Mount Tamalpais State Park: Gardner Fire Tower – Mill Valley CA

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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made extensive improvements to the newly-formed Mount Tamalpais State Park on Mt. Tamalpais – a favorite hiking spot for San Franciscans all the way back to the Gold Rush era (1850s).

A major feature of this work was a new fire lookout tower on the east peak of the mountain, built of native stone and wood.  The tower still stands.  

As the plaque notes, the tower was renamed in 1937 in honor of the chief warden of Tamalpais Forest Fire District, who led the fight against a major fire in 1929 and died July 13, 1935.

There is, alas, no mention of the CCC at the site.  But the fire tower and its CCC origins have recently been featured in videos and news articles.

Gary Yost created “A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout,” a short documentary on the routine and spectacular views he enjoyed as a volunteer fire lookout on Mt. Tamalpais. The film includes time-lapses of the ebb and flow of the fog and of the night sky.

The Guardian newspaper ran a story in 2021 which praised the tower:

“The Gardner tower was completed in 1936 [by the CCC] out of native stone pulled from the mountain it sits upon. Even as the cities below grew and changed, the lookout stayed almost exactly the same. Many of the tools used to spot and identify ignitions in the forests and drying chaparral are also still like those used by the first lookouts… the most important piece of equipment is a kind of alidade called the Osborne Firefinder that was designed in the early 1900s. The surveying tool can pinpoint a fire with precision, gives an accurate reading on how far away a fire is burning and requires no power to run.”


Source notes

"Wildfire watchmen: The mountain tower where lookouts spot blazes," The Guardian, 7-3-2021.

Project originally submitted by Richard Walker on July 23, 2021.

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Location Info

East peak
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Coordinates: 37.9288, -122.577

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