8 of the Most Colorful 'Painted' Hillsides in the World

Red cliffs in the setting sun
Photo: InSapphoWeTrust [CC by SA-2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

Earth's geology isn't just responsible for shaping the world, it also plays a part in coloring it. Through forces like plate tectonics, erosion and the weathering of time, the varied colors of the planet's strata wash together to paint some extraordinary landscapes.

Here's our list of the most spectacular — and entirely natural — painted hillsides in the world.

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Zhangye Danxia Landform, China


No need to adjust your screen; this amazing technicolor landscape is real. The Zhangye Danxia Landform in Gansu, China was first formed as a result of red sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down over 24 million years ago. Typically referred to as 'The Rainbow Mountains,' the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

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Painted Hills, Oregon


Part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Wheeler County, Oregon, the Painted Hills are a kaleidoscopic terrain named after the colorful layers of its hills, which formed when the area was an ancient river floodplain. The striking blood-red layers are due to bands of laterite, or soil types that are rich in iron and aluminum.

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Painted Desert, Arizona

David P. Smith/Shutterstock.

This vibrant polychromatic desert located in Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale from the Triassic Chinle Formation. Its colors range from lavenders to shades of gray with vibrant colors of red, orange and even pink.

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Multicolored Mountains of Landmannalaugar

Maria Uspenskaya/Shutterstock.

Among Iceland's breathtaking highlands, the Landmannalaugar region boasts some of the most surreal multicolored mountains in the world. Their wide spectrum of colors include intense pinks, browns, greens, yellows, blues, purples, blacks and whites. The mountains are composed of rhyolite, an igneous volcanic rock.

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Zion National Park

John Fowler/Wiki Commons.

The many-hued formations of the canyons and hillsides of Utah's Zion National Park are some of the most dazzling examples of geological artistry in the world. Carved out of Navajo Sandstone, a formation that spreads throughout the U.S. Southwest, Zion's tannish and red-colored layers highlight the landscape. The park's many mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers and natural arches make it one of nature's most heavenly creations.

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Painted Dunes, Lassen National Park


These colorful dunes, formed out of oxidized volcanic ash layers, are one of the highlights of Lassen National Park in Northern California. They lie in the shadow of Cinder Cone, an aptly named cinder cone volcano that was formed during two eruptions that occurred in the 1650s. The red and orange hues of the dunes are strikingly contrasted by the black volcanic sands.

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Painted Desert, South Australia


Arizona isn't the only place in the world where you'll find a spectacularly painted desert. Deep in the heart of the Australian backcountry is this psychedelic landscape. Dusted by residue from an ancient inland sea and brushed by leached minerals, the rainbowed desert is about 80 million years in the making.

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Red Rocks, Sedona, Ariz.

Geoff Livingston/Flickr.

Majestic red sandstone formations rise out of the desert in spectacular Sedona, Ariz., and appear to glow in orange and red during sunrise and sunset. The formations are so mesmerizing that New Age spiritualists flock here, drawn by the region's supposed "vortices," areas of "harmonic convergence" that the red rocks are said to manifest.