Recently I told you a bit about our vacation earlier this month. I shared about the historic sheep ranch here and here and about the beauty of the John Day Fossil Beds here. The Fossil Beds National Monument is in three different areas – each requiring a drive through gorgeous country to get there and return to your starting point. On our second excursion out into the fossil beds we spent part of the day at The Painted Hills Unit.
The hills look as if someone took a big brush and painted them in different colors. They were gorgeous and we’ve been told we need to go back at sunset on a clear day so we can see how the colors deepen in the glow of the setting sun. We understand that a good rain storm changes the hills, too. We already know we want to go back! Our first glimpse of a painted hill in the area was amazing. The contrast between the beauty of nature and a telephone pole out in a place where it seemed it didn’t belong made me feel that people are intruders here!
Most of the hills are made up of dry, clay-like soil. . .
That looks like this up close. Signs are posted along the roads and pathways, asking people to stay off the hillsides. Walking anywhere other than the 'official' trails is forbidden. At times we saw footprints where someone didn't follow the instructions; at other times we saw footprints and trails made by animals who live here. The land here is in a state of continual change. For millions of years extensive volcanic deposits covered and built up this land. Then erosion carved into the deposits, resulting in the Painted Hills. The hills are made of layers of hard claystones of many types, including some ancient soils as well as lakebeds.
The colors of the Painted Hills are caused by layers of aluminum, silicon, iron, magnesium, manganese, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, titanium, potassium, oxygen, hydrogen and traces of seventeen other elements. It is a wonder to behold!
My sweetheart, Joey and I climbed the Overlook Trail one of the ridges. The views were magnificent! I have no idea how many times I wished I had a wide angle lens! Even that wouldn’t have captured the beauty and grandeur we saw.
We were surprised to see wildflowers growing and blooming on the sides and in the crevices of the hillsides that seemed so barren. You can see some of the trails created by the deer and pronghorn who live here.
Finally, we reached the top – and it was worth every step and every breath we took to make it! Below us were the Painted Hills, across the way to our left was Carroll Rim, and across the valley, on the other side of the river, stands Sutton Mountain – a regal ‘guard’ of the ancient formations of beauty in this place.
The ‘unusual’ became the ‘usual’ as we drove along the roads.
Not far away, we came to the Painted Cove Trail. A quarter-mile, self-guided tour allowed us to walk through the colorful hills. A third of the trail is made of boardwalk, allowing easy access to those who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the close-up view here.
Everyone who walked this trail was quiet – and seemed in awe, fascinated with the sights.
Coming around the ‘back’ corner of the trail, heading back toward the parking lot, a nearby lake is visible. It almost seems strange and out of place in this dry, desolate, quiet place. The hills seem to go on forever and the skies feel like they are bigger than at home!
The clay of the Painted Hills has an ability to absorb water and swell. It retains water so well that most plants are not able to draw the water from the ground. The clay is also dense, making it difficult for most plants to take root. Some plants succeed. In the spring the crevices and gullies of the red hills are filled with the bright yellow blossoms of Chaenactis and Bee-Plant.
We didn't want to go back the way we had come so my sweetheart checked the map and found that there was so much more to see if we made a big circle back to our home base.
Soon I began to learn a few things about map reading! Even though my sweetheart assured me the road ‘cut through’ here and went back to a main highway there, it didn’t take me long to understand the meaning of roads that change from solid lines to little dots on the map! He said it means ‘County road’! What he didn’t say was that they are not always paved - they are not always maintained - and they might not always give me a sense that we would arrive ‘somewhere’ on the other end. I learned that lesson quick, but the scenery was worth the trip.
After what seemed like a long ways on the ‘County road’ we saw a glimpse of green pasture land and the river below. Civilization! People! We weren’t lost!
The road began to parallel the river and it wasn’t long before. . .
We saw it! The John Day River – the river that had been narrow and shallow back near our home base was growing wider and fuller and deeper as it moved toward the place where it empties into the Columbia River.
The contrast of the pasture land below us and the rock formations above us was awesome. We felt as if we were in the middle of an old western movie. It seemed almost as if the cowboys – or the Indians – were hiding there. It gave us cause to wonder if the bullets and the arrows would begin to fly. Or, would Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger rush out from behind one of these rocks?
Shortly after we reached a paved road again, we turned southward, heading in the direction of the little town where our cabin-on-wheels was waiting our return. The landscape kept changing and we continued to be amazed by the beauty.
In the middle of the giant rock formations we saw evidence of waterfalls from earlier in the season.
The storm passed . . .
And it wasn’t long before blue skies and a bit of sunshine could be seen in the distance. We were tired and happy at the end of a long day but we didn’t regret a single minute of the time we had spent in this incredible part of God’s creation.