|The Fire Tower
By Mike Bailey
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Anyone who has travelled north on US-411 north of Chatsworth, Ga and headed towards Cleveland,
Tennessee, has probably looked out the right side of their car and observed the beautiful mountain
range that forms the western edge of the Cohutta Wilderness Area. Standing out prominently is
the summit of Grassy Mountain which can be clearly seen, especially since it has a huge fire tower
located on top of it.
I knew that one day I would have to go there but kept putting it off for one reason or another.
Then, one day many years ago, I decided what the heck … I’m going to do it. Having hiked all over
the Cohutta Wilderness area in north Georgia, I was quite familiar with this region and in no time,
I was up in the wilderness and passing by the campground located at Lake Conasauga.
I knew that I could not drive all the way to the top and sure enough, I came to a gate that stopped
my travel by car. After parking my car, I headed up the road to the top. There was also a trail to
the top from the Lake Conasauga campground but on this day, hiking up a 2.5-mile mountain trail
just was not on my list of things to do. Besides, the views I was getting by walking up the road were
At the end of the road was the tower. This fire tower was not your normal looking tower. Usually,
they were quite tall -- usually well over a 100-feet high -- and had a small enclosed room at the top
where a fire watcher could observe the terrain below in all directions. The Grassy Mountain tower
is different in that since it is already on a very high point of land, 3,694 feet in elevation, it was
only about 60 feet tall.
The tower structure itself looked to be twice as large as the normal tower and situated on top of
the tower was a very large observation room structure that also had an outside walkway that
allowed you to walk around the entire structure and see clearly in all directions.
Thankful to be at the tower, I rested up a bit before starting my climb up the series of steep
steps that took you from the ground up to an opening in the walk around platform at the top. By
the time I reached the top, I was thankful I had not also hiked all the way up from the
campground down the mountain.
Once at the top, I was rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding country
side. I could clearly see for at least 100 miles in all directions. I was in absolute awe of what was
spread out before me … a beautiful, wonderful, natural reward for climbing to the top.
I hadn’t been there 10 minutes when I heard a truck pull up and stop down at the base of the tower.
At first, I thought they had opened the locked gate and were letting people drive up here. Then, I
saw that it was a forest ranger type truck and the man coming up the steps was wearing a uniform
of some sort.
Moments later, an older gentleman came up on the platform where I was standing and warmly
greeted me. Sure enough, he was the fire tower “watchman” and was showing up for a visit to check
out the surrounding territory. I was fully expecting him to tell me to get off the tower but instead,
he acted like he was glad to see me and have someone to talk to.
After we had chatted for a few minutes, he said, “Excuse me, I need to tell my wife I am here, and
that all is ok.”
I was not expecting what he did next. Thinking he was going to go inside the observation room and
pick up a phone or radio, etc., to call his wife, I was thrown a curve when he walked over to the
side of the tower platform facing US-411 to the west and started waving his hand at
something/someone down far below.
He turned and saw me looking at him kind of funny and smiled and said, “She’s down there with her
binoculars and looking up at us.” He pointed to a house that was on the edge of a clearing at least
3 miles away. He handed me his binoculars and told me to take a look. When I looked through the
glasses, sure enough, I could clearly see his wife standing on their front porch looking up at us and
waving while she also held up her binoculars.
“Can’t use the phone up here except in case of a fire being spotted,” he said with a grin on his face.
Thank goodness for the clear view to his house. He told me she knew almost to the minute how long
it took for him to travel form their house to the tower and then climb it. If he didn’t come out on
the walkway and wave down to her in within a certain period of time, she’d give him the “dickens”
when he came home that night. He looked at me and smiled and said, “Making mama mad was not a
good thing to do!”
As we stood there looking out over the countryside and talking about all sorts of things, like what
all could be seen from this high up, he started acting nervous -- like looking all around like he was
making sure there was no one around us to hear -- when he said to me, “You wouldn’t believe what
all I see from up here at night.”
The way he said it and the way he was still looking all around like someone might be listening to him
really got my curiosity up. I mean, here we were atop about a 60-foot tall fire tower in the middle
of nowhere and believe me, no one could hear what he was saying!
“What sorts of things are your talking about,” I quietly asked.
“Well, Mr. Mike, all sorts of weird things, like strange noises and lights back over there.”
I was caught off guard for a moment by the way he was addressing me. We had introduced
ourselves to each other, but I thought it was cool by the way he now referred to me as “Mr. Mike.”
“What lights are you talking about … car lights on the road, what?” I quietly asked.
Again, he looked all around before responding, “Oh no, not talking about them … it’s those other
lights that appear back over there in the wilderness.”
“What lights are you talking about? I cautiously asked.
“Very bright, not too big, and moving all about really quick … shoot over there, then turn around,
shoot back over to there and then just stop … stay there a while like they didn’t know what to do,
and then slowly rise up to about there and then boom … they were gone in a firery streak of light!”
My mind was reeling with thoughts and images of what he had just described to me.
“Scared me every time I saw them. Wasn’t natural, you know … never seen nothing like that move so
quickly,” he said in a low, quiet voice.
“And some nights when the wind was blowing this ah way, you could hear some low-level noise like
you can hear around them big old power transformers … scary humming sound … makes you feel
real uneasy, understand?”
The old gentleman was now shaking as he continued to tell me about his encounters with the lights
and occasional sounds.
“After I told mama about seeing them, she made me quit coming up here at night all alone … said
that I had to either bring her or someone else.”
“She ever come with you?” I hesitantly asked.
He looked at me and grinned and said, “No way mama going to come up here at night. If I must
come, my son comes up with me.”
We spent another 30 minutes or so talking about all this while we both enjoyed looking out over
the beautiful landscape spread out before us.
“When you saw the lights and the movements, did they all go away over time or what?” I asked him.
“Sometimes, they just moved off towards yonder,” he said while pointing to an area further back
inside the wilderness to the east. “Other times, they just went poof and they was gone!”
“What do you mean by that... poof and they were gone?” I hesitantly asked. “Did they just fly off
and disappear as they got further away?"
The elderly man looked sternly at me and said in a very strong voice, “No, I mean one second they
were there … all blinking and whatnot and then poof … the lights went out and they were gone!”
I realized then that maybe the conversation had started to go cold with the gentleman and I
switched gears and started talking about how beautiful it was there in the wilderness and how
enjoyable it was to just hike in it or just ride through it on the forest service roads.
“Yeah,” he said with a now toned down, quiet voice. “It sure is a pretty place … I like it a lot.”
With that, we said our goodbyes and I was headed back down the tower steps and on to my car. I
was ready to get gone and back to the reality of my world … back home and safe and sound with no
mysterious blinking lights or weird sounds filling out the nighttime air.
I know that what the man told me out on the ledge around the top of the fire tower was a truthful
recounting of events that happened that he had witnessed firsthand and I was firmly convinced
that he had no reason to be lying or trying to put one over on me. I trust my instincts at gauging,
measuring up people and I was convinced that what he had told me were true events that he had
witnessed with his own eyes.
He like me, had no real explanation of them but just because we could not “explain them,” was no
reason to discredit or doubt them.
Hopefully, whatever the reasons for or what the source of the lights are or were, I hope to one day
return to the tower, at night, and see if I can witness for myself these mysterious lights that seem
to like to hanging out atop Grassy Mountain.