John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The area is comprised of three widely separated units: the Sheep Rock Unit, the Painted Hills Unit and the Clarno Unit. Each offers picnic areas, restrooms, information kiosks, hiking trails with exhibits and brochures and outstanding scenery. The main visitor center, located at the Sheep Rock Unit, features displays of fossils found throughout the John Day Basin. Hours vary throughout the year.

Few places so accessible to the public present a better selection of fossilized bones, shells, leaves wood, teeth, tracks, nuts and seeds. These artifacts provide an informative overview of the Age of Mammals-the 40 million years that elapsed between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the beginning of the Ice Age.

The Clarno formation

in the Clarno Unit, just 18 miles from the town of Fossil, consists primarily of huge mudflows or lahars, which roared down the slopes of ancient volcanoes, engulfing everything in their paths. Although the Clarno volcanoes have long since eroded, the hardened lahars remain-along with fossilized plants and animals trapped in the flows.

The journey continues through additional portions of the monument, including:

Foree Trailhead

where two short interpretive trails lead through blue and red fossil-bearing deposits, ending at a stunning viewpoint where you can see basalt flows remaining from 16 million years ago.

Cathedral Rock

displays a beautiful cliff face exposing ancient pyroclastic flows and ash layers. Its unique banded colors and setting high above the river make it a regional icon.

Blue Basin

offers a short trail into the basin, featuring casts of turtle and saber-toothed-cat fossils, along with interpretive signs near the discovery site of the original fossils.

Cant Ranch National Historic District

across the highway from the Thomas Condon Visitor Center features displays of old farm equipment plus descriptions of sheep and cattle ranching in the early 1900s.

Mascal Overlook

presents a spectacular view of Picture Gorge and the Mascall and Rattlesnake formations along with detailed interpretive signs.

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