MITCHELL, Ore. - Sixty miles east of Prineville, a picturesque piece of history sits right in our own backyard.
More than 3,000 acres of ancient ash, layers of color indicating the passage of time and changing climates that make up the Painted Hills.
"The colors are in constant change -- not only the time of day, but the time of year, weather conditions, whether they are wet, whether they have snow on them -- it's in constant change," said Ranger Scott Ritner.
On a hot, dry day in the dead of summer, the colors are a bit lighter -- but if it's wetter, the colors turn darker, making it a different experience every time you visit.
Some 30 million years ago, water flowed through the John Day River basin, and over time uncovered thousands of fossils and what we now call the Painted Hills.
It's a visitor's dream and a photographer's paradise -- especially in mid-May, when the yellow bee flower blooms right on the hills.
"It's about a two-week period where I get a flood of phone calls from photographers saying, 'Are the flowers out yet?'" Ritner said.
You won't want to forget that camera. Miles of hiking trails will take you around the hills for a close-up view -- a piece of Mother Nature so close to home, captivating visitors far from home.
"We've seen Painted Hills before, but I didn't expect to see them actually in Oregon," said Mal Knott, visiting from Australia. "I've seen them in places like Arizona that are renowned for colorful hills, but Oregon -- it's very special."
It's not easy to describe them in words, and video hardly does them justice.
The Painted Hills simply need to be experienced.
"It's worth loading up the car, taking a couple days -- and don't forget the camera -- and come out here and experience it for yourself. We are only a tank away," Ritner said.
The closest town to the Painted Hills is Mitchell, which is hosting its 17th annual Painted Hills Festival on Saturday, Sept. 1. There's races, a parade, games, quilt show and a dance. For more information, visit www.mitchelloregon.us.
And for more about the awesome beauty of the Painted Hills, visit their National Park Service Website at http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/painted_hills_unit.htm