this story starts 5 million years ago . . .

I decide to visit the John Day Fossil Beds

There are three separate areas or 'units': Clarno, The Painted Hills, and The Sheep Rock unit.

Clarno has a very informative 1/4 mile interpretive walk from one parking/picnic area to another.  One way to look at this is that every step you take, you travel back 17,000 years! In addition to the massive red cliffs, signs along the way describe how the area was formed, as subtropical forest with small 3-toed horses and wetland vegetation gave way to this current, arid landscape.  Along the path you can see lots of leaf fossils preserved in the rock walls.

The Painted Hills unit has more, and longer, trails and overlooks of the area.  'Painted Hills' is an apt description!

For my money, the most spectacular area is Sheep Rock.  There is a visitors center (check the hours- the sequester has caused some cutbacks) which is also a paleontology museum.  Most amazing to me was the presence of a blue green layer of rock - really, it was mint green! I've never seen anything like it.  

Blue Basin has a short 1/4 mile trail into an amphitheater surrounded by blue cliffs; there is also a longer 3.5 mile walk around the rim - neither is suitable for dogs as there are frequent metal bridged areas that could cut feet.

Cathedral rock is another imposing feature seen from the highway (395) as you head north away from Sheep Rock.

The roads linking the 3 units and beyond are designated 'the Journey through time scenic byway' - and it more than lives up to its name.  Unfortunately, the roads are generally narrow, winding and slow - so its better to be a passenger than a driver - I was riveted on not driving off the road.

The day ends, not in geological 'long time', but in savoring the moment.

My day ends listening to a river and the birds who live near it.  So hard to grasp the long time when life is lived one short moment at a time.

Shelton Wayside Park, east of Fossil, OR


  1. I am loving seeing your travels through your sketches. Unique and wonderful.

    17,000 years per step. That gets the imagination going! :)

    It seems so odd to "see" that area as a semitropical forest with wetland vegetation. I can mentally picture the small 3-toed horses.

    I saw blue green rock at one of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds in Georgia. Can't remember which one. The actual color was more of a teal. I thought the first one had been painted, but when I kept seeing them, I realized that was their natural color.

    I love that "lost in the moment" feeling. Such a different perspection than millions and billions of years!

    I'm enjoying your journey. :)

  2. Ugh! Perspective, not perspection! :)

    1. Hah! I didn't even notice that!

      I love sketching - my memories of places that I've sketched are so much more vivid that when I just take snapshots.

      The re-creation drawings of the habitat - jungle-like with dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, etc were so different from the current landscape - it was mind-boggling. I couldn't quite get my head around it.


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