Oregon Cottage On The Road: John Day Fossil Beds

The John Day Fossil Beds are one of the treasures in our state that we wanted to share with our kids. They hold more fossils of the mammal era than anywhere else in the world, which is pretty special.

The terrain looks kinda like the Southwest (except the John Day River makes the valley much more green than Arizona) with flat-topped mesas created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago which left cool striations of soil. This makes some beautiful “painted mountains” and cliffs that are right in our own backyard.

Here it’s easier to see the mesas and landscape (behind the kids that mom made stand there for the picture, though they’re a sight to behold as well ;-).

There are three different “units” of the fossil beds and we only had time to visit the one closest to John Day, the Sheep’s Rock Unit which also has the Visitor Center.

One of the most amazing hikes was into the “Blue Basin,” a 1/2+ mile hike through walls of blue-grey canyons along a seasonal creek that had some standing water in it that was turquoise (I kid you not).

The kids here are standing at the base of a canyon wall along the trail and looking at a replica of a fossil that was found here. It’s hard to get the idea of the color in the picture, it just looks grey.

But it’s truly blue (or bluish-green). In this picture, we are in the basin at the end of the trail surrounded by walls that resemble castles carved out of the hillside. You can see some more of the layers created by the volcanic eruptions and ash.

We never were able to read anywhere exactly why the soil is blue here and nowhere else, but it truly was amazing and definitely worth the side trip off the road.

On to Baker City and the Wallowas.






  1. Sugah says

    Hi All, so good you could make that trip. It’s a different kind of pretty, huh?

    The Blue Basin features a blue-green clay called Celedonite. There’s another yellow mineral involved, but I don’t know what it is.

    Enjoy your vacation! Lyndsey

  2. Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

    Oh, thanks, Lyndsey! We had a great time – a lot of beautiful things to see, for sure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>