retirement.

I slept better with human shields in the front room.

In the morning, we grilled breakfast at the main fire pit. J and I packed up, and left the cabin to our friends.

The rain made the unpaved roads a little more treacherous on the drive home.

From Potter Valley, we detoured by Clear Lake and headed south into Calistoga.

We spent the night at a fancy bed and breakfast run by two friendly, but weary-looking gay men. After two nights without water and power, our room felt even more luxurious. The warm water from the shower sounded like a moaning tyrannosaurus. We ate meat.

Clear Lake.


Retro sign.

Trompe l’oeil.

Asymmetrical Halloween Calistoga police station.

Fall colors.

Calistoga creek.



The colors of Miautumn.

It was a fun weekend, but I think we’re ready for our next lookout to be a full 360°.

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