Located throughout Wheeler and Grant Counties in eastern central Oregon, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument preserves a 13,944-acre region of shrubland, badland, and riparian zone geology containing a large number of fossilized animal and plant remains. The area that now comprises the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located within the Blue Mountains region, which originated geologically during the late Jurassic Period, approximately 118 million years ago.
Tectonic plate movement throughout the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods led to the uplift of Permian and Triassic rock and the creation of the Blue Mountains, which shifted the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean from the Idaho region to its modern-day borders. Volcanic eruptions throughout the Eocene period 44 million years ago contributed to the development of the Clarno Formation, which contains a variety of animal and plant fossils, including the fossils of avocado trees and subtropical nuts from former warm climates. Following the subsiding of the Clarno volcanoes, eruptions throughout what is now the modern-day Cascade Range, known as the John Day volcanoes, produced a large volume of ash and dust that settled throughout what is now the John Day River basin. Large numbers of animal and plant specimens were captured in this area, including more than 100 prehistoric mammal species and 60 plant species. Further eruptions throughout the Miocene Period added fossils such as cool-climate oak, sycamore, and maple trees and the earliest records of beavers on the North American continent.
Like many geological sites throughout the area, the John Day Fossil Beds region is named for explorer John Day, a Pacific Fur Company explorer who traveled the eastern Oregon region in 1811 and 1812. The fossil beds site has been a principal research site for North American paleontologists and geologists since the Oregon gold rush of the mid-19th century, due to the area’s unique rock structure and abundant fossil records. Efforts to preserve the region as a historic site date back to the turn of the 20th century, spearheaded by scientist John C. Merriam, and throughout the 1930s, much of the land for the future National Monument was purchased by the State of Oregon. In 1974, the creation of a National Monument was authorized by the United States Congress, and on October 8, 1975, the monument was officially established.
Today, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument preserve three geographic regions within the John Day Fossil Beds area, located on 13,944 acres within eastern Oregon’s Wheeler and Grant Counties. More than 40 million years of geologic and biologic history are showcased throughout the region, with fossil specimens spanning most of the era of the Age of Mammals. As a research facility, discoveries within the Fossil Beds have provided important information on the study of evolution and offered major insight into the field of paleoclimatology.
Ongoing research by paleontologists is conducted at more than 700 sites throughout the area, with fossil specimens collected, stabilized, cleaned, and catalogued at the laboratory at the facility’.Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, opened in 2005. A variety of fossils are displayed as part of the Visitor Center’s public exhibits, along with dioramas and murals depicting the region’s biodiversity throughout eight geologic eras. Visitors may also view ongoing work at the paleontology laboratory directly from the Center.
Visitors may explore the park’s three units via a variety of vehicle and hiking trails, including the Clarno Unit, located 18 miles from the city of Fossil, Oregon, which contains a large number of remains dating back to the region’s former tropical climate. The Painted Hills Unit, near Mitchell, Oregon, offers a glimpse at leaf fossils dating back 39 million years and showcases wildflower blooms throughout the spring season. Most park trails are located within the unit, varying in length between 0.25 miles and 1.6 miles. The Sheep Rock Unit, located off of Highway 19 near Kimberly and Dayville, Oregon, is the home of the histori.Cant Ranch, the former home of Scottish immigrants James and Elizabeth Cant, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preserved as a living history museum.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A variety of field trip educational programming is offered for elementary and secondary school students at the monument, including programs focusing on volcanoes, paleontology, and animal evolution. Ranger-led hikes and customized programming is available upon request, and a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program offers professional development opportunities for area instructors, allowing participants to gain continuing education credits and receive stipends for advancement of in-classroom science and history teaching. A Junior Ranger program also offers badges for young visitors in exchange for completion of a variety of in-park activities.
32651 OR-19, Kimberly, OR 97848, Phone: 541-987-2333