On day 5 we headed out early for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument outside of Mitchell, Oregon, about 3.5 hours away. This would be our longest traveling day on our entire trip, but I had seen pictures of this area and I knew we had to get there. The overall plan was to hit the Blue Basin area first, if time permitted, and then hit the Painted Hills area before sunset. We set out early back toward Hood River and on to The Dalles. From there is was a south easterly trip through pretty mountainous terrain what was dry, yellow, and desert like. I’m not sure what this area is like in the Spring, but in Autumn it was dry, dry, dry.
We stopped at White River Falls State Park on the way to break up the trip. We could see the area a long ways away as all was dry with this small, green band of trees in the distances indicating the flow of the river. It was an interesting stop. We were the only ones there beside the Park caretaker. There used to be a power generation station here that was fed by a good sized steel pipe running from the upper area of the falls. Most was in disrepair, but the old station itself was pretty interesting with a lot of old machinery and graffiti.
We used my phone GPS on the way and decided to skip the Blue Basin, due to time restraints. We arrived at the Painted Hills a couple hours before sunset and noticed that my phone no longer had service (remember this, it’s important later). The Painted Hills Unit had four trail areas, none of them very long. We began a the Red Scar Knoll area and walked the short path around one of the red and yellow ‘hills’. It was very interesting, but it’s unfortunate that idiots had made foot prints in the side of the hill. The signs and all literature clearly state that walking the hills is forbidden, but there are always idiots that can’t seem to follow simple directions. Any markings take years, if not decades to fade away. The close up below provides an indication of what this soil looks like when dry.
We then moved on to the Painted Cove area where there is a walkway between some of the maroon red hills. I could imagine Mars looking something like this.
Then on to the main event….. the Painted Hills Overlook. The trail is around 1/2 mile one way and we scoped all along for locations to photograph once the sun started setting. There were a few others shooting photos and some just enjoying the scenery, but I was surprised at how few people there were overall. We stayed until the sun began to set and we packed up after I was sure that the sky wasn’t going to cooperate with a spectacular display. The panorama below was the best shot of the overall area with a somewhat interesting sky.
After packing up and knowing that my phone had no service, I decided to use my iPad for directions back to the hotel in Cascade Locks. My phone needs service for directions, but the program I use on my iPad (CoPilot) had the maps and directions built into the app. When we got back to the access road that would take us back to civilization, my iPad indicated that I should head in the opposite direction than we had arrived. I went wit the flow as the terrain looked spectacular. In hind sight, I think my iPad was set to take the shortest distance route, not the shortest time route, and we ended up travelling over 40 miles on dirt road that was through desolate, but spectacular Oregon wilderness. I’m glad we had a 4 wheel drive. It was late in the day and got darker the longer we drove. Tammy said that the darkness was a good thing for me as we were traveling on single lane, dirt roads that were on the edge of steep drop offs, which I could not see due to the darkness. Below is a map of the area we drove.
We were planning on grabbing a nice dinner somewhere on the way back to our hotel, but all of the towns we passed through were so small, most didn’t have gas stations or even a convenience store. We found a Wal Mart in Hood River and grabbed microwave sandwiches and beer to take back to the hotel. Long, late day, but sooo worth it. If you have to go out of your way to see the Painted Hills, do it. You won’t regret it.