Oregon, Sept 2016
Who doesn’t want to see Painted Hills, Oregon?
Naturally we did. Being that we were driving from Everett, WA at the time that meant we were going to make the most of a trip to the corner of Oregon. It is a beautiful state.
Waterfalls are always on our list to see. First up, Steelhead Falls. It took a long time to drive here but once we arrived it was amazing to stretch our legs. After grabbing a snack and camera stuff we hiked from the trail head down to the river, which is only half a mile, to where there was indeed a short water fall. Some people were jumping into the water but we just wanted some photos. This is on some of the must do/see lists for central Oregon. I can see why. We did bring towels and were prepared to get wet, but it was also September. No swimming for us. We did walk along the river for a while and sheepishly dip our toes. The walls of the canyon are also noteworthy, demonstrating the layers of time.
After departing from the falls, we were going straight for some volcanic history. If you want to skip the Volcanic stuff, then read ahead. If you like obsidian, then this part is for you. Arriving at Lava Butte, we took all the expected photos and read just about every sign. The view is spectacular, as is the geological history. You’ll be able to take a shuttle to the top of the Butte and enjoy the view of massive lava fields and the surrounding mountains.
Nearby are the High Desert Museum and Lava River Cave. Unfortunately for us, Lava River Cave was unavailable. We instead set our sights on Big Obsidian Flow. Parking at the trail head was easy and the hike is not long nor difficult. Along the way you’ll learn about how obsidian was used to make tools and the geological history of the area. Also, there is a large obsidian throne. Obligatory photos should be taken there.
Once you’re done with the ground level view, you’ll want to head up to the top of nearby Paulina Peak. Especially since this view towers over everything else. Driving to the top is really an adventure, but once you get there you can see in just about every direction. Some hiking may be required to look North West. It’s not far though. At the top there is a sign stating the elevation is 7,984 feet. Remember to bring a wind breaker for this.
About 2 hours away, we went to the highly recommended Tumalo Falls. It is not a far walk from the parking area to the top of the falls and you will easily spend an hour or so here. We stood at the first scenic area looking up the river to the falls taking photos and discussing the views before heading up to the top of the falls. Tumalo Falls has no bad side. It’s scenic and beautiful from the entire trail. Fair warning, if you’re afraid of heights, don’t look over the edge.
Our route took us to the Dee Write Observatory. The structure is made out of the stones that surround it and if you choose to climb up the stairs to enter the 1st level, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that each window contains a mesmerizing view of the nearby mountains. Each window has a plaque informing you of what it features. Of course, that isn’t were we stopped though. Not when you can take the stairs up to the top of the stone structure and see a perfect 360 degrees.
At the top you can see the entire lava field in the surrounding valley as well as many of the tall peaks all around you. A large Bronze plaque adorns the center of the roof and points out each peak, as well as how tall it is and how far it is. There were only minor clouds in the deep blue sky while we were there. Even with the wind and Autumn chill we thoroughly enjoyed the views.
Proximity dictates, that if you’re already here you should see Proxy falls. Both the upper and lower falls. Proxy Fall’s main waterfall features a 226 foot waterfall in a serene damp valley. You’ll hike down from the parking area and arrive at the bottom of the falls. At least if you follow the route we took. I went up the left side of the falls to view the mossy tiers of rock making up the face of the falls.
The upper falls are not as impressive in size. However, the pure black magic is worth seeing. As the water pours down the face of the hill, it creates a still barely flowing pool. Then the water disappears into the earth. There is no obvious flow to the water and it doesn’t appear to soak into the base of the pool nearly as fast as the water flows down the hill, but somehow it drains into the earth. Pure magic.
Checking off the falls from our list we had to turn back towards our main event. After logging a few hours behind the wheel, we camped just about 45 min or so from Painted Hills in the National Forest. This night lives in infamy for us. We still don’t have a clue what came to check out our tent, but something was upset with our choice of location. Whatever it was seemed like it was small and not life threatening. But angry none the less. In the morning, nothing was damaged or noticeably disturbed around the tent or truck.
Painted Hills really is a sight to behold. Staying on the trails, we walked every inch of the place and took a photo every step of the way. We also read each sign explaining the phenomena that creates the scenery. The hills tell their story very well. A lizard decided to join us for a bit, he didn’t have much to say.
Painted Hills completed our Oregon trip this time around. We of course would be back in the state numerous times. On a side note, don’t be afraid to air down. We blew a tire leaving the area on the gravel roads.