Along the highway atop Eureka Springs Mountain are two Arkansas Forest Service towers which have been repurposed for the tourist trade. Each stands a hundred feet tall and offers sweeping panoramas of the surrounding countryside for the paltry charge of one buck. There's a dollar changer next to the turnstile in case you don't have the necessary quarters. And if you forgot your binoculars, there's a coin operated telescope on top which also will accept your quarters.
The turnstile is a head-to-toe tight squeeze, so forget about taking a cooler of beer up the tower with you. The structure itself is sturdy enough and the guardrails are high enough to comfort pretty much anybody; but if you have a fear of heights, the open steel structure creates the impression that there's not much holding you up.
This is Pine Mountain Tower, found along highway 62 above the Pine Mountain Theatre very near the Visitor Information Center.
For most of the twentieth century, people stationed along ridges and on summits in towers like these were the way the State and National Forest Services spotted forest fires. In the last quarter of a century, however, surveillance by air has become more practical and most towers like these have fallen into disuse.
Michael Pfeiffer, a regional archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, gave me some figures gathered in the mid 1990's on these towers. Out of 96 such towers belonging to the State of Arkansas and 77 belonging to the Ozark, St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests, fewer than twenty-five are still standing.
Here's one of the views from Pine Mountain Tower. That's the famous Crescent Hotel perched on the opposite mountain. It was featured on one of those ghost hunter cable shows and caused a stir when a moving figure appeared on one of their infrared cameras. It's billed on their own website as "America's Most Haunted Resort Hotel?" They punctuated the claim with a question mark as a kind of disclaimer, the way Erich Von Danikin did with his book "Chariots of the Gods?" The haunted aspect is a minor marketing angle, though, and judging by the Crescent Hotel ghost videos posted on youTube, people who want to see ghosts will see ghosts in any shadow or lens flare. It's mainly marketed as an elegant old Victorian hotel and spa. The Spa is cleverly named The New Moon, complementing the lunar reference in the name of the hotel itself.
Looking over your other shoulder you get this view of restaurants, shops and shows along the highway. Comparing these towers to photos of fire lookout towers found online, these look to be the products of the Aermotor Windmill company, which is still in business. I didn't see any hundred-footers for sale, but you can buy a tower sixty feet tall for $5900.00. Mr. Pfeiffer told me that International Derrick made similar towers for various forestry outfits back in the 1930's, so these could be manufactured by either ID or Aermotor.
Originally there would have been a shed, called a "cab," on the top platform to shield the watchman from the elements.
Continue on highway 62 to the west side of the mountain past Pivot Rock Road to find Razorback Tower. It's the last thing on the mountaintop before the road descends to Thorncrown Chapel and Leatherwood Park. It's same deal as before, same signage, same height, same coin-op turnstile, but with a whole 'nother view. That's the tower poking up from the trees behind the Razorback Gift Shop.
Here's a view from Razorback Tower. What can I say? You just about can't look in a wrong direction.
Thirty miles or so east of Eureka Springs is Top O' The Ozarks Tower, shown in the photo on the left during my visit back in 2006. According to the attraction's website it was built in sometime around 1958 using parts from several oil rigs acquired in South Louisianna by the original owner. Standing 180 feet tall, almost double the height of the Eureka Springs towers, TOTOT offers views of Bull Shoals Dam and Bull Shoals Lake from high atop Bull Mountain. An elevator will take you 120 feet of that distance. The final leg you make on foot. Unless you're a heel. (Yerk yerk!) The upper deck is 800 feet above the White River.
Since 1964 a couple dozen couples have said their marriage vows atop the tower.
Buy your tickets, $5.50 for adults, $3.50 for the young-uns, no charge for kids 6 and under, at the gift shop nestled among the girders at the foot of the tower.
Here's the view from TOTOT. From left to right you can see Bull Shoals Lake, Bull Shoals Dam, and the White River below that.
This is the only tower that actually enourages you to throw objects off of it. The owner has a plastic wading pool painted as a bulls-eye set in the yard at the base of the tower and he's got a sign posted on one of the decks encouraging patrons to try to hit that target with their pocket chage.
To find Top O' The Ozarks Tower, take 178 north from Flippin. The entry road to the tower is between the towns of Bull Shoals and Lakeview.
Here's Scenic Point high atop Mount Judea south of Jasper on highway 7. Admission free. Gift shop, restrooms, snacks, coin-op scopes. This particular 33-foot platform was built in 1976 at the attraction which was established twenty years previous. This point overlooks Buffalo River Canyon 755 feet below, making this the deepest canyon in the Ozarks.
If you'd like to see what one of these towers was like when it was in active service, they've got one accurately reconstructed near the town of Hamburg on highway 133 seven miles north of Crossett way down in the southeast corner of the state. By agreement with the state it has to be open to the public two days a year, but it can be toured by appointment. Call them up at City Hall, 870-853-5300.
Here's the information from the brochure they gave me at City Hall. Built by the Aeromotor Company and erected by the CCC in 1935, the 100-foot tower (like those in Eureka Springs) got a 20-foot extension sometime before 1943. At 120 feet, Hamburg claims it's the tallest observation tower in the state. The cabin at the top has a footprint only 7 feet square.
The City of Hamburg bought the property in 2000 and by 2008 they had put together just over $20,000 in goods and funds from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Home Depot, Plum Creek Timber and the Forest Fire Lookout Association. They rebuilt the thing and here it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places AND the National Historic Lookout Register AND the Register of Former Lookout Sites. You had no idea there were so much interest in these things, did you?