The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon live up to their name. They are composed of colorful layers of laterite, silstone, mudstone, and volcanic ash.

The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds

North-central Oregon is home to a geologic gem called John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It is made up of three units: the Painted Hills, Clarno, and Sheep Rock.

In this post, we are going to feature the Painted Hills Unit. Read on to learn more about this amazing location and see some photographs from our gallery.

Colors of the Painted Hills Unit

The colors of the Painted Hills unit are caused by differences in the chemical composition, depositional environment, and the weathering  conditions of the various layers. These layers illustrate the shift from a hot, tropical climate to a more temperate one. This shift occurred between 34 and 32 million years ago.

Reddish-hued layers were deposited in a tropical climate with a great deal of vegetation and precipitation. But, the lighter tan layers represent a period when the climate was more temperate with less precipitation. As you can see from the photos, the red layers and the tan layers alternate.This indicates the climate may have been oscillating between wet and dry over a long period of time. Finally, the dark bluish staining is believed to be caused by ancient plants that grew in this paleosol and left a residue of manganese.

Places to photograph in the Painted Hills Unit

Although roads within the unit are unpaved, they are easy to drive – except during heavy downpours of rain.  This make the Painted Hills Unit is very accessible. And several parking areas make it easy to access the five hiking trails in this unit. All but one of the trails are under a mile in length. Here is a National Park Service PDF map of hiking trails in the Painted Hills and Clarno Units.

The best time to photograph this unit is after a rain, when the colored layers are most intense.  And, shooting at the golden hours of dawn and dusk is not too shabby, either. Throughout this unit, views can be expansive because they are unobstructed by trees, power poles, or buildings.

Purchasing our photos

To purchase a photo license or a print suitable for framing,  please contact us using the contact for to the right.

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