Hikers stand on the stairs of the Parker Mountain Lookout. The lookout makes a great destination for cross-country skiers, but until the weatherman sends snow, hiking will have to suffice. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Parker Mountain can be skied or hiked

Parker Mountain is a perfect place for an enjoyable, scenic, cross-country ski.

Located midway between Klamath Falls and Ashland, the one-way distance from the roadside parking area off Highway 66 is about 2½ miles with a mostly gentle, steady elevation gain of 800 feet. The route follows a two-lane gravel road that leads to a 75-foot-tall steel lookout tower.

Although the lookout is closed for the season, its steps offer sweeping 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding forests and more distant peaks, including Mount Ashland, Mount Shasta, Mount McLoughlin and, farther distant, the Trinity Alps.

The only trouble is — although it's January — there's not enough snow to ski or snowshoe on. A short, fast-moving storm before Christmas dumped some snow, but only a couple of inches.

During a recent hike to Parker's 5,206-foot summit, our group traipsed through occasional snow and mud and, more often, dry gravel. It's a genuinely pleasant walk, but my thoughts kept imagining doing it on cross-country skis. The downhill route from the summit would be a delightful double pole kick and glide.

From the roadside parking area, it's about a third of a mile to a well signed junction with "Parker Mountain Lookout" and "Keep Oregon Green" signs — and a rock with a painted happy face. Another mile leads to a road-blocking gate, with the final mile offering views as it angles up to the summit and the lookout.

Over the years, Parker Mountain has seen a succession of lookouts.

The original dates back to 1931, when the former Klamath Forest Protective Association announced plans to build a road to Parker's summit and construct a tower with a telephone connection. By 1933 the road was in place and the tower, described as a round timber tower with a steep pitched roof, was being built with help from members of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A year later, the person stationed at Parker Mountain reported a fire that, according to a July 21, 1934, Klamath Herald newspaper story, "gutted Dorris, California."

In 1937, a story in the Klamath News described the lookout as "of rather unique design. The tower is made of long poles. The lookout house, proper, has a steeply pitched roof and is surrounded by a catwalk and railing. John (Colvard) is a seasoned lookout. He served three years on Calimus Butte, the main lookout on the Klamath Indian Reservation."

Colvard is part of Parker Mountain's history. From the early 1930s — accounts don't indicate the year he started — he typically stayed about three summer months at the lookout. A 1950 Klamath Falls Herald and News story said the then-77-year-old Colvard was spending his 17th summer at Parker.

The story speculated it would be his last because of injuries from an accident at his Grants Pass home. He died in August 1952, with his obituary stating, "Colvard was a man who was something in the nature of a philosopher. His kindly advice, homely humor and analysis of difficult and disagreeable situations made him a man who was sought after by many individuals ..."

Plans to dismantle the original lookout — described as being "neither safe nor efficient, having been poorly built" — were announced in 1954. A new lookout, with aluminum sheeting, was finished in 1956, with a 14-by-14-foot "furnished living quarters." But in 1968, the living quarters were burned "because it was no longer usable." Various improvements were reported in the years that followed, but in 1995 arsonists burned lookout No. 2.

After a season without a lookout, version No. 3 — it's No. 497 on the National Historic Lookout Register — was finished in 1997. The 50-foot, all-steel tower is mounted on a thick concrete slab and is topped by a 14-by-14-foot room and catwalk.

If more snow falls, get out the cross-country skis and check it out. If not, it's a nice hike.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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