The Lookouts of Big Sur

Here is my latest article for Voices of Monterey Bay:

In the fall of 1984, Soaring Jenkins and future husband Isa Starkey climbed up Cone Peak for the first time. She made it up the 2¼-mile trail — cussing, sweating — and there met Ruth Albee, who’d been a lookout in various places for a decade.

Ruth “was in her 60s and loved the trail I’d just sworn at,” Jenkins said. “But I looked around and fell deeply, instantly in love with the tiny glass room and the wide expanse of ocean and mountain views. I told her I wanted to be a lookout and she said, ‘Go ahead and apply here; I’m going to work next year at Chews Ridge Lookout.’”

It was that easy. Jenkins was a lookout there for the next six years and she says she did it for the love of the place. Other Big Sur fire lookouts I know say they do it out of a feeling of service and duty. It’s a way to give back to Big Sur.

Though it was one of the most difficult and isolated lookouts in California, Jenkins-Starkey told me that “I wanted that job more than anything, I felt a strong magnetic pull to be there, yearned for it, and learned everything I could through the Fire Brigade training, to prepare for it.”

For the rest of the article, including interviews with Nadine Clark, of Big Sur, and Scott McClintock, of the Federal Fire Lookouts Association, on the Chew’s Ridge Lookout Program, see :

“I had a May Sarton quote taped next to my desk: ‘Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self,’” said Jenkins-Starkey. “It got me through a lot. After I’d been there several years I began to feel that everyone ought to have a long, long period of solitude to learn the contents of their mind, to learn how to exist, to just be, instead of always doing something.”

Learn the contents of one’s mind through solitude. I like that.

6 thoughts on “The Lookouts of Big Sur

  1. “Learn the contents of one’s mind through solitude.” Over the past 50 years many of my trips to Big Sur have taught me that. In recent years visits to the hermitage have provided a much needed enlightening alternative toward that that same experience.

  2. Thank you Kate for sharing this. It’s such a lovely thought-provoking piece.There are times I’ve wished for that sort of solitude, but perhaps not as a full-time endeavor. 😀

  3. I keep this quote by my bread board:

    “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth,
    but delicious in the years of maturity.”— Albert Einstein

    Circa 1975, a Monterey friend took me to visit his friend down the Coast. Can’t remember- think it was up Palo Colorado, but it might have been a little further- to meet Ruth Albee. I recall we walked a long ways along a steep & narrow canyon trail accompanied by three of her goats, who were very well behaved. A beautiful afternoon in sunshine & with friends.

  4. Enjoyable to read your article (Good Article & pics! T-Y) & amazing photo of the Cone Peak lookout station.

    Jack Kerouac wrote a good report of his summer in a remote lookout tower,
    think it was tucked-in his “On The Road” book.

  5. Kate, despite all forest roads in LPF & trails closed; this lookout will remain staffed, y/n?

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