A quick stop at the Sheep Rock unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was just what the doctor ordered after a couple of days of rain and too much time in our RV. We visited the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and hiked Blue Basin with its stunning features.
Our weeklong anniversary vacation had us traveling through Oregon on our way to the redwoods. We had heard about the John Day Fossil Beds and it sounded like a sweet place to stop. Visiting any of the national park units before Memorial Day is a great time to visit as they tend to be less busy.
As we approached the monument, we pulled off the side of the road and read about the amazing geology surrounding it. Lava flows and layers of ash from volcanos have shaped this area into the marvel that it is. We drove through one of these unique areas called Picture Gorge where the John Day River has carved its way through it. It’s namesake is due to some native pictographs that aren’t visible unless you already know about them and illegally park to look at them. We passed on both and went to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.
I’ve become a sucker for fossils and the stories they tell. This center has a lot of great displays and has working scientists scraping out fossils from rocks like a dental hygienist. Loved the interpretive exhibits and the stories they tell.
From there, we drove down to Blue Basin to get a 3.5 mile hike in around a great rock formation known as Blue Basin. This formation is layers of hard and soft ancient ash which has eroded in hoodoo-like fashion reminding me a bit of Bryce Canyon. The trail winds its way around the whole formation giving you up close views, birds-eye views and everything in between. Spring is a great time for flowers and the birding was fun between the noisy Chukars, the acrobatic Western Kingbirds, and the striking Bullock’s Oriole and they’re fantastic song.
After a trip around the loop, we walked the trail straight up into the middle of the canyon. Green water flowed out of the canyon from rains and colored by the eroding sediment. From there, we hopped in the RV and drove around a bit more and said goodbye to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. If you’re in the area, or passing through, definitely worth a stop. Next time, we’ll check out the other two units for more fossils and multi-colored hills.