My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Friday, July 13, 2012

Exploring the Painted Hills

One of the three sections of the John Day Fossil  Beds National Monument is the Painted Hills Unit.  It is west of the Sheep Rock Unit on Highway 26. I had heard that the place was really fantastic and best seen at sunset, so, after visiting the Sheep Rock Unit, I stopped for a quick look on the way to my campsite. I was blown away by the colors and patterns there, even in the harsh mid-afternoon light so I hurried to get my camp set up and eat an early supper before rushing back.

This is a relatively small area, only 3,132 acres but it is where most of the fossils of early horses, rhinoceroses and camels come from. There is only a small visitor center, which I didn't visit plus restrooms and water here.

But I was pretty speechless as I wandered from one awesome view to another.

Below is a view of part of the accessible Leaf Trail, named for the the thousands of leaf fossils found here in the 1920's and 1990's. Interpretative signs say that the red hills are bentonite clay, formed from volcanic ash from the Yellowstone Fault (which was located under this part of the world millions of years ago) and then weathering.  The colors change both with the amount of light on them and the amount of water they are holding. When dry, they look like this - up close like a bowl of popcorn - but when wet, they get shiny and change colors. 

Very few plants can grow in this heavy, dry clay. But apparently in April, some of the seams support a few wildflowers. This would be a great place to visit in April and early May.

As of today, July 13, we are very concerned about a wildfire which may, by now be on our land.  It started on July 8th, from a lightning strike, on rugged BLM land ,in the first hot spell we have had. Temperatures in the 90's, very low humidity and  and winds blowing out of different directions, as well as the remoteness of the area have made controlling it nearly impossible. During last night, the residents that live around Harney Lake were told to evacuate. Malheur Refuge owns the area under and just around Hanrey Lake and Double O Ranch is one of the places at risk. 

Yesterday, the electricity was cut off for several hours so the electric crews could burn and clear the areas under the power lines.  This affected  us and people all the way into north Nevada. If the fire burns down any part of the lines, we will be out of electricity until the lines can be rebuilt. The headquarters, where I live, is not at risk, except for lost of electricity.