Book cover of The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak

Nancy Sule Hammond

Basalt Books: 2023


Don Hammond dreams of being a fire lookout for the US Forest Service. It seems both altruistic and romantic, scanning the remote horizon for smoke and living in a primitive tower away from the rest of civilization.

He gets his wish as a young groom in 1972 and 1973, and again in 2010 when he revisits the second of his two posts. Each time, his wife, Nancy Sule Hammond, accompanies him for all or for portions of the experience. In The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak, she recounts memories of their time in two towers, hauling food and water to the 15-foot-by-15-foot rooms two stories up, enduring storms, picking huckleberries, and encountering unexpected, even menacing, visitors.

The high school sweethearts from Pennsylvania spend two summers in their 20s living in fire lookouts in the Idaho forest. They are married just two years that first summer at Dunn Peak. She visits from Moscow, Idaho, driving to the mountain on weekends. Don hopes to be rehired the following summer but, due to budget cuts, he becomes Dunn Peak’s last fire lookout. It shutters after summer 1972.

The next summer, the couple lives on Middle Sister Peak. Nancy is there the whole summer this time, pregnant with their first son. Those two summers, when the couple is newly married and full of hopes and dreams for their life ahead, make up the bulk of the book from Basalt Books, an imprint of WSU Press. Nancy is an affable narrator, describing in an easily relatable manner their early years in Pennsylvania, way of life in the lookout, and starting a marriage and a family.

Along with their personal story, she provides historical context, noting the Great Fire of 1910, its Big Blowup of August 20 to 21, and the fire prevention and suppression policies that came as a result. Two chapters in the middle of the memoir stray from the fire lookout theme, summarizing the decades from the early 1970s to 2010, and glossing over the couple’s more than two dozen moves, mostly for Don’s work as a minister. Nancy also devotes an entire chapter to their youngest son’s misdiagnosis of cancer in 1993. He’s nearly 14 and headed off to summer camp when they endure that drama, which leads Don to chance upon a one-night watch on Middle Sister.

The final section⁠—which starts with a chapter titled “What Were We Thinking?”⁠—details a second summer on Middle Sister, much later in their marriage. They are in their 60s this time. And, by the end of the summer 2010 and the 100th anniversary of the Great Fire, also known as the Big Burn, the romance of working in the wilderness is wearing off.


Purchase The Last Lookout on Dunn Peak at Basalt Books