A VIEW OF ONE PORTION OF "THE PALISADES" LITERALLY FROM THE PARKING AREA.
This week I would like to finish up my survey of our recent trip to the John Day National Monument in Central Oregon. We'll concentrate on the least visited part of the park, the "Clarno Unit", which even the park guide characterizes as in "the middle of nowhere." It is easy to see why this area is frequently overlooked, since it is close to two hours away from the Painted Hills. Despite its obscurity, we found a trip to the site rewarding, as long as you carefully plan your visit.
THESE ROCKS FELL SOMETIME IN THE LAST FEW MILLION YEARS
I recommend a visit on the way to the rest of the park from Portland. It will not seem so far out of the way as a stop on the way to the main portions of the park, and can be a very nice stop on a day's drive from Portland, about four hours from the city. After an hour or two exploring, another two hours will get you to Mitchell's collection of places to stay near the Painted Hills. We stopped here on the way back home, which set up a very long drive with almost no reasonable stops all the way back to Portland. If you choose to stay in Fossil instead of Mitchell you could make this a day trip, since it's only 18 miles to Fossil.
DETAIL OF ROCKS ON THE RIGHT PORTION OF PANORAMA BELOW.
The highlight of this area is the mile-long outcropping along a cliff edge known as "The Palisades", which could be the remains of a credible castle if that castle was a mud flow 30-40 million years old. The only way to really appreciate the extent of the ridge is from an aerial image, since the outcropping is curved and extends pretty far from the parking area/picnic shelter that is the only real evidence of the park's existence, beyond some signs and three short trails. These trails lead up to the cliff face where you can get a closer view of the cliffs and appreciate their size in a different way than the overall panoramic view from the start of the trail. The choice is similar to the view from court side or the cheap seats in the Rose Garden. There is absolutely no shade, with only a few trees near the cliff as a testament to nature's refusal to admit that the high Desert can sustain anything but sagebrush.
2:1 PANORAMA OF JUST ONE PORTION OF THE PALISADES
The Palisades need to be loved for their towers, since they lack the colors of the Painted Hills further down the road. My solution was to concentrate on several sections of the ridge, striving for larger details, before I accepted the challenge of stitching together panoramic views. Upon seeing aerial views after the fact, I now realize that the curve of the cliff introduces distortion that precludes a panoramic view of the entire Palisades. Stitching will simulate a wider view of the cliff, but since you can't see the whole thing even when you are there, it's pretty hard for your camera to capture it all.
MONOCHROME RENDITIONS EMPHASIZE DETAIL AND TEXTURES. WE INSTANTLY ACCEPT THESE VERY ABSTRACT IMAGES AS REALISTIC.
The lack of color allows for exploration in black and white, which can seem close to perverse at the Painted Hills. As usual black and white can allow for more contrast, sharpening, and vignetting that would seem unrealistic in a color image. The white skies are very evocative of early Western imagery when film was not responsive to blue skies. Since the desert rocks are much darker than the skies, it is pretty hard to darken the skies without completely reversing the expected dark/light relationships of the natural world. These geologic vistas are other worldly as it is.
ANOTHER PORTION OF THE PAISADES
In my visit to this area it was very hard to deal with geological time as opposed to the human concept of time. You are looking at millions of years of mud flows that occurred amid vastly different climates in the same place. Then consider that millions of years of erosion by wind and very occasional rain sculpted these mud flows into what humans could ponder for just 10,000 years or so. One of the few signs on the portion of the trail that we traversed put it succinctly - "every few feet you walk toward the Palisades constitutes the passage of a million years." The photographs you can take at these sites, depending on how you process them, could have been captured at any time during the history of the photographic medium. It's not very hard to capture an image that would be very similar to the first wet glass plate taken during the first photographic survey of these "Wonders of the West" in the late Nineteenth Century.
NINETEENTH CENTURY VIEW, AVAILABLE TODAY!
We really enjoyed the entire John Day National Monument experience. Upon further research, I realized that the up close and personal views I had remembered at the Painted Hills were from the Painted Cove Trail a few miles beyond the "OH MY GOD" viewpoints we concentrated on this trip. I really recommend visiting this trail. The other must is a visit to Dayville, a hamlet east of Mitchell that makes Mitchell look like Paris. But a visit is required to the lone cafe, which serves a credible lunch which is concluded with a world-class collection of pies that will prompt a return trip. Do not miss this dessert in the High Desert.
YOU CAN'T HEAR THE WARNING ON THE TRAIL, BUT I CERTAINLY DID. RIGHT OF WAY GOES TO RATTLESNAKES.
A few last words on photographing this area. When you are so off the grid it is tempting to just try to get the "money shot" that you've already seen on Instagram. The only trouble is that you have already seen it. Enjoy your visit, certainly take it, but really try to find your take on the experience, which would ensure a memory unavailable on Instagram.
MERE PERVERSITY, OR MY IDIOSYNCRATIC INTERPRETATION? THE PAINTED HILLS IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE.