Road trip: The natural beauty of Oregon's 'Painted Hills'

Road trip: The natural beauty of Oregon's 'Painted Hills'
The Painted Hills, one of Oregon's natural wonders, are located about nine miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, Oregon. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.

NEAR MITCHELL, Ore. - Amid the lonesome desert landscape of Eastern Oregon lies something amazing and beautiful - one of the state's natural wonders.

The brilliant reds, soft golds and splashes of black that line The Painted Hills have long drawn folks to a remote location just outside the small town of Mitchell, Oregon.

There's just something spectacular about the hills, which shine brilliantly in the sunlight and soften as the shadows of nightfall come.

Photographers go there to capture the hills in just the right light and get the perfect picture of the natural beauty. Tourists travel there from near and far to see them. For some, like me, it's one of those 'bucket list' items.

And once you've admired the beauty, then comes the wonder. How did these hills, out in the middle of nowhere, come to be? What is the red rock? Why do no other hills in Oregon look like this?

There are plenty of signs for visitors that explain everything and of course, in the age of the Internet, the answers are easy to find. Millions of years ago, The Painted Hills were actually in a river floodplain and the colorful layers show different geological eras.

Perhaps most interesting is that the hills are made up of bentonite clay, which looks like dried, cracked mud or popcorn when you get close to it. Bentonite is actually something that's used in everyday items like toothpaste and kitty litter.

As far as visiting The Painted Hills, anyone who has been there will likely tell you that it's something you have to see. Here are some tips if you decide to make the trip:

  • The hills are located 75 miles east of Bend. From Portland, it will take you a little over four hours to get there. Google Directions
  • The best time to see The Painted Hills is on a clear day in the late afternoon - that's when the sun hits them just right.
  • There are hiking trails, as well as a structured walkway, for those who want an up-close look.
  • If you head there during the summer months, bring some water with you because it will be hot. There is a restroom and drinking fountain available as you head in.
  • The area is very remote and there is no cell service for miles and miles. You can get gas and other supplies in Mitchell, which is just nine miles from The Painted Hills.