September 28, 2016

9/21/16 - John Day Fossil Beds NM, Sheep Rock Unit

We’d gone to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument at the very beginning of our trip in 2010, but that was the Clarno Unit. (See John Day Fossil Bed - Clarno Unit). The park has 3 units, 20 square miles in 3 separate locations.  Seems pretty chintzy after the ranger showed us the map of the 20,000 square miles of the region in Oregon they call the “John Day Fossil Beds”. 

The Sheep Rock Unit is the closest unit to a town (Dayville, OR, population 148) and the only unit with a Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center is across from Sheep Rock.  Seems like it would have to be a pretty brave sheep to climb up there and view his domain.  We didn’t see him.
Obviously a park named for fossil beds has fossils.  (However, you’re not allowed to look for them, disturb them, or even pick them up! It's a rule.) The museum has a pretty good exhibit with lot of fossils from various layers of strata.  This isn’t a dinosaur park, and the fossils are mostly mammals.  Pretty big and pretty weird mammals, and they have non-pronounceable scientific names.  They do occasionally say this one’s a sheep, that’s a dog, over there’s a hippo-like rhino (or maybe they said it was a rhino-like hippo?) I actually thought the sheep was a hippo, and the horse looks like the sheep.  The sabre-tooth tiger sort of looks like I’d expected, so I’d at least know to run from the right critter.
We stopped at the Goose Rock viewpoint, and I took some pictures, but I never did figure out which one is Goose Rock. I didn’t see a rock that looks like a goose, but I didn’t see a goose on a rock either.
Blue Basin - There’s a loop trail around Blue Basin where you climb to an overlook of the badlands, but it's marked as strenuous because of the elevation gain.  I figured if we did that one, it would be the only one George would want to hike that day, so I opted for the shorter Island in Time Trail -- a round trip of a whole 1.3 miles along the canyon floor, with 13 open steel mesh bridges crossing the creek bed.  (They tell you not to take your dog because you'll have to carry it across. Probably okay with a Papillon, but not a Bernese Mountain Dog.) I tried counting the bridges, but I'm not sure I got it right.
Not quite sure why they call it Blue Basin—the colorful layers of claystone are green, not blue.  I did an informal survey and asked several people (well, George and one other guy) what color they’d call the rock if they were naming it.  They both said, “Green”.  With my vote, that’s unanimous!  But the green’s not copper, like you'd expect--it’s celadonite.  (I didn’t know that either, but there was a helpful ranger at the info center who explained all that to us.) There are scads of layers of old volcanic ash, some hard, some soft, topped off with a covering of basalt.  This stuff is all crumbly, and there’s evidence of rockfall all over. Keep in mind we’re at the bottom of the cliffs, and gravity only works one direction. If you're nervous, don't look up.
Foree Area – Nope, don’t know why they call it that.  I'm guessing it was the name of the guy who owned the property before it got transferred to the park service.  (If there’s no interpretive sign, I always use my imagination.)
There are two trails here, but only one wooden bridge, so feel free to bring your dog.  We started with the Story in Stone Trail. It’s a little loop of  1/3 mile, where you can see several badland outcroppings that have been exposed by erosion. 
The Flood of Fire Trail is even shorter, out and back isn’t even ¼ mile, no bridges, but a few steps.  It ends at a cliff face with dark red rocks on top, and a view down to the river valley.  See if you can see the windsock for the landing strip across the road.
We stopped at Cathedral Rock on the way back, but the sun wasn’t in the right position so there’s a big glare. 
More pictures?  Go here:  John Day Fossil Beds - Sheep Rock  

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