Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Cottonwood Canyon Oregon State Park entrance.

Living an hour and a half’s drive east of Portland Oregon opens up new territory for us, as we’re on the cusp of eastern Oregon and a hop and a skip from central Oregon. Much of the area is high desert terrain, rolling hills, and wide open country with only a smattering of widely disbursed tiny towns. 

Last weekend we headed for the Painted Hills, with the intent of scouting out future spots to explore along the way. Specail thanks go to Wayne for planning the weekend itinerary.

Trailheads, Cottonwood Canyon Oregon State Park

Our first stop was Cottonwood Canyon, a relatively new Oregon State Park a little less than an hour’s drive and 43 miles from The Dalles. We took highway 97 (Portland metro area folks would take I-84 to get to that point), then highway 206 off of that (more on those highways in the post after next).

Cottonwood Canyon is a former cattle ranch. It became a park in 2013 and is the second largest Oregon state park; only Silver Falls is larger. If you’re an adreneline junkie there’s river rafting on the John Day River, but overall his is the kind of place you go to get off the fast track. Take in a little pioneer history, watch the raptors soar, maybe see a bighorn sheep, admire the basalt cliffs, and enjoy the night sky, far from light pollution. There’s tent and RV sites and cabin rentals though the camp hosts told us reservations go quickly.  The facilities were spotless.

I believe we’ll be back though the lack of spontanaeity if we want to stay overnight is t to stay overnight is a challenge for us. It’s day-trippable but we like to give remote places more time than that, especially when they’te promising for stargazing.

We made some other stops but I’ll hold those for another post.

Red Leaf trail, Painted Hills Oregon State Park.

Until recently, we’d never heard of The Painted Hills, despite living twenty years within (borderline) day-trip-able distance. Even a lifetime native Oregonian of our vintage hadn’t ever heard about them before. Summer days frequently peg the thermometer into tripe digits (F); we decided to wait until fall to explore that area.

Painted Hills’ Cove trail is only 1/4 mile long easy trail that’s mostly boardalwaked,but packs one heckuva a visual punch.

The Painted Hills are part of the trio of non-adjacent “units” that make up the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. If starting from The Dalles, they’re 146 miles and a tad less than 3 hours of nonstop driving, 

Carroll Rim Trail is the pinnacle of the Painted Hills’ five trails.

While The Painted Hills are realtively remote, there trails once you do arrive are almost ridiculously accessible.They’re realtively short and mostly wheelchair accessible. Carroll Hills, the 3.6 mile ridge trail is a bit of an exception. It took me a little less than an hour to complete, due in large part for the need to stop and gawk and at the view and marvel at the dragonflies buzzzing past.

Oveerlook trail as seen from Carrol Rim Summit

From vibrant reds, glowing golds, chalky whites and non-vegitative greens The Painted Hills is a place where Mother Nature tells colorful story of the area’s geological history. Colors shift with the light. Crenolated hilsides conjure up images of other-worldy animals in repose.

Perfectly situated bench on Carroll Rim trail.

As I watched the view below me shift as the sun dipped behind the ridge, I knew I’d missed my opportunity to capture the first breathtaking set of hills at the park’s entrance. That just means I need to return, though it will be tough to beat the perfect fall weather we experienced this trip.

The only flowers we saw in bloom in the fall here.

Two additional posts are coming on this trip: one on the town we stayed in, and another on the towns we went through along the way.

Dusk glow on the hills just west of Painted Hills.

In an era where travel halfway around the world can often lead to a generic experience that makes you wonder why you bothered to leave home, it’s refreshing to enjoy unique travel in our own backyard.

What are the other beaver state’s remaining six wonders? We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out!

Location Location

Home base is The Dalles, Oregon though I still view my surroundings through the lens of a world traveler.