If ever there was a trendy Eastern Oregon town, it's Joseph. You can see its wealth right on the brick sidewalks, where well-groomed planter boxes and huge bronze statues sit proudly on downtown street corners. Many of the old storefronts are now glitzy boutiques, peddling everything from inexpensive souvenirs to huge, expensive bronzes.
Oregon's most easterly city, Ontario and its environs are often considered to be an extension of Idaho's fertile Snake River valley. The Malheur, Payette and Owyhee Rivers join the Snake's wide valley here, with irrigated farms producing a variety of crops – the region's economic backbone.
Enterprise is a small, friendly place that's less expensive and upscale than its nearby sister town of Joseph, just 6 miles away. However, it shares with Joseph an attraction for artists, as well as an exceptional location surrounded by grassy meadows, pine forests and the stunning Wallowa Mountains.
Smack near the middle of Eastern Oregon, this unpretentious, one-stoplight town strings along a narrow passage of the John Day River Valley. It's a utilitarian but decent enough place to base yourself while exploring the scenic region, and hosts a few interesting museums as well.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Within the soft rocks and crumbly soils of John Day country lies one of the world's greatest fossil collections. Discovered in the 1860s by clergyman and geologist Thomas Condon, these fossil beds were laid down between six and 50 million years ago, when this area was a coastal plain with a tropical climate.
Over its 13-million-year life span, the Snake River, which neatly straddles the border between Oregon and Idaho, has carved out the deepest river gorge in North America – yes, at 8000ft from highest peak to river, it's deeper even than the Grand Canyon (though not nearly as dramatic).
Located 6 miles from Joseph, Wallowa Lake was formed when glaciers plowed down out of the Wallowas, pushing huge piles of displaced rock. These rock moraines eventually stopped the progress of the glacier, which melted, creating a lake basin. Today the lake is surrounded by dramatic peaks, including the 9617ft Chief Joseph Mountain.
There's no longer any lake in view here, but at an elevation of 4800ft, homely Lake-view is 'the tallest town in Oregon.' It's also known as the 'hang-gliding capital of the west,' with surrounding towering fault-block rims and prevailing westerly winds bringing hundreds of aficionados for summertime hang-gliding and paragliding events.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
South of Burns, covering 290 sq miles of lake, wetland and uplands, is this important breeding and resting refuge for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway. Over 320 species can be observed here, including swans, loons, grebes, pelicans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibis, woodpeckers, flycatchers, warblers, finches and many raptors. It's a veritable birdwatchers' paradise.
An idyllic little town, Halfway lies on the southern edge of the Wallowa Mountains and is surrounded by beautiful meadows dotted with old barns and hay fields. It's a friendly spot with just enough tourist services to make it a decent base to explore the Hells Canyon Dam area. The Pine Ranger Station is 1 mile south of Halfway and acts as the region's tourist information.
The highest peak in southeastern Oregon, Steens Mountain (9773ft) is part of a massive, 30-mile-long fault-block range that was formed about 15 million years ago. On the western slope of the range, Ice Age glaciers bulldozed trenches that formed massive U-shaped gorges and hanging valleys.
Once a large, 200ft-deep lake, the stunning Alvord Basin is now a series of playas – beige-white alkali beds that have resulted from centuries of evaporation. They alternate startlingly with sagebrush prairies and old ranches, while Steens Mountain looms dramatically to the west.