07-Jul-2001 -- With the dog days of summer fast approaching, I decided to visit the confluence of 45 north, 120 west before conditions in the mountains became too dry and the fire danger too great. From Richland, Washington, I followed I-182 south, then I –84 west along the south bank of the Columbia river to Arlington, Oregon. From there, Oregon Highway 19 leads south to Condon, rising about 3000 feet in 40 miles or so through great expanses of ripening wheat. Twenty miles beyond Condon the tiny town of Fossil sits wedged in the bottom of a canyon. The confluence is 10.5 miles due east of Fossil, not Kinuza (actually spelled Kinzua) as indicated on the web site.
Four miles south of Fossil I found a paved county road heading east and a sign that pointed to Kinzua. Within a few miles the junipers turned into scattered pines and somewhat greener grass as the road ascended, then descended into the Thirtymile Creek canyon. The map showed the confluence to be a mile or so north of the road and the fence on that side was posted, indicating that the land is leased for hunting. I was almost resigned to not being able to access this confluence when I discovered a side road (trail?) heading north through a cattle guard (also known in some parts of the west as an “auto gate” -- pronounced ottagate.) There was no posting of any kind in the vicinity of this gate so I took it to mean that this road probably serves as access to an isolated half-section of Umatilla National Forest land that lies just north of the confluence. I drove up this road a short distance and parked less than a mile due east of the confluence.
The area is pasture sparsely timbered with ponderosa pine. It appeared to have been selectively logged within the last 10-15 years. The sky was clear, the temperature 78 degrees (F) and the hiking easy. The confluence lies a few hundred vertical feet up on the south slope of Oxhead Ridge. I walked to it in nearly a straight line through the open timber, deviating only for downed logs and fresh cowpies. My timing for this visit was good. Although the soil was extremely dry, the grass still fairly green. Within a few weeks it will likely be tinder-dry and the fire danger will be extreme. No surface water was evident except for a single tiny bulldozed stock pond that was drying up fast. I didn’t see any cattle but within minutes of setting out I kicked up two mule deer and a bull elk.
The confluence is located at an elevation of 4429 feet near the upper edge of a clearing (photo 1). Views to the southeast and southwest are shown in photos 2 and 3. I recorded the confluence exactly – all zeros – (photo 4) a few feet from a dandy stump that served as my camera stand for the self-portrait (photo 5). On the hike back to my car I followed a slightly different track and discovered the most wonderfully gnarled and twisted old pine tree (photo 6). I can’t imagine what caused this tree to grow so warped and misshapen in this spot. Whoever logged this area also must have appreciated its unique character, because a “substandard” tree like this would normally be cut down and left behind just to make room for higher quality timber to grow.