The John Day Fossil Beds include desert-like mesas, painted hills, and an incredible blue basin complete with a blue creek.
The first leg of our family’s camping trip to the northeastern corner of Oregon started with a drive through Bend, Redmond and through the John Day Valley. We camped in the valley for a few days so we could explore the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and surrounding areas.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
The John Day Fossil Beds are one of the treasures in our state that we wanted to share with our kids – but they surprised us as well! The beds hold more fossils from the mammal era than anywhere else in the world, which is pretty special.
The terrain doesn’t look like what most people think Oregon should look like – it kinda looks like the Southwest, except the John Day River makes the valley much more green than Arizona. There are 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.
There are three different “units” of the fossil beds, though 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 standing water in it that was turquoise – really, bright turquoise.
The kids in the picture above 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, in real life it looks more blue than gray.
But this blue basin is truly a bluish-green. In the picture above, we are in the basin at the end of the trail surrounded by walls that look like castles carved out of the hillside. You can see 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 trip!
We’re loving our road trip with our vintage trailer and are looking forward to what we’ll discover in Baker City and the Wallowas. Stay tuned!