Long view of the boardwalk at the Painted Cove Trail

Long view of the boardwalk at the Painted Cove Trail

Four short trails provided access at different parts of the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Each allowed closer access to the painted hills.

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The Painted Cove Trail took us on a nature walk around a rounded clay hill.  We stayed on a boardwalk for most of the short trail.

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Dramatic skies above the Painted Hills

Dramatic skies above the Painted Hills

Another trail, the Red Hill Trail, took us to yet another painted hill.

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We had timed our visit perfectly.  The rains held off until we were on our drive back north to Washington.  The rain came in cloud bursts, so heavy that once I had to pull off the road until the rain let up.  As we crossed the Columbia River into Washington, a vibrant rainbow appeared, seemingly giving a final blessing to our trip.

Clouds scudding along the Cascade range in Oregon

Clouds scudding along the Cascade range in Oregon

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And then the skies let down a curtain of rain.

And then the skies let down a curtain of rain.

Crossing the Columbia River into Washington (taken from the car window)

Crossing the Columbia River into Washington (taken from the car window)

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Lofty view of the Painted Hills from the Carroll Rim Trail

Lofty view of the Painted Hills from the Carroll Rim Trail

In today’s post you will accompany me on my hike up the Carroll Rim Trail.  It ascends about 400 feet and is just 3/4-mile to the end.  You are rewarded with panoramic views at every point along the way.  Enjoy!

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Starting to gain elevation

Starting to gain elevation

An even higher view of the Painted Hills

An even higher view of the Painted Hills

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View from the other side of the rim

View from the other side of the rim

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I believe this is a Mariposa lily

I believe this is a Mariposa lily

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Hiking down

Hiking down

 

“It was coming on a rain.  The day had a two-way look, like a day will at change of the year — clouds dark and the gold air still in the road . . .  ”

— Eudora Welty, The Golden Apples

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We finally arrived at our destination, the Painted Hills of Oregon.  What an unusual and amazing wonder it is!  I was transfixed by the rounded shapes of the hills — appearing soft as if aging gently — and the pleasing color palette of the bands.  But what also surprised me was how small this special area is.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the Painted Hills are not spread across a vast expanse like the Grand Canyon.    The hills are concentrated in a very small geographic space.

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Most of the areas are off limits to walking or hiking.  The surface of these hills would be easily marked by footprints.  You can see evidence of animal tracks on this hill.  Imagine how the velvety-looking surfaces would be marred if humans were allowed to wander at will.  So access is granted via five viewpoints, all except one are just short walks from the car.  My favorite was the longer Carroll Rim Trail Viewpoint, a 3/4-mile hike uphill, giving a more lofty aerial perspective.

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Interpretive signs say that the bands of color were laid down millions of years ago during periods of wet and dry climates — evidence of past times of climate change.

The surfaces are cracked like dry mud, but apparently are very absorbent.

The surfaces are cracked like dry mud, but apparently are very absorbent.

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The following photos were taken from the Painted Hills Overlook Trail.  My next two posts will show you other parts of the Painted Hills Unit.  Please do stay tuned!

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John Day River near Twickenham

John Day River near Twickenham

Our road trip to the Painted Hills of Oregon was taking longer than I expected.  Not that I was disappointed with what we were experiencing along the way, but I was hoping to photograph the Painted Hills in the low morning light.  There were no direct roads from the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to Mitchell, the gateway of the Painted Hills Unit.  So as we were making our circuitous way along the highway, I suggested we take a shortcut through Twickenham and enter the Painted Hills through the backdoor rather than through Mitchell.

Both my husband and I have enough life experience to know that many shortcuts on a map are actually the opposite.  And this time was no exception.  Once we arrived at Twickenham and crossed the John Day River, we turned onto a gravel back road which promised to follow the river for several miles.

I thought it would be a pretty route, and I was not mistaken.  The landscape was refreshingly green along the river.

Irrigation along the John Day River

Irrigation along the John Day River

Our drive along the John Day River

Our drive along the John Day River

But soon the road went up and up, parallel to the river perhaps, but too far away to see it.  We twisted our way down the narrow gravel road, hoping not to encounter a vehicle coming towards us, because we would have been hard pressed to share the road without plunging off.  My palms began to sweat.  This section seemed to be taking longer than I expected (again).

The map showed the road turning south away from the river at about the halfway point along the “short” cut.  We saw a sign for the Priest’s Hole Recreation Area, and figured that we had reached the proper point.  George wanted to check out the river before turning away from it, so we took a break from driving so that he could cast his fishing line into the water.

Priest's Hole Recreation Area along the John Day River

Priest’s Hole Recreation Area along the John Day River

It was a beautiful spot.  Very peaceful.  It would have been great fun to join some of the parties drifting along in their rafts.  I enjoyed strolling around, taking photographs, and checking out the plants.  George was happy to have his fishing pole in his hands.

John Day River

John Day River

George's fishing pole

George’s fishing pole

Rafters on the river

Rafters on the river

Pebbly beach

Pebbly beach

Volcanic rock, the origins of much of this area

Volcanic rock, the origins of much of this area

I have no idea what this plant is.

I have no idea what this plant is.

Mysterious growths on these leaves; they looked like beads on a necklace.

Mysterious growths on these leaves; they looked like beads on a necklace.

Fishing

Fishing

This area also gave us some tantalizing glimpses of colorful hills.  Were these the “painted” hills?  Were we finally getting close to our destination?

Landscape near Priest's Hole Recreation Area

Landscape near Priest’s Hole Recreation Area

Tantalizing glimpse of painted hills

Tantalizing glimpse of painted hills

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Pinkish hill in the distance

Pinkish hill in the distance

After a relaxing break, we got back on the road and kept watch for the entrance to the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  We were still on the gravel road, but the ride was now smoother and the vistas more open.  We saw more colorful hills in the distance.  We were getting close.

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Approaching the Painted Hills of Oregon

Approaching the Painted Hills of Oregon

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I had no regrets about how long the trip was taking because every moment was an adventure.  And the rewards continued with the Painted Hills.