Washington: Day 5

The Painted HillsI was up around 5 am this morning, too excited to sleep.  If at all possible, I wanted to photograph the sun rising over the Painted Hills.  I grabbed a muffin from the breakfast tray downstairs and was on the road by 5: 45.  Within five minutes, I was at the turn-off for the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds and catching glimpses of bluffs and cliffs of red and gold here and there as I drove the dust road toward the main fossil bed.  The sun was already gilding the tops of the mountains around me, and to my chagrin, I could see three other photographers had already staked out places on the overlook as I drove up the windy dirt road.  The main set of hills – the ones most photographed – were still in shadow, I was relieved to note.  But the golden sunrise was creating a beautiful scene on some of the higher elevations.  I parked my car in the gravel turn-off, grabbed my camera, and went to work. 

After a blissful hour of shooting in the increasing daylight while I hiked the one-mile path to the overlook point and back and chatted to my fellow insane-enthusiasts, I jumped into the car and drove to the other hiking trails I’d missed in my first visit last year.  One trail led past Turtle hill, which was full of fossils.  The other took me right up to (and through) the red clay stone hills to a bluff overlooking both Painted Hills and a small lake.  Gorgeous.  A final path led to a bench partway up a nearby mountain, with breathtaking views of the valley.  The path was steep and narrow, but after hiking the Clarno Unit the day before, I was more than ready for it.  I didn’t expect to be accompanied by four partridges, who scolded and chased on another around and up the hill. 

Cathedral RockIt was only 9:30 am when I reluctantly left the Painted Hills in search of some breakfast, since the muffin and the power bar I’d eaten were wearing off.  Unfortunately, I reached the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds before I reached a town.  So I ate the final power bar, refilled my water bottles, and hiked into the Blue Basin.  Several folks were hiking out of the Basin as I hiked in, but they were the only people I saw for nearly an hour.  The sun was hot, there was no shade even from the cliffs of blue-green claystone, and the streambed that the trail followed had long ago dried in the desert heat.  But I was prepared, and sipped carefully at my water as I walked through the incredibly gorgeous blue-green cliffs of the basin, stopping to admire fossils of bones, a turtle shell, and others along the way.  Thankfully, no rattlers appeared along the trail, which was baking in the heat. 

My path next led to the Overlooks where I’d stopped last year – Cathedral Rock, the fire cliffs, the blue butte (a 24 by 16 inch copy of which adorns the walls of my bedroom.)  In someway, it was like coming home to return to this beautiful place nearly a year to the hour in which I viewed the previously. 

By 1 pm, I was done and nearly out of gas.  The SUV and I limped into Dayville to gas up, and got a recommendation from the lady at the pump for a nice restaurant 25 miles further on.  Yep – I told you it was remote!!  I staggered in, a pitiful, starving, sunburnt mad-woman who’d taken more than 2000 fabulous photos in 8 hours.  They fed me up on a hot turkey sandwich swimming with gravy (my favorite) and waved me on my way over the hills to Pendleton, where I turned in early – aching but satisfied by my lovely day! 

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