Shortcuts are fun

September 7 Fossil Oregon Sunny day in the mid 80’s F

Back up again in John Day CountryDon’t you just love shortcuts?  Especially the ones you try to navigate sight unseen because the maps look good.  Never mind any kind of GPS navigator, I am sure that wouldn’t work out here in the fossil no man’s land.  Phones don’t work, why would garmin girl have a clue?!Pine Creek Lane goes right through this farmyard

I perused the paper maps a lot, including our Oregon Gazetteer before trying to take a short cut down to the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds in the Tracker.  After our little conversation with a local rancher the other day, I knew that roads on the map may not really be there, but he did say that the road south went through to the unit so we decided to give Cottonwood Creek a try.high above the John Day River

Nope.  After driving a considerable distance on the gravel road, we found to our dismay that the road south was gated and signed as PRIVATE.  It didn’t look that great either, so we rerouted back to Highway 19 and started south again on another “short-cut” via the narrow, unlined, but thankfully paved Rowe Creek Road.  on the Rowe Creek Road shortcut to the Painted Hills Unit

The short cut really was a good way to get down south, with only 38 miles from the turn to the park, but the curvy dirt road that went west from the little burg of Twickenham, on the John Day River, to connect with the graveled Bridge Creek Road was a hair raiser.  Even in the Tracker!  Big ranch trucks barreling around the corners seemed to think it was a one way road and a couple of times I thought we were going to get bumped right off into the canyon.taking the dirt road shortcut around to Bridge Creek Road

Once we arrived at the park, though, it was all worth it, and the beautiful soft green grass and shady picnic tables were a nice place to rest in the warm sunshine before we tackled the roads and trails in the Painted Hills Unit.

time for a break at the lovely little entrance parkAgain, there was great signage explaining the different formations and the kinds of fossils found in each one.  Maybe by the time we are through visiting here I will actually remember which is which.still trying to learn the formations and recognize them in the landscape

There are four trails in the area that are listed, and one more short trail that is yet to get published on the park maps.  Each one is only 1/4 mile except for the Carrol Rim Trail which is a short, steep 1.5 mile round trip.  We took our time visiting each little trail, trying to make it all last until the late afternoon light would give us photos that wouldn’t be completely washed out in the bright daylight.the short Leaf Hill Trail in the Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

The Leaf Hill trail is less than spectacular, but the story of Leaf Hill is incredible.  The first major fossil find in the area was here, with a paleontologist gleaning more than 20,000 different fossils from just 93 cubic yards of excavated shale.Leaf Hill in the Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

West of the Leaf Hill trail is another short trail around Red Hill.  It was getting hotter and brighter, and I wished that we had waited until later in the day to come south to this area.  Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

About a mile back on the gravel road, was a turn off to another tiny trail around the Painted Cove.  There a boardwalk has been constructed to allow access to the brilliant clay hills without damaging them.  I really appreciated the great signage explaining the geology of the area.we asked this question, and were glad for the final answerPainted Cove Trail Painted Hills John Day Fossil BedsPainted Cove Trail in the Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

Another mile back and we returned again to the Overlook Trail, which still appeared much too bright and flat to make the 1/2 mile walk worth it.  Instead, across the way was the trailhead for the Carrol Rim Trail. 

we decide to hike the Carroll Rim trail first to give the light time to shiftHot and bright or not, it was time to climb.  We figured we could hang around on the rim and take our time until the sun slanted a bit more so that I could get some photos of the amazing colors of the painted hills.Yes, I forgot to put my hiking sandals in the baby car

Don’t laugh at my hiking gear.  I forgot to put my hiking Keen sandals in the Tracker this morning, so while I had my good walking sticks, my hiking for the day was accomplished in these rather amazing Oofos.  No slipping and sliding at all.  They worked great.  Mo and I always laugh at the teenagers we see hiking in flip flops.  So now I appear to be just as smart as those teenagers!Carroll Rim Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil BedsCarroll Rim Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil Bedsanother beautiful bench with a beautiful viewCarroll Rim Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds that is the baby car down there at the trailhead

The hike was hot, but once around the rim the winds picked up and the breezes cooled us off.  We had the trail and summit completely to ourselves.  It was gorgeous.  We sat around on the lovely juniper benches, a great amenity at most of the trails in the park, and watched the light change.  Just a little, but it was changing.Carroll Rim Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

By the time we got back down to the first overlook bench on the trail, it was nearly 6pm, and still the light was high and bright.  I guess I just wasn’t committed enough to wait until sunset.  That would have meant we got home after dark, and nope.  Not worth it this time.Carroll Rim Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

What I did discover, however, is that the view from the Carrol Rim Trail is much more interesting at this time of year than the view from the more popular Overlook Trail.  On the Rim, we were at the right angle to at least get a bit of light and shadow on the beautifully eroded soft clay hills, but from the Overlook trail you couldn’t even see any ridges at all as the light was directly on the hills and visually flattened out the ridges completely.Overlook Trail views Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

I loved our travels through John Day Fossil Beds, I loved learning the formations, and trying to identify them as we crossed the landscape, I loved the light, the color, all of it. I loved the little town of Fossil, and the folks in the Café that actually let me enjoy a bit of an internet connection for the cost of a cup of coffee. In times past, as I have traveled along Highway 26 I always wanted to understand this area more deeply, and now I do.  Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds

Tomorrow:  To Clyde Holiday State Park, and who was John Day anyway?

Driving in Circles

September 6 Fossil, Oregon Overcast and in the 70’s

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is an amazing treasure in Oregon.  It is made up of 3 different units that are located along sections of Highway 26, and Highway 19 west of  the town of John Day.  We traveled through John Day back in 2008 via Highway 26.  Not far from town is the lovely Clyde Holiday State Park, touted as a jumping off point for visiting the Fossil Beds, as is the town of John Day itself.Sue and Mo on the Blue Basin Trail

Instead, I picked Fossil as our home base for exploring the area, with thoughts of possibly staying at the Spray wayside, or even in John Day for the latter part of the stay.  No matter how we planned various unit explorations, we still had to do several backtracks, and some repeat drives.  Maybe the map will help explain it.  As closely as I can estimate, we drove more than 375 miles to see all three sections of the park from our site in Fossil.  I don’t think we could have managed it with any fewer miles from any other location. The green lined blocks on the map are the different units of the John Day Fossil Beds.  Most folks traveling along Highway 26 will take a short trip up to the visitor center and the Sheeprock Unit, but it takes a bit of effort to get to the other sections.

map fossil beds

The trip today to the Sheeprock Unit took us through Spray, where we checked out the possible camping choice and came up with a resounding NO!  The river is very low, the campground is open and has no hookups, and for $12 doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities.  I think it would be a good spot to get on the river if there happened to be water there, but at the moment not so much.guess we won't be kayaking the John Day River this year

Continuing along toward Kimberley and then south toward the first section of the Sheeprock Unit, the Foree Area, was lovely, in spite of the overcast skies.  At least it wasn’t raining.Trails in the  Foree section of the Sheep Rock Unit

There are only two hikes in Foree, both of them only 1/4 mile long, but they are well signed, and one of them is even wheelchair accessible.  we looked into our first example of the Turtle Cove formation, somewhat subdued by the gray light, and still found it amazing.  One of the more delightful aspects of hiking in the John Day Fossil Beds is that we can take Abby on all the trails.  It is a dog friendly place, hard to find in any kind of national park or monument.Trails in the  Foree section of the Sheep Rock Unit

A few miles south along the river we came to the Blue Basin Area of the Sheeprock Unit, where the rain clouds didn’t have any downpours planned for us and decided that the 3 1/2 mile Overlook trail would be much more fun than just walking into the short Island in Time trail.  we decide it isn't going to rain so we can do the Blue Basin Overlook Trail

The first part of the trail is not too steep, and there was fresh elk scat still steaming.  Never did see the elk, but we did see lots of evidence of many different kinds of critters in the area. Looking back along the trail, I was surprised to see just how much elevation we had gained.  The trail was steep and narrow, but not incredibly difficult.  The newly constructed boardwalk across some of the more unstable portions of the trail was great.climbing on the Blue Basin Trail

Once at the summit overlook the skies lightened just enough to make things interesting.  The view below was magnificent, and the trail continued along the contours for another mile or so before making a very steep descent via switchbacks to the valley below. view from the overlook on the Blue Basin TrailDay 3 John Day_059DSC_0059

Knees started arguing not too long before the bottom, and I’m glad I had my walking sticks along at least.  It was a great hike, and the only one around with any kind of distance or effort involved.wildflowers on the Blue Basin trailSue on the Blue Basin Trail

Continuing south along the John Day River, we arrived at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center which also serves as the information center for the park.  I loved it!  There is a large lab with a window that gives you the chance to see the grad students at work painstakingly cleaning fossils.  There is extensive information on the process of fossil collection and documentation, and of course there are incredible exhibits.The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at John Day Fossil Beds Naitonal Monument

The fossils at the John Day Fossil Beds encompass the entire range of existence of mammals, 40 to 50 million years, with more than 2,000 species found in the park.  I was enthralled with the magnificent murals depicting theories of life during the different ages.  Looking at the tiny pieces of bone, I couldn’t help but wonder at the science of paleontology.  How in the world do they figure that stuff out?!?! Soil science is a piece of cake compared to that kind of detective work.The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at John Day Fossil Beds Naitonal Monument

Some murals like this can seem pretty hokey, but not here.  The murals were rich and textured and had “feeling”.  Not sure how to explain it exactly, but I loved them.  The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at John Day Fossil Beds Naitonal Monument

There isn’t a lot of fuel around the area, and after visiting the Center, we drove a few more miles through Picture Gorge toward the little town of Dayville and its one lonely gas pump for Tracker fuel at $4.19 per gallon.  I think there was another pump in Spray, but it looked pretty old and who knows how much gas was there.  Later we discovered that there was indeed another pump in Fossil, but when we left the Center, we weren’t too sure about that one and decided to not take a chance. Cathedral Rock along the John Day River

It never rained on us all day long, and the sun even came out for our drive back home along the river. As the temperatures started to rise, I found myself really grateful that we didn’t have to hike in the hot sun.  I guess it is a trade-off, because with the clearing skies, I hoped for a bit more light to capture the amazing colors in the Painted Hills unit tomorrow. blue heron high above the John Day River at Cathedral Rock

On the drive home near Cathedral Rock, I found this blue heron sitting high above the river.  Seemed so funny to see a heron in such a desert situation.