06-May-2001 -- Malheur County, Oregon is larger in area than seven entire U.S. states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and, of course, Rhode Island. Its population, however, is less than 30,000. The county was named after the Malheur River. "Malheur," in French, means literally "bad hour." It seems that Indians attacked a group of fur trappers camping on the River. Two of their party were killed and their furs stolen. Sounds like a bad day to me!
The Malheur River flows into the Snake River (which here defines the Oregon/Idaho border) at Ontario. Ontario is the largest town in the county. After a 65-year old competition to relocate the county seat from Vale, it lost its bid in 1955. Vale (about 12 miles west of the confluence point) grew up at the ford where the Oregon Trail crossed the Malheur River. Today, the city (a term used to honor, not the modest population, but its county-seat status) "boasts twenty-three professionally painted outdoor murals depicting life on the Oregon Trail." (www.valeoregon.org
). You can also find a Dairy Queen. =)
This region, like most of the Snake River plain, is desert--volcanic soil, ancient lava flows, and lots of sagebrush. Only irrigation, brought to the area late in the 1800's, made the Treasure Valley, stretching from Ontario to Boise, Idaho, a predominately agricultural area.
We decided to stop and visit this confluence on the way home from a trip to Burns, Oregon. We had spotted the location that morning, using the aerial photos to identify the exact field in which the confluence would be found. After obtaining permission at the farm house, we drove back about 400 yards, got out, and carefully walked another 50 yards in the furrows of the field planted, so far as we could tell, with wheat. Within sight to the south lies a railroad line and one of the irrigation ditches that bring life to the rich volcanic soil. To the west, one can see a remnant of an ancient lava flow, Malheur Butte. After taking several photographs, we loaded up and rode into the sunset.