Eastern Oregon


Mountain wilderness gives way to rolling hills and wildlife refuges. High deserts blend with an ocean of open plains and fertile soil. Eastern Oregon is an adventurer’s utopia. It’s a place that still holds a sense of mystery. This place offers a stunning array of features; the geological diversity found here is a microcosm of Oregon’s natural beauty and wonder.

To the uninitiated it is slow and empty.

For those who know, it’s a place of unexpected innovation, adapting to a varying landscape and climate. A high quality of life is an everyday reality instead of just a daydream. It’s home to top agricultural researchers tackling a food crisis, world-class artists and musicians, hard workers and neighbors who lend a helping hand.

Feeding a planet

Through calf and cattle production, wheat, hay, potatoes, wine grapes and more, Eastern Oregon generates $1.7 billion in agricultural output each year.

But the majority of the region’s products are not consumed in Oregon. Instead, they thread the Columbia River Gorge and are shipped through the Port of Portland to become part of the world food supply. Half of the state’s exports each year come from Eastern Oregon, and the region’s role is only expected to increase as the world faces increasing pressure to feed a growing population.

Top places to visit

A quick Web search will prove the splendor of Eastern Oregon is well documented, but you can't fully grasp the beauty of a sunset over the painted hills until you see it for yourself. Get out and capture the spirit of the pioneers. Plan a trip to any of these incredible locations, or better yet, try to hit them all.

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Beyond the stereotypes

Eastern Oregon’s story does not begin and end with agriculture, but in a place where cattle outnumber people, and farmland is counted in the millions of acres, its unique qualities are sometimes overlooked. But if you look a little closer, you’ll be surprised by what you find.

Consider Joshua Rist, one of the brightest young musicians in the state, whose work has been performed in the ornate concert halls of bustling cities. One of his compositions, “Invictus,” which is based on William Ernest Henley’s poem by the same name, has been performed by choirs in Oregon, Kansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas.

And this world-class musician has chosen to teach in Eastern Oregon.

After completing a Master of Arts in teaching at Oregon State, Josh headed for a community closely tied to agriculture, but one that still had a hunger for arts and culture. Having a nationally recognized composer in the classroom more than fills that need.

Josh’s personal approach to sharing his musical talent has transformed the arts community at Hermiston High School. In his first year, there were 78 individual singers involved in four choir classes. At the start of his second year, that number has grown to 177 in five classes. The staggering growth can be attributed to Josh’s ability to recruit students by making singing in the choir something to be proud of.

It is typical for teachers in his position to comb the student body for gifted young singers, finding the students who have a background in singing or music, but Josh believes anyone can sing. Just like a mathematics teacher helps a student to solve problems, it’s his job to help students with no singing skills to find their voice.

When a student walks into Josh’s classroom for the first time — even if it’s just for a visit — he will encourage them to sing. They usually balk at first but eventually break into song. Even though he’s in the early stage of his career, Josh is making an impact that at this rate will change the whole school.

A landscape, with space to create and dream, is a spark that ignites the imagination — and an opportunity to make a substantial impact in areas that need it the most.


Dr. Steven Zielke and the OSU Chamber Choir's performance of "Invictus" by Josh Rist, with Anne Ridlington, cello and Josh Rist, piano. Recorded live on June 9, 2012 at the Chamber Choir's annual President's Concert in the First Methodist Church in Corvallis.

A growing challenge

There are currently more than 7 billion people on Earth, and the question of how many of us the planet can support becomes more pressing as the population — and our use of natural resources — continues to increase.

Oregon State research and Extension faculty are not waiting to address the food supply challenges of the future. They’re investigating how drones can monitor plant disease, teaching sustainable farming and land management practices, developing alternative crops, finding more efficient ways to raise cattle and learning how to preserve the quality of the soil while raising yields.

In Eastern Oregon, Oregon State University and government agencies work together with private landowners to solve big problems. And the university’s agricultural experiment stations in Eastern Oregon are working on the front lines.

Working for a better future

No matter what challenges lie ahead, Eastern Oregonians are working to make sure the land’s natural beauty, its agricultural vitality and quality of life remain intact. Here are a few more stories of those who are making a difference on the dry side of the Cascades. Collected from Terra Magazine and Oregon Ag Progress.

Creating great writers

The mountains, the lake and the rolling hills of the valley provide the perfect setting for writing about the West. That’s what Fishtrap is all about. The nonprofit literary organization based in Enterprise has been hosting its summer writing conference on Wallowa Lake for 25 years.

Tracking potato famine pathogen to its home may aid $6 billion global fight

Knowing the origin of the pathogen does more than just fill in a few facts in agricultural history. It provides new avenues to discover resistance genes, and helps explain the mechanisms of repeated emergence of this disease, which to this day is still the most costly potato pathogen in the world.

Wildflowers after wildfires

Newly barren land in a post-fire Great Basin sets the stage for a struggle. In one corner are the wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses that have grown here for millions of years. In the other, invasive species like cheatgrass, medusahead wildrye, Russian knapweed, leafy spurge, and skeleton weed.

Singing His Story

To say that Joshua Rist blossomed under the tutelage of McCabe, Steven Zielke and others in the Oregon State Department of Music is like saying that Mozart had a little talent.

Cows show stress

The “ecology of fear” isn’t limited to wild animals. Livestock that have encountered wolves experience stress that may affect their health and productivity — and ranchers’ bottom line.

High noon for forest fires

Decades of fire suppression have put the Ponderosa pine forests of Eastern Oregon at risk.