An amazingly different place from the rest of state. That’s how Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, describes Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee Canyonlands. People fascinated with the American Southwest will find Leslie Gulch remarkably similar, he said.
Leslie Gulch is in the southeast corner of Oregon and less than a day’s drive from almost anywhere in the state. The Bureau of Land Management has designated it an area of critical environmental concern because of its outstanding scenery and due to the presence of big horn sheep and rare plant species, some found only here—Packard’s blazing star and Ertter’s groundsel. It is closed to horses and cattle.
This wilderness features red rock and slot canyons, towering volcanic tuffs and honeycomb formations, and sage brush taller than a human, as well as abundant wildlife—song birds, chukars, Western screech owls and a few rattlesnakes.
The BLM’s Slocum Creek campground near the Owyhee Reservoir is perfect for trekking into Leslie and Upper Leslie, Juniper, Timber and Dago gulches. Each features hidden canyons and hiking trails less than two miles roundtrip, except Upper Leslie, which is about four miles roundtrip. The Succor Creek State Campground, about fifteen miles north of Leslie Gulch’s eastern edge, has trees and a creek. Both campgrounds have picnic tables, primitive camping sites and outhouses but no water. When visiting the Owyhee Canyonlands, it’s always good to have emergency supplies, plenty of water and a full tank of gas.
When you get to the end of one of the slot canyons in Leslie Gulch, don’t turn around. Instead, push beyond. “That’s where it gets interesting and discovery happens,” Fenty said, a native of Central Oregon who has spent years poking around the desert. “People who come from a metropolitan area and have not seen something wild, the solitude, undiluted night skies and wildlife will give them many moments of awe.”
Tips from our expert, Heidi Hagemeier
What to bring
• Bring binoculars. In addition to spotting bighorn sheep, there are golden eagles, hawks and other birds to spot.
Flora, Fauna & Wildlife
• Look up! California bighorn sheep are often seen scampering on the rocks here. It was in Leslie Gulch that they were reintroduced to Oregon in 1965; now the Owyhee boasts the largest herd of bighorns in the nation.
Extra Tips & Hacks
• It might be hot, but wear pants. The light hiking variety are fine. It allows your to scramble and explore without scratching up your legs.
• The honeycomb rock texture of Leslie Gulch is called tafoni. It results when rock weathers at different rates, creating a network of pockets and holes. The rock itself is welded tuff, created by the explosive eruptions by the same hotspot that now fuels geysers and more at Yellowstone National Park.