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Late August, before the wildfires of 2020, we took a road trip to Eastern Oregon. It was time to get away and socially distance ourselves in some remote areas.

Our first stop was to see the Metolius Balancing Rocks near Lake Billy Chinook. The Green Ridge forest fire was currently burning near the Metolius River. Vicki, my wife, dropped me off at the trail to Metolius Balancing Rocks. Then she drove down to Perry South Campground to get us a spot for the night.

The balancing rocks were hidden until a forest fire in 2002 revealed them. They are remnants of volcanic activity in Oregon a millennia ago. The rock spires were created by one volcanic eruption, and the rocks on top were created by others. Because of their different sedimentary make-up, the rocks eroded at different rates.

The smoke from the Green Ridge fire is drifting to the right of the image

Metolius Balancing Rocks Sunset
Metolius Balancing Rocks Sunset

I like to create sunbursts when shooting into the sun. Setting the f-stop to f/22 will usually create some nice sunbursts. If you have an even number of aperture blades you will have the same number of rays in the sunburst. An odd number of blades results in twice as many rays. I captured this image with a 9 blade aperture in my Tamron 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens. It is hard to keep lens flares to a minimum, and you can see some in this image. The best technique is to shoot almost directly into the sun. If you angle the camera down or to the side, it will create more sun flares.

Sunset at Balancing Rocks of the Metolius Oregon
Sunset at Balancing Rocks of the Metolius Oregon

The smoke settled in overnight, but it was a short walk to the overlook. Lake Billy Chinook is in the canyon below the Balancing Rocks.

Balancing Rocks of the Metolius Oregon
Balancing Rocks of the Metolius Oregon

It would be interesting to learn how this columnar basalt got so twisted.

Twisted Columnar Basalt
Twisted Columnar Basalt
Billy Chinook Pictograph
Lake Billy Chinook area Pictograph
Peter Skene Ogdon Viewpoint, Crooked River Gorge, Oregon
Peter Skene Ogdon Viewpoint, Crooked River Gorge, Oregon

We drove toward Joseph, Oregon up Highway 97 to I-84, then from Pendleton, over Tollgate to Joseph. Along the way we stopped in the old, mostly abandoned, town of Shaniko. We wandered around town and spoke to two motorcyclists that were riding from Atlanta to Oregon, through Death Valley and then home again.

Shaniko Reflection
Shaniko Reflection
Shaniko Sheriff's Office
Shaniko Sheriff’s Office

We arrived in Joseph and stopped in town for a bit, then drove south to check out Wallowa Lake State Park. The park was packed, the camp sites were full and it did not look like our idea of socially distancing. We headed toward the small community of Imnaha and Hat Point Road.

The first 8-10 miles of Hat Point Road is a narrow gravel road with lots of washboards. Driving the 23 miles to Hat Point took about 1 1/2 hours. The fire lookout was manned, and we heard thunder in the distance. It started raining a little while later. I was hoping it would clear out some smoke, but even though it rained enough to create puddles on the road the smoke persisted.

Hat Point View of the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho
Hat Point View of the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho, across Hells Canyon.

Hat Point sits at almost 7000 feet and the Snake River, which carves its way along the bottom of Hells Canyon, is 5700 feet below. The haze from forest fires hung around even after the rain.

Hat Point View of the Snake River, Hells Canyon, Oregon
Hat Point View of the Snake River, Hells Canyon, Oregon

The sun found some holes in the clouds to light up the canyon. This view was about 5 steps from our picnic table at the camp site.

Hells Canyon View from Saddle Creek Campground
Hells Canyon View from Saddle Creek Campground

The next morning we headed back to Imnaha and headed south on the Imnaha River Road. Granny View Point looks down on the Imnaha River Valley from Hat Point Road.

Granny Viewpoint off Hat Point Road, Oregon
Granny Viewpoint off Hat Point Road, Oregon

Imnaha River Road connects to Wallowa Mountain Loop, and we continued south to the Hells Canyon Overlook. The view from Hat Point is more impressive, but the road to Hells Canyon Overlook is paved. Take your choice, mine would be a better view.

Hells Canyon Overlook, Oregon
Hells Canyon Overlook, Oregon

We left the Wallowa Mountains behind and headed for Leslie Gulch in Southeast Oregon. We stopped at Succor Creek State Park and cooled our feet off in Succor Creek. Then we continued on to Leslie Gulch.

Leslie Gulch Road and the Camp Hauler
Leslie Gulch Road and the Camp Hauler

From the BLM
The most striking features of Leslie Gulch are the diverse and often stark, towering and colorful geologic formations. The Leslie Gulch Tuff (consolidated volcanic ash), makes up the bulk of these formations. It is a rhyolite ash that erupted from the Mahogany Mountain caldera (a large volcanic depression which encompasses Leslie Gulch) in a series of violent explosions about 15.5 million years ago. Much of the material fell back into the volcano as a gaseous deposit of fine ash and rock fragments up to 1,000 feet thick. About 100,000 years later, volcanic eruptions from the Three Fingers caldera, located several miles to the northeast, deposited another layer of rhyolite tuff in Leslie Gulch. Today, the tuff is beautifully displayed as steep slopes and vertical, honeycombed towers carved over time.

We drove down to the campground first to make sure there were plenty of spots, which there were. After checking out the campground we drove back to Dago Gulch and hiked up it as the sun was getting lower in the sky.

Dago Gulch
Dago Gulch
Sunset on the rocks, from Dago Gulch

We made a quick stop at Juniper Gulch on the way back to camp. The trail follows a dry wash up the canyon. Along the bottom of the dry wash I found signs that people tried living in this country.

Juniper Gulch Apples
Juniper Gulch Apple Tree

We spend the night at Leslie Gulch Campground. The desert was plenty warm, but we have a battery powered fan that does a good job of moving air inside the canopy on the pick up. The next morning we got up early and made some coffee and ate some breakfast. We knew we had a little extra time to catch the sunrise, since it has the clear the hills to the east.

Leslie Gulch Road
Leslie Gulch Road

Juniper Gulch Trail follows a dry stream wash up the canyon, if you follow it far enough you come out to this open area surrounded by beautiful honeycombed spires. It took my breath away as I looked 360 degrees, then remembered to shoot a few images.

Oregon Outback 2
Oregon Outback 2

We headed south from Leslie Gulch to Jordan Valley, stopping to get some ice cream. Then we headed to Three Forks of the Owyhee Campground. The road from the rim of the canyon down to the river wasn’t too far. However, it is one of those roads I call a 5 mph road, because that is all the faster you can drive.

We spent the afternoon reading and swimming in the river. There was very little smoke here compared to Hells Canyon. The coyotes sang to us as it got dark. The dog wasn’t sure what her cousins were talking about, but she sure got anxious.

Sunrise at Three Forks of the Owyhee River
Sunrise at Three Forks of the Owyhee River

The next morning we drove out of the canyon to the rim. We drove the 3 Forks Road toward Highway 95 and Rome, Oregon. We stopped at the Owyhee Canyon Overlook and let the dog stretch her legs. I figured she needed a break, since she thought she needed to bark at the cows along the road.

Cheyenne, the Owyhee River Canyon Explorer
Cheyenne, the Owyhee River Canyon Explorer

Between Jordan Valley and Rome, places from the other side of the world, is the grave site of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. He was the son of Sacajawea, as you can read on the marker below.

Jean Babtiste Charbonneau's Grave Site
Jean Baptiste Charbonneau’s Grave Site

We were going to stop at the Christmas Valley sand dunes, but the smoke was pretty thick, so we decided to head home.

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