|Why it’s hot: This self-proclaimed “Gateway to the Steens Mountains” also serves as a portal to a largely undiscovered refuge for wildlife. The impressive, unfettered natural landscapes are a photographer’s paradise, with the 9,700-foot-high ridge of the Steens offering a vantage point to view a majority of southeast Oregon.
Included in the view are the 186,000 acres of wetlands that constitute the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where over 300 different species of birds have been identified, and the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, the summer home to some 2,000 pronghorn.
There’s also the sagebrush and mountainous terrain, which allow this region to be dubbed “high desert.” Better yet? You’ll have all this beauty virtually to yourself: A modest population of 7,609 makes Harney County the most sparsely populated county in the continental United States.
How they live: When locals aren’t soaking in the beauty of the natural landscape, navigating the vast expanses of diverse terrain, or, more likely, working on their cattle ranches, events try their best to reign in the citizens of the sporadically populated region. Perhaps the most famous is the Annual John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival, which includes speakers, book signings, workshops and art shows, and offers guided tours of the dauntingly beautiful landscape. Steens Mountain also brings in a retinue of geologists, hikers, and rock climbers from afar.
Recent land sale prices: Undeveloped large plots of sagebrush can go for as low as $300 an acre; if you’re willing to purchase a few hundred of acres at a time, prices can be even lower. Recent listings include 160 acres for $40,500, 140 acres for $30,000, and 40 acres for $34,000.
Closest metropolitan area: 245 miles (Eugene, Oregon)
More information: harneycounty.com