Saturday, April 28, 2018

Painted Hills and Prineville

We’ve spent a lot of time in Oregon, but mainly on the coast and the Willamette Valley along I-5.  We were amazed at the beauty of South-central Oregon when we visited Steen’s Mountain, and decided that another trip to the interior was in order.  And so, after our time in Salem reacquainting ourselves with big stores and chain restaurants, we headed over the cascades for a week’s stay in Prineville. 

We’d always been interested in visiting Prineville, the home of the Prineville “hotshots”, a trained crew of nine fire fighters who lost their lives in the Storm King or South Canyon fire in Colorado during the summer of 1994.  We first became interested in the history of fire fighting in the west after visiting Montana’s Mann Gulch, the site of a fire that killed 13 “smokejumpers” in 1949.  If you’ve never read the book “Young Men and Fire” by Norman Maclean, do yourself a favor and do so – it’s a riveting and enlightening read.  His son, John N. Maclean wrote a book about the Prineville Hotshots and the South Canyon Fire called “Fire on the Mountain”, another great book that describes the mistakes made in weather forecasting that led to the loss of the 14 fire fighters.

Prineville is an amazingly pristine little town with a population of around 10,000.  It was central to the areas we wanted to visit and the County RV Park was perfect for our stay.  We visited the firefighter’s memorial in the city park, with its nice monument and path that has a plaque with a picture and biography of each of the young men and women who lost their lives.  The local museum also has an exhibit on the tragedy, and there we talked to the volunteer who described the tremendous impact that the loss of the nine young people had on the small town.  Prineville Hotshot  Memorial

The John Day Fossil Beds were on our list, and so we took a day trip through beautiful mountains to the visitor center.  On our way we stopped at Mitchell, a struggling little town of 132 that provides the only gas and groceries in the area.  It was worth a drive through the canyon that the town sits in just to see some of the ah….unusual buildings.Mitchell OR Main StreetMitchell State StopMitchell Store The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument covers a huge area of North-central Oregon and has three separate “units”, one of which is a 2 hour drive from the visitor center.  It’s not a place where you can wander around picking up fossils, but an area where millions of years of floods/volcanoes/earthquakes have created layers of rock from different periods that contain an amazing amount of plant and animal fossils.  The visitor center was very nice, and had an area where you could watch as fossils were being cleaned and examined.  There was also a theater where we watched a very good film that described how the landscape had changed over millions of years and how the diversity of fossils from so many periods make this area special.John Day Visitor Center

A short drive from the visitor center was the historic Cant Ranch, where the backdrop of Sheep Mountain provided this image:Sheep Mountain Ranch View

We took the long way back to Mitchell and the Painted Hills and were stunned by the beauty of the mountains: Roadside View1

Roadside View2

Roadside View3

We’ve seen lots of pictures of the Painted Hills, many of which were Photoshopped into deep reds and yellows.  It’s a shame, because the magical beauty of these hills doesn’t need any help.  We took the half-mile hike to the overlook for these views:Painted Hills2

Painted Hills Panarama2

Painted Hills Panorama

Red HillAnother place we wanted to visit was Smith Rock State Park, just outside Redmond.  We expected a nice park with some scenic rocks, but were blown away by the beauty of the rock and river canyon.  The trails and people were visible from a distance, and that’s where we decided to stay.  The danger of some of the trails was driven home by a hiker’s death just a week before our visit.  Just another incredible Oregon State Park:

Smith Rock State Park1

Smith Rock Trail

Smith Rock Hikers

Smith Rock Panorama

We had a great week in Prineville, but it was time to head for Northern Idaho and our summer as volunteer interpretive hosts at Farragut State Park.  We’ll be posting a new adventure soon, so stay tuned!


  1. Sigh ... you have now given me yet another place I have to visit. I may be following you folks around in your footsteps (tire tracks?). I sure agree about the beauty of the Painted Hills, and no reason to mess with photos. Thank you.

  2. Great pictures of a beautiful area:)