After a very pleasant night in Memaloose, we headed further south for our next stop. This was The Cove Palisades near Madras, which was to be our base for a day trip to the Painted Hills.
The camp site at Cove Palisades was a little tucked away over the river. The geology was imposing along the road, but the site was comfortable if a little dusty. There were huge boulders strewn around which were a stark reminder of the potential fluidity of the apparently solid landscape.
Just before dusk, Mrs E and I took the short but steep hike up the cliff to the tabletop plateau behind us. There was a circular hike around its perimeter, but night was already falling as we reached it, and we decided to descend just as the sun was setting over Mt Adams.
From the top of the plateau there were extensive views back over “The Island”. This is closed to public and only a few researchers are allowed to visit its steep sides. As we walked a little around the perimeter path, we could look down the steep cliff to our campsite below.
As we headed back for the hike back down, we were treated to a wonderful sunset over the gorge towards Mt Adams. If you look carefully you can see the mountain in the shade of the sunset.
This site was to be our jumping off spot to visit The Painted Hills, and the next day we headed off to the famous park. It took a lot longer to get there than anticipated, but the drive was pleasant and the time passed quickly. The entrance to the park was almost missed and a few miles down a quiet track led us to a very low-key Painted Hills. The landscape was unearthly and stunningly beautiful. After a short break for lunch, we checked the park map and headed off for the first of the sites at Red Scar Knoll.
The car-park was near a small white hill that was distinct from the surrounding reds and yellows. According to the signage, this was due to a “cataclysmic” eruption spewing sup-heated volcanic ash and gas over the landscape. All of 39 million years ago.
The main site at this particular stop though was the so-called Red Hill. This was one of many gentle piles of red or ochre rock. On closer inspection the hills were actually a kind of hard clay. The term popcorn rock is used. As the rains come, the rock actually absorbs moisture and expands. As the rock dries out, it shrinks back and has an appearance of a very large pile of coloured popcorn. We’d seen similar rock in the Badlands of Alberta near Drumheller. Despite many signs asking people to keep off the slopes there were several tracks. It was comforting to know that their marring of the landscape would only last until the next rains.
Despite the generally dry environment, the place was not without its life. We found a prickly pear cactus that someone had tried to shield from careless feet by building a small wall with pebbles.
As we returned to the car, a small movement caught my eye and I was delighted to see a small lizard scampering on a log. His instinct to freeze and hope we weren’t hungry allowed me the time to get him in focus.
From this angle, we saw the red hill in contrast to other layers of sandy soil, and started to get a real sense of the colourful landscape and the surprise views one could achieve just by moving a few metres one way or another.
We got back in the car and headed back to the next stop which was an exposed fossil bed known as Leaf Hill Trail. There were stern warnings not to disturb the fossils which were mainly leaves and were helping scientists understand the landscape that had been obliterated by the volcano 39 million years ago.
The slight rise in the landscape gave stunning views over the park and the sweeping vistas of colour.
The next stop on the tour back towards the entrance took us on a spur road to an area of the park that was featured in a brochure we’d seen. This was Painted Cove Trail. Here, the rock had been protected by the use of a boardwalk to keep the public off the delicate rock. It hadn’t entirely worked, but there were few footmarks on the delicate surface.
By now we were in sensory overload from all the spectacular scenery, but the best was yet to come. The final stop gave us the most spectacular views of all at Painted Hills Overlook Trail.
We decided the day was wearing on and we opted not to attempt the final trail up the Carroll Rim Trail. Maybe next time…
On the way back out of the park we made one more photo stop to capture the spectacular scenery right next to the road.
By now we were ready for tea and we headed back north to the Cove Palisades and bed.