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Painted Hills

Malheur County: Serious Elbow Room

Written by Oregon Media

Malheur County: Serious Elbow Room

Sparse population meets desert expanse

This is remote country that reaches to the Nevada-Oregon border. Here the cattle outnumber the residents and always will. That means serious elbow room for the rest of us to explore the far reaches of the state, from the Snake River to the edge of the Alvord Desert, and over to the geologic wonder that is the Pillars of Rome. Just remember to set your clock forward if you plan to keep a schedule—due to its close connection to the Boise valley, much of Malheur is on Mountain time. Then again, Malheur County is the kind of place where time isn’t measured in minutes or hours, but rather by how much you can fit between sunrise and sundown.

Birch Creek Ranch in Malheur County Birch creek ranch

A rare BLM-owned ranch lies thirty-eight miles down a bumpy dirt road northwest of Jordan Valley. Though you need a high-clearance vehicle to get there, the ranch grounds are well worth the trek. The BLM caretaker and his wife are typically on site to answer questions about this Owyhee River gem, which was purchased as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Stake a tent at one of the primitive campsites, but be sure to check out the twenty-six structures—most of them well preserved—at this lush riverside oasis.

Soak Up Juntura

It’s easy to miss the little town of Juntura as you travel east or west at speeds that would dismay pioneers who once crept across this landscape in wagon trains. Ease off the gas, however, as you approach the horseshoe bend on the Malheur River. Follow the gravel road under a steel trestle train bridge, amazing in its own right, to the riverside hot springs where a small soaking pool awaits.

Four Rivers Cultural Center

Rockhouse Coffee in Malheur County

In Ontario, at the confluence of the Snake, Malheur, Owyhee and Payette rivers, Four Rivers Cultural Center documents another kind of convergence: that of cultures. The Center takes visitors on a historic journey, from the native Northern Paiutes to the settlers who came in the 19th century to the Japanese Americans interned in the area during World War II.

Sustenance, please

You’ll see cowboys, border collies and dramatic scenery in Malheur County, but the distance between services is great. Rome Station in Rome offers great milkshakes and tater tots. In Jordan Valley, grab a cup of coffee, a home-baked snack or some ice cream and friendly conversation in the historic stone building Rockhouse Coffee.