Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nature's Work of Art: The Painted Hills of Oregon

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” 
 - Alice Walker

For the whole trip, we had only pre-planned one portion of the entire itinerary, other than breakfast in Mitchell, and that was to visit The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. After that, the rest of our trip would be wherever the road and our whimsy happened to take us.

Map courtesy of ODOT
I first heard about the Painted Hills a couple of years ago. A relative posted some pictures on Facebook from a visit his family made there, and not only could I not believe I had never heard of this place, but, I instantly, absolutely, had to go there. Turns out, I am not the only one who had not heard of it. When I told people where I was going, they had either never heard of them, or they only had some sort of vague recollection of hearing about them. In my opinion, they are a hidden treasure, and it is a shame more people don’t make the journey out there to see such a natural wonder.
Painted Hills from Overlook
This was our second visit to the area. We visited a couple of years ago shortly after I “discovered” them, while my niece was visiting from San Diego. Unfortunately, on that trip, my old point-and-shoot camera was damaged in an unfortunate fossil-digging accident, so I had no “decent” pictures of the place. I have just been waiting for a good excuse to go back--especially after getting my “new” camera.

My girls enjoying the view from the overlook
The Painted Hills are a place that no matter how many times you have seen them, they will always inspire awe and wonder. Words and pictures don’t seem to do them justice, especially when you are standing in front of them. Looking down at the combination of colors nature has put together over thousands of years is something that is best done in person. Each hill is a little different from the others: blacks, reds, golds, purples, whites and greens. It's like a painter’s palate where all the colors have been smeared together by water and wind.

(And so ends my attempt at poetry.)

We spent a fair amount of time at the “main” overlook, at the largest grouping and most photographed hills of the unit. We were lucky that the rain we had complained about on our drive the afternoon before had actually cleared the air and made the colors even more vibrant. Plus, the wildflowers were blooming--something that had been missing on our previous visit. The only thing that was lacking was some bright, blue sky, but after the spring we have had in Oregon, you take what you can get.

Sage, Sagebrush and my dog Sara.
Our next stop was the “Painted Cove” trailhead. I hesitate to call this hiking at all. I don’t think the loop here is maybe half a mile, if that. However, this trail does have something that none other has: I do believe this is the closest I will ever get to walking on Mars.

Painted Cove Trail
When you round the corner on the faux wood boardwalk trail, surrounded by the cracked, red soil of the hills, you honestly feel like you are on another planet. Both Sage and I joked about a Martian popping up around the corner.
Close up of hill surface

My aspiring photographer
Alas, there was only one very camera-shy lizard waiting for us.

After a little more exploring, we hopped back in the RV to go drive “The Loop” that Gravy Lady had mentioned to us earlier over breakfast, anxious to see what else the road would offer today.

Visiting the Painted Hills

Below are some great websites for planning your own visit to the Painted Hills:


  1. Okay, seriously AMAZING! I can't imagine how gorgeous it is in person! Maybe one day...

  2. I've never seen anything like it! That is amazing.
    I love it when locals tell you about their favorite places to go. Those are some of the best adventures.

  3. Cari, GORGEOUS pictures. really quite breath-taking! well done :-)