Our Painted Hills campsite was lovely, but we were definitely still in road trip mode: by 9AM, we were packed up and on the move. We went straight to the Visitor Center at the John Day Fossil Beds, where we watched their movie and learned about the fossils and geology and wandered through their very nice museum of fossils. Then we drove to one of the trail heads and took a short hike through some really incredible terrain.

A lot of the time, when I’m visiting somewhere new, I connect it to someplace I’ve seen before — oh, this is like Washington State only with shorter trees, or this reminds me of Louisiana or whatever. Even the Badlands, which is pretty unique terrain, made me think about B movies from the 1950s. This terrain, though, reminded me of absolutely nothing: I had never seen anything like it.

Hills at the John Day Fossil Beds
The light was again so bright that the photos just don’t do justice to the experience. But these hills are packed with fossils, one of the richest fossil beds in the world because of a series of volcanoes thousands of years ago.

another view from the trail, with blue sky, light fluffy clouds, hills, and green scrubby brush.
Another view from the trail.

By the time we finished our walk, it was close enough to lunchtime to justify eating, so I made us salads with mixed greens, cold salmon, and a fig vinaigrette. We ate at a parking lot picnic table — using cloth napkins, real silverware and my grandmother’s china, and drinking San Pellegrino sparkling water. It was delicious and also amusing to me: as I said to S, my idea of a picnic is on the pretentious side, I guess.

Mixed greens and salmon with a fig vinaigrette served on a picnic table with cloth napkins and china bowls.

After lunch, we started driving. We’d had no internet for extended periods, which meant our ideas of on-the-fly planning were turning into winging-it and hoping-for-the-best. When we reached the town of John Day, we paused, looked for a place to camp, and decided on Unity Lake State Park. That lasted until we got to Unity Lake, where it was cold and bleak and windy. Onward!

Our revised plan took us to Bully Creek Park Campground, a county park near Vale, Oregon. The reviews of the park weren’t terrific, but that mostly appeared to be because there’s so much arsenic in the water that the campground hosts have to warn you about it. Or — my personal speculation — locals are writing mean reviews in order to keep campers from visiting, because it was lovely. The host gave us a site on the water with a perfect view of the sunset, and an even better morning view of the many, many birds. It was our slowest morning to date, because we sat and bird-watched, then ate a second breakfast/brunch, and didn’t get on the road until after 11.

Serenity parked by the water
Our campsite at Bully Creek Park Campground