The Painted Hills are nature’s eye candy in a kaleidoscope of colors and one of the three units that make up the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, situated in Wheeler County, Oregon. The Painted Hills is so called for the intriguing layers and banded striations that happen on its hills corresponding to numerous geological eras, designed when the area was an ancient river flood-plain. The remarkable colors appear nearly peculiar and hand-painted. The exclusive colors that line the clay rich hills and mounds were shaped more than thirty five million years ago by volcanic ash layers deposited by ancient eruptions when the area was a river plain.
With the passage of time, the layers of ash containing diverse minerals compacted and solidified into the several bands of colors seen today. The black soil is lignite that was vegetative matter that grew along the floodplain. The grey coloring is mudstone, siltstone, and shale and red and orange hues are from laterite soil that shaped by floodplain deposits when the area was warm and humid. Furthermore, the colors shift and change throughout the day and through seasons and diverse weather due to the variable angles of the sun. The finest time to visit the hills is after a rainstorm when every color is intensified. Colors range from burnt red, amber, orange, yellow, and gold, with streaks of black and grey. Between April and May, rivers of little yellow flowers run down within the cracks of the reddish hills making strong leading lines and colorful contrast. The scene draws hundreds of landscape photographers and artists to the place. Moreover; more busy time of the year is in winter, after a light dusting of snow.
The stark white of the snow juxtaposed against the colorful striations makes for a robust composition. Visitors are invited to come and discover these wonderful Eastern Oregon landscapes of mountains, grasslands, canyons and ancient rock formations, fossil hunting, Thomas Condon Paleontology Museum or take a scenic boat trip down the John Day River, go cross-country skiing or mushroom hunting in the Ochoco National Forest and Hike on hidden trails into the wilderness to experience the wild beauty of Mother Nature! View the antelopes, deer, coyotes, humming birds and butterflies, and relish the starry skies in the profound silence of the nights. The area of Painted Hills unit is open year-round with easy entree for all people. You can with no trouble pass a day here or come again and again without ever feeling that you’ve seen it all. There are a handful of well-marked trails to guide you through the park, as there are proper maintained picnic areas parking lots and great information signs explaining the numerous geological and natural processes that occurred here through different eras. After a full day of adventures, you will enjoy peaceful sanctuary and the ideal place to spend quality time with yourself or with loved ones.