May 16 – It was time to say good-by to Bend. We could easily have spent much more time here, but we have other places to see before the GTG in Baker City. John Day Fossil Beds is actually 3 different sections of the same monument. The one we want to see most is the Painted Hills unit. We headed out to Mitchell, OR. This town is one of the smallest living towns I’ve ever seen. There is a cafe, an auto-body shop, a gas station and an expresso hut. A few other abandoned buildings along with a few other “closed for season” buildings also are here. But they do have a little community park at one end of town that has 3 RV spaces, 2 with electric hookups for $17 a night. Water is available, but no dump and the limit is a 3 night stay. It is just 3 miles from the entrance to Painted Hills and a perfect place to hang for a couple of days. Unfortunately there is no cell signal so we’ve been feeling a bit isolated and haven’t been able to update the blogs.
We got there early enough to get set-up, relax for a couple of hours and go into the monument for the afternoon. It’s been cloudy since yesterday’s weather system came in, but the rain has mostly held off. I think this place shows best in bright sunlight though. You really need the light to show off the amazing colors of the mud hills. I thought so anyway. The overcast skies made the light kind of flat, and it seemed like the pictures we were taking would also be flat. But they processed really nicely and the cloudy weather helped add another interesting element to the landscape. Surprise! We spent several hours walking the short trails along the rim of the formations. This is a small monument compared to others, but huge and beautiful views all around. There are 4 trails you can walk – only one of which is more than a half mile one way. The view of the hills are just amazing and we spent several hours in photo heaven.
May 17 – It rained most of the evening last night and I am hoping it will clear later in the day so we can see the hills in sun. The formations are made of Bentonite – a mineral used in many consumer products, including kitty litter, toothpaste and… chocolate?! But what it is really known for is how slippery and sticky at the same time it is when wet. Off roaders know this stuff well as many a stuck 4 wheeler will attest. You slide off the road and get stuck in the muck. You just don’t go driving in wet Bentonite. So I think our hike up a Bentonite hill we planned for later today may be off.
The road into the monument was in good shape though. It is pretty much paved right up until you get the the actual designated area of the Painted Hills. It turns to well maintained gravel from there. Stray off the gravel though, even into the turnouts, and you’re in bentonite. It seems firm at first, but put your foot down for a minute or two and try to pick it up and you will also pick up half the monument stuck to you shoe. Your tires will pick up and throw gobs of the stuff into your wheel wells and when it dries (which it does pretty fast) it is like cement.
So after an evening of rainfall, we decided to check it out. It might be really interesting to see the hills when they are wet. It was still overcast, but seeming like it was getting thinner. We went back in around noon and drove up to the main overlook. We brought coffee & snacks & books and decided we’d just hang out to see if the sun would make an appearance. After an hour or so, the sun did begin to break through and we hurried out. The main trail along the rim was in fine shape, so we were able to walk that part all the way. I shot nearly 100 images. A little later we moved over to a smaller area called Red Hills. I shot another 50 or so images. I think that may be a new record for images in one place. Now I just have to weed through them to post a few. It will be tough.
While hanging out at the main overlook, we got to talking with a ranger who happened by. He was going to be leading a photo group out into the hills and he eventually invited us out with them for a sunset excursion and also again in the morning for sunrise. By this time we were pretty much ready to call it a day. The clouds that had been around all day looked like they were thickening again and the thought of slogging through the slippery bentonite convinced us it probably was not a good idea. In the morning, clouds again obscured the sunrise so our decision turned out for the best.