The Painted Hills and Columbia River Gorge

It was shortly after 7:30 AM on Wednesday, June 19th of 2019, when we began our journey Southeast from Portland, OR. The drive toward central Oregon is beautiful in a wholly different way from the beauty of the region West of the Cascades. You emerge from the Cascade mountain range and arrive at a wide, flat plain as you follow the path of Highway 26. Gazing toward the horizon, you can see the most prominent snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains stretching along their North/South axis.

A relatively short while later, you pass through a smaller set of mountains and hills, quite reminiscent of the Black Hills here in South Dakota, as you’re cutting along the Western edge of the Ochoco National Forest. From there, our destination isn’t far.

Shortly before Mitchell, OR we take a left on Bridge Creek Road. We’d previously visited the Painted Hills in 2017, and we wanted to spend a more substantial interval there this time.

Located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills are relatively similar to certain features of Badlands National Park.

Our first stop is the Painted Cove Trail, a leisurely boardwalk trail circling through and around a series of beautiful, red tinted mounds. This only takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to enjoy, but slowing down to take in the scenery is a must.

From there it’s only a short drive to reach the Red Hill Trail, nestled further into the park area. The hike to a viewpoint overlooking the region is a gravel and dirt path that doesn’t suffer from poor maintenance.

Photos are both above and below.

Before leaving the Painted Hills, we stopped at the Painted Hills Overlook we’d enjoyed a great deal during our previous visit. The day was sunny and it gets hot in the high elevation desert environment, so our visit was cut short just after 12:30 PM. Photos of that stop are below.

Returning to Highway 26, we continued East, finally cutting North in Mitchell, OR to take the Service Creek-Mitchell Highway North. Reaching Fossil, OR, we took Highway 218 West to the ghost town of Shaniko, OR. The drive, taking approximately two and a half hours, is a fantastic one. The roadways curve up and down hillsides and mountains, providing lovely views of high-elevation valleys and farmland. If we’d not had other places to go, I’d have loved to spend more time there, stopping for photos on an annoyingly consistent basis.

Arriving in Shaniko, we took advantage of an ice cream parlor serving the people who come to see the ghost town. Goldie’s Ice Cream Parlor had a decent variety of flavors and the folks operating the establishment were pleasant and friendly.

Walking the streets of Shaniko isn’t a time consuming endeavor, and it was only twenty minutes or so before we were back on the road.

Photos of Shaniko are below.

We took Highway 97 North to Biggs Junction, OR where we joined Interstate 84 and headed West along the Columbia River.

Arriving in Hood River, OR around 5 PM, we stopped for dinner at Solstice Wood Fire Pizza. I can’t say enough about the quality of the food and the overall environment of that restaurant. The patio area provides a nice view of the Columbia River as well. I wanted to try something different and ordered the siragusa pear pizza, a pizza with pears (as the name would imply), bleu cheese, and caramelized onions…it was amazing.

Leaving Hood River, our next stop was the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. There’s an artificial pond on site for white sturgeon, complete with an underwater viewing window. I’ve submerged one of my GoPro cameras in that pond each time we’ve visited, and captured some excellent video of the two sturgeon swimming. There are also smaller ponds where one can feed trout.

Continuing toward Portland, we stopped at both Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls between 7:45 and 8:30 PM.

Naturally, we had to make the climb up to the upper terrace of Multnomah Falls, as the view is always so spectacular. This late in the evening, the crowds weren’t as dense as they often had been before.

Our final stop on the way back to Portland was Vista House, which seemed like a magnificent place to witness the sunset. We were not disappointed. The views overlooking the Columbia River from that location are spectacular. I may have had to drop down from a fenced area to get to a certain location or two, but it was worth the minor bit of trespassing to see some of what I was able to see.

We continued along the Historic Columbia River Highway after dark, unable to truly enjoy the scenery, returning to our hotel shortly before 10:30 PM.

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