John Day: Painted Hills

June 27, 2008.

Today began an epic adventure, the first I’ve had in a long time. First, I’ll rewind the story a bit to provide some background, then dive into the events of the day. In March of this year I ruptured my left ACL while skiing with my friend Kristi at Mt. Hood. Of course, I wasn’t doing anything foolish, it was simply an accident. Since then I had worked hard to rehabilitate the muscles surrounding my knee, and had to take a break from the skiing, climbing, and hiking that I loved so much. It was a harsh winter and spring, battling a leg that didn’t want to work anymore, and staying home reading when everyone else was exploring this beautiful state. Pure agony.

Then about three weeks ago I had surgery to replace the nonfunctional ACL with a piece of my patellar tendon. This required lots of post-surgical rest and care, including home physical therapy on the hour, icing and elevation, and several visits to the chiropractor and physical therapist. I beefed up my Netflix account so I had something to do in all that down time and gazed longingly out the window at the blue sky and flowers that ached for me to join them. Slowly I regained the ability to walk without crutches and built up my strength to spend more time up and about.

Flash forward to a few days ago when who else but Kristi invited me to disappear into the desert for 5 days with her and 14 of her school buddies. I gladly signed up for this trip. I knew I would have to take it easy but from the description of the trip that is what it would be all about anyways–lots of driving, taking short hikes, seeing the sights, and camping every night. It was a perfect fit for my state of being.

So early this afternoon, Kristi and I picked up her friend Greg and away we went. We drove from Portland to Prineville and then to the Painted Hills unit of John Day National Monument. By the time we arrived it was getting late. The sun was fairly low in the sky, but the colors of the hills shone brightly. This place reminded me of somewhere I’d been, maybe the Badlands in South Dakota. The red and yellow colored hills arched gracefully above the flat grasslands surrounding them.

The crackly surface of the ancient hills was uninterrupted by vegetation or footprints. The visitors to this park are particularly good at heeding signs that prohibit walking on the hills. Even the wild animals seem to take the warnings to heart. A serpentine boardwalk allows you to wander through the hills without disturbing them. I plodded slowly along this nice, smooth surface while admiring the landscape. Looping around the backside of the trail I spied a large reservoir way off in the distance. On this hot, dry day the water looked very inviting. This particular feeling would be nearly continuous over the next seven days.

The driving-to-sightseeing ratio today was, well, I don’t want to talk about it. Tomorrow promised to give more bang for the buck. Tonight we set up camp at Barnhouse Camp in the Ochoco National Forest. At 5100 feet of elevation, it was a cool escape from the intense heat Eastern Oregon has to offer. We slept under a clear sky in a lovely evergreen forest with few neighbors to speak of. Not bad.

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