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Priest Hole and Painted Hills - a magical, marvelous find

Note: this is from early fall 2021

A - Part of our September trip to Oregon was to see part of the John Day Fossil Beds, in particular the Painted Hills unit. In looking for a place to camp I stumbled upon the boondocking sites at Priest Hole on the John Day River. Thanks to the citizen reviewers at we had a good idea of way in and whether we could make it. Our 30 foot trailer did make it but it has a high clearance- I’d check the road first for anything regular. It was 6 miles of paved road past the Painted Hills unit, another stretch of gravel then another stretch of twisty turny dirt but just look what we were rewarded with! It was so unearthly in the late afternoon sun I felt like we were in a Disney movie and any minute birds would start talking to me! It’s BLM land so we found a spot right on the gravel bar and let the dogs swim and explore. There was a tent camper up on the bluff and a fifth wheel down the bar but that was it. Later a few van campers and some kids in tents showed up yet there was still room to spread out and feel alone.

RH - Priest Hole was glorious as the reviews said. It was definitely an off road adventure getting there including walking down the dirt road at the end before I was comfortable pulling onto the gravel bar. Clear water, beautiful scenery and stars at night. Low temp was 52 with a high of 78.

A- I set up my easel out in the middle of the river on a bar and captured an impression while Jim and the dogs roamed. It was so peaceful! The next morning I painted the river looking the other way as the dogs followed Jim into the hills to explore and look for rocks. Other campers took their fly fishing rods out. Fun fact: John Day (the town and river) are

named for a fur trader who got robbed of everything including clothes in the 1800s and wandered lost until fellow traders found him. The story was apparently clickbait of the era so the area he was robbed was always pointed out…..but he never actually was in John Day the town or anywhere near the fossil units, just the river. There was another with him but apparently only Day’s name got attached. In the area is also the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day. The museum itself is worth a visit - a fascinating history of some incredible people - and if you are able they do tours of the preserved store and office. With the dogs we weren’t able to but the museum itself will give you lots of info and artifacts.

Above is a photo out of our dining window- I love having new and varied landscapes outside each week! One of the definite benefits of RV living.

On the left is a photo showing my setup the morning we left. That painting captured the colors well but got so wet I’m not happy with the finish yet. This is the one I did the night before from the sandbar:

The dogs loved it here- water and hills and dirt! In the morning they followed Jim on his bicycle off to explore the geology and find rocks.

RH - I hadn’t slept well due to worrying about whether I’d be able to pull the trailer out. No worries, I woke up, hopped on my bike, took the dogs for a ride and eased my mind that I would be able to get back up the ravine. We had a blast - oh, and I found a fossil in the hills.

A - Later we packed up and went to see the painted hills. While interesting, we found we were spoiled and it was not nearly the thrill the Priest Hole area had been.

The dogs were not fans of Painted Hills either as it was strictly leashes but they are always up for a good walk.

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