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Visiting the Painted Hills
The Painted Hills Unit is located about 9 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, Oregon. Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change. The Painted Hills Unit also contains a diverse assemblage of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old called the Bridge Creek Flora, and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30-27 million years ago.
The yellows, golds, blacks, and reds of the Painted Hills are beautiful at all times of the day, but are best lit for photography in the late afternoon. Changing light and moisture levels drastically affect the tones and hues visible in the hills. The seasons can also change the look of the Painted Hills radically. Spring often brings yellow wildflowers that grow in open areas and sometime even in the ripples of the hills. Winter can blanket the hills in a white coat, concealing the vibrant hues until the snow melts, revealing interspersed stripes of gold and red.
Trails at the Painted Hills Unit
The Painted Hills Unit has a total of five trails, each with their own parking area. Directional signs along Bear Creek Road point the way to each trailhead. (Note: The Red Scar Knoll Trail is called Red Hill on the road signs.) RVs and other large vehicles are not recommended past the Painted Hills Overlook.
Fossil Layers of the Painted Hills Unit
Bridge Creek (33 Ma)
A wide variety of plant material has been preserved in fine grain lake sediment including the Metasequoia, Oregon's state fossil.
Turtle Cove (29 Ma)
Turtle Cove is the thickest and most productive fossil-bearing layer within the John Day Fossil Beds, yet few leaf fossils were preserved.
Other Places to Visit in the Monument
The Clarno Unit is home to the oldest exposed layers of the John Day Fossil Beds, and the only place in the monument to see "wild" fossils.
Sheep Rock Unit
Home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the Cant Ranch Museum, the Sheep Rock Unit also has many trails and scenic views.
Thomas Condon Paleontology Center
The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center displays fossils from the entirety of the John Day Fossil Beds.
Last updated: August 30, 2019