50 Million Years of Fossils in Northern Oregon

John Day Fossil BedsMost people are familiar with the giant parks around our country like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. That is why I enjoy coming across news about some of the smaller parks in the system. I think a visit to a smaller park can be as much or more fun than larger parks. I find this is particularly true when I have the opportunity to explore the smaller parks without having to fight a crush of people, or sit in a traffic jam of cars that can occur in larger parks. Without a major icon like Old Faithful, people with a tight vacation itinerary generally don't stop at the out-of-the-way parks. One of these parks was highlighted in a newspaper article today: John Day Fossil Beds.

The park is located in north-central Oregon, and is split into three distinct areas spread over many miles. Have a look at this map to see the park layout (the areas in green are the Monument). The beds at the monument are rare because they contain 50 million years of fossil records, where most other fossil beds have only 2 to 3 million years of records. Here are a couple snippets from the article called "Rare Earth":
"For studying mammalian evolution, this is one of the best places, simply because they were all here," [park superintendent] Hammett said. "It is one of the few national park areas that has a pure scientific mandate. The major part of our budget is spent on scientists."
The region is a photographer's heaven, especially in the Painted Hills unit, where the colors of the hills and cliffs seem to change with the weather and the position of the sun. Early morning and late afternoon are best for photographers.