This Bay Area Fire Lookout Might Have the Best View in the World


Gary Yost, a photographer in Marin County, also spends his time volunteering as a fire lookout at the peak of Mt. Tamalpais. The lookout hut there has a breathtaking 360° view, looking south to San Francisco, Oakland, and beyond. Luckily for us, Yost shoots stunning time-lapse footage of the surrounding landscape and included some of this footage in his six-minute "day in the life" video diary below. Yost's passion for the natural world shines through in his still images as well -- don't miss his series about nesting hummingbirds! He describes his work as a volunteer and his inspiration for the video in an interview below. 

The Atlantic: How did you become a fire lookout? How long do you spend on a shift?

Gary Yost: I first became a fire lookout because my county (Marin) is one of the prime candidates for a catastrophic fire in the entire U.S. I just wanted to help out by putting eyes on the wildland here because our budgets had been slashed and the paid fire lookout position had been phased out. It's volunteer only now -- we have about 30 volunteers and we try to staff the lookout fully during our fire season (June-October). I typically spend two to three days on a shift, sleeping overnight because it's so peaceful there. You have to pack in your own food, so after three days it's time to head out and back to civilization.

What do you do if there's a fire? 

If we do see a fire there's a set of procedures to follow that includes finding the azimuth and bearing of the smoke and reporting it to central fire dispatch. In the video you'll see an odd brass instrument in the middle of the lookout. Every fire lookout in the world has this and it's called an Osborn Fire Finder. It provides a method of accurately locating the smoke.  

What inspired you to make the video?

It's difficult to describe this in words, but Mt. Tamalpais feels to me very much like a mother. I live on her flanks, protected by her and spiritually nourished by her. She's a sacred place, my talisman.  My interests lie primarily in the place where I live, something that I first was able to articulate after reading the books of Wendell Berry. This quote by him is clearly the inspiration for the video:

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” 

That says it all, and I choose my projects in accordance with how they bring me into alignment with the place in which I live. It would make me very happy if this project inspired someone else to make a film about a place that feels sacred to them. That'd be a tremendous success. 

For more work by Gary Yost, visit

Via Vimeo Staff Picks.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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