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Tue Feb 2, 2021, 05:31 PM

The Mystery of the Phantom Tanker Truck [View all]

One dry, cloudless day early in the 2009 fire season, I spotted a huge plume of dust, moving on the FS-22 road, about ten miles east of the fire lookout. Whatever was kicking up the dust was not quite visible from my 6400-foot perch on East Butte, so I scanned the area with the big binoculars. There, occasionally visible through the Pondorosa pines, was an 18-wheeler tanker truck. WTH? What's being tankered INTO (or out of) this desolate, high desert corner of the national forest?

A few days later, I was driving a stretch of the FS-22 road in my pickup truck, and suddenly a ratty old 18-wheel tanker truck topped a hill, coming at me in a huge cloud of red dust at about 50 mph. Since this mystery 18-wheeler was in my area of fire detection responsibility, and since it could be carrying a flammable liquid .. although that made no sense .. I turned around and followed him.

The tanker truck took a spur road to the south, and I followed as the road got narrower and narrower. Then the truck took a spur off the spur .. a dusty two-track road now. We were still in an ever thinning Pondo pine forest, with more and more Juniper, sage, and bitter brush. And more dust.

There were increasingly larger lava beds, which suggested that we were nearing the south boundry of the national forest and the Deschutes/Lake county line. The tanker truck now moved at walking speed or slower, still kicking up dust. Then the 18-wheeler broke out into a large clear area ahead of me, and there it was. Several very large stock tanks, and two more tanker trucks.

Eureka! Of course. The cattle on leased grazing land in the southeast corner of the forest had to have water. Pondorosa pines need a minimum of 12" of rainfall a year to survive, and this is where the Pondos stop because the rainfall tapers to less than 12" per year. Cattle in the high desert must have water hauled in to them.

I later found out that there were many stock tanks in that corner of the national forest, some big .. some (like the tank in the photo) not so big. They all required water to be trucked in by tankers.

Later that fire season, with a rapidly-growing lightning fire in the area, fire crews had to "borrow" water from stock tanks. The Forest Service replaced the water within 24 hours. In fact, the rancher was so happy to have the firefighters working the fire threatening the herd, that the next day she brought a pickup truck load of ice-cold watermelons to the fire crews.

So another mystery: ice-cold watermelons in the high desert wilderness of central Oregon? I never figured that one out.

Deschutes National Forest
Oregon High Desert

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Reply The Mystery of the Phantom Tanker Truck [View all]
DemoTex Feb 2021 OP
Ferrets are Cool Feb 2021 #1
ProfessorGAC Feb 2021 #2
DemoTex Feb 2021 #6
ProfessorGAC Feb 2021 #8
Hortensis Feb 2021 #9
randr Feb 2021 #3
Nevilledog Feb 2021 #4
liberaltrucker Feb 2021 #5
whopis01 Feb 2021 #7
Hortensis Feb 2021 #10
ThoughtCriminal Feb 2021 #11
DemoTex Feb 2021 #13
panader0 Feb 2021 #12