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Cascades Wilderness Fire – Ironic Cold War Link (think Strangelove)

A Visual Evocation Of Cold War Madness


[Update – scroll to bottom, below photos]

The photo above is the Diamond Creek fire (taken on 7/27/17) I took on the border of the Pasayten Wilderness, seen from Hart’s Pass in spectacular Okanogan National Forest. Started by a campfire!

[Update: for a disturbing analysis of fire, climate change, and forests, read “The Late Great Whitebark Pine”. I’ve seen all this happening now in many western forests, and conditions now are drier, not wetter as projected, so actual conditions may be worse then predicted.]

I watched for hours as the fire generated an enormous mushroom cloud – I thought this might look like a miniature version of what a nuclear bomb would create. Here’s a broader view:


Then I read the interpretive sign: the Slate Peak Lookout tower on the top of the mountain was intended to be an Air Force radar station.

During the Cold War hysteria – currently being revived – the US Air Force wanted to monitor for invading Soviet bombers.  They actually blew off the top of the mountain – take a look, Dr. Strangelove!


The military also built the road to the top – here is USFS description of the history “A Little Off The Top” (is it legible?) And the USAF radar station was never built.


Aside from the evocative Cold War irony, read this assessment of that road, from “Dangerous roads – the worlds’s most spectacular roads”. Having driven that road, I completely agree.


We spent the day engrossed in the fire cloud and camped up top.


It got colder and windier as sundown approached. I had to put on winter hat and coat.

We hiked up to the lookout tower at sunrise.



It felt like treading on the edge of the earth – with the wind gusting, I felt like I might just blow away. It was an unsettling landscape, to say the least.

Despite the spectacular beauty, we began the white knuckle drive down as soon as we got back – I didn’t even make coffee.  Take a look:

[Creepy End Note: I brought some books along. I just re-read “On The Road” – and in checking Kerouac’s biography this morning from the fine Carnegie Library here in Port Townsend, Washington, I noted that he spent a few months as a fire lookout on “Desolation Peak”, which is nearby to where the photos were taken.










[Update – Kerouac let his “beat” mask slip exactly once in “On The Road”, in a serious passage that is highly revealing as to the underlying reality that heavily influenced the “beat” alienation and rejection of social values.

And that reality is the bomb.

Here’s the passage, in the final chapter, where the road takes them to Mexico. It explains everything: (emphasis mine)

… They [the Sierra Madre Oriental] had come down from the back mountains and higher places to hold forth their hands for something they thought civilization could offer, and they never dreamed the sadness and poor broken delusion of it. They didn’t know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and roads and reduce them to jumbles, and we would be as poor as they someday, and stretching out our hands in the same, same way.

Update #2 – 8/5/17 – here’s a good essay that makes the same point: “On The Beach”

(note: that book and “On The Road” were both published in 1957, the year I was born.)

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