“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman
And so there I was! It was about 2PM in the afternoon sitting at my desk at work on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, wondering what adventures I should pursue.
How could I not take advantage of the three-day weekend?! I would miss a beautiful sunny weekend in Seattle, and one of my favorite festivals, Folklife, but I had to get out.
I needed to get out.
But I must be the worst planner and a tad bit too spontaneous. And sometimes I feel terrible for this, as was in this case. I had to bail on a sorority sister’s birthday wine-tasting, cancel my sister on our Folklife Festival date, and made it really hard for a girl friend to join us on our road trip adventure. Sorry, loves! I think I have a lot of making up to do…
But nonetheless, the adventures moved forward! I had been eager to visit the Painted Hills in Oregon, but needed more than a regular two-day weekend to make the trip well worth the six-hour drive from Seattle. And this weekend was the perfect time!
Our destination? Oregon’s Painted Hills, down south to Crater Lake, and back up to Seattle to wrap up the trip — all in the course of three days. So with all the terrible planning, it turned out to be a trip of two. Here’s how our first half of the trip went…
THE DRIVE (Day 1)
Road trips are the best! We packed our tent in case we found camp grounds, and packed a whole lot of food (mostly junk food. Oops!) The route we took was through I-90, down through the Yakima Valley, and into Oregon. Not a whole lot out there — so if you plan on taking this trip, please listen to everyone’s fair warning:
Do not leave any major town without a full tank of gas. Really! There is far too much road in between towns, and once you enter Oregon territory, you are not allowed to pump your own gas. I always forget this. And you don’t really expect someone to be working overtime and round the clock to accommodate the travelers, right?
I also suggest you write down directions on paper because the signal out there is very sporadic. And with a fully-charged iPod, be ready to enjoy the other side of Oregon! Or should I say, the flatter, more dry side of Oregon? What a relaxing drive, though!
And can I say wind turbine heaven?!! I’d never seen so many wind turbines in one location. They were so pretty! And for the very first time, I was able to get really close to those massive structures. Yayyy!!! I’ll photo-dump at the bottom of this blog post.
THE CAR PROBLEMS
Ahh yes, the car problems that we were not expecting. My 2002 Nissan Sentra is finally beginning to feel the pain of my adventures. We pulled over at a scenic view during the 5th hour of the drive, and when we turned back around to head out, we realized my car was leaking a lot of coolant. Cracked radiator? Yikes!
Unfortunately, there were no towns in site yet, and when we finally made it to the small town of Condon, OR, their mechanic shop was closed because it was Saturday, of course! Darniiit. Every business in the nearby towns either closed early for the weekend, or they were not open at all.
So another fair warning: pack extra car oil, water, coolant, etc. in case you have any car issues. This is true for any long road trip, though. But my awesome boyfriend was already two steps ahead of me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
And let me just say we were not the only ones with the same car issues, as we later found out. So let me be the one to warn you (again) — the drive is treacherous. Lots of winding roads and hills. You might not want to push an older car for too many hours at a time.
This definitely slowed our drive. A lot! And for the next two days, we had to really take it easy. Oh well! Didn’t let that stop us! … (She’s fixed now, by the way.)
THE PAINTED HILLS UNIT
Gah! 7.5 hours and a whole lot of coolant later, the vibrant red hills greeted us!
Before heading onto the trails, though, be sure to stop at the information center / picnic area for a bathroom and water break. There are no restrooms or drinking fountains near the trails, so make that pit stop before you head out. After the long drive, we were so eager to get out and explore and went straight to the hills. Ha! Bad idea. Two minutes after parking, we decided we needed that bathroom break. Now.
One of three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills are located near Mitchell, OR in Wheeler County. And unlike popular belief, they are not made of sand. They are clay-like material composed of different types of soil over thousands (millions?) of years in what used to be an ancient river floodplain. Whhaaa??!!!
They looked so fluffy and soft!
Each layer represents a different era in the floodplain, and some areas still even hold fossil remains. It was an incredible feeling to be staring at something that held so many years of history. Just humbling. And the fact that they were so well-preserved was mind-blowing! How could something so ancient be standing right in front of me and still look completely beautiful?
Painted Cove Trail
This is as close as you are allowed to get to the actual hills, and was my favorite trail! Loved the board walk = )
Painted Hills Overlook Trail
This hike will give you an overlook of the painted hills from various angles.
Red Hill Trail(?)
This trail is rocky and long. We only went halfway. Haha! (Across is the Overlook Trail. Lots of people out this day!)
THE OVERNIGHT ACCOMMODATIONS
When I googled the area, I didn’t see an option to camp near the Painted Hills. Fortunately, while on our hike, we overheard a park ranger saying there was a small campground back in Mitchell.
It was not much of a campground, but this is all we needed! That’s us in the blue tent above = ) We were also very lucky that the weather was perfect for camping. No rain! …all weekend, actually.
The town itself was probably only two-blocks worth of businesses. So tiny! And this campground was actually a park with swings and slides. There were also accessible restrooms and running water. Joy!
And as you can see, we were not the only ones camping out that night despite there being a motel behind us and a bed-and-breakfast across the street. There was a group of paleontology students who had traveled from Portland. Then there was the retired man who was riding his bike to fulfill his bucket list. I love that we all had our unique stories, yet here we were on the same lawn of the same park after visiting the same hills. Lovely.
We were also lucky to have made it just in time before the burger joint across the street closed. We devoured those giant burgers!
But later that night I was awakened by a terrible stomach pain. Gah! The pain was so bad that one minute it had me in fetal position, and the next minute it had me doing the child’s pose trying desperately to soothe the pain. What happened?! I still have no idea! For a while I thought it may have been food poison, but I definitely did not have those other bathroom and vomit symptoms. Ugh.
I was relieved to know that the grocery store was open Sunday morning because had it not been for that Pepto-Bismol, I think I may have found my way to the hospital. Note to self: Don’t ever leave behind your insurance cards in exchange of only your debit card and ID.
And with all that being said — our first day concluded! My overall thoughts? I would not take the six-hour drive from Seattle again unless I was staying there for the entire weekend. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument consists of Painted Hills Unit, Clarno Unit, and Sheep Rock Unit. Perhaps on a different occasion I’ll venture out to explore those other locations.
How did you spend your three-day weekend?
I hope that you continue to take advantage of every minute you have to discover and rediscover places near and around your state. Even if you’re alone. Pack that side-kick camera of yours, and go out and explore! I promise nobody will think you’re weird, and you might even make new friends. You have no idea how many solo-explorers we encounter on our road trips.
Go on…E X P L O R E.
Love and Adventure,
PS: Stay tuned for the next half of this road trip as we ventured out to Crater Lake! Blog post coming soon.
Below are more photos from the road trip to Painted Hills! Enjoy! < 3