Oregon is an Island

Marvin Kellar where the Oregon border comes ashore  near Umatilla

“Dry land at last,” said Marvin, “I was beginning to think Oregon is an island.”

We were trying to circumnavigate Oregon as an adventure. We started the furthest south, where California and Oregon join with the Pacific Ocean and headed north toward the Columbia River. Oregon’s boundary is a nautical league offshore… that’s about three miles of water for those unfamiliar with nautical terms.

Oregon’s boundary then follows the Columbia River 309 river miles upstream, zig-zagging with the flow of the river, until just about 17 miles east of the McNary dam near Umatilla where the 46th parallel comes ashore heading easterly, forming the rest of the boundary with Washington.

“That’s about 660 miles by water so far,” I replied. “We have about 100 miles of dry land before we reach the Snake River where Oregon, Washington, and Idaho form a tri-corner about a mile below the confluence with Cache Creek.”

“Can we drive any of that?”

“Just a few miles along the state line near Walla Walla, the rest is wilderness.”

“So, what now?”

“We can follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and use water grade… the Snake River is tributary to the Columbia… we will have to do some of that by boat.”

“Do you know what Walla Walla means in Wiradjuri?”

“Probably not the same thing it means to the Walla Walla Nation.”

“It’s ‘the place of many rocks’ in Wiradjuri.”

“OK… so far we have been the farthest south, west and north on land in Oregon but the legal boundary has been covered with water… now we are headed for the farthest east in Oregon… guess what?… it’s in the water… in the Snake River.”

“Just as I suspected… Oregon is an island… it has water all around… that’s the exact definition of an island.”

Photos and story byLarry

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Anyone have a dollar?

Longview Bridge 1.65 miles downriver from Rainier, OR

Recently several of us were reminiscing about the good old days when we were teenagers in high school back in the 1950’s… barely old enough for a driver’s license and still using the family car, very occasionally, for transportation.

Rainier was a small town… you could walk from one end to the other in 15 minutes… not much going on. Longview was a much bigger town… and much more exciting. But it was about four miles away and involved using a toll bridge to cross the Columbia River. Technically the toll bridge was named “The Longview Bridge” but only the citizens of Longview called it by the official name… to those living in Rainier it was “the Bridge.”

In those days it cost a dollar to drive cross the Bridge… two dollars if you counted on coming back to Oregon… wages were $1.35 per hour so the toll was a big chunk out of the weekly paycheck for a working man. The Bridge toll made access to the excitement of Longview nearly impossible for an unemployed teenager from Rainier.

Floyd was telling the story: “We reduced the individual cost of crossing the Bridge by taking a carload and splitting the toll.

“One day six of us loaded into a car and headed for the YMCA in Longview and on the way back, just as we approached the toll booth, we realized we didn’t have a dollar to pay the toll. We didn’t even have the ten cents each it cost to walk across the bridge. What now?

“While we were discussing the dilemma, Donny, who was driving, suddenly stomped on the gas and accelerated past the toll booth without stopping to pay. All of us were whooping and hollering… Donny was so excited he wet his pants.

“The Bridge was about a mile and a half from downtown Rainier where the city cop was waiting for us. He pulled us over, walked up to the driver’s side window, leaned in and said: ‘First time I ever caught six criminals in one car.’

“The whooping and hollering was over… done… we were a subdued bunch cowering before the eyes of the law, waiting for the harsher sentence: ‘Tell your sad story to the judge.’

“Perhaps he had pity on us… our situation… for then he said: ‘Don’t let it happen again.’

Darwin added to Floyd’s story: “Maybe he had pity on you because his son was also in the car.”

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Story and photo ByLarry

The Longview Bridge has been toll-free since 1965 and has been renamed “The Lewis and Clark Bridge”

For a history of the Bridge


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Photo of a Snowy Owl in Oregon

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl near Burns, Harney County, Oregon 18 Dec 2011



“What do you think?” said Marvin, “The newspaper reported a Snowy Owl has been sighted near Burns. Maybe we can catch a photo of a bird rarely seen in Oregon.”

“It is the middle of December,” I replied, “and typically really, really cold in the high desert… It’s 334 miles from here to Burns… a long drive in winter conditions… through the Cascade mountains… snow on the ground… ice on the roads… but traffic cams show roads clear of snow… It’s a pretty crazy thing for a couple of old codgers from the valley to do… Let’s go for it. We have a reputation to uphold.”  

“That owl will draw a lot of attention from bird watchers… we may need reservations to stay in Burns…  Be sure to bring your arctic parka and mittens… maybe a pair of long-johns.”

Marvin secured reservations at our favorite motel in Burns… we loaded our gear into my 4WD Blazer and headed for Harney County. As reported the highway was clear of ice and snow so we enjoyed a scenic drive across the state of Oregon… mid-winter… didn’t need to use tire chains.

“The paper said the owl was seen at milepost six on highway 78 south of Burns… that’s been over a week ago… do you suppose the owl will still be there?”

“Let’s drive out to mile post six and look… we don’t have better information. If it is not there we can go to plan B.”

Sure enough… milepost six… perched on a fence-post next to the road… oblivious to traffic on the highway and cars stopping to park roadside… ignoring camera-toting birdwatchers striving for a better close-up shot… sat a Snowy Owl… apparently reveling in the attention it was receiving.

We exhausted the sweet light of sunset, collecting great shots of the Snowy owl… perched like a statue on a fence-post.

We came back the next morning and exhausted the sweet light of sunrise… we collected more great shots of the Snowy owl… perched like a statue on a fence-post.

 The owl occasionally shifted its feet and occasionally swiveled its head to look around but otherwise there wasn’t much action.

“What is our plan B?” said Marvin, “Maybe…”

“Good idea.” I said, starting the engine of the car. “We can head over to the Malheur Refuge and check the action there. We might see something interesting.”

story and photo byLarry

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Put Palouse Falls on your Bucket List

Paloose Falls
Marvin at Palouse Falls


“I would like to see Palouse Falls someday,” said Marvin, “It’s on my bucket list.”

We were planning field trips for the summer. It’s unusual for Marvin to make a request so I was taking his suggestion seriously. Usually he is content with letting me decide where we go.

“Tell me why you want to go there.”

“It’s the official State Waterfall for Washington… The falls are about 200 feet high… that’s seventeen feet higher than Niagara Falls… It’s geologically significant… the result of Missoula Floods… the Palouse river used to be tributary to the Columbia but now it’s tributary to the Snake River…  I’d like to take a few pictures.”

“You have done the research. Pack your camera gear and let’s go… are you going to bring your kayak? I’ll take your picture if you run the falls.”

“Nope… Tyler Bradt has already made that plunge and set the record… being second spoils the appeal for me… but it would be quite a ride.”

“The falls change height depending on the water flow… as much as 12 feet… so maybe you could pick a day when there is more water and reset the world record.”

“Rafa Ortiz tried that too… but he was disqualified because he didn’t stay in his kayak during the free fall portion. He didn’t try again… once was enough.”

“Two tries and both lived to tell about it… that’s pretty good odds…”

“It helps to be young and skinny… no one will accuse either of us of that.”

“Do you know what “Palouse” means?”

“It’s what people now call the Native Americans that lived near there… In their journal Lewis and Clark called them ‘Pellotepellows’…  they were related to the Nez Perce and raised horses referred to as ‘a Palouse horse’… now Appaloosa.”

“Those are beautiful horses… We should go horseback riding while we are there…”

“I’ll take your picture if you ride one… bareback.”

Watch Tyler Bradt do the plunge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyb3As78YfM

Story and photo byLarry

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The Geographical Center of Oregon

Post, Oregon
Post Oregon store photo by Jan Jackson

“Have you been to the geographical center of Oregon?”

Marvin’s question seemed innocently proposed but I knew better… he likes to use leading questions to start a conversation and it is likely that he already knows the answer. We were in Central Oregon, defined by three counties, Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes. We had passed through Jefferson County and now we were in Crook County, east of Prineville and headed toward Post and Paulina on SH 380. I suspected his question involved one those two communities so I decided to be indirect and answer with a question.

“I wonder how they calculate the center of a state… Oregon’s almost square so it would be easy to get a rough estimate by marking diagonals and see where they cross.”

“When I did that the diagonals crossed pretty close to Post,” replied Marvin.

In the past I did some computer based research. A U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) put the center of Oregon about 16 miles south of Post, but not near any community. Although, in remote Oregon 16 miles is considered nearby… some ranches out there are bigger than that.

A Center of Gravity method put the center south of highway 20 in Deschutes County, a few miles from Millican, about 30 miles SW of Post, but Oscar Adams, the senior mathematician for USCGS, ridiculed the question and said there is no such thing as a geographical center of any state, country or continent. He claimed there was no exactitude in any of the methods used. “Make your own definition of center,” he said, “one is as good as another.”

Methinks he doth protest too much. He had a reputation for accuracy to uphold and he probably was embarrassed by telling people he couldn’t provide an exact answer.

I tried a more modern solution in reverse… I used Google Earth and put the center cross-hairs smack dab on Post, then zoomed out until I had the boundaries of Oregon on screen. With a little fudging  Post looked pretty good for the center of the state. Then I did a Google map search for “Oregon” and looked at the icon’s location… it’s a few miles east of Brothers, Deschutes County, about 25 miles south of Post, but still in Central Oregon.

Alfred Korzybski’s famous statement: “the map is not the territory” holds true… it is impossible to map a three-dimensional sphere onto two-dimensional paper without creating some area distortions, thus no exact center is possible. The map is the problem.

“Marvin, I’m hungry. Are you ready for lunch? I hear the store in Post makes an excellent meatloaf sandwich and I want one of those t-shirts that claim Post is the geographical center of Oregon.”

For more traveling Oregon stories: http://www.countrytraveleronline.com/


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