Abstract The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit has discovered surprisingly high concentrations of amorphous silica in soil and nodular outcrops in the Inner Basin of the Columbia Hills. In Pancam multispectral observations, we find that an absorption feature at the longest Pancam wavelength (1009 nm) appears to be characteristic of these silica-rich materials; however, spectral analyses of amorphous silica suggest that the ∼1009 nm spectral feature is not a direct reflection of their silica-rich nature. Based on comparisons with spectral databases, we hypothesize that the presence of H 2O or OH, either free (as water ice), adsorbed or bound in a mineral structure, is responsible for the spectral feature observed by Pancam. The Gertrude Weise soil, which is nearly pure opaline silica, may have adsorbed water cold-trapped on mineral grains. The origin of the ∼1009 nm Pancam feature observed in the silica-rich nodular outcrops may result from the presence of additional hydrated minerals (specific sulfates, halides, chlorides, sodium silicates, carbonates or borates). Using the ∼1009 nm feature with other spectral parameters as a “hydration signature” we have mapped the occurrence of hydrated materials along the extent of Spirit’s traverse across the Columbia Hills from West Spur to Home Plate (sols 155–1696). We have also mapped this hydration signature across large panoramic images to understand the regional distribution of materials that are spectrally similar to the silica-rich soil and nodular outcrops. Our results suggest that hydrated materials are common in the Columbia Hills.