Clarno is located further north, and was a bit out of my way, so I decided to skip it. The park's proper name is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, due to the abundant fossils that have been found in the area, and that is the main draw of the Clarno Unit. So if you're into fossils, definitely go to Clarno! There are also fossils on display at the visitor's center at the Sheep Rock unit, but alas I got there too late in the day, and they were closed. So no fossils in this post, but there's still plenty to see!
Let's get a closer look, shall we?
I'm glad you asked. The matter that makes up the hills comes from volcanic ash. You see, about 36 million years ago, the Cascades were a brand new mountain range, and just like your little toddler, they were full of volcanic activity. The ash from these numerous eruptions settled in the lower-lying basin in what is now central Oregon. Many different eruptions from many different volcanoes, coupled with differing climatic conditions, led to many different sorts of volcanic ash, each with its own geochemical composition. Each of these unique combinations of chemical elements present in each different layer of ash that settled over the area led to a different color, and thus the striped hills of John Day National Monument were born.
So, basically, each different color comes from a different type of volcanic ash?
Exactly. And these different types of ash piled on top of one another, creating a striped effect.
Got it. Enough science, show me more pretty pictures.
Okay. I've been saving the best for, er, now.
Continuing along the road, you'll eventually come to the Painted Cove Trail, which is easily the most spectacular area of the park. This trail winds around and between several colored hills, letting you get right up next to them.
Like the Painted Hills, this too was formed from volcanic ash. If any of you are science nerds, you might suspect that the blue color comes from the presence of copper in them thar hills, but you would be incorrect. A complex assortment of at least 11 other elements forms the blue color. There is no striped effect here because succeeding layers of ash all had a similar chemical makeup.
The beautiful shapes are caused by water erosion, making it kind of like a miniature canyon.
Anyway, enough science. On with the pretty pictures!