A Gem in the Middle of Nowhere
The Painted Hills are one of three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in central Oregon. The unit covers 3,132 acres about nine miles northwest of Mitchell. The highlight of the area is the highly eroded and incredibly colored soils that are the result of volcanic deposition of varying chemical ingredients. The best time to see the splendor is in late afternoon or early morning light. Tones and hues of yellow, gold, black, blue/gray and red change throughout the day and season with the changing light and soil moisture levels. Unfortunately I was there during mid-day with bland overcast light, but it was still a worthwhile visit.
Other features of the area are spectacular wildflower blooms that peak in late April to early May. Some of these species are specially adapted to this unique environment and are found nowhere else. There are also extensive fossils, especially of broadleaf trees that indicated this area was once very moist with many lakes and streams. Some of the fossilized plants and animals have been dated as far back as 54 million years. There are two other units to the John Day Fossil Beds, the Clarno unit and the Sheep Hill unit. All units have short interpretative trails focusing on geology and paleontology related subjects. But the Painted Hills unit steals the show.