Oregon’s Incredible Painted Hills

Painted hillsPhoto: Lucas Jan

The Painted Hills are a part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. These stunning, colorful hills are at their best in the afternoon due to the way the shifting light reflects off the various blacks, reds, golds and yellows that make up the hill’s layers. The area comprises 3,132 acres in the National Monument.

Painted hillsPhoto: Bala

The wildflowers at the base are spectacular, but very little grows on the hills themselves. The painted layers each correspond to a different geological era from many, many years ago when the area was an ancient floodplain.

The black soil is old vegetative matter called lignite that once grew along the shores of the river. The gorgeous reds are caused by laterite soils rich in aluminum and iron. These are typically found in areas that are tropical or hot and humid.

Painted hillsPhoto: NPS Photo

The grays that break up the other colors are plain shale and mudstone. The painted hills are a little-known treasure in the US, and while they may not receive as much attention as others, their fantastic coloring rank them among the best attractions the country has to offer.