John Day Fossil Beds

Blue Basin at Sheep Rock Unite of Fossil Beds National Monument, OR.

We had a very pleasant drive thru eastern Washington down to the town of Dayville in Oregon. As we drove, the landscape slowly  flattened out from the rolling hills of the Palouse to much a much flatter desert-like terrain. We were a little concerned about finding a place to camp. There is virtually nothing listed in our many camp guides. The option of just pulling over to the side of the road is always there, but I just feel better about being in an established camp of some sort. In Dayville we found an RV park that had a total of eight spaces with two that were available. The park was very pretty and peaceful and would be a nice place to be while we explored the John Day Fossil Beds. We pulled in late in the afternoon and planned on visiting the first of the Beds the next day. There are actually three separate sections to the Fossil Beds. We wanted to check out two of them. First was Sheep Rock. This unit contains an area called Blue Basin. It is know for the massive turquoise formations called Claystone. Other formations are made up of red Basalt, Ignimbrite and Tuff.

The morning dawned overcast. It rained lightly much of the night and I worried the light would be a dull all day. We decided to hang out in camp until it began to break up. In early afternoon, it cleared enough to go for it. The Beds were just a few miles from the RV park and after an easy drive, we arrived. It was still cloudy, but much thinner and provided a nice filtered light that would really help accentuate the hills. We hiked a couple of shot walks into the bluffs and got some nice views. It was very quiet along the trail and when we heard the croak of sandhill cranes overhead, we had trouble locating where the sound came from. Eventually, looking way, way up in the sky, we saw several large V’s of migrating cranes. It is truly amazing how high they were and how well we could hear them.

Wide view of the Painted Hill formation, OR

Next morning, we decided to leave the very pretty RV park and head 30 miles further west to where the Painted Hills unit was located. Again we were unsure of where we could camp, but when we entered the very tiny town of Mitchell, we managed to find a county park that had a total of three spaces for RV. It also had 30 amp electric hook-up. We were set for the night.

We got there early enough to travel the short distance to the Painted Hills section. Again, it was cloudy, but looked like it would break up soon. We got there just as the sun was beginning to shine over the badlands like hills. To say the place was spectacular would be a spectacular understatement. I’ve seen hill like this at places like Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in Arizona, but this was more impressive to me. The formations are very large and the viewpoints make photographing them a breeze. We stopped often and hiked the several short walks looking for the best vantage points. Photographing in the afternoon was also the right move, as the western exposure of the hills gave us full late afternoon sun. Another wonderful day.

We are moving on again. It would be nice to stick around here a little more, but we are getting toward the end of our 2 1/2 month trip and there are still a few places we want to get to. We are headed to Bend, and plan on taking a few drives into the Cascades looking for fall color.

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