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:

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:


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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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