The Painted Hills

Yesterday I was feeling antsy so I decided to drive to the Painted Hills, a small park in the deserts of central Oregon that features some beautiful geology. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive from Portland, depending on traffic, but well worth the trip, especially if you’re a fan of deserts and history. My GPS showed me two routes: the main route down 26, and the back way up the Gorge and down through the desert.

I, of course, took the back way. I’ve never been one to do things the easy way, and when you stick to the road more traveled you miss all manner of wonders and adventures. Admittedly, during the last half of the journey I was beginning to wonder if my GPS had finally had enough and decided to just do away with me, send me plummeting down some mountain in a whirling ball of fire and ennui, never to be seen again, slowly mummifying in the middle of sun-baked nowhere. In other words, there’s a good couple of miles of very windy, very narrow gravel roads that can make one wonder if you’ll ever see home again. I made it, though, and it was definitely worth it.


On the way through the desert I found a small local cemetery dating back to the early 1800’s. I’d love to know the story behind this man’s gravestone. It appears that he was not a local favorite.


Just a local ranch. I couldn’t resist 🙂


I been past this house on several road trips and every time I have to stop and take more pictures. There’s something about it that captivates. I’d love to know who used to live here.



Ooooooh how I love rusty old trucks!!!


After hours of driving, at last I reach the Painted Hills.


The view from the Overlook is stunning, but stay on the trail. Once you walk across those hills the marks stay for years.



Drive a little ways past the main parking lot and you reach Painted Cove, where you can explore a short walkway and get a close look at the sediments that make up the hills.



And across from Painted Cove is another little trail where you can get a good look at this lovely glowing-rusty hill.



If you have the time I definitely recommend making the trip. Be prepared for heat, however. It was around 97 when I was there, and it will only get hotter as we move into August.


97 comments on “The Painted Hills

  1. Curly Bug says:

    Really enjoyed these stark and beautiful photographs…it really takes me back there. I actually mapped parts of the painted hills during the summer in 1998. I was part of a geology field camp and we were given the opportunity to map the geology of the area. It is a very special place for me, I met my husband during this experience as well. Great memories! Thank you for sharing.

    • Oh, that’s awesome! I love mapping, though we don’t do quite as much of it in archaeology. And you can’t beat geology AND a new husband. That’s a win right there 🙂

  2. hangryhippo says:

    this is unbelievably beautiful. simply breathtaking.

  3. 4qrsolutions says:

    Thanks for sharing! I enjoy taking the back roads, too, and this looked to be well worth the trip. I need to put Painted Hills on my potential destinations list:)

  4. Absolutely gorgeous!! Thanks for sharing :).

  5. beautywhizz says:

    Beautiful shots! What an amazing place those painted hills.

  6. ~MIAH~ says:

    I lived in Oregon for two years and I had no idea it had such a place, what a beautiful series of photos. I love going on old roads and strange places just for the adventure of it. Thanks for sharing.

  7. amelie88 says:

    This kind of reminds me of Artist’s Palette in Death Valley. 🙂 But I don’t think the colors are nearly as vivid as these!

  8. tansymichaud says:

    Absolutely beautiful! But what caused the hills to be such fantastic colors? Was it natural?

    • The colors are just various layers of different types of sands and soils and clays and ash, eroding over time. I know the reds are from high iron content, and beige is just standard volcanic ash/clay, but I’m not sure about the precise minerals that create the other colors. They sure are beautiful, though 🙂

  9. […] Schönheit. Die Painted Hills führen ein Stück Erdgeschichte an der Oberfläche vor. Peaches Erratica hat eine kleine aber feine Bildserie über dieses Naturwunder zusammengestellt. Los. […]

  10. J DUBBS says:

    ahhhh, the colors are so awesome!
    love the photos 🙂

  11. betunada says:

    just looked at this again — so amazing. guess i’ll hafta derive thru’ it when b ‘n me axually drive to portlandia sum day !

  12. rangewriter says:

    Beautiful photos! That gravestone is really intriguing. Grim as the epitaph is, the engraving on the stone is beautiful. BTW, I specially looked you up because I wanted to report to you about the Red Gopher I bought from your ETSY store. As you remember, I bought it about a year ago, intending to give it as a gift. But I couldn’t let it out of my sight just yet. I kept it in my office where I could admire it till wrapping it up for my friend’s November birthday. She absolutely loves it. So it is twice admired. 😉 Hope you are well.

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