Established as a fire detection point in 1923, the summit has had a fire observer every summer since. The reason will be quite evident when you look at the surrounding terrain. The entire area has been sculpted by fire, including one that threatened the lookout a few years ago. What is left is an interesting mosaic of fire-killed snags and live green trees. Desolation is usually staffed from late June/early July through the end of September.
This area receives quite regular summer thunderstorms, thus resulting in many lightning-caused fires. Early fall finds occasional human-caused fires resulting from warming fires in the North Fork John Day Wilderness to the north. The importance of early detection is evident as you ponder the view. Desolation has several neighboring lookouts, leaving very little area here that isn't covered by fixed detection. To the north is Tower Mtn Lookout, northeast is Johnson Rock Lookout, east is Mt. Ireland Lookout, south is Indian Rock Lookout, west is Ritter Butte Lookout, and northwest is Madison Butte Lookout.
You are looking for an ammo can hidden out of sight from the lookout. It has trading items, a logbook and writing instruments.
The road to the summit will normally be open to vehicular traffic from late June until the first good mountain snowstorm in the fall. The last few miles are not suitable for cadillacs or corvettes. 4WD is not required unless the road is muddy. I find the best access is off Forest Road 10 at Desolation Guard Station southeast of the lookout, taking the 1010 road. The spur road to the top is signed.