Painted Hills - Mitchell, OR 7.8.18

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Nestled on a tranquil horse ranch is the little barn apartment we were using this weekend.  The quiet hum of the air conditioner purred as the alarm broke the silence.  The clock read 3:20 am and this was the start of our adventure.  Being used to early hours, Alexis jumped out of bed and asked if she should turn on the light.  Through a small mumble that was barely audible I asked for just a few more minutes.  I am not exactly the morning person, but I am never grumpy.  Reluctantly I smile, get myself up and out the door.

We quietly pull out of the ranch trying not to wake our gracious hosts and their animals.  As we pull out on to the main road I gaze off out the window in a heavy-eyed state when I am absolutely floored by the stars that are lighting up the sky.  A sudden burst of energy bolts through me as my head starts spinning in every direction trying to see all the stars.  The big dipper fell just on the horizon as large a some of the mountains in the daylight.  This was going to be a good morning.

We were off to explore one of the seven wonders of Oregon; The Painted Hills.  It is said that a journey to the painted hills is a journey through ancient times with millions of years of history etched in each color on the hills.  The hues and tones ever changing due to daylight, temperature and weather.


As we travel down the road there is a not a soul in site and we aren’t exactly sure where we are.  I am trying valiantly to keep my eyes open but the road lulls me and before I know it my head tilts, my eyes droop closed and my mouth gapes open.  However, it was not long before I awoke to see the most spectacular sunrise over the mountains.  Our lights hit the pavement in front of us as the skyline was brushed with orange, yellow and blue.  A sense of vigor and excitement pulsed through me as we forged ahead in the dark unknown territory.  

The landscape is rolling, dry desert speckled every few miles with ranch homes adorned with massive stone or wooden entrances.  Each ranch clearly defined by a color on their homes and barns.  

Slowly we pull off the main road to a gravel path that leads us into the mountains.  Coming to a final bend large hills emerge displaying the red streaks that we have read about.  We drive up to where the sign has information and settle on hiking the Carroll Rim Trail.  The sky was now a light blue and the air was a crisp 54 degrees.  As we open the doors the cool air surrounds us so we bundled up and make our way to the trail.  As we were heading up a couple was coming down.  I quickly inquired if they had seen the orange sunrise and what it looked like over the hills because I was worried we had missed an awesome part of the sunrise.  They showed us the pictures with the orange sky in the horizon and I fret we surly missed it.  Alexis stood stead fast that we would still be in for a show and she wasn’t wrong.


We stopped at the first bench, huddle under our light weight camping blanket and enjoyed the morning air.  There are several trails in this area and we were contemplating which to take for the best view.  We agreed to continue on Carroll Rim Trail and started the ascent.  The dirt trail was lined with small burnt out desert trees, bushes and a few sunflowers.  With every step I thought about the rattle snakes Alexis warned me of on our ride out.  I am pleased to report that the only animal life on our hike was cute little bunnies scampering across the trail.  

The trail wound around and brought us out to the top of a peak where two worn benches were.  Markers of the previous travelers carved into the benches.  The sun’s rays were hitting peaks in the distance and the valley to the north.  While waiting for the sun to peak over the mountain we decided that there was no other option than to take pictures of us jumping in the air off the benches.  Why not, right?  However, soon the mountains were glistening a red hue and the sun was rising over the top.  The painted hills started to feel the warmth of the sun and show stronger colors.  

After sometime and several pictures later we began our descent running into an older couple, who were the only people we saw for the rest of our time at the Painted Hills.  It is definitely worth rising early to explore nature because most of the time you are completely alone to enjoy the peace.  

In the car we maneuvered to Painted Cove Trail where a boardwalk curved around smaller vibrant red hills.  Throughout the walk signs educate travelers about the ancient history of the painted hills and how the rich colors of the clay came to be.  It says: “That approximately 33 million years ago, iron rich volcanic ash fell on the landscape.  Weathering processes slowly changed new ash layers into fertile soils under forests and swamps.  Over time, oxidizing irons stained the clay soils, forming the rusting red hills.”  If you look closely you can see lavender on the outer hills that is evidence of lava flow in that area some 40 million years ago.  On this day it is here that the most dramatic colors pop allowing me to truly produce a picture with the vibrance and hues that the legend speaks of.

It is now 7:30 am and we climb back in our car.  While we can check this off our list of adventures I know that we will be back a few more times to experience it another light.

Jenna Szyluk