The Oregon Trail to Waiilatpu

Camping near the Oregon Trail in the Blue Mountains of Oregon

“Waiilatpu,” I said, hoping to wake Marvin, who was sound asleep and snoring… loudly.

“Where???,” asked Marvin, looking wildly about. I interrupted his nap… he was still half asleep. We were passing through the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon between Pendleton and La Grande. I didn’t want him to miss the scenery.

“Waiilatpu,” I repeated.

“Bless you,” Marvin replied, now fully awake and aware that I was making strange noises.

“No, I’m not sneezing… Waiilatpu… Walla Walla… the Whitman Mission… the Oregon Trail… the trail passes through here,” I explained. “The wagon ruts are still visible if you know where to look,” I added, “You will miss seeing those things if you sleep.”

“I’m trying to keep you awake while you are driving.” Marvin answered. “You won’t fall asleep while I’m snoring.”

“Thank you for your concern… It’s working… I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” I responded.

 “Do you know what ‘Waiilatpu’ means?” asked Marvin, returning to the subject.

“It’s probably Cayuse language for ‘Whitman, go to hell!’,” I answered. “The Cayuse weren’t too happy with Whitman. They thought Whitman exposed them to the measles that wiped out half their tribe… Their attack on the Whitman mission started the Cayuse War.”

“We are at war with the Cayuse?…  did you bring your rifle?”

“No, but the Oregon Rifles ended the war with the Cayuse.”

 “Walla Walla,” said Marvin, changing the subject. “That means ‘place of many rocks’ in the Wiradjuri language… Did you know there is a town called Walla Walla in Australia? It’s south of Wagga Wagga.”

“Go back to sleep, Marvin.”

(Extracted from “Traveling with Marvin” by Larry Rea, with permission granted)

For more information about the Oregon Trail site near La Grande, Union County, Oregon, click on the following link>

Directions to 45.398022 -118.315703:

From La Grande, Oregon travel north on Interstate 84 for 10.5 miles to exit 248; Turn at exit 248 onto the Spring Creek Road/Kamela and go 0.2 miles; Turn right on Old Emigrant Hill Scenic Frontage Road (Highway 30) and go 0.7 miles; take first right follow signs and go 2.4 miles to Park on Forest Road 1843.

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Out of Gas!

estimate 12.5 gallons of gas used, gauge still reads almost half full… gauge error!!

The Blazer’s engine chugged and quit… oh, no… four lane freeway… heavy traffic… fortunately I made it to the side of the freeway… fortunately the shoulder was wide enough to accommodate parking clear of traffic… out of gas… but how… the gauge was indicating nearly half a tank… no way… but the engine would not start and the gas gauge plummeted to empty. I called AAA for assistance.

While waiting for AAA roadside assistance to arrive I realized how easy it would be to estimate how much fuel the Blazer used since the last fill. How does that work? Simple.

Before departing a service station, I zero the trip mileage indicator on the odometer. I want to know how far I have traveled on the way to the next fuel station. Uphill, downhill, eastern Oregon, western Oregon, I know from experience my Chevy Blazer averages very close to 20 miles per gallon (mpg). That means if I drive 251 miles between gasoline stations the attendant should replace the 12.5 gallons my vehicle used with 12.5 gallons from the pump. It’s easy… the math is not difficult…  Now I do a trip mileage reset every time I refuel. I have a good estimate of how much fuel I have used as I travel and I can check the accuracy of the fuel gauge at the same time. Perfect. Problem solved.   

estimate was 12.5 gallons, close enough

After I started checking trip mileage, I noticed discrepancies in the quantity of fuel some stations claimed to have pumped into my fuel tank. If I need 10 gallons and they pump substantially more for safety’s sake I should check under the vehicle for a puddle of fuel. Let’s assume there is no puddle of fuel, no leaks. Could the pump be in error?

Not likely… Engineers claim that a new pump can measure precisely to 1/1000 of a gallon (a teaspoon). That means that in pumping 96 gallons the measurement could be off by a pint. The engineers that design the fuel station pumps tell me as the pump wears with use it will pump more gasoline than it indicates. That surplus is free gasoline for me.  I would notice extra fuel as a sudden improvement in mpg. A worn pump is a disadvantage to the seller of the fuel so it is to their best interest to have worn pumps quickly replaced. A higher probability exists that the meter has been nefariously “adjusted” to indicate more gallons have been pumped than have been delivered to your fuel tank.

Some stations consistently pump more gallons into my fuel tank than I estimated the vehicle should have used. I call those “phantom” gallons. Phantom gallons of gasoline represent pure profit to the service station, perhaps creating an incentive to “adjust” the meter on the fuel pump. Phantom gallons look like a sudden reduction in mpg to me.

Should I care?

I do if I paid for gallons of gasoline I didn’t get. To increase profits the owner of the station can charge whatever he/she chooses, whatever the market will bear, per gallon. However, it is deceptive to sell you the wrong number of gallons. Consumer complaints may be filed with the State of Oregon Department of Justice. Personally, I choose to take my business to an “honest” fuel station but if aggravated enough I may do both.

photo and story byLarry

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Don’t Touch It!

Lytta vulnerata cooperi blister beetle on rabbitbrush near Deschutes River/Wishram Bridge Wasco County id Jim Labonte
Lytta vulnerata cooperi (blister beetle) on rabbitbrush near Celilo Bridge Wasco County

“Don’t touch it.” In the case of this colorful blister beetle… good advice.

According to biologists bright red/orange/yellow color is a warning sign to go away and leave this critter alone.  Biologists refer to the concept of warning coloration as aposematism… apo = away… sema = sign. The beetle in the photo… grazing on rabbitbrush, a member of the Compositae family of flowers… is commonly called a blister beetle… releases a poisonous chemical that causes severe blistering of human skin. Don’t touch it.

Do you want to see this species of blister beetle for yourself? Try driving east of The Dalles to the Celilo exit and then to the Deschutes River bridge on old highway 30. At the bridge turn right onto Old Moody Road… a gravel road… and go toward The Dalles about four miles… the exact spot for those of you that use GPS is 45.6412 North latitude and 120.9824 West longitude. At that position you will find a pullout and a lovely view of the Celilo Railroad Bridge that spans the Columbia River 580 feet below. Let’s face it… if you don’t find the beetle here at least you can enjoy the scenery.

Scrutinize the rabbitbrush growing roadside… if you find the beetle heed the warning… don’t touch it. And, if you do touch it, do not put your fingers in your mouth! (If you do both of those things let me know immediately… I want to be the first to say: “I told you not to touch it!”)

Thanks to Jim LaBonte, ODA Entomologist, for his help in identifying the beetle as Lytta vulnerata cooperi, a task made immensely more difficult by having to use my photo instead of having a specimen in hand.

Story and photos by Larry

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Northwest Forest Pass Required

Ralph and I were greeted at the trail head for one of Oregon’s most outstanding hiking trails by the sign shown below. The need for a pass was new to me but since I had not hiked the trail for several years I was surprised. Purchasing a pass on site is out of the question so the search for a ticket agent began.

We drove to Cascade Locks and tried several dealers but no one seemed to know where the pass could be purchased.

It occurred to us that perhaps the agents at Multnomah Falls would know.

Eureka… they were willing and able to sell us a pass. Then I thought to ask about my Golden Age Pass. To my surprise the agent said I wouldn’t need the Northwest Forest Pass if I had any of the federal park passes.

If you read the fine print on the sign no mention is made that any other pass is applicable. Do you wonder how many people buy a pass they don’t need?



pass required sign at Eagle Creek... wait a minute
pass required sign at Eagle Creek… wait a minute
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Deschutes River butterflies

Marvin and I were out sauntering 15 April and stopped to check out the butterflies in Jones Canyon which is tributary to the Deschutes River Canyon on the western edge of Sherman County, Oregon. Normally a small creek flows across the gravel road and seems to be a good spot to find butterflies “puddling”.

We weren’t disappointed. We saw a half dozen comprising two species but we expected a lot more from past experiences at this time of year. It was significant that the creek was almost dry… well, described as damp at best without too much exaggeration.

The lack of moisture provides alarming prospects given this time of year with the snow melt from winter and the spring rains recently past. It appears we will have another very dry summer.

The photo is of a Northern Checkerspot (Chlosyne palla), a small butterfly (easily covered with a 50 cent coin) and common in these parts. They are a challenge to photograph because they seem to alarm easily. The other species was Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon). Ours were easily identified as males (blue top wing rather than brown as in the females). The Checkerspots were probably males also since it is reported that the males puddle and the females do not.

Chlosyne palla Northern Checkerspot Jones Canyon, Deschutes River, Sherman County, OR
Chlosyne palla Northern Checkerspot Jones Canyon, Deschutes River, Sherman County, OR

There is some dispute over the name of this butterfly so let me provide a disclaimer. I am not an expert on the subject of butterflies so I rely on research done by experts. Robert Pyle’s book “The Butterflies of Cascadia” is a frequent resource.  Dana Ross has suggested that the butterfly in question is now called “Chlosyne acastus” (Sagebrush Checkerspot). He does so by providing ample evidence for the name change. You, gentle reader, might be happy with calling it a Checkerspot or maybe just “Butterfly.”  I intend to study a bit more and be less inclined to jump to a conclusion.



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