I want to see it all.
Her bands of red, gold and black, flowing down the hills like blood washing from the sea after a battle. This battle took place over millions of years, revealing the magic of vibrant hues little by little as the wind, water and air chipped away at the history of geological Oregon, entombed by a thick layer of lava 30 million years ago. Yet she fought to tell her story, as if sticking her neck out into the wind to allow the erosion to reveal the mysteries still covered up elsewhere in the state.
I want to see it all.
The battle the hills went through is similar to the battle taking place in my soul — I hungrily want to see it all, but that goes against my very spirit to drink in each moment. I want to allow all the essence of Oregon’s Painted Hills to seep into my pores. So much that I’m consumed with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety around where to look first and the best way to discover all the secrets hidden in the ancient folding landscape.
My recent visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument — the Painted Hills Unit, was a “bucket list” item for me for many years. When I found myself in the Redmond/Bend area with my friend Mike I knew we had to make the ninety-minute drive East, over the Ochoco Mountains, to this natural wonder. The plan was easy enough, and all the details panned out for a day of delicious discovery under a bright, but not too hot, April sun.
But as the rental car hugged the gravel road leading to the entrance, a trance seemed to come over me. A panic of sorts. What if I didn’t get to see everything? Would I get the best photos? Would other people be crowding the trails? Although I work hard to be open to the outcome when traveling, times like these do creep up — I want to see it all. The pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out) are real and come in disguise at times.
My excitement was welling up as we pulled into the information center, which also provided a very much needed bio break after a long beautiful journey in the car. The main attractions were still not visible, so I was drenched with anticipation and grabbed a map to investigate the options — that I’d already researched online.
The Painted Hills unit has five trails that are mostly short and flat ¼ mile jaunts — all connected by a three-mile dusty gravel road. We decided to move past the main overlook, which is where most of the famous photos are shot — usually at sunrise or sunset.
Trail by mini-trail, we did see it all. Red Scar Knoll, Leaf Hill and Painted Cove, before climbing up to the top of Carroll Rim. A sweeping view of the valley opened up with only the whispers of the arid wind blowing the fresh sage plants.
Since I was keen to take in the view at sunset, and food is always welcome, we made our way to the nearby town of Mitchell for dinner before returning to the star performance — a stunning mosaic of colors amongst blue sky in what felt like the heavens above. Again, the pressure to see it all crept into my mind and we parked the car at the start of the Overlook Trail.
It wasn’t until I made it up the half-mile trek that a calm started to surround me. I snapped my photos and took a moment to sit still and really absorb the inspiring scene.
The Painted Hills offer a glimpse into millions of years of various ecosystems, ranging from tropical rain forest to savanna (the gold), covered by piping-hot cinder cone ash (the red), and then topped with copious amounts of lava (the black and canyon ridges high above).
The honey-yellow of the sun almost ready for bed brought alive millions more years of polishing down the landmass to formations more likely to appear in an impressionist painting than in the authentic world emerging in front of me.
As the shadows of dusk took hold, I noticed the silhouette of two visitors walking along the rim of another canyon against the orange glow and I felt foolish for letting this internal battle get to me — worrying that somehow this iconic site would escape me and I’d miss something. In this moment of true inspiration, with the ancient world opening up in front of me, the panic to see it all proved very real and distracting. This experience was a reminder that, while wanderlust has a firm hold of me, some mysteries are better allowed to take their time to peel back in order to reveal unexpected delights.
In this time of pent-up demand for travel, whether that be locally across the state to a remote part of Oregon, or farther across the planet, it’s helpful to realize that every travel experience offers just the right nuggets of gold (and red and black, like the Hills).
Yes, I want to see it all and yes, I can be more patient and allow the mysteries to unravel and open up.