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Sunday, November 16, 2014

October 29 ~ The Painted Hills

Mitchell, Oregon would be our home base for a couple of days as we explored the other regions of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I couldn't believe it when we woke up on the morning of the 29th to sunshine! The forecast before our trip was for lots of rain, and even a chance of a frozen mix - so this was a very pleasant surprise! It was a perfect day for exploring the Painted Hills unit, because the sunshine made the colors that much more impressive.

The incredible geology of the region results from an amazingly complex history. From former ocean floor to former tropical forests, with volcanic ash falls and lava flows, and millions of years of erosion, I honestly couldn't keep all the rock layers straight. I know the amazing reds and yellows of the painted hills are from an era where the climate was much warmer, about 35 million years ago, when exotic creatures like camels, rhinoceroses, and small prehistoric horses roamed the area.

It wasn't a very birdy area, with the exception of lots of robins and a few Townsend's solitaires (193) feeding on the abundance of juniper berries. Bordering the Painted Hills unit is a large proposed wilderness area, too, and we explored a few miles of those dirt roads, and found a single immature golden eagle (194).

There were also lots of Columbia black-tailed deer around. These deer, a sub-species of the mule deer, are supposedly the same species we have in the San Juan Islands, but there must be multiple sub-species, because these guys were much larger than our deer on the island! Their ears were also much larger, more characteristic of what I think of as mule deer.

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