Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Day Fossil Beds

Neither of us had ever been to this national monument, so we decided this was the time.  We headed for the town of John Day and parked the RV in the Elks Lodge parking lot for a few days.  They were very welcoming and even seemed surprised by our monetary donation.  We also ate in the lodge two nights.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Cycle Oregon was holding an event here.  It was part of a week-long cycling event.  At $895 a person, 2200 cyclists signed up for a 505 mile tour.  It originated in John Day on Saturday and Sunday's route was a loop around the Strawberry Mountains.   For their fee, pretty much everything was provided except the bikes - food, tents, entertainment, etc.  For the first two nights, they were bivouacked at the fairgrounds.  Since this was only a block away, we enjoyed their nightly musical entertainment.  According to our Oregon map, John Day has 1885 residents, so the cyclists and their 1000 support personnel were a real presence.

Now for the sad story.  The Elks thought to cash in on this bonanza by offering a pulled pork dinner on Saturday night.  I'm sorry to say that Ron and I were the only attendees.  I guess if one is paying $895, it makes sense to eat the provided food.  But I really felt bad for the Elks who went to so much trouble.

But enough of that.  As planned, we spent a day in John Day Fossil Beds NM.  The monument consists of three units with the Sheep Rock Unit being the closest at about 40 miles west of the town.  Entering the monument from the south, you pass through Picture Gorge with its layers of basalt.

Luckily the visitor center is in Sheep Rock Unit, so we stopped in briefly to get information and advice on which hikes to take.  Ron wanted to know where the fossils are and I wanted to know where the colorful rock is.  She recommended the Island in Time trail in the Blue Basin area.

Sure enough, we discovered fossils (under glass) along the trail, like this Nimravid, a cat-like animal.
I was pretty excited until I read that the fossils, although locked under a frame, are replicas.  Oh well.

But there was some nice colorful rock for me.

Even the puddles were green from the runoff.

Back in the car, we continued north past Cathedral Rock.

To our other recommended hike - the Flood of Fire trail.  This wasn't as cool as Island in Time, but still interesting.

These green formations were visible from the parking lot.

This formation along the side of the road was actually outside the monument.

Although we had only hiked a total of under 2 miles, we were ready to go back to the unbelievably elaborate visitor center called the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.  You know I love my national parks, but I don't need million dollar buildings to enjoy them.  But maybe I just want to look and not learn.  Ron does a much better job of perusing the displays and even remembering what he reads.  I'll just mention a couple of things I found interesting.  The fossils found here are from 44 to 7 million years ago, long after the dinosaurs disappeared.  The mammals and plants that are found here are able to be accurately dated because of the tuft, or layers of ash, surrounding them.  In some places, you can actually see the distinct and separate layers from volcanic ash deposited over millions of years.  Oh, and both the monument and town were named after the John Day River that runs through them.

Our next move was south on US 395 towards Burns and, ironically, the cyclists were going that route the same day we had planned it.  We decided to hold off a day so Ron wouldn't have to drive the RV through the bicycle obstacle course.


  1. Interesting to see the green rock formations, that is something I've never seen before.

    Good idea to hold off and not drive during that event, a bicycle and rider would make a lousy hood ornament on the RV. :cD

  2. That is sad about the Elks and their dinner. Hopefully they can freeze it and serve it again. I think it's sad that there are only replica's of the fossils. I could see putting the real thing under glass or plastic. Amazing looking rock formations.

  3. We were supposed to be having a fossil month ourselves but ended up in the U.P. instead. We were headed for Falls of the Ohio State Park where you can walk out onto the riverbed when it's dammed and see fossils in situ. Cool, right? Next year!

  4. What makes those rocks green? Very pretty! Good idea to let the bikes get a day ahead!