At 14,000 acres, this national monument might be relatively small but it is loaded with many paleontological and geological wonders. John Day Fossil Beds is located in eastern Oregon near the towns of Mitchell and is comprised of three separate units each with their own unique features. This was our first time in eastern Oregon and we were surprised at how quickly the landscape and temperatures changed from the densely wooded coast and 75 degrees to mountainous desert grasslands in the east and 100 degrees (yikes!).
The first unit we explored was Painted Hills, named so for the large hills with stratifications in the soil making stripes of red, tan, orange, and black in the hillside. We hiked up an adjacent hill via the Carroll Rim Trail and had amazing views of the Painted Hills below. We then explored an area called Painted Cove that has small hills of deep red, yellow, and lavender claystone hills.
This area of the national monument is the largest of the three units and is named after a large rock formation near the visitor center. Our favorite feature of this unit was an area called Blue Basin, a small canyon walls of blue green claystone. There are also many preserved fossil replicas along the trail though the canyon of various ancient specimens found in the area.
We visited the Clarno Unit on our way out of the monument. This area features palisades made of volcanic ash and mud flows formed 45 million years ago. The trail along the palisades contains many fossils embedded in the rock and lead us to an overlook of a natural bridge at the top of the palisade cliffs.
John Day Fossil Beds is a fun and educational park where you can embrace your inner paleontologist. We enjoyed our visit and would not mind a return trip in the future. I especially enjoyed being back in the desert for a bit after the forests of coastal Washington and Oregon.
Thanks for reading!