Pacific Northwest Nature Photographers Events

Painted Hills, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument,  May 21st & 22nd

Painted Hills, February, 2005, Ned Fenimore 

On May 21st, the members of the Pacific Northwest Nature Photographers Group will meet at the Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We'll meet at 10:00am at the information kiosk.

For those unfamiliar with the Painted Hills, they are one of three widely dispersed units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Central Oregon. The monument was established in 1975, and includes the Sheep Rock Unit, Painted Hills Unit, and the Clarno Unit. 

The Painted Hills are made up of claystone consisting mainly of decomposed volcanic ash that was deposited in layers over millions of years. The geology of the hills makes them a bit of a photographic anomaly, in that the mid-day sun actually provides good lighting that brings out the brilliant colors of the hills. We're Also timing this event to correspond to the booming of the wildflowers among the hills as well. I called the wildflower hotline (541-462-3961) on April 24; The recording stated that some flowers are beginning to bloom, but they predict it is still a few weeks from peak, so I think our timing is on track for a nice bloom!

Don't Let this happen to you! Sand boarding is not allowed on the hills. Photograph and cloning work by Rick Lundh, 2005.

There are three main trails through and around the hills and all are short easy hikes. It's a good idea to check with the ranger if he's available but if the ground is reasonably dry and you step carefully, you can walk out among the base of the hills. The main concern is that you not leave foot prints and obviously, you must stay off the hills themselves.

After a few hours of hiking and shooting, we'll all meet back at the kiosk for a late lunch or early dinner. If you have a camp stove, bring it along. I'll have mine, which will cook about 4 average size burgers at a time. Rather than try to coordinate a potluck, we'll bring our own food. I'll have a few extra burgers and dogs just in case someone forgets.

After chow we can hang and visit, share image previews, relax in the shade, or if your camera is hermetically sealed to your hand, you can go back to shooting. Then we'll take advantage of the evening light to do some more shooting. There is a small reflective lake in the park with a few painted hills in the background. Be ready to shoot for a blend or have your GNDs ready! While you're shooting in the morning and afternoon, remember to scout out your sunset spot.

Waiting for the Light, February, 2005, Curtis Knight 

Saturday evening, we can meet for drinks (and dinner if you're hungry again) and chat before hitting the hay.

Sunday morning, depending on attendee interest, we can catch the sunrise at Smith Rock State Park, or return to Painted Hills. After a sunrise shooting session, we can head for Prineville or Redmond for a hard-earned breakfast, and discuss plans for shooting on the trip home.





On the drive home we have several routes to choose from so be thinking about this and offer up your suggestions at breakfast or during the sunrise:

  • Hwy 97 North to I-84 and down the Columbia Gorge

  • Hwy 26 (Mt Hood Hwy) over Mt Hood and into Portland

  • Hwy 20 (Santiam Pass) to Albany

  • Hwy 20 to Hwy 22, and into Salem

  • Hwy 20 to McKenzie Hwy into Springfield

Painted Hills Unit Information

There's not a lot of info on the net, so the NPS web site is probably best:

National Park Service


Directions to The Painted Hills

The quickest route from Portland, is to take Highway 26 (Mt Hood Hwy) over the Cascades, through Warm Springs, Madras, Prineville, and turn left onto Bridge Creek Rd, a few miles before the town of Mitchell. This takes approximately 5 hours if you stop for rest and/or photos along the way.

From Eastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon, take Hwy 97 (Biggs Junction on I-84) to Madras and turn East onto Hwy 26, and turn left onto Bridge Creek Rd, a few miles before the town of Mitchell. 

Area Lodging





Need more info?