Hunting Spirits in Leslie Gulch

By Morris R. Pike –

Arnie, my alter ego, wanted to show me Leslie Gulch . . . or what was left of the 15-million-year old eruptions after centuries of wind, rain and ice erosions had done their work. He was driving.

The day was hot and dry . . . the kind day a couple of erupting volcanoes might have enjoyed those eons ago. To our car scooting along the ribbon of scorching asphalt, the eruptions may as well have been yesterday. Heat waves radiating from the black pavement told us so. It was hot . . . very hot! I was glad for air-conditioning.

Leslie Gulch is located in the southeastern corner of Oregon. Getting there takes time. Without much visual interest, the sagebrush and brown grass-covered terrain stretched for miles in all directions. I dozed between sightings of clusters of boulders and the greenish patches of grass in shallow valleys that testified there was water somewhere in this desert.

“Oregon is full of volcanic mountains,” I said as Arnie throttled the Honda over a straight stretch of highway converging at the horizon. “What’s so special about Leslie Gulch?”

“You’ll see,” Arnie returned.

Hours later we left Highway 95 and had traversed 15 miles over the gravel road that led to the gulch. Centuries of erosion had etched away smaller rocks and loose soil leaving huge stone outcroppings on both sides of a valley.

“Wow,” I marveled . . . the deeper we went into the gulch the more I wowed. “Reminds me a little bit of Zion . . . even the Grand Canyon.”

Arnie laughed.

“Well . . . parts of the Grand Canyon,” I said attempting to recover a touch of credibility. “Or Arches,” I continued astonished that Oregon was home to such a wonder as this.

“Just wait,” Arnie cautioned as the car continued to creep along in the loose gravel. “See if you can spot the images of spirits that haunt the place.”

Sure enough, I began to see faces in the boulders on either side of the road.

“Look at that bear squaring off . . . with a lion is it?”

“And look at that phantom . . .”

“A phantom of the desert opera,” I agreed, chuckling at my clever allusion.

“I think it’s a masquerade,” Arnie added. “Revelers gathered . . . awaiting the full moon to give atmosphere to their charade.”

“Lifeless, stone creatures aren’t all,” I said lifting my camera for a shot. “Look at that wasps’ nest . . . gotta be 8 inches in diameter . . . makes it a foot long at least.”

“Don’t’ get too close,” Arnie cautioned.

“Yeah, you’re right . . . that’d be something . . . us running for the water with a huge swarm of wasps . . . or hornets chasing us.”

“What water?” Arnie asked looking down the dry sage brush-covered valley floor.

“Didn’t you see that sign back there . . . don’t enter the gulch when there’s a chance of rain. Apparently, flashfloods come avalanching down in an instant . . . and the sign says there is no way out.”

“Not a problem today,” Arnie noted gesturing at the nearly clear blue sky.

“Gotta watch out for lightning too,” I said. “Sign says Hiram Leslie was struck and killed by lightning while working in the gulch . . . that’s how the gulch got its name.”

“Wouldn’t want to get something named after me that way . . .,” Arnie said continuing to nose the car along the gulch floor.

The consolidated volcanic ash tufts, left not only images of masked spirits we were seeing everywhere, but obelisks jutted out from the sides of the cliffs as well as from the valley floor.

“Those look like clusters of soldiers,” I noted.

“Or Meerkat sentinels relentlessly standing guard,” Arnie added.

“Leslie Gulch was good choice, Arnie,” I said expressing my appreciation to him for our interesting outing . . . more like an adventure.

Arnie grunted his satisfaction at having pleased me.

If you have a hankering to see Leslie Gulch, pick a clear day, don’t forget to take your camera and plenty of water. Give yourself plenty of time to get to that remote area of Oregon and, especially, give yourself plenty of time to leisurely saunter the potholed 15mile gravel road into and through the gulch.

Photos by Morris R. Pike

For more information on Leslie Gulch, visit


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