Monday, October 12, 2009

Vichy Fire Tower

After we finished our hike last Sunday at Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area, we decided our legs could accomplish a little more, so we crossed the road (Old Highway 63) and climbed the ca. 130 steps up to the top of the Vichy Fire Tower.

Fire spotting is no longer done by people in towers, but the groovy old towers still stand on hilltops throughout the Ozarks. They are fun places to visit.

When I was a kid, our family would often picnic at highway rest stops, often near these towers. Dad would take me and Paul up to the top of the tower. Of course we kids were rambunctious from having to sit in the car, and Mom, Grandma, and whoever else were busy digging fried chicken, potato salad, pickles, and tomatoes out of the picnic basket and preparing the table for our feast.

Revisiting these fire towers today, I am amazed that Dad took us up these. Most parents today would have fits over the potential danger of falling; they wouldn't feel safe up there themselves, much less their Nintendo-hyper kids. There's no screening to give you an illusion of safety; just the bare beams and all kinds of void around them. You would not bring a toddler up one of these.

Anyway, we didn't have any kids with us, so we could simply enjoy the sights from on high.

We could see part of Highway 63--the stretch from which you can see the tower.

It's a long way down.

And we even noticed that we could see the shadow of the tower--and the tiny figures of us--outlined on the trees of Spring Creek Gap. (Yes, we waved at ourselves!)

I'm surprised that these fire towers haven't been ripped down, fenced off with barbwire, coated with Warning Keep Off signs. Here is an actual, serious, potentially dangerous and deadly thing, on public property, with no one immediately around to rope it off during an electrical storm, hold your hand, or tell you to quit throwing things. It is pretty amazing.

So if you like to get great views of the Ozarks, stretch your legs while on a drive, or just acquire a little different perspective, you might pull off the road and clamber up one of these towers occasionally. Before the lawyers make them all come down.

Addendum, September 18, 2011: Apparently the Vichy Fire Tower is no longer accessible to the public. Read the comments below.


Anonymous said...

Nice article. I remember climbing this very tower when I was a student at the University of Missouri - Rolla. On one occasion the wind was very high and I thought I had lost my glove. I looked to my left and noticed that it had been blown off and was held in place against one of the steel columns, purely from the force of the wind. Lucky day (night actually); all I had to do was reach out and peel it off the tower leg! Regards, D. Perry Dayton, OH

Anonymous said...

I live nearby and you were quite prescient about your prediction for future fencing. The tower is no longer accessible to the public. It has been cordoned off with a very secure fence and a locked gate.

I climbed it many times over the years myself, and its a wonder that nobody was ever seriously injured or worse from falling over the years.

I have heard from persons who actually spent time in the tower in past years watching for fires that during times of strong wind the tower would sway quite noticeably back and forth with the wind.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank for the comments (to both of you--I just realized I forgot to respond to the first commenter)--I'm very sorry to hear that it's been cordoned off.

Just last weekend I drove past the Vichy Fire Tower with my mom and dad, and my dad (who's 77) was reminiscing about how his aunt--the driver on their family motor trips, as she was a widow with a spacious 1941 Lincoln)--used to stop at the fire towers to let him and his brothers climb up to the top and have an "adventure" to break up the monotony of driving.

My dad used to do the same with me and my brother. I think the exercise and the change of "subject" prevented a lot of sibling squabbling in the backseat!

I guess now only the roosting turkey vultures will be able to enjoy that fabulous view--but heck, they don't need a tower to get that perspective.

All the more reason to take advantage of these incredible structures while we still can.

Anonymous said...

We actually do still man the fire towers on really bad fire danger days! Especially in the most rural areas where cell phone reporting is not that common.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thanks, Anonymous, I'm glad to know the fire towers are still used. It does make me sad if the public is barred from scaling them, however.