John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, John Day

#26 of 253 in Nature in Oregon
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a U.S. national monument in Wheeler and Grant counties in east-central Oregon. Located within the John Day River basin and managed by the National Park Service, the park is known for its well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived in the region between the late Eocene, about 45 million years ago, and the late Miocene, about 5 million years ago. The monument consists of three geographically separate units: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno.

The units cover a total of 13,944 acres (5,643 ha) of semi-desert shrublands, riparian zones, and colorful badlands. About 210,000 people visited the park in 2016 to engage in outdoor recreation or to visit the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center or the James Cant Ranch Historic District.

Before the arrival of Euro-Americans in the 19th century, the John Day basin was frequented by Sahaptin people who hunted, fished, and gathered roots and berries in the region. After road-building made the valley more accessible, settlers established farms, ranches, and a few small towns along the river and its tributaries. Paleontologists have been unearthing and studying the fossils in the region since 1864, when Thomas Condon, a missionary and amateur geologist, recognized their importance and made them known globally. Parts of the basin became a National Monument in 1975.

Averaging about 2,200 feet (670 m) in elevation, the monument has a dry climate with temperatures that vary from summer highs of about 90 °F (32 °C) to winter lows below freezing. The monument has more than 80 soil types that support a wide variety of flora, ranging from willow trees near the river to grasses on alluvial fans to cactus among rocks at higher elevations. Fauna include more than 50 species of resident and migratory birds. Large mammals like elk and smaller animals such as raccoons, coyotes, and voles frequent these units, which are also populated by a wide variety of reptiles, fish, butterflies, and other creatures adapted to particular niches of a mountainous semi-desert terrain.
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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Reviews

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441 reviews
  • As expected, the adults enjoyed it more than the kids, but still quite fascinating. Would not be considered worth a trip to see it on its own unless I lived much closer, however as a stop or two en...  more »
  • I wasn't sure if the Visitor's Center would keep my kids' attention, but we picked up the Junior Ranger packet & it was perfect for them! The views were amazing & the kids enjoyed the short hike that....  more »
  • Gorgeous, we are lucky enough to have timed our visit to match the harvest moon. We were rewarded with a colorful sunset and a beautiful moonrise. We enjoyed it so much so that we returned the next day. It's a great place to bring your gravel bike otherwise you'll have a few short hikes.
  • Very nice place to visit. Not very big but well worth it. Sufficient parking place. Sun can make taking pictures somewhat difficult, especially in the middle of the day.

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