The Halfway Point

A personal connection to public lands

Dennis Hanson

By Zavier Borja, Latino Outdoor Engagement Coordinator for Children’s Forest of Central Oregon

The Painted Hills of eastern Oregon are one of the seven wonders that we have here in Oregon. 

Beyond the fact that it is a breathtaking geological structure out in what feels like the middle of nowhere,  I also hold this place closely to my heart because it is  the “halfway” point to my Abuelito y Abuelita’s house. 

My grandparents live in Kimberly, Oregon, an hour and a half past the Painted Hills. I have probably been to my grandparents house hundreds of times, meaning, I’ve driven past the Painted Hills the same amount of times, before going myself. Growing up, my parents never took us there. Not because they didn’t want us to go, but because it was just something we didn’t do.

Now that I am older, I have been exploring more places, especially since I can drive myself places (lol) and as I gain more exposure to the recreational aspect of these places. I have made it a habit now, that every time I visit my grandparents, I make time to stop by the Painted Hills. 




Bitteroot blooms on north-facing cliffs in western North America.

The Paiute name for bitteroot is kangedya. Traditional Native American uses of the plant included eating the roots, mixed with berries and meat, and using the roots to treat sore throats.



Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

“If I have to pick a favorite place in Oregon’s high desert, it would be Sutton Mountain, but I’m excited about all of the Wilderness Study Areas,” says Terry, adding, “Each is a gem to explore, and I hope they all get protection someday… I love the scale of the physical beauty of the desert.”


Western Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake

Also known as the Great Basin Rattlesnake, these pit vipers have buff-tan coloring and small, oval blotches to blend into their arid surroundings. Small heat-sensing indentations on each side of the snake’s snout detects warm-blooded prey for better striking accuracy in the dark. Source: The Oregon Encyclopedia

Latin name: Crotalus oreganus lutosus

Connecting to Public Lands

For Zavi Borja, outdoor places become special through the way they remind him of people he cares for.

Zavi Borja

This year, due to COVID, I have only been able to visit my Abuelito y Abuelita once. It makes me a bit sad to not have seen the Painted Hills much this year, but, even more so, that I have seen so little of my grandparents. I am super thankful to still have them alive, but I know that will not always be the case. As long as I have a reason to go to Kimberly, I will continue my tradition of stopping at the Painted Hills.

For me, the outdoors and places in general are special because they remind me of something or someone. The Painted Hills remind me of my grandparents. My sense of connection to these places is built on my sense of connection to people I love. 

As I mentioned earlier, traveling to places like the Painted Hills was just something we never did, but once I made the stop, it was easy for me to care deeply about this and other spaces. I mention this only as a way to hopefully inspire people to think differently and creatively as we try to expose more people to the outdoors, especially folks in marginalized communities.

When we engage with communities at a human level and listen, we can connect their experiences with public lands to the need to conserve these places in a relatable way. As we foster that connection, we then have all people who care about the outdoors continually advocating on behalf of places, such as the Painted Hills, in a positive way.