With many of my favorite images, there’s more to them than immediately meets the eye. And this image of the Painted Hills in Oregon is about more than just its graphic design. In fact, its graphic design illustrates the history of the hills.
The Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, an area of central Oregon where a large number of plant and animal fossils have been found. Even though the tallest of the hills here are a couple hundred feet high, for tens of thousands of years this whole scene was underwater.
The “paint” is a color-coded guide to the history of the hills. The gray was deposited by an ancient river that flowed over the land. The black is what remains of the first plants that took hold as the area became a floodplain. The red comes from its first soil.
Over time, that first patch of soil turned into a hill as the thrust of Earth’s plates folded the flat land. What was underwater was pushed higher and higher.
The Painted Hills are actually panoramic, stretching for some distance. I actually shot a panorama while waiting for the sun to set.
But as the sun inched toward the horizon, the hill that I was standing on began to cast its shadow on the Painted Hills.
The thrust of Earth’s plates folded the flat land into hills. One part of that shadow immediately caught my attention and I switched to a telephoto lens to isolate it against a much smaller section of the hills.
That shadow reminded me of ocean waves — a design that was especially appropriate given the area’s geologic past.
(Shadow on Painted Hills, Oregon, is featured in the Designed Environment exhibit at the G2 Gallery in Venice, Calif. The exhibit runs through Dec. 23, 2017. Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Our Land, which commemorates the centennial of the National Park Service. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram .)