September 7 Fossil Oregon Sunny day in the mid 80’s F
Don’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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Hot 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow: To Clyde Holiday State Park, and who was John Day anyway?