The stunning landscape around Joseph Oregon is characterized by extremes of elevation. While most rightly associate the Joseph area with the mountains, a vast area is actually made up of canyons.
And our canyons aren't just slight little things; they include the deepest gorge North America! Looking at a topographic map of the area reveals a very furrowed landscape- in fact if it weren't for the higher mountains, Joseph might well be thought of as 'Canyon Country.'
The forces were extreme! While the Eagle Cap and Seven Devils were literally lifted up off the sea floor (you can find sand dollar fossils on the mountain tops) the relentless forces of erosion were busy carving things in the opposite direction. The process continues to this day.
Northeastern Oregon's eastern boarder is defined by the mighty Snake River/Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. The Seven Devils Range sits just across that border in Idaho and accentuates the elevation difference. Also cutting across the area are two other major canyons: Joseph Creek and The Imnaha, along with a multitude other smaller creeks that form canyons of their own.
The greatest canyon expanse can be seen at Buckhorn where the Imnaha converges with the Snake River to create an immensely vast and rugged landscape that stretches out for miles. It includes views of both the Devils and the Eagle Cap. It's absolutely breathtaking, even if you have visited the Grand Canyon.
As you drive around the area you'll notice a patchwork of tree sizes. This area, including all of the massive 652,488 acre Hell Canyon Recreation Area (HCNRA) is subject to lightning caused wildfires due to the convective (thunderstorm) activity generated by the heat in the canyons themselves. Fire has always been part of the area's natural history and is a necessary ingredient for the health and indeed the survival of many of the species that have evolved on this land. After years of fire suppression, scientific study revealed the error in our ways and thankfully the Forest Service now practices prescribed burning in the HCNRA, returning the forest to a more natural, healthier state. Burning the ladder fuels helps to protect these forests from catastrophic wildfires that kill everything. It also creates park-like stands of Ponderosa Pine that are some of the most beautiful on the planet.
You could spend many days just touring for your favorite vista, but beware; while some are a Sunday drive, others are quite harrowing and might make you feel like you're in one of those movies about Peru. So before you depart please consider the guides below and in all cases drive slow anywhere you can't see around corners; it's surprising just where you'll encounter traffic or animals. Check your spare and come prepared with plenty of gas and water and don't forget your camera!