Smith Peak Lookout

While staying at The Pines Campground we wanted to take some time and explore back up in the hills behind the campground itself. Since there was zero AT&T signal in the campground we hoped we might find a spot up at a higher elevation that would get us some sort of signal, any signal so that we could keep up to date with our AWD posts and also keep abreast of world events or, more importantly, NHL hockey scores 😉

At the back side of the campground, right where the group campsite is the access road becomes dirt but there is no sign telling people that there are no campsites further down the road. Throughout our time here we saw dozens of people drive past the group campsite and back into the hills only to reappear from 5 to 10 minutes later because, unless you have a high-clearance vehicle, there is really no place you can get to that is appropriate to camp back there. Not that we were any different…we also drove back there when we first arrived to see if there was other obvious camping opportunities and quickly turned back as well. When we took a look at the MVUM map though we could see more than a few twisty, turny roads that were just begging to be explored so, the day after our Yosemite trip we decided to take a drive back up into that area and see what we could find.

Because it was the off-season and there are motorized vehicle restrictions on some of the roads we found several closed gates. Near the top of the hill we came to a split in the road that had four forks whereas the MVUM only showed three. Up here we actually had an AT&T signal so we checked out Google Maps and it also showed three forks, but a different set of three. Looking between the official MVUM and the Google maps they each showed one road that the other didn’t.

MVUM Showing 1S16B But No Lookout
MVUM Showing 1S16B But No Lookout

Now we were a little confused so we decided to just go see for ourselves what was what. We turned and bumped up to the top of 1S16B and had the whole area open up around us. There were no obvious, existing camping spots (and it was officially closed for the season) or we would have set up camp there. The extra, added bonus was that we were getting a relatively strong AT&T 4G signal!

Google Map Showing Lookout Access Road But No 1S16B
Google Map Showing Lookout Access Road But Not 1S16B

After checking out 1S16B we parked at the junction of all these possibilities and walked up the road where the lookout was.

Right Past the Gate Looking Back at the Tacoma
Right Past the Gate Looking Back at the Tacoma

According to the map the road looked to be all of a 1/4 mile long so we continued up it until we turned a corner and finally caught a glimpse of the tower peaking above the top of the rise.

Our First Glimpse of the Tower
Our First Glimpse of the Tower

As we finished walking the curve in the road we came across a sad sight. Nature showcasing her raw, brutal, circle of life and death. A small, juvenile, once beautiful fox had been caught by something larger (possibly a coyote) and feasted upon.

Dead fox after being partially consumed
The Once Beautiful Fox Now Transformed Into Food

Whatever had eaten it had gone straight for the good stuff in its belly and the original predator or possibly crows had taken the delicious (yuuumm) eyes as well. It had not met its end too long ago, maybe a week at most as its fur was still in great shape, there were no maggots feasting and the head was still heavy with braaaaains! (sorry, Zombie mode kicked in there for a moment).

Still Nice, White, Plaque-Free Teeth
Pretty Smile

Willow was VERY interested in her deceased cousin and gave it a thorough nose-to-tail sniffing.

Willow sniffing her deceased Cousin
Kisses, How Cute

I’m not too worried about disease or parasite transmission from this as Willow is up-to-date on all the regular shots (as well as extras like the Rattlesnake vaccine) and the fox population in the area is not a normal vector for rabies or the plague. Also any of those parasitic infections like the fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis), sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei) and the roundworms that can cause Toxocariasis (Toxocara canis) or Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis or Angiostrongylus vasorum) are only a threat when ingested and Willow is well fed and has no desire to become, essentially, a cannibal and taste-test her closely-related cousin (nor would I allow that even if she was a freak and so inclined).

After the postmortem examination we went over to take a closer look at the tower itself and some of the weather devices set up there on top of the hill as well.

A Look Up at the tower From the Base
A Look Up From the Base
Picnic table next to the lookout tower with a great view of the surrounding area
This Picnic Table Where We Took a Break Had A Pretty Good View
The Main Weather Instrument Contraption
The Main Weather Instrument Contraption

Our liberal translation of the only sign there as well as no gate or chain across the stairs led us to believe that walking up as far as we could would not be frowned upon.

The one sign at the base of the lookout stairs
So…That Means “Yes” Right?

After the hike Willow was not in the mood to haul herself up the stairs and elected to stay below and continue her own exploration of the top of the hill. I went up to take a closer look and to take a few photos though.

Looking Back Down The First Flight of Concrete Filled, Steel-Framed Stairs
Looking Back Down The First Flight of Concrete Filled, Steel-Framed Stairs

I’m not sure what the design point of having the stairs be concrete instead of just wood slats is but my guess is that it is possibly as ballast for the structure as a whole to help with stability during high wind events.

Willow looking up at me on the tower
Willow Making Sure I am Alright Way Up Here
Another of the Girl Debating On Whether to Come Up the tower steps or Not
Another of the Girl Debating On Whether to Come Up or Not
Continuing Her Own Sniff Agenda Won Out Over Joining Me On the Tower
Continuing With Her Own Sniff Agenda Won Out Over Joining Me On the Tower

I stayed up the steps long enough to take a good look around and take a panorama shot just for you.

Panorama. Click For Larger Version
Panorama. Click For Larger Version

Once that was done we walked back down to the Tacoma and then headed back down the mountain to our camp. When we arrived there we celebrated the conclusion of a fine day of exploration; Willow with some doggie treats and I with a fine, semi-local barley pop.

Tuolumne Meadows IPA from Mammoth Brewing Company

What an outstanding end to a great day of adventure with my girl. Now it is time for a nap.

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