Thursday, May 31, 2012

Painted Hills

After an hour’s drive from the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument, I turned into the Painted Hills Unit at 3:19 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, 2012.

I had lofty plans to walk all four of the trails in the unit, Including the 1.5-mile round trip on Carroll Rim Trail that a pamphlet said “ascends a few hundred feet in elevation to an overlook of the entire region, with a bird’s-eye view of the Painted Hills and a bench at the end to relax and enjoy the view.”

On previous trips to the Unit, I never took the time to climb the CRT. I would do it this trip.

First, however, we visited the Painted Cove Trail and parked between two other vehicles.

A boardwalk trail winds around the colorful mounds to keep visitors off of the red and gold claystone. So, Nora stayed in the car with Darlene and drew ear rubs from the visitors in the other two vehicles.

Anyway, I strolled the boardwalk and read the interpretive posts that explain the geologic nature of the hills. Marks across one deep-red slope looked like prints left by a deer that didn’t understand the “keep off” signs and the purpose of the boardwalk.

From there we followed a really dusty toad to the quarter-mile Leaf Hill Trail, a site of important studies in the 1920s and 1990s.

The trove of leaf fossils found at the site provide information about the ecosystem of the area 33 million years ago.

As the time closed in on 4:30 p.m., we drove parking at the foot of Carroll Rim Trail. I packed a wide-angle lens and a zoom lens, left Nora with Darlene again, and headed up the hill.

A strong wind whipped down the steep slope. The trail slanted toward the ridge at an angle across the sage-dotted slope and through stone-mottled outcroppings with a stunning view of the red-stripped Painted Hills all the way to still snow-dotted mountains to the east.

Despite the smooth and easy slant of the trail to the northeast, I walked slow with frequent pauses to study and to enjoy the view, especially to the southeast.

The altitude gave me a that promised bird’s-eye perspective, and the zoom lens pulled the hills up close.

When I reached the pass, the trail switched directly back and climbed for another 200-300 yards.

And the wind hit me full force. I fastened the chin strap on my wide-brimmed had, but it still flopped loosely. The gusts rippled and flattened the thick bunch grass.

By the time I reached the trail’s end, with benches on a narrow point, the southwest wind nearly toppled me. I cast a 180-degree view, and turned back.

I stumbled for the first view steps, with the strong wind gusts at my back, and moved more quickly down slope.

At the pass, a lizard or a horned toad crossed the trail. I kneeled and aimed the camera through the sage branches. I spent several minutes getting a focused photo.

I couldn’t resist a few pauses on the way, and each one proved well worth the stop.

“Well, did you have a good hike?” Darlene asked when I reached the truck.

I assured her that I did, and we set out for the nearly two hour drive to the John Day Best Western motel.

And to dinner.

Well, we had spent a long day on the road and having fun at the fossil beds.

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