Every summer, as fire season rolls around, one of the most prized pieces of real estate in the Truckee/North Tahoe area is given away for free. Since 1914, one solitary resident has inhabited the wooden structure perched on the top of Martis Peak. The fire lookout operator is trained to spot smoke and pinpoint its location through the metal sights of a 75-year-old Osborne Fire Finder. A cast of colorful characters has inhabited the fire lookout, including most recently Rick Baender who keeps watch over Truckee and the Tahoe Basin with a scarlet Macaw perched on his shoulder. But perhaps the most famous Martis Peak lookout operator of all was Frank ‘Waddles’ Maher, a former circus tumbler who rolled cigars and played with Martis Peak’s plentiful chipmunks. In Waddle’s 30 years at the lookout, Theodore Roosevelt and Frank Sinatra where among those who are said to have visited him, at the place he called ‘Hotel de Chipmunk.’ And he knew how to entertain, cooking up fresh bread and rice for hikers and celebrities who walked up to see him.


  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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    10317 Riverside Dr
    Truckee, CA 96161

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