Yes, it's all about the rocks here, the unique geological formations and the fossilized remains they hold. Although we aren't big fossil hounds, we had to admire the historical, scientific and visual richness of this immense and varied area.
(Those of you drawn to this post looking for fossils, welcome anyway, but you'll have to look elsewhere for petrified flora and fauna. Sorry!)
The drive from Bend is a couple of hours, made longer by my efforts to find a "back road" that didn't work out. Oh well. It was a beautiful drive none-the-less. We were aiming for two "units" of the John Day Monument: Sheep Rock and the Painted Hills. We shot past Sheep Rock to see Picture Gorge just east of the turn off. (There are pictographs in the gorge somewhere, but we didn't see them.) The gorge itself, with the John Day River running through it was good enough.
Just a bit further east is the Fossil Beds Overlook. I gather that we were looking down at where fossils have been uncovered, though the information plaques told us more about the geology of the area than about the fossils. I imagine the park would like to discourage visitors from going down and digging around.
Next stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor's Center, a serious museum that would take hours to really take in. Our quick tour found it vastly overwhelming.
It sits across the street from picturesque Sheep Rock.
Traveling north on 19 took us through this beautiful agricultural valley to our next destination, the Blue Basin.
From the parking area there is a short, warm hike into the heart of the rocky Blue Basin.
I'm afraid these photos don't do the color justice.
Our next destination was the Painted Hills, but we needed some sustenance before we tackled another hike of any sort. Mitchell is the only town between the two units of John Day Fossils so that's where we looked. First place we saw was the Little Pine Cafe. It's a small place with a small menu, a small bar and a small porch with outdoor seating. It was running nonstop that day by the graces of two very hard-working women. Lots of local color and good enough food.
After dinner we turned north on the nearby very well-marked road through another beautiful irrigated valley toward the Painted Hills.
The Painted Hills is an isolated area totally different from the surrounding landscape, which is mostly mountains of layered lava (17 layers to be exact). Below you can see the lava hills in back of the painted hills.
Those of you who have seen the bentonite hills near Torrey, UT in Capital Reef National Park will see the similarity, but I'd say these are more colorful, and smoother. I don't know how they compare geologically, but I didn't read anything about bentonite in any of the literature about these hills.
They really are quite beautiful.
It was a long day, with lots of driving and lots of visual reward, but this was the unexpected highpoint. Our first rattlesnake in the wild! This Western Rattlesnake, probably four feet long, was lying in the road, catching the last of the days sun and warmth.
We're getting ready to leave Bend, OR and I hope to catch up with a report of what else we've been doing here before then. Our internet has been kind of squirrely lately, so it may not happen. If it doesn't, the next post may be from Eugene, OR.