Painted Hills make a soulful impression

Painted Hills, the Palisades and even a Shoe Tree are unique features of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

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Towering palisades highlight a visit to the Clarno Unit of the monument.

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A boardwalk allows visitor access to the crimson, popcorn-textured claystones at Painted Cove at the monument.

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The Painted Hills on an early spring day.

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The hills stretch through central Oregon.

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Snow still clings to the mountains beyond the crimson streaks of the Painted Hills.

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The Painted Hills offer a surreal perspective on the horizon.

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Bright red streaks line the Painted Hills.

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Nora the Schnauzer takes her first look at the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon.

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Antelope graze in the national monument.

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Nora the Schnauzer hops onto the truck bed for a better look.

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The Painted Hills at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Editor's Note: Part 1 of this report about a tour into the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument of Eastern Oregon appeared in this spot last Wednesday.

Time ticked deeper into the afternoon as we sped along Oregon Highway 26, between the Sheep Rock Unit and Mitchell.

Tick-tick-tick. ...

Nevertheless, at 2:39 I stopped the truck on an incline to gawk at the shoetree.

Ah, the essence of reality: A tree in the middle of nowhere dangling dozens of brogans as baubles.

Too many to count, so I didn't try.

Nora the Schnauzer joined me outside for a closer look. She sniffed the discards on the ground.

She yawned.

"We saw that in 2007," Darlene said through her open window and wrinkled her nose.

"It's older now," I said, deductively.

We hurried on.

At Mitchell, I nodded toward The Oregon Hotel (www.theoregonhotel.net) on Main Street. We had considered staying there, but no pets allowed.

And we didn't expect to be gone overnight.

Less than five minutes from Mitchell, we turned right and drove six miles to the Painted Hills.

I especially like that unit with the Overlook Trail, about a mile; the Carrol Rim Trail, 1.5 miles up a scenic bluff and back; the Leaf Hill Trail, a quarter-mile that once held thousands of fossils from the Bridge Creek Flora period; and Painted Cove Trail, with a close-up view of the unit's distinct popcorn-textured crimson claystones.

While Darlene read all the plaques and relaxed in the waning sunlight, Nora and I walked the Painted Hills Overlook Trail, the Painted Cove Trail and the Leaf Hill Trail.

We saw one man and woman with a small black dog that Nora tangled leashes with. We also saw a man and woman high on Carrol Rim.

At 4:07 p.m. we headed north to Fossil and the Clarno Unit, another 62 miles.

"It won't get dark until after 5:30," Darlene said. "Drive careful."

The route became narrow, bent and twisting, like red worms in a can. It rose and fell thousands of feet.

After the pass above Mitchell, we stopped to watch mule deer and antelope browse together.

We saw a bunch of elk and didn't stop.

Despite the obstacles, we reached Clarno with enough light for ogle The Palisades, towering mud pillars that fenced off the horizon and that preserve the remains of ancient mammals, palm and banana trees.

Bananas? Hum!

After half an hour there our shadows disappeared, so we ditched the plan to go back over the hill to Fossil, Condon and Heppner in the darkness.

We took the longer, straighter route to Antelope and Shaniko, with a relatively straight shot to Biggs, Interstate 84 and home.

Hours passed and straight roads became a blur. The twisting curves to the John Day Fossil Beds Monument remained vivid, however. So did the green and red claystone cliffs, hills and hummocks.

Even the old shoetree left a sole-full impression, of sorts.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com.

If You Go

We drove a lengthy scenic route to the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

We left Walla Walla westward on Highway 12, took Highway 730 at Wallula Junction (56 miles) though Umatilla, south to a junction with Highway 207.

We continued to Lexington, Heppner (56), Ruggs, Hardman and a junction with Highway 19 near Spray.

We turned left there toward Kimberly (61.2) and on southward to a junction with Highway 26. We turned right (due west) and drove to Mitchell (49.3). We continued west for four miles, turned north for six miles to the Painted Hills Unit of the monument and back (20).

Back at Mitchell (10) and north on Highway 207 to Service Creek and Highway 19.

We continued northwest to Fossil (43.9) and turned due west there on Highway 218 (for 18 miles) to the Clarno Unit of the monument and The Palisades.

From there, after dark, we continued due west on Highway 218 to Antelope (34.5) and, northward, to Shaniko (7.9).

At Shaniko, we merged with Highway 97 and a nearly straight route to Biggs Junction and Interstate 84 (55.8), which we followed past Boardman at the exit to Highway 730 and Umatilla (78.5) and back home (56.6).

MapQuest provided the distances between these points, and my odometer said we drove a total of 529 miles, including short jaunts inside the units. Our clock said we spent 16 1/2 hours on the trip.

For Internet information, rules and regulations Google John Day Fossil Beds National Monument or browse nps.gov/joda/index.htm .

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