Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon - Oregon is truly an amazing place. In terms of variety of the landscapes available within an easy day’s drive, who really needs to travel outside of the state to find what they want to experience? From my perspective, that of a landscape photographer, I speak primarily in regards to the natural world. Oregon has views of the ocean, rolling hills and valleys, forests, mountains, glaciers, sagebrush desert, mud playa desert, you name it. I tell people that in Oregon there’s a view of a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon - Hells Canyon on the Snake River.
Considering the variety of terrain that we have to choose from here, I seem to gravitate to Eastern Oregon. Perhaps it’s because I live in trees and relish a clear view of the sky and clouds, but I seem to breathe more freely in the open spaces and expansive views that I find there.
My latest trip east included a stop at a place that I can never get tired of exploring, Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch is on Bureau of Land Management land located about an hour from the little town of Jordan Valley near the Oregon and Idaho border. Named for a
poor fellow named Hiram E. Leslie who was struck by lightning there in 1882, it’s a part of a larger area that is a part of the many canyons that make up the Owyhee River drainage. It’s a canyon with towering rock spires and formations made of ancient volcanic tuff, a rock very similar to what’s found at the popular Smith Rock State Park, but times ten as there are huge formations surrounding you all the way through the canyon and up side canyons.
The canyon has a 15 mile dirt road that takes you down into and through to the end where it meets the Owyhee Reservoir where there can be found the 8-unit Slocum Creek - Leslie Gulch Campground (Open from March - November) and a boat ramp. Many people come here to fish. A bit of caution must be expressed here. The road can be treacherous in rain, and the area can be prone to flash floods so be warned. When adventuring in remote areas always be prepared and make sure that your vehicle is up to traveling for miles on dirt. Please don’t go unprepared.
Once you’re in the canyon you’re surrounded by castle like pillars of rock formed by ancient volcanic ash, sheer cliffs and honeycomb type rock formations. The rock features are jagged and more reminiscent of a place in southern Utah or Arizona, but it’s all Oregon. In the Springtime wildflowers bloom, but as Summer approaches the grasses turn yellow and the canyon can be prone to grass fires. Although elusive, there is an abundant amount of wildlife there including bighorn sheep which was established there in 1965 that number close to 200 animals. As you sit at camp you’re serenaded by birds including chukars, which are a type of partridge, and coyotes in the evening, while consumed by the aroma of sage and juniper. Oh - And there’s no cell phone service there so you have no choice but to relax and take it all in.
While in the area take note of some other places nearby that are also worth visiting. There are many other places to get a view of the Owyhee River as well as camping places. Succor Creek is another spot that I’d recommend. Consider also visiting Silver City Idaho, a remote “ghost town” at the end of a rough dirt road that still has a few hearty residents holding on there and a city ordinance that prohibits modern improvements. Take a day and explore the old town and its old buildings including the Idaho Hotel. The little town of Rome and the Pillars of Rome and views of the Owyhee River as well as the Alvord Desert - A mud lake much like Death Valley in California are nearby. The Steens Mountains, considered the Alps of Oregon tower up from the Alvord Desert, and also the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge north of the Steens is an amazing place to sit and birdwatch.
Prior to my time in Eastern Oregon I must admit that from all that I had heard I felt like there was nothing there but sagebrush and coyotes, but once I decided to go it was immediately obvious to me that I had found the solitude that I love and an expanse of land to explore and discover. It may not be for those who want luxury in their free time as there aren’t many motels but for those who want to get away from the luxurious, forget a shower for a few days and spend time in the natural world, I would recommend Leslie Gulch.