Every now and then we have days that
completely take us by surprise.
Yesterday and today were two of those days. Our destination was the John Day Fossil Beds
National Monument in eastern Oregon. It
sounded like an interesting place, but I really had no expectations about what we
might see. What we saw, both at the park
and on our way to the park, completely blew us away. The park was fascinating, and the drive was
gorgeous. In fact, Tim decided that this
drive was one of his favorites of the trip.
I am now convinced that the central
part of eastern Oregon is a hidden secret.
I knew very little about it, and it’s barely mentioned in most
literature about the state. Imagine our
surprise when we drove east on Highway 26 and encountered spectacular
scenery. Beautiful hills, green valleys and
dramatic rock formations were just a few of the sights that kept our eyes glued
to the sides of the road. The portion of
Highway 26 that we drove is not listed as a scenic byway, but it should
be. The fact that we encountered very
few cars on the road made the drive even more pleasant.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument contains
one of the richest and most varied fossil beds in the world and encompasses one
of the longest and most continuous records of evolutionary change. The fossils here are extraordinarily well
The museum at the Thomas Condon Paleontology
Center presents the story of the fossils in a way that the average person can
understand. The specimens on display are
presented as parts of eight ancient ecosystems, or assemblages. Although the fossils of mammals were cool, my
favorites were the plants, perhaps because you can actually see an entire leaf
or frond preserved in rock and not have to image what an animal might have
looked like. A picture window into the laboratory
at the center allowed us to watch scientists at work. Fossils are still being unearthed through
partnerships with researchers and other institutions.
|Tim Enjoyed the Exhibits at the Fossil Museum Gallery|
|Fossils of Plants Are Cool|
|Fossils of Mammals Are Also Cool|
|We Watched Scientists at Work in the Laboratory|
Even if no fossils had been discovered at
John Day, the landscape alone would be worth a visit. The park is broken into three geographic units,
and each one has unique attributes. Painted
Hills is the most dramatic, with a landscape colored with deep crimson and gold. It’s almost as if a watercolor artist had
taken a brush to the hills. We were
there in the middle of the day, and I can only imagine what it must look like
in late afternoon sun.
|The Painted Hills Unit Is Spectacular|
|The Colors Hardly Seem Real|
|What a Beautiful Sight!|
|Imagine the Colors at Sunset!|
The drive between the Painted Hills and
Sheep Rock units was just as spectacular, with more colorful rocks and interesting
geological features. The rock formations
at Sheep Rock were spectacular including Cathedral Rock and Sheep Rock peak,
which has become an icon for North American paleontology.
|The Drive to Sheep Rock Along the John Day River|
|Sculpted Green Capstone|
Clarno unit is known for its towering Palisades.
Here we hiked among the cliffs and saw
leaf fossils up close. This is the only
trail in the park where you can readily see fossils in the rocks.
|Fossils Along the Trail|
John Day is one of the “greenest” parks
we’ve been to, and the use of renewable energy, including solar and wind, is a
high priority. The park also interprets evolution
and climate change, which is not typically presented at most parks. How could you talk about fossils that range in
age from six to fifty-four million years without interpreting these themes? It’s what this park is all about.
|James Cant Ranch - The Park Even Interprets Its Cultural History|
When we left the Sheep Rock unit of
John Day, we did follow one of Oregon’s scenic byways. The aptly named Journey Through Time Scenic
Byway winds through much of north central Oregon, and a long section parallels
the John Day River. The John Day Wild
and Scenic River is North America’s second longest undammed river, but we
mostly saw the scenic part. This drive equaled
yesterday’s drive in dramatic scenery, and it only made me want to return to eastern
Oregon to see what else this region has to offer.
Spectacular! When I first saw the Painted Hills photo I thought it was a painting! I have never heard of this park. It certainly is a hidden gem. LVReplyDelete
LV, The park was spectacular, and the photographs don't even capture the amazing colors. It's always fun to find hidden gems. SarahDelete
What beautiful scenery . That does se like a beautiful part of the country.ReplyDelete
Eastern Oregon is a beautiful part of the country. It may not be quite as scenic when the green fields turn to brown, but the geology would still be incredible. SarahDelete