Take A Walk On The Dry Side

The Painted Hills

In my career as a Professional Land Surveyor I have spent a good deal of time working in eastern Oregon and Washington. However, my wife as seen very little of what’s on the other side of the Cascades. Oh sure, she been to Bend and Sisters and been over a few of the highways but she’s never really seen the beauty of the high desert. We decided that a little at a time we’d do some short trips and visit some of the places I have enjoyed so much, and for our first trip we decided on a trip to the John Day area. This seemed like a good decision as we’ve had so much rain here this month we thought we might escape the monsoon buy heading over to the “dry side”.

For being retired it’s amazing how busy we get and as my wife had a meeting at noon we didn’t leave Eugene until about 1:30 on Monday June 7th. We drove as far as Prineville that afternoon and decided to stay there for the night. I was amazed how green it was over there and when we came into Prineville I could see the Ochoco River was running high. This is really a pretty little town and Les Schwab Tire Company has it’s headquarters there. We pasted the Crook County courthouse and it was an impressive structure for a rural county. After trying a local motel that turned out to be a rather musty smoky place we settled in for the night at the Best Western.

Crook County Courthouse in Prineville

The plane for Tuesday was to see the John Day fossil bed and visit both the Painted Hills unit and the Sheep Rock unit. (Some 40 or more miles apart.) I have to tell you that I’ve never seen the east side so green! The wildflowers were blooming and in places you’d thing you were back over in the coast range again. The drive along the Ochoco river was beautiful and every curve brought something new and it was almost like seeing it for the first time again. It was about 50 miles from Prineville to the turn off for the painted hills and the last few miles goes thru an impressive canyon.

Wild Flowers Along the John Day Highway

The John Day Fossil bed is an incredibly beautiful treasure that is sculpt from the sedimentary deposits of the John Day River. From 56 to 6 million years ago a continuous fossil record has been found in the three Fossil Bed sites. Multiple volcanic events deposited large amounts of ash and cinders resulting in inter-dispersed layers of tuff and lava flows. To lean more about this area visit the John Day Fossil Beds website at: http://www.nps.gov/joda/

It’s about 6 mile from where you leave the John Day highway 26 to the Painted Hills unit. At about 3 mile you see the first colorful formation off to your right and it really whets your taste.

We Must Be Getting Close

That Must Be It Over There.

Carroll Rim Overlook

The Painted Hills has three areas of interest. The most popular by far is the Painted Hills overlook and half mile trail. Another mile up the road you come to the Painted Cove Trail. The last area is called the Leaf Hill Trail where large quantities of plant fossils have been found. Please note, you cannot take any fossil off the site. There is a nice Information Station (and restrooms with a small picnic area) near the entrance, but the allure of the painted hill had me by then and I just wanted to take in the beauty of this place.  Here is what it looked like on the way to the Painted Hills Overlook.

Now That's The Painted Hills!

Look! It's In Bloom!

I have been here several times years ago but I have never seen it when it was so green and the wildflowers were blooming like it was that day. Here are just a few of the pictures I shot at the Painted Hills overlook.

What a View!

Colorful Cone

A Painted Canyon

Amazing isn’t it! Just a few more……

A View of The Valley

I Wonder What They Call That Hill?

That's An Interesting Knob

The wildflowers were blooming and here just a few of the many we saw.

Arrow-Leaf Balsamroot

Orange Globe Mallow

Golden Bee Plant

Round-Headed Desert Buckwheat

Prairie Clover

There is so much art in nature here. You could easily spend a whole day shooting this same area as the sun move across the sky and the shadows shift creating new colors textures and shapes. Just look at a few of the interesting things I saw….

Folds In The Hills

Contours In Color

Where Flowers Grow

After a short while, which really turned into and hour or so later as my camera just wouldn’t quit clicking we headed to the Painted Cove. This is really a cool place too and the boardwalk that runs along the south side of it is very nice and let you get close without damaging the fragile site. Check this place out:

On The Way To The Painted Cove

The Painted Cove Parking Lot and Trailhead


Cracked Red Clay

Up Close On The Boardwalk

Mounds In Three Flavors

Just beyond the parking lot is private land and you can see an nice lake not far away.

A View Of The Lake From Painted Cove

There are a lot more place of interest along the way to the Leaf Hill site and here is some of the beautiful places I saw along the way.

On The Way to Leaf Hill - Carpet of Flowers

Near Leaf Hill Trailhead

Just Above The Leaf Hill Parking Area

A Leaf Hill Local

As the Leaf Hill site isn’t very colorful and time was running out we decided to skip the hike and head for the Sheep Rock unit. Where we got back on the John Day highway was the beginning of a short section called Picture Gorge. I could have got stuck there for a while but I managed to only stop once for a quick shot.

Picture Canyon

It was only about 5 mile to the little town of Mitchell and if you have never been there it’s worth a stop. The town is a real piece of history and it feels a bit like a ghost town in the making. There is a fellow there that used to have a bear in a cage but he had released it after a few folks got too close to the cage and got scratch a bit. Here is a little sampler of Mitchell.

Mitchelle General Store

The Little Pine Cafe in Mitchelle

The Mitchelle Hotel

A Mitchelle Business Opportunity

It was another 32 miles from Mitchell to where highway 19 goes north through the Sheep Rock unit. Only about a mile up Highway 19 you can’t miss Sheep Rock looming ahead of you on the east side of the John Day River.

Sheep Rock

You won’t want to miss the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to learn all about the Fossil Beds and the prolific finds on display there. This is a very well done information center and you can easily kill a couple of hours there. Here is a link if you want to see more:  http://www.nps.gov/pwr/customcf/apps/pgallery/photo.cfm?aid=225&pid=2174&gid=225

I was really wanting to go exploring so we head up  road to see the James Cant Ranch, Blue Basin, Cathedral Rock and the Foree Area. The first stop was the James Cant Ranch that has been very nicely preserved. Wow, how would you like to live in a place like this!

James Cant House

James Cant House - Living Room

The drive along the river up to the Blue Basin area was breathtaking too and I could have spent a full day just photographing it. Here is just a little of what we saw along the way.

Old Homestead Farm

The John Day River

At the Blue Basin unit there are two hikes. A short half-mile hike will take you up a almost dry creek to a area like a amphitheater. The other climbs steeply and is a 3-mile hike around the perimeter of the area. It was far to late now for the long hike so we wandered up the creek. This is a very good trail with numerous new steel bridges and within a few hundred yard the hill were sculpt tuff and incredibly beautiful. There are several place where there are covers over half exposed fossil of large mammals that live 40 million years ago or so. Here are just a few of the amazing things we saw here.

Blue Basin Parking Area and View of The Valley

Entering the Canyon

Blue Basin Bridges

Blue Green Formations

Turtle Fossil

Blue Green Water In Nearly Dry Creek

Near End Of Blue Basin Canyon Trail

Two or three mile north of Blue Basin, at a sharp hairpin bend in the road we saw Cathedral Rock. I did manage to find a place to pull over and get a picture or two.

Cathedral Rock

It was only a couple more miles up to the Foree Area. The road through the river valley continued to  Wow us.

Colorful Formations Near the Foree Area

That Almost Looks Like The Painted Hills.

The Foree Area has two short (1/4-mile) trails called the Story in Stone Trail and the Flood of Fire Trail. Both are well worth your time to explore and are very different in nature. Here is what they look like.

A View of The Valley From The Foree Parking Area

A Rock on the Story In Stone trail.

The Story In Stone Overlook

The Hill Above the Story In Stone Overlook

The Flood of Fire Trail View

Flood of Fire Overlook

Juniper Tree on Flood of Fire Trail

By now it was after 5:00 pm and we need to go find our motel in John Day some 30 plus miles away. I couldn’t help but stop and take a few pictures of the little town of Dayville as we were passing through.

The Dayville Store

The Dayville Cafe

Is That The Town?

When we got to our motel we discover that just about every bed in town was filled. I would have never guessed it would have been that way in a place so far from a major city. We did have a good meal at a local restaurant and slipped out a little late for a piece of pie to go at the Squeeze In.

Wednesday morning we got breakfast early as we wanted to get a place in the 9:00 am tour of the Kam Wah Chung museum. This is a very interesting and well preserved building where Doc Hay (1866 – 1967), a Chinese herbal doctor had a business. He was a very good and kind person and well loved by the whole community in spite of his race. For more detail check out the website: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_8.php The tour is free and well worth your time if you are in the area.

Prineville's Kam Wah Chung Museaum

It was time to start back to Eugene but with a tip from a friend of mine, we decided to come back on a lesser know highway that runs thru Paulina and Post. This was a very beautiful drive and we saw several eagles, deer and antelope in the distance. We stopped at the Post Store (Post is the geographical center of Oregon!) and got a cold drink. The walls were line with 26 trophy bucks and 3 very large elk head mounts. It was a real journey back in time.

The Post General Store

By the time we got to Sisters it had started raining again! (Is it every going to stop???) Oh well, I guess that’s what keep Oregon green. It had been a wonderful trip and we had managed to go at the perfect moment in time. I do hope any of you that haven’t made this trip to put it on your list of things you really want to see.



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