The Painted Hills are an oft-photographed part of Oregon, yet if you were to ask, you’d probably find that 95% of Oregonians have never seen them in person. They’re accessed via a gravel road off a highway in a lonely part of the state, and the nearest town has a population of 175. (On its web site, the town optimistically refers to itself as a “city.”) The next nearest town of any size — meaning, more than 10,000 people — is about an hour’s drive away.
You have to want to see the Painted Hills. They are not on the way to anywhere, unless your destination is the remote and splendid beauty of eastern Oregon. (Which, by the way, I can highly recommend as a destination.) They’re part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which is a paradise for geologists, archaeologists, naturalists and general nature or science geeks of any stripe. But you don’t have to be a geek to appreciate this area. You just have to enjoy gorgeous scenery.