On our left, the Steens mountain range loomed high above us as we drove the long gravel road away from the Alvord desert and Northeast towards Leslie Gulch. We drove through Rome and Jordan Valley on the Idaho border. We stopped for a brief resupply before heading north on state highway 95 for 18 miles before turning onto Succor Creek Road. After our hair raising experience at Hart Mountain, I was a bit hesitant to take on the next 24 miles of dirt roads in one of the remotest parts of Oregon. Cate cheered me on and before long we found ourselves in a hauntingly beautiful landscape. As we moved higher and higher into the treeless hills, the fences fell away, cows were the only things obstructing the sweeping views.
As we crested the highest part of the drive and started our descent into the “gulch”, incredible formations came into view! Colorful towers of rhyolite ash (called Leslie Gulch Tuff) from a series of volcanic explosions 15 million years ago rose up from the otherwise smooth grassy hills. We were instantly reminded of Zion in Utah. It was overwhelming and magnificent, every turn in the road revealed another incredible scene.
Near the end of the road was the Slocum Creek campground. 12 free campsites with picnic tables, sunshades, and some vault toilets, and nothing else. Although we generally don’t stay in campgrounds, there are no other options in Leslie Gulch. However, don’t let the word ‘campground’ comfort you too much, the nearest store, running water, cell service, etc is nearly 50 miles away, much of that a on slow dirt road.
After setting up the camper, letting Frankie get the lay of the land, we headed about a quarter of a mile to the end of the road and down to the boat ramp on the Owyhee Reservoir. We inflated our inflatable kayak and cate took a spin out onto the lake under the towering rocks while I cooled off in the water. Franks busily sucked up a pile of Doritos someone had left on the shore , sniffed a giant catfish head, and sampled the local grass.
The sun was getting low, we only had one night here so we packed up the kayak, headed back up the road about a mile for a quick sunset hike. We chose the Juniper Gulch trail. Most of the hike followed a canyon wash with the awesome rock formations towering above us. Sections looked like the Subway at Zion, undercut smooth by the water. After maybe a mile and a slight climb out of the wash, we emerged onto a knoll surrounded by the canyon, with rolling grass hills illuminated by the late day sun. We tarried a bit, but mindful of the impending darkness, we hoofed it back to the truck. Cate prepared dinner as we watched the last of the light creep up the spires that surrounded us.
In the morning Cate arose early for her usual solo sunrise time and went out to take some pics while I made coffee and enjoyed some quiet time in the cool air. Upon her return we buttoned up the traytray, chased Frankie around (she didnt want to leave) and headed up and out of the gulch. Next stop Silver City ghost town in Idaho.