Riding Oregon: Finding Painted Hills

Riding Oregon: Finding Painted Hills

I’ve been to both BMW MOA National Rallies previously held in Redmond, the first in 2001 and the second in 2010. I’ve also been to the National Rally in Salem, Oregon, in 2013. For the longest time, there was one scenic area in particular that has alluded me in all of my trips to Oregon.

In the late 2000s, there was a television program called “Aerial America,” which traveled the country and shot aerial videography of interesting and famous sites. I enjoyed watching that program back then because it reminded me of the places I’d been and seen while traveling by motorcycle.

When the Oregon episode premiered, it felt like a normal episode until they showed the Painted Hills. Now, when this program showed something cool, my paper maps would come out, and I would find the location being described so I could stop there the next time I was in that area. This time, my Rand McNally and the state highway maps were of no use. I couldn’t find the Painted Hills. Internet searches were no help, and, of course, maps showing satellite images were not either. But that didn’t stop me from looking, asking, and listening.

In 2013, I was riding through Oregon for the National Rally in Salem with a kid in the sidecar who was four years old at the time. We were taking my favorite travel route from east to west through Oregon, US 26.

You can pick up US 26 near Nyssa, Oregon, as you come in from Idaho, crossing the Snake River and passing a sugar beet sugar refinery. US 26 is my favorite way to travel across Oregon–good road, little to no traffic and fantastic scenery, not to mention coming across famous names like John Day, both the town and National Monument.

The kid and I were making good time after leaving Boise, Idaho, that morning along with his grandfather. It was midday when we pulled off in the town of Mitchell, Oregon, for lunch. I was checking out the back of the restaurant when I saw the public bulletin board while waiting in line. On the board was a rodeo announcement, but what caught my attention was the name of the rodeo: Painted Hills. Could it be?

As I was heading back to our table where I left the kid and his grandfather, I saw our waitress and asked about the Painted Hills Rodeo. She smiled and said the turnoff was only a few miles down the road towards Prineville, then a few more miles north, and that it was part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

I thought to myself of all the times I’d been on US 26 only to find I was that close! I told my father about it when I got back to the table. We checked the paper maps. Yep, no mention, and not even the National Monument was on the map. We agreed that if we saw signs, we’d go check it out.

Sure enough, a few miles outside of Mitchell we saw signs for the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument. We soon turned off the road and traveled a few miles north to see one of the most amazing landscapes to behold.

This is where I snapped one of my most prized photographs. We were at the observation pavilion looking at the Painted Hills when the kid stepped right up to the fence and sat on it. He didn’t even pose; the camera did the rest.

This June, we’ve got a day ride planned to bring you to Painted Hills. I believe it is a must-see site for a day ride or as you travel to or from the Rally.

We have many routes and rides planned for the MOA Rally–both on and off-road rides. I’m sure the Adventure riders have already spotted the nearby Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route. We’re planning day rides heading into that area, as well as the sites just off that path that the BDR Foundation recommends seeing. Our paved routes will take you to places and roads that you will want to visit the next time you visit Oregon, like the Painted Hills.

If our routes are of interest to you, be on the lookout for the route publications and notices on the MOA Rally website, Facebook group, and in the MOA Rally app.