Painted Hills & The Dalles

After visiting Petersen Rock Garden near Bend in the morning, I headed east on Highway 26 towards Painted Hills.  A hazy overcast sky signalled the end to the heat spell and brought great relief.


We stopped to hike a little on the Lookout Mountain Trail in the Ochoco National Forest. This is a trail I had picked out of my Oregon hikes book at least a year ago since it described passing a meadow where wild horses could be encountered. However, just as we were hiking up the trail, a thunderstorm overhead grew more threatening and I decided to return to the car.


Wild Horse Country. There was actually a sign with those words, which I unfortunately missed and then couldn’t find again to photograph. I wasted about an hour driving around on small roads looking for the shortcut back to Hwy 26 that seemed to be evident on a map – but in the end I had to return the way I came.


In the afternoon, we finally arrived at the famous Painted Hills. As you can see, there was an incredibly dense white haze that went from the clouds all the way down to the ground. I was quite disappointed about my bad luck at first, but then I realized that this diffused light helps to bring out the velvety texture and the subtle color variations. It really looks as if someone had thrown a soft blanket over these hills!

Painted Hills Panorama with logo011

A long road of 6 miles takes you to see this ridge, the main attraction. You never would find it otherwise because the surrounding landscape looks very ordinary and “unpainted.”


The bands of colors and patterns are the footprint left behind by volcanic eruptions and climate changes that happened 35 million years ago.


This area was once a flood plain filled with lush forests in a tropical climate. Prehistoric horses lived here as well as elephants, camels and saber-tooth tigers. But the nature of things is to change, and here the changes were particularly dramatic and were written into earth’s record with beautiful pastel colors.


Spots and stripes!


Looking back into time, long before there were dogs or humans. I wonder if the molecules that make up Blanca and me weren’t perhaps once used by a prehistoric elephant bathing in a river here.


My favorite little pyramid hill.


In our lifetime, the looming threats of nuclear annihilation, overpopulation, pollution and the current escalation of terrorism can sometimes seem overwhelming and terribly important, and so I find it actually refreshing to think that 35 million years from now it could all be reduced to a colored band in a hillside.


There is hardly anything you can’t find on the Internet, but one thing that I haven’t been able to find is the stories that Native Americans told about the Painted Hills, which I wanted to include here.


Towards the end of my visit, the sky did clear up a little bit and the sun was almost getting ready to make an appearance – but I rather hurried on a bit because I still had endless miles to drive through remote, motel-less country.


My last glimpse on the road out. I love the combination of the pale green sagebrush and the red hill.


About an hour later at the John Day River near a tiny blip on the map called Service Creek. Blanca has sampled water all across the country and must have her own unique taste map of the US.


This was a very pleasant rest area/bare bones campground by the river and I would’ve liked to stay longer but needed to press on so I could cross this remote region before dark.


She is such a good traveler. Even a short break can be immensely beneficial.


This is a shot I took solely for myself to document where I had stopped, but I like how it’s framed in the window and gives a flavor of the traveling experience.


Several hours of hard driving later, the landscape had changed. The roads were good and there was virtually zero traffic … but still far to go! The very few towns we came through were so small that they didn’t even have any motel, not even a Norman Bates kind of motel. This is on Highway 206 looking back at Condon.


Wheat fields cover the land.


Hwy 206 takes you through the Condon Wind Farm, where 83 colossal wind turbines have been providing enough power for 10,500 households since 2002. They are 274 feet tall (83.5 m).


At long last, around 8 pm, with darkness approaching, neck muscles cramping and eyes burning, I finally arrived in The Dalles, a small city on the Columbia River. But when I found my Motel 6, I was in for an unexpected shock: It was all booked! That had never happened to me before and in my exhausted state I felt a moment of despair, especially as the next motel was full also. However, it all worked out great in the end as I found an older one that accepted dogs and was right in the heart of the old town district. We were able to explore The Dalles that evening and the next morning, which was very rewarding! Pictured is an underpass below Interstate 84.


A surprise discovery: A large paddle-wheeler named American Empress was docked in The Dalles. She was built in 2002 on Whidbey Island in Washington.


Good girl! It was a hard day for her as well. The Columbia River is actually the one river she did NOT get to sample as it was more appealing now (to me anyway) to stroll through the town.


The American Empress is a river cruise ship sailing the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon, and Clarkston, Washington (on the Idaho border), able to accommodate 223 guests.


The views from the cabins must be fantastic! Fortunately, the southern charm of this design also generally delights and elevates spirits all around.


The Dalles Mural Society has commissioned 16 murals in the old town district to illustrate the multitude of historical threads that intersected here. Native American tribes had been trading and living at this site for over 10,000 years. More recently, the Oregon Trail brought weary settlers to this town, and they must’ve felt a relief at that point that exceeded mine by a factor of 1000! The Umatilla House no longer exists but was a famous hotel, said to be the finest west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. Illustrious visitors included Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Edison and President Ulysses Grant. The Umatilla are a Native American tribe in the area. Note also Mt. Hood, which I unfortunately didn’t get to see because of clouds.


The next morning, I found this mural, painted by Gary Kerby, which depicts the Sahaptin Medicine Man and describes his role of ensuring the health of body and spirit for his people as well as abundance of nature, primarily the return of the spawning salmon every year. The old town is very walkable and it would be an enjoyable adventure to find all 16 murals.


There are railway lines along both the north and south banks of the Columbia, which further opened up the Pacific Northwest to development. For me, it was fun to see the trains as there aren’t any where I live on the Oregon Coast.


Blanca, on the other hand, was rather terrified when the ground shook as this large monster passed by.


Two early risers aboard the Empress.


The Baldwin Saloon opened in 1876, run by the Baldwin brothers and serving workers on the railroad and the river. In 1991, it was restored and is once again a restaurant and bar, although not in the rowdy style of its heyday.


The name “The Dalles” is derived from a French word and was coined by the French-Canadian fur traders in the area. It essentially refers to “the rapids” on the Columbia River. It is pronounced “Dalz” with a soft ending, rhyming with Al’s, referring to something belonging to a person named Al.


Who has more horsepower? The horse seemed to be looking at me teasingly.


I like the style of this building, the city hall of The Dalles, also beautifully enhanced by a glorious tree.


Clock Tower Ales is a large pub/restaurant located in the former county courthouse built in 1883. Interestingly, in 1905, this courthouse was the site of the last public execution (hanging) in Oregon. It was a case that set important precedents since a man named Norman Williams was convicted of murdering his wife without her body being found. It turned out he had had six wives, two of whom had been poisoned. Some hair and scalp had been found but no body. A young Portland chemist named Dr. Victoria Hampton gave critical evidence by proving the scalp tissue found was human and testifying that it belonged to the victim. She used a new “serum” test which had been developed in Germany just a year before. How interesting is that?!


Old St. Peter’s Landmark is the current designation of this former Catholic church built in 1897 and nearly torn down in 1971, but it was rescued and restored. It is now open to the public and available to rent for weddings and concerts.


My motel in the historic downtown district put me in walking distance to all of these discoveries. The Motel 6 is on the edge of town, and I probably would have missed all that. Next stop: Western Washington.


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *