So different is eastern Oregon from the wet west side of the Cascades that it is often difficult to remember that it is still the same state. Indeed, the dry eastern ranch lands, deserts, canyons, and mountain ranges of this region have more in common with the landscapes of neighboring Idaho and Nevada. Yet Oregon it is, and though it is remote, the fascinating geography makes it an interesting region to explore.
With huge cattle ranches sprawling across the countryside (cattle greatly outnumber people in these parts), the arts community of Joseph casting western-art bronze statues, and the Pendleton Round-Up attracting cowboys and cowgirls from around the country, eastern Oregon is the state's Wild West. This part of the state is also steeped in the history of the Oregon Trail, and although it was to the Willamette Valley that most wagon trains were heading, it is here that signs of their passing 150 years ago still abound. All across this region, wagon ruts can still be seen, and the history of the Oregon Trail is chronicled at several regional museums. Although the first pioneers never thought to stop and put down roots in this region, when gold was discovered in the Blue Mountains in the 1860s, fortune seekers flocked to the area. Boom towns flourished and just as quickly disappeared, leaving the land to the cattle ranchers and wheat farmers who still call this area home.
Today, however, the region also attracts outdoors enthusiasts. They come to hike and horseback ride in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa Mountains, to bird-watch in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, to ski in the Blue Mountains, to explore the deepest canyon in the United States, and to raft and fish the Snake, Owyhee, and Grande Ronde rivers.
Because this region is so far from the state's population centers, it is little visited by west-siders, who rarely venture farther east than the resorts of central Oregon. Eastern Oregon is also so vast, and the road distances so great, that it does not lend itself to quick weekend trips. At the very least, it takes a 3-day weekend to get out to Joseph and the Wallowa Mountains or the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Should you travel to this part of the state, leave yourself plenty of time for getting from point A to point B.