Painted Hills 1: Overlook Trail

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The Painted Hills Unit is nine miles northwest of little town of Mitchell off Highway 26. It’s part of the larger John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It features a number of hills consisting of layers of ash mixed with minerals and plant material that, over the millennia via erosion and other natural processes, developed the unique coloring they feature today. These hills, along with Crater Lake and perhaps Bandon Beach, constitute the premier photography locations in the Oregon — a state already rich with great photography opportunities.

This Painted Hills “unit” (meaning it is separate from the other units that make up John Day Fossil Beds National Monument) is rather small but packed with photographic opportunities. Almost the entirety of it can be photographed in one afternoon. Five short trails, plus places along the road, provide plenty of variety for one’s camera. I photographed in four main places: (1) Painted Hills Overlook Trail; (2) from Painted Cove Trail; (3) from the Red Hill Trail; and (4) from the road below the Painted Ridge. Here’s a map of the unit:

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In this post, we’ll examine some of the photos I took from the Painted Hills Overlook Trail. This section of the park requires telephoto lens for best field-of-view. I started out shooting with a 16-85mm standard zoom lens (on an APS-C “cropped” sensor camera), but soon switched to a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens. Here’s a satellite image with tag indicators of spots from which I photographed from the trail:

One thing you’re not supposed to do is walk on the Painted Hills, as the following sign makes abundantly clear:

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Here, then, are a selection of images shot from the Painted Hills Overlook Trail:

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