The Huge Tamarack Tree

26 August 2013: “Ralph, I know where there is a huge Tamarack tree.”

Ralph and I were talking about big trees and I knew at the mention of one he hadn’t seen he would be ready to travel so I dropped the hat.

“Let’s go give it a look.”

My son, Chris; Lucy, the dog; Ralph, the tree guy; and me, the camera guy… loaded our gear into my Chevy Blazer and we were off to Eastern Oregon’s Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area to measure and photograph what I hoped would be the largest Tamarack tree in Oregon, perhaps it could even be the national champion.

Western Larch
Chris, Lucy, Ralph and a huge Western Larch

I saw the tree while looking for butterflies during a field trip and marveled at its size. It was the biggest Tamarack I had ever seen. Now we were going to see if it measured up, officially. Ralph was the certification expert. He called the tree a Western Larch… and I discovered “Tamarack” is the common name for the Eastern Larch.

Somehow the “Tamarack” name had also been given to the Western Larch. “Tamarack” made sense to me because to me they looked very much alike… same genus… but different species… and different scientific names. A botanist would reference the Western Larch in writing as “Larix occidentalis” and the Eastern Larch as “Larix laricina.” To be technically correct the authority’s name would be appended after the genus and species but not italicized… technically correct is mainly used in botanical journals but purists will also append authority names.

Unfortunately, my tree wasn’t big enough to be crowned the new champion. In Ralph’s words: “We saw the tree, and it was a marvel to behold, but a champion to dethrone another it was not.”

How big is the champion? According to Wikipedia the national champ is 153 feet tall and 22 feet around (seven feet diameter). It can be found near Seeley Lake, Montana. Locals refer to the tree as “Gus.”

Oregon’s record, located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, measured as 103 feet tall, 22 feet circumference (seven feet diameter). (Information quoted from the Oregon Encyclopedia)

 How big was mine? 120 feet tall and 13.5 feet circumference (four feet, three and a half inches diameter). My tree was taller but not big enough in circumference to surpass the Oregon champion. I would have to settle for the biggest Western Larch I have ever seen.


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The Trees on Wizard Island

Wizard Island, Crater Lake
Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

July 16, 2014: “I want to spend some time looking at the trees on Wizard Island,” said Ralph, “and there are two record trees in the Park that were originally measured during the 1940’s that need to be remeasured and certified. With luck we can do both.”

Ralph brought a tent. We both brought a sleeping bag. We were prepared to camp out.

Did we have reservations?

It did not occur to us we would need reservations. We were surprised to find an overflow crowd at Crater Lake. Not only were no camping sites available but the Wizard Island tour would be space available.

The reservation system was down… crashed… so we had no idea how many people would show up for the tour. Nor could we risk staying on the island and taking the next boat back to shore. The next boat might be full… all the next boats might be full. We elected to look for the two “lost” trees and skip the time-limited island tour.

We had “approximate” locations for the two trees. The Park Historian was some help… he had also looked for the trees but was unable to locate them. His trials eliminated some possibilities for us though.

Larry and record tree
Big tree at Crater Lake Larry Rea

One of the trees was next to the road and we found it quickly, before evening set in we had measurements and photos.

We had to leave the park and find a campsite somewhere in the adjacent National Forest. We were lucky to find an abandoned hunter’s camp where we set up the tent and spent the night without noisy neighbors. The noisy mosquitoes were another unanticipated problem. Eventually sleep prevailed.

The next morning, we looked for the other tree. We estimated the other tree was about two miles off road, downhill, and near where a couple small streams came together. I plotted coordinates to use with my GPS and we began the search.

Fortunately, an abandoned power line gave us a good trail to follow and walking was easy… downhill. When we passed two and a half miles we turned around and worked our way back. Ralph spotted a couple trees he wanted to measure but I was quickly running out of steam going uphill. The combination of elevation, sunshine and uphill was turning hiking into hard work. The two and a half miles down was more like ten miles going uphill.

I elected to take a rest stop while Ralph investigated trees. While he was gone I decided it would be a good idea to continue, slowly, and let Ralph catch up to me. That strategy would reduce the time spent on the return trip and my rest stops wouldn’t be an issue.

When Ralph returned to the trail he wasn’t sure he was below the location where we parted. I could be waiting down the trail.  So, he backtracked until he was sure he was below where we parted and then hiked back up the hill to find me. By then I had decided to return to the car.

Ralph was worried about having missed me on the trail. He thought I intended to wait for his return. I worried about him… he had the keys to the car. When we got back together at the car we reviewed our hiking strategy to make sure we both understood what the other was planning to do.

I love when a plan comes together.


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How Old is This Rock

June 21, 2012: “How old is this rock,” I asked Marvin, indicating a piece of quartzite I had picked up while we were visiting Steptoe Butte State Park in the Palouse Hills of Washington, not far from the town of Colfax.

“If I had to guess I’d say it’s over 400 million years old,” said Marvin.

“Oh… you read the interpretive sign too,” I replied.

“Yes, but the age is debatable. Dr. E. K. Peter, professor of Geology at WSU, said it was over a billion years old. Other sources say radiometric dating placed the age between 1.4 and 1.47 billion years old. We’re standing on an old pile of sand.”

“Well… then it’s also true that it’s over 400 million years old. So, the sign isn’t wrong even if it is misleading. Dr. Peter isn’t wrong either… he is just a bit conservative if we believe the radiometric dating numbers.”

“Nice view from up here,” Marvin said, changing the subject. “How far do you think you can see?”

“If I had to guess I’d say over 200 miles,” I replied.

“The mountain identifier said Mount Spokane is 70 miles away.”

“I’m a little taller than you so I’m adding another 30 miles… that’s 100 miles this way and 100 miles that way… adds up to 200 miles on my abacus.”

Photo by Marvin Kellar

“It’s beautiful pastoral scenery,” said Marvin, changing the subject again. “I think I’ll take some photos.”

“I don’t know your minister very  well but I think she would like it… There’s a guy setting up a parasail… maybe we can get some shots of that… his kite is colorful… it will add some color to the photo.”

parasail, Steptoe ButteParasailing from Steptoe Butte State Park,

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Do You Have a Plan B

  “Do You Have a Plan B?” asked Marvin.

We were headed to Hat Point and the road used to access Hat Point was barricaded by a sign stating the road was closed. What now?

There is only one road leading to Hat Point.

There were warnings.  

Hat Point Warning

On the highway from Joseph to Imnaha a huge roadside sign announced road 4240 was closed.

The road designation didn’t mean much to us. Several important forest service roads lead to Halfway from Imnaha so we were not immediately aware which road was closed. We knew the road to Halfway had washouts. Perhaps that was the road that was closed.

When we crossed the bridge to Imnaha we noticed the sign for Hat Point Road read 4240.  

Sign for Road Closed
Road closed to Hat Point

Sure enough, about half a mile up the gravel road leading to Hat Point we saw the barricade. The sign read “Road Closed”!  Another sign read “Log Trucks Only”.

We were stunned. We had driven 346 miles just to find a sign that said the road was closed. What now?

Did I have a plan B?

I did have a plan B.

“What if we drive out to Buckhorn Overlook?”

The road to Buckhorn is a continuation of the Zumwalt Prairie road, beginning back near Enterprise, mostly rough gravel, crossing the Zumwalt Prairie.

The Zumwalt Prairie… famous for its raptors and wildflowers in season. Although we were past the wildflower season on the prairie the elevation gained to reach Buckhorn Overlook would put us back into the wildflowers.

Buckhorn Overlook
Buckhorn Overlook Imnaha Canyon Wallowa County

Like Hat Point Lookout at 6,982 feet the view from Buckhorn Overlook at 5,333 feet is spectacular… Like Hell’s Canyon, Imnaha River Canyon is rugged and photogenic… we met some interesting fellow travelers at the Overlook. We came home with some wonderful photographs of scenery, flowers, birds, butterflies and bees.

Buckhorn Overlook was a successful substitute for Hat Point, a great plan B and we had a story to tell.


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A Flat Tire at Dug Bar

September 4, 2007: We were packing our camping gear at Dug Bar, getting ready to leave, when Chris announced, “We have a flat tire.”

A flat tire is serious business at Dug Bar. There’s no cell phone service anywhere close. We were alone at the campground. An occasional jetboat would roar by on the Snake River. An occasional jet airplane would pass 35,000 feet over our head. Dug Bar is the definition of remote in Oregon.

Never been to Dug Bar?

There are four ways to get to or from Dug Bar located about 31 miles downstream from Imnaha: By vehicle on a very rough, rocky access road, most of which is limited to high clearance 4WD rigs like my Dodge ¾ ton pickup; by jet boat on the Snake River; by airplane, capable of short field takeoff and landing on the grass strip at Dug Bar; or by walking.

Flat tire at Dug Bar
Chris Rea Changing tire Dug Bar

Walking is the least desirable option. Fortunately, we had a spare tire to replace the flat. We changed the tire but now we didn’t have a spare.

We didn’t intend to camp at Dug Bar but the 31 miles from Imnaha took nearly four hours to accomplish. At the end of the day we were tired and miserably hot. Camping at Dug Bar while we still had daylight looked much more inviting than any place we saw during the drive in. We decided to stay the night and leave during the cool of the morning. We pitched our tent and settled in. And the tire went flat during the night.

Now we were praying we wouldn’t have a second flat. Rock roads are tough on tires. We used low range gears and treated our tires tenderly.  Another flat meant a long walk. The day was beginning to warm up as the sun heated the rocky terrain. Walking would not be pleasant.

Every mile we traveled was a mile closer to the Les Schwab Tire Shop in Enterprise. Believe me, we counted down all sixty-six miles. We breathed a big sigh of relief when we got the flat repaired.

For more information on Dug Bar:


P.S. Now I travel with a satellite phone!

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