Who doesn’t like a good road trip? The wind in your hair, the open road, gas at close to $5 / gallon. Ok, the last part is no good. We decided to head to the Painted Hills with a tent and no plan.
First, the open road – a 2 hour drive to Mitchell (83 miles NE of Bend). Once arriving, our first stop was the General Store. Walking in the front door, we were greeted by two local ladies behind the counter. When we asked about camping, their reply was “oh, you can just throw up a tent across the street in the park. It’s free, and you can camp there for 3 days.”
Bonus. Free camping. With a slide, swings, and teeter totter.
We found out from the ladies that Mitchell is about population 160. Everyone knows everyone. When we left Bend, someone told us – “oh, you need to stop by and see the guy who runs the little store up there…”he always has his gun on him,” they said. The ladies knew of him, but as it turns out he died about 10 years ago.
So after taking in all of Mitchell’s “business district” (as the sign designates it) – we headed up to the Painted Hills. They’re beautiful, colorful, and unlike anything I’d ever seen – an attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. From Wikipedia:
Painted Hills is named after the colorful layers of its hills corresponding to various geological eras, formed when the area was an ancient river floodplain. The black soil is lignite that was vegetative matter that grew along the floodplain. The grey coloring is mudstone, siltstone, and shale. The red coloring is laterite soil that formed by floodplain deposits when the area was warm and humid. An abundance of fossil remains of early horses, camels, and rhinoceroses in the Painted Hills unit makes the area particularly important to vertebrate paleontologists.
We headed back into town and found the Little Pine Cafe, which the ladies had told us was the only place in town to grab dinner. We pulled up a chair and ordered. As we were eating, the place began to fill up to the point where there were no open tables. By the door, a couple of musicians were setting up. Before we knew it, we were enjoying live music.
As we sat at our table, a Mithell local came by and we struck up a conversation. She had grown up in Mitchell, left for college and traveling, but ended up back home. Soon enough, some of her family and friends joined our table, and it turned into a party. With their help, we closed the place down (at about 9pm). In probably less than 100 steps we were across the street to our park, where we set up our tent and called it a night. The only ones who bothered us were deer roaming the park.
Sunday morning we found the Bridge Creek Cafe. As we ate we talked to the owner a while. He told us business has slowed quite a bit with the economy downturn. But with hunting season – we saw a steady stream of camouflage come and go through the door. They had a guest book for all of the cyclists that pass through, which was a very entertaining read.
So Mitchell, Oregon. It’s a rural adventure right outside our back door. Rather than just passing through, make a night of it sometime – you might be pleasantly surprised.