Painted Hills

This weekend, I traveled to the John Day Fossil Beds in central Oregon. As the name suggests, this National Monument is a paleontological treasure, with fossil assemblages spanning forty million years of Cenozoic paleohistory. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at the monument’s Sheep Rock unit is absolutely excellent, with beautiful fossils, an active research lab and up-to-date exhibits.

But, I admit I wasn’t here for the fossils so much as I was for the exceptional landscapes of the Monument’s Painted Hills Unit.

Painted Hills
Painted Hills

The Painted Hills are made up of ancient soils, and their changing hues record the area’s transition from an ancient forest to a grassland environment.

Walking through the park is almost like traveling to a new world — Red Hill looks like a part of Mars dropped into the middle of Oregon; the purple rhyolite clays of Painted Cove feel like something from a fantasy novel.

Red Hill
Red Hill
Painted Cove
Painted Cove

Unlike Mars, though, the Painted Hills are far from lifeless. They emerge from a beautiful mixed sagebrush and juniper woodland, which is home to a large variety of insect life, including dragonflies like this Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) who was obelisking on my car antenna.

Variegated Meadowhawk
Variegated Meadowhawk
Sagebrush Steppe surrounding the Painted Hills
Sagebrush Steppe surrounding the Painted Hills

The Painted Hills are beautiful at all times of day, and lend themselves to abstract landscape photography with a long lens to capture colors and patterns. At sunset, however, the hills truly shine, mixing dramatic light and shadow with the red and gold of the formations.

Painted Hills
Painted Hills
Painted Hills Sunset
Painted Hills Sunset

This is a remarkable location, and I’m looking forward to coming back.

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