After a few days just kicking back in Bend, Oregon, I’m off for another adventure to see the Painted Hills at the John Day Fossil Beds National Park in Mitchell, Oregon. One of my goals on my 6 month solo road trip is to visit all the seven wonders of Oregon: Crater Lake, The Coast, Smith Rock, The Painted Hills, Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood and the Wallowa Mountains. I’ve seen two: Crater Lake and Smith Rock and a half of the coast (half is the ocean-I still need to see more of the coast).
My GPS tells me it’s a two and a half hour drive if I follow 26 E to OR-19. I leave at 9 o’clock in the morning. As I drive, I see black hills in the distance. As I get closer, I realize it’s the remains of a forest fire. Miles of charred trees stripped of life. There are pockets of live trees which the fire has spared. In some places the fire jumped the road. It looks fairly recent since I don’t see any new growth.
After what seems like an eternity, I finally see signs for the Painted Hills. I turn left and drive a few more miles. The terrain is a blank canvas of sparseness. Sage brush, a few scraggly trees and straw-color grass create the high desert. As the road curves through the barren landscape, glimpses of red and cream color hills come into view. Candy stripes of reds, oranges, yellows, blacks, creams and browns blanket the hills. Over millions of years volcanic deposits created the Painted Hills. The wind erodes and shapes them, softening its hard edges.
Excitement grows as I stop and pick up a trail map. I’m looking forward to exploring this beautiful area. It’s almost noon as I park my car and hike the Carroll Rim Trail. I choose this trail because of the panoramic views and it’s only a 1.6 mile round trip. I’m confident of my ability to climb it. Heck, I hiked a few days ago and that didn’t kill me.
The plateau rises 400’ above the road. A narrow dirt trail winds between gold color grasses and brown jagged rocks. At the top of the plateau I can see for miles. The Painted Hills look like small dinosaurs below.
As I stand on the edge, I feel as though I’m an eagle in flight, circling the desert landscape in search of prey. What a great hike and not as difficult as Misery Loves Company trail at Smith Rock.
The next trail I explore is the quarter-mile Leaf Hill Trail Loop. I see a pile of rocks and intently look for fossils. It’s amazing what I see as an ordinary looking rock, an anthropologist sees as a million year old fossil. It boggles my mind.
The third trail I visit, is the quarter-mile Painted Cove Loop Trail. It’s a boardwalk which meanders around these gentle colorful souls. It reminds me of color sand shakers. I touch the colored knoll expecting it to be soft, but it’s not. Looking closely, it looks as though it’s a dried up river bed. The contrast is magical between the brick-red and cream color hills against the blue lake in the distance. I take in the views-what a beautiful place nature has created.
The second to last trail I hike is the Red Hill Trail aka Red Scar Knoll Trail. It’s another short quarter-mile loop: A small wooden footbridge leads over a dried up creek. As I follow the path I see a rich red, gold and cream color clay knoll rising from the flat landscape. It’s as though an inflammation has arisen from the dried skin. A few straggly conifers dot the path. The colors are amazing. I take out my iPhone and click away. Some of the shots are close-ups showing the beautiful tapestry. This knoll is the most striking one that I’ve seen.
It is close to 3pm when I arrive at the Painted Hills Overlook Trail. It’s only a half mile round trip. The wide dirt path has a slight incline and follows a ridge with views of the famous Painted Hills. I’ve read that it is best to view in the late afternoon when the colors are the most vibrant due to the late afternoon sun. The sky on this particular day has other plans. A thick blanket of clouds cover the sky preventing the sun from casting its golden rays on the hills. I’m disappointed that I did not witness this golden transformation, but all in all it was a fantastic day.
At dusk I wave goodbye to the Painted Hills and drive down the dusty road back to Bend. As I round the corner, cows and their calves are meandering without a care in the world on the road. I slam on my brakes and wait for them to cross. A cream color calf belts out a “Wait for Me MOM!”as it trots across the road. On full alert, I slowly make my way as night approaches. So this is what free range cattle means, I say aloud to myself. Apparently in the West, cattle own the road and cars are second class citizens.
No one was hurt including car and animals. Life is Good!