John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

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Quick Overview

This is the audio only described version of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s park brochure. It presents the history of the park and information about planning your visit. The brochure is a combination of text, illustrations, maps and historic and contemporary photographs of people and fossils.

Side one presents the paleontological history of the park and its fossil record dating back millions of years. In many cases, a fossil is presented alongside the illustration of what the species may have looked like within its environment.

Side two focuses on information about the park and its units. There is a map of the park in its entirety and maps for the Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno units. Color photographs of these units as well as the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the James Cant Ranch are provided along with text about getting to the park, what to do once you arrive and information to stay safe and get the most out of your visit.

The content of the brochure and descriptions of the visuals are presented under their own sections.

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TEXT: John Day Fossil Beds: An Introduction

The top one third of side one of the brochure is an artistic color illustration of what the John Day Fossil Beds area might have looked like millions of years ago. The text and descriptions of the illustration and two fossils are presented under their own sections. 

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Text: Uncovering Past Life

Title: Evidence of Past Life Preserved by Geologic Processes. Text: Under the hills and valleys of eastern Oregon is one of the richest fossil beds on Earth, an ancient record spanning most of the Age of Mammals. Though the fossil organisms are long gone, their descendants may be living in our own backyards.

Named for the nearby river, the John Day Fossil Beds expose extraordinarily well preserved specimens. Also remarkable is the great number and variety of fossils: entire communities have been uncovered. There are remnants of past soils, rivers, ponds, mudslides, ashfalls, middens, track-ways, prairies, and forests. This record occurs in an ordered sequence, well interspersed with datable rock layers.

Science is ongoing here, and the discoveries do more than add to the list of fossils. They uncover an amazing array of evolutionary events: global and local changes in the distant past, climate fluctuations, extinctions, and life forms new to science. The John Day Fossil Beds reveal clues to our present and a glimpse of what our future could hold.

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Descriptions: Illustration and Fossils

Following is the description of the illustration and two associated fossils.

Illustration description: This is a panoramic artistic rendition depicting fauna and flora found in the Hancock Mammal Quarry of the Clarno Unit, as it would have looked 40 million years ago. In the foreground is the end of a meandering muddy stream. On the right, one large adult brontothere, a rhinoceros relative, and a juvenile walk along a path of puddles where the stream tapers off. The forest of deciduous trees and vines grows thick in the background and a volcano looms in the far distance beyond the trees.

Tapirs-like animals, which have a shape similar to that of large pigs, graze near the waterfront and in the distance. In the left background, a Hemipsalodon, which is a large carnivore the size of a bear, feasts on an animal. Several skulls and skeletons with large rib cages are found along the water's edge, foreshadowing the fossils found in present day at the Hancock Mammal Quarry. 

Illustration caption: Above [top one-third of side one of the brochure] Inhabitants of the Hancock Mammal Quarry 40 million years ago. Top [left]: Alnus leaf fossil and skull of the nimravid Eusmilus, a bobcat-sized predator from the Turtle Cove Assemblage.

Artifact description: The oval, brown Alnus leaf fossil is short stemmed and rounded with a tip. It lays flat on an almost white rock that has tan sections and grey specs. The leaf fossil has one main vein extending from its base to its tip. Smaller veins branch off on either side. On the upper left area of the leaf, a small circular portion is missing, further exposing the rock beneath it.

Artifact description: The skull of a sabertooth carnivore fossil, called the nimravid is presented. Its mouth is open, displaying its two large fangs and several sharp incisors in front. The tan skull is angled to show its left side, which highlights the bony ridge on the top portion of the skull, its wide nose bridge and long bottom jaw line that leads to a bulbous chin.

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TEXT and IMAGES: in Search of Lost Worlds

This section presents text and descriptions for four associated photographs.

Text: Eastern Oregon was first recognized as an important paleontological region in the 1860s, thanks to the young frontier minister, Thomas Condon (pictured left of text). Paleontology, the study of ancient life, was still a new science at the time. Condon’s discoveries spurred scientific interest. By the late 1800s, scientists from Yale, Princeton, and the Smithsonian Institution had acquired tons of fossil specimens from the area, which they classified and presented to the scientific community.

This early work set the stage for field paleontologists like John C. Merriam of the University of California, who in 1899 began placing the John Day fossils into their geological, chronological, and paleoecological context. His work helped preserve these fossil resources. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 1975.

Exploration and study continue today (pictured middle right and far right of text). Each year adds hundreds of specimens to institutional collections. Most are mere fragments —a few teeth, for instance— but each is accompanied by a wealth of field data: geographical location, stratigraphic position, and other facts about its recovery. This information, as well as that gained as the fossils are prepared and studied in the lab, becomes part of the global paleontological record.

The John Day Fossil Beds are dispersed across 20,000 square miles of eastern Oregon. The beds have yielded such a wealth of information that scientists can assemble and reconstruct ancient ecosystems. Eight of these ”assemblages” are re-created in the museum gallery of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. They are summarized below.

Photo description: The black and white portrait shows young Thomas Condon sitting on a velvet stool next to a small table on his right. His body is angled slightly towards the table, but his face is squared to the front. His expression is neutral. His wavy dark hair covers the top half of his ears. His dark beard is trimmed and without a mustache. He is dressed in Victorian-era clothing with an unbuttoned dark suite, vest, and flat bowtie. His right arm rests on the table on which he holds a fossil. The fossil is a football-sized block of marine shells encased in rocks. Behind the fossil are two hardcover stacked books. A lace-edged curtain drapes the table and is seen in the background. His other hand rests on his knee.  

Photo description: A contemporary color photograph of a paleontologist on the ground. Her left leg is outstretched. She rests on her right hip. Her semi-upright torso leans forward as she closely examines the ground for fossils. The top soil has been removed from the five foot by two foot rectangular section of rock she is on top of. The tan rock that surrounds her looks like thin layers of small slabs of sedimentary rock, shaped like playing cards. A few brown short grasses grow in the top soil that surrounds the rock. Fossil tools are near her feet and include a rock hammer, dust broom, collection container, and mapping tool. 

Artifact photo description: A cut-out picture of a marsh pick is on top of the photo of the paleontologist in the field. It is a hand tool used for splitting and breaking rocks. It has a wooden handle. The head is metal and attached to the handle at a right angle. One side of the chisel has a broad, flat blade and the other is a pick. 

Photo description: In this contemporary color photo, a paleontologist sits behind a large fossil in a lab. The fossil is within its rock, which is partially exposed. Surrounding the bottom portion of the fossil is its plaster jacket. In her right hand, she holds an air scribe, which is a pen-sized mini jackhammer used to remove the rock matrix around the fossil. She wears a white lab coat, blue face mask, safety earmuffs and eyeglasses. In the background are metal shelves, drawers, and microscopes. 

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TEXT and IMAGE: Deep Time in the John Day Fossil Beds

The bottom half of side one of the brochure is an illustrated timeline. Following is a description of the center timeline and associated content. Text and descriptions for specific assemblage sections are presented under their own titles. The color artistic recreations of how the pictures of the fossils as species may have looked within their environment are referred to as “illustrations.” The fossils themselves, which are cutout photos, often over top of a portion of each illustration, are referred to as “fossils.”

Image description: A perpendicular column in the middle section presents a geologic timeline. It relates to the eight major “assemblages,” which are groupings of associated fossils found in the same stratum, from 5 to 55 million years ago on either side of this middle column. The assemblages are found within four different geological formations, which are based on distinctive stone features, not time. The four formations in order from youngest to oldest are:

  • Rattlesnake Formations 
  • Picture Gorge Basalt 
  • John Day Formations 
  • Clarno Formations

The eight assemblages related to the formations found on either side of this geologic timeline are:

  • (1)The Rattlesnake Assemblage, found in the Rattlesnake Formations, is just over 7 million years old.  
  • (2) The Mascall Assemblage, found in the Mascall Formations, is approximately 15 million years old.  
  • (3) The Haystack Assemblage, (4) Kimberly Assemblage, (5) Turtle Cove Assemblage, and (6) Bridge Creek Flora found within the John Day Formations and range in age from 20 to 33 million years old.  
  • (7) The Hancock Mammal Quarry and (8) Clarno Nuts Beds are found in the Clarno Formations and are approximately 40 to 55 million years old.  

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: rattlesnake assemblage: 7 Million Years Ago

Text: Scientists have found more fossils here of grazing animals than browsers. These animals lived in a relatively cool, semi-arid climate dominated by grasslands (illustration at right). Forests grew around lakes and rivers and at the higher elevations.

Many of these fossilized animals are very familiar to North America today: horses, bears, deer, dogs, pigs, and true cats, for example. Others, like elephants, rhinos, camels, and ground sloths, seem out of place, though they flourished in the Rattlesnake’s prairie environment.

The fossil [pictured] at right is the lower jaw of a young camel.

Illustration description: This environment looks similar to the modern landscape with the exception of an active volcanic eruption. Ash fall and streams of smoke rain down on the landscape which includes a valley full of yellowing grasses, shrubs, and trees with foothills behind it. A herd of hoofed mammals run away from the ash fall. In the bottom corner of the scene, a carnivore looks up from eating another hoofed mammal and towards the smoke and ash behind it.

Fossil description: The camel’s partial lower jaw is in profile with gaps in between several molars attached to what would have been its jaw bone.

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Mascall Assemblage: 15 Million Years Ago

Text: Sufficient rainfall and fertile soil fostered the growth of lush, nutritious grasses and mixed hardwood forests much like those found today from Illinois to Ohio. This savanna-like landscape had broad floodplains with scattered lakes.

The grass and forest environment was home to swift, long-legged, hoofed animals like horses and camels [pictured] (above) that resemble their modern relatives. [Pictured] above right are the horns of the dear-like Dromomeryx borealis. The Mascall environment also attracted newcomers: true cats crossed over from Asia, along with early elephants called gomphotheres.

As forests receded and competitors changed, some groups like oreodonts headed toward extinction.

Illustration description: In the foreground, a thin meandering stream travels from the center of the image to a large body of blue water. In the distant background, a lush green forest lines the water’s edge. In the foreground, on the right side of the stream are two camel-like creatures with long necks. Another creature resembling an extra-large cat or foxlike mammal walks towards the stream. On the left side of the stream is another camel-like mammal. Behind it in the water by the shoreline is another mammal close to a clump of tall green grass. The ground on either side of the stream is brown, with the area in the front right filled with short tan clumps of grass.

Fossil description: A fossil of two long horns is connected in the middle across the top of what would be the animal’s head. The horns are thicker on the bottom and taper off some at the top.

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Haystack Valley Assemblage: 20 Million Years Ago

Text: Similar to the Mascall, this timespan featured cottonwood trees, alders, shrubs, and shallow rivers. These trees and leafy plants fed rhinos and calicotheres—large, clawed creatures related to horses, tapirs, and rhinos. They were joined by open habitat species like camels (skull [pictured] at left) and horses, both more suited to the newly developing grasslands.

Daphoenodon, a bear-dog the size of a wolf (illustration at left), was a common predator. Bear-dogs are extinct today.

Illustration description: In the right foreground on a lower ledge of a rocky mountain, two bear-dogs walk. A third bear-dog is ahead and below them. This bear-dog is stepping onto a rocky shoreline with a fast-running river cutting through the left side of the image. The rocky area on which the two bear-dogs walk is mostly dark grey with green mossy patches. The bear-dogs are a grey color with a white horizontal stripe on their upper side with black underneath the stripe. Their tails are long and their bodies are stocky and long. They have shorter legs and large heads and mouths.

Fossil description: A profile of a tan, camel skull fossil. The camel’s snout is long. Its jaw is open. The lower jaw connects in the back and protrudes passed the upper jaw. Molars are in the back of the jaw and one of its fangs protrudes upwards in the front bottom section of the jaw.

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Kimberly Assemblage: 24 Million Years Ago

Text: Geologic evidence suggests that large amounts of soft, ashy soils laid down during the Kimberly time allowed tiny burrowing animals to be fossilized. The number and variety of burrowing rodent fossils (skull [pictured] at lower right) reflect more open habitat.

The habitat was forest and field, with elm, birch, oak, maple, fir, spruce, pine, and smaller plants and shrubs. Grasses may have just started to appear in the region. A very diverse population of oreodonts (skull [pictured] above) browsed the forests and fields along with three-toed horses and rhinos.

Illustration description: Two grey-colored medium-sized mammals walk through a portion of a shallow body of water in the foreground. Water splashes around their lower legs. The water is clear and reflects the blue sky and the trees that surround it. The water’s shoreline is brown and slightly expansive. Behind the mammals on the shoreline are clumps of low green grasses. A tan field with more clumps of grasses expands into the distance where there is a line of lush green shrubbery and smaller trees. In the distant background is a tree-filled mountain range.

Fossil description (1): A beige skull fossil is presented at an angled profile. A hole is where its left eye would be. Its snout is thick and dominates the skull. Its mouth is closed.

Fossil description (2): A profile of a paw fossil. Two long claws are curled under what would have been its paw.

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Turtle Cove Assemblage: Twenty-Nine Million Years Ago

Text: During the Turtle Cove time, the climate continued to cool and dry. Hardwood forests similar to those growing in the eastern United States today were inundated with ash and pumice from abundant volcanic eruptions. The habitat was primarily woodland. Three-toed horses, mouse-deer, beavers, and oreodonts (foot bones and illustration at left) browsed on the many leafy plants.  

Prey were hunted by bear-dogs, nimravids—saber-toothed, catlike animals of varied sizes—and entelodonts, creatures that looked like warthogs and were as tall as bison.

Illustration description: Behind a bare, light colored tree trunk laying on the ground with two bare branches protruding upwards is a mammal. Its hide is white and it has orange-brown colored stripes across the top of its hindquarters, back, neck and face resembling that of a small zebra. Its tail is long and thin. Standing on all fours, its head is down close to the ground. Behind its head is the bottom section of an upright tree.

Fossil description: A tan colored fossil of the toes of a three-toed horse. Each bone leads to the toe which leads to a think curved claw. The middle toe is the longest.  

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Bridge Creek Flora: Thirty-Three Million Years Ago

Text: The Bridge Creek Flora shows evidence of one of Earth’s cooling trends. As the region gradually became cooler and drier, it had forests, lakes, and swamps and resembled the balmy parts of the southeastern United States.

Many trees in this ancient forest are related to modern alders, elms, maples, and oaks. The deciduous conifer Metasequoia, or dawn redwood (fossil [pictured] at left), was widespread. Metasequoia is Oregon’s state fossil.

The Bridge Creek Flora has fossils of leaves, fish, amphibians, birds, and insects preserved like pressed flowers in a book. Mammal fossils, save for the occasional bat, are rare in these ashy lakebed sediments.

Illustration description: A variety of trees and shrubbery are scattered throughout this image. Their colors range from greens to yellows to browns. Sunlight filters through the cloudy sky and onto the ground. The rippling clouds range from dark grey to white. The top of a mountain or volcano peaks out of some clouds in the far background.

Fossil description: On a tan-colored rock is a brown fossil of a dawn red wood leaf. On either side of a single branch or vein are its multiple, slim feather-like leaves, like the needles on a pine tree.

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Hancock Mammal Quarry: Forty Million Years Ago

Text: The scene at the top of this page recreates a warm, humid forest; the plants are vaguely familiar. A scalding volcanic mudflow (lahar) has recently torn through the jungle-like foliage. Dozens of beasts gather in the newly opened area, the mud littered with plant and animal remains.

Mammals include Happlohippus, a small four-toed horse; huge rhino-like animals called brontotheres (a mother and calf are shown at top right [top illustration on side one of the brochure]), and early rhino Teletaceras (skull [pictured] at right), and Plesiocolipirus, an early tapir.

A variety of animal remains was preserved at this site, which is probably a former bend in a stream with high sedimentation.

Fossil description: This fossil of a rhino skull is a combination of light, medium and dark colors. The main portion of the skull is medium brown. It is shown in left profile. Only the top part of its jaw is present and angled to show all of its teeth on the left and right sides. Most of its teeth are present and are dark brown with multiple, sharp points. A fang on the right is lighter in color and hangs past the rest of its teeth. 

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: Clarno Nut Beds: Forty-Four Million Years Ago

Text: This was a wet, lush, semitropical forest with many vines and creepers—similar to Panama’s jungles today.

Over 300 plant species have been found here—175 species of fruits and nuts alone, including chestnuts, walnuts, bananas, and moonseeds ([pictured] left). Early magnolias and palms were common. These plant fossils are more than just leaf impressions, evidenced by one of the most diverse collections of petrified wood found anywhere.

Browsing mammals, several of great size, were brontotheres and amynodonts. Strong-jawed hyaenadonts were scaveangers. The large catlike Patriofelis ([pictured] right) was a major predator.

Illustration description: The large catlike creature is outside of the rectangular picture of the environment. It has beige hair, shortish legs and a long tail. Its body and head are stocky and it has small pointed ears and a short snout. Behind it is the illustration of the environment in which it lived. In the right foreground is a tree trunk rising beyond the frame of the image. Bare vines hang down around it. Behind it and in the center is a mammal that looks similar to a stocky horse-like creature. It is mostly grey with faint striping, and hints of orange-brown on its head, top of its back and top of its hindquarters. It is standing in a shallow pool of water. Surrounding the pool of water is a lush mixture of green shrubs and trees. In the distance are two more cat-like mammals.

Fossil description: This dark brown fossilized moonseed looks like a large date seed and has grooves, pits, and a bumpy texture.

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TEXT: your Guide to John Day Fossil Beds

Side two of the brochure is comprised of text, four maps and five color photographs. The map at the top is of the larger area and identifies the three units within the park. The three additional maps across the middle section are of each unit. Photos underneath these maps highlight places within these units.

The text, associated maps and photo descriptions are presented under their own sections. In addition to the map and photo descriptions, the text sections provide many descriptive details about what the areas look like and information about getting there and what trails and amenities are available.

All maps present the topography in shades of beige; and, in the case of the park-wide map, light and medium greens. The green sections of the maps for the three units in the park are not a reflection of the topography, but of the unit's border within the larger area.  

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TEXT: getting Started

Text: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument encompasses 14,000 acres in three separate units: Painted Hills, Sheep Rock, and Clarno. Driving routes between units pass by stunning scenery, colorful geological features, and abundant wildlife.

The best place to start your visit and to see fossils is the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, the park visitor center. It is open daily year-round; in winter it is closed on federal holidays. Ask park staff about accessibility features.

Trails and picnic facilities are open year-round during daylight hours. From spring into fall, drinking water is available at all picnic areas. All park roads and parking areas allow bus and trailer access. There is no camping in the park.

Camping, lodging, food, gas, RV parks, and other services are available near the park units. All park roads and parking areas allow bus and trailer access.

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TEXT: stay Safe, Protect the Park

Text: Fossil collecting is strictly prohibited. Researchers may collect fossils only with a valid research permit issued by the park superintendent, and must carry permit at all times. Federal law protects all fossils and other natural and cultural features in the park. Do not collect, dig, or disturb them in any way.

  • When hiking, please stay on trails and wear appropriate footwear and sun protection. Carry plenty of water.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes, ticks, scorpions, black widow spiders, and puncture vine. Don’t put your hands or feet where you cannot clearly see what’s there.
  • Fishing requires a valid Oregon fishing license.
  • For firearms regulations, contact the park staff or visit the park website.
  • There is private property within the park boundary. Please respect posted warnings.
  • Pets must be on a 6-foot leach under the owner’s control. Pets are allowed on park trails, overlooks, and roads. They are not allowed in buildings, off-trail, or off-leash.

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Map of John Day Fossils National Monument

Map description: This map represents a portion of the State of Oregon. North is pointing up and the map legend indicates that approximately seven-eighths of an inch equals 20 miles and a little over a half of an inch equals 20 kilometers. The north-south positioned Cascade Mountain Range is to the west (left) of the park. East of the Cascade Range and south of the park are the east-west Ochoco Mountains. Slightly north and east of the Ochoco Mountains and travelling diagonally southwest to northwest are the Blue Mountains, which are on the east side of the park. The topography of the area is represented in medium to light greens as well as beige colors. The Cascade Range is the darkest and thickest green area. The Ochoco and Blue Mountains are a lighter green and thinner with spots of beige. The park is nestled within these two areas and surrounded by many spots of beige topography. The Clarno Unit of the Park is in the north off of Route 218. The Painted Hills Unit is south of Clarno off of Route 26. The Sheep Rock Unit is east of Painted Hills and is also off of Route 26. Directions and distances from neighboring areas are listed under each unit's section.

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OVERVIEW: for More Information

  • Address for John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, OR 97848 
  • Phone: 541-987-2333 
  • Website: 
  • This is one of over 390 parks in the National Park System. Visit to learn more. 

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OVERVIEW: accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessibility to all. For more information, ask a ranger, check at the visitor center, or visit the park website. 

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TEXT: Painted Hills Unit

Painted Hills Unit, 9 miles west of Mitchell, Oregon off U.S. 26, has restrooms, shaded picnic tables, exhibits, and trails. Roads in the unit are dirt and gravel.

  • Painted Hills Overlook and Trail: Best seen at sunset—take in spectacular views of color-splashed hummocks and hills, part of the lower John Day formations period. The short trail is one of the park’s most picturesque.  
  • Carroll Rim Trail: A moderate climb, this 1.5-mile trail leads to an outstanding overview of the Painted Hills landscape and Sutton Mountain to the east. 
  • Leaf Hill Trail: [This trail] is a 0.25-mile loop around a hill where thousands of fossils have been excavated, giving us our first glimpse of the Bridge Creek Flora. Hiking and collecting fossils on Leaf Hill itself are strictly prohibited 
  • Painted Cove Trail: This short trail winds through the yellow, crimson and lavender hills, giving you a close view of the popcorn-textured claystones that distinguish the Painted Hills. Part of the trail is accessible by boardwalk. 
  • Red Scar Knoll Trail: This short, 0.25-nile trail ends at a strikingly bisected hill of tan and red claystone.  

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Description: Painted Hills Unit Map

The shape of this unit is like an irregular triangle that flattens out at the top instead of coming to a point. North is pointing up. Text in the southwest section of the map notes that the “Road ends at [a] locked gate one mile west of the park boundary." The Red Scar Knoll Trail is also in the southwest corner of the unit. Traveling north is the Leaf Hill Trail. Continuing north at the top of the unit is the Painted Cove Trail, which is wheelchair accessible. The road turns at this point going south and traveling in easterly direction. About midway, a trail intersects the road. On the north side is the Carroll Rim Trail. On the south side is the Painted Hills Overlook. Continuing east and on the eastern border of the unit is a picnic area, ranger station, and restrooms. It is wheelchair accessible and drinking water is available from May through September.

Paralleling the eastern border is Bridge Creek Road. To the south are Route 26 and Mitchell. To the north are Burnt Ranch Road, Twickenham Cutoff Road, River access, Priest Hole, and Lower Burnt Ranch Campground (BLM).

The map legend indicates that about one and one-quarter of an inch equals one mile and about three-quarters of an inch equals 1 kilometer.

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Description: Painted Hills Photo

Looking down and across an expansive landscape are two distinct sections of a mountainous area.

Across the foreground is a sliver of the ground covered with sage colored, scrub brush dotted with yellow flowering, low growing shrubs. Behind is the first and lower section of the mountain. It is a vibrant beige color. Somewhat evenly-spaced red circles are interspersed around the mountain as it rises. At the top, the red area is like a small cap covering its gently rounded head. The mountain’s second section rises higher and at a steeper angle behind the first section. It switches back to the left. Its underlying color has a green tint. The red sections look like horizontal stripes with some thicker and thinner bands. In the far distance is a mountain range.

While there are some creases and crevices, the mountain has a smooth quality. While steeper in the back, the front section has a gentler upward slope. The circles and stripes look like they were painted on the mountain and have soft edges.

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TEXT: Sheep Rock Unit

Sheep Rock Unit is at the intersection of state route 19 and U.S. 26. The trails and overlook listed below offer interpretive exhibits and restrooms.

Within the Sheep Rock Unit are the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the James Cant Ranch, which are covered under their own sections.

  • Foree Area: A picnic site and two short trails, each under 0.5 mile, offer views of sculpted green claystone capped by volcanic flows. 
  • Cathedral Rock: This roadside stop highlights a colorful greenish outcrop of the John Day Formation, capped with reddish ignimbrite. Blue Basin: The Island InTime Trail, an easy 1.3-mile walk, leads you into colorful banded badlands layers deposited 28 to 31 million years ago. The 3.25-mile Overlook Trail climbs high to the rim of the basin and rewards you with valley vistas. Off-trail hiking in Blue Basin is strictly prohibited.  
  • Goose Rock: These cliffs are made up of material that flowed into the ocean about 90 million years ago. 
  • Picture Gorge: These imposing lava layers are part of the Picture Gorge Basalt, a subgroup of the Columbia River flood basalt group spread over the Pacific Northwest. 
  • Mascall Formation Overlook: The view from this point takes in the upper John Day Valley, Strawberry Mountain Range, Picture Gorge, and the Mascall and Rattlesnake formations.  

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Description: Sheep Rock Unit Map

The Sheep Rock Unit has two distinct areas. In the northern area is the Foree area which is a small irregular rectangle. Connected by Route 19, which runs north-south and south of the Foree Area is the James Cant Historic District. This area is also an irregular rectangle, but is larger and longer. To the right of this area on the map is an inset map that provides close-up details of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and Visitor Center. The map is orientated with north pointing up.

In the Foree Area, there is a picnic area in between two trail options: 1) the Flood of Fire trail slightly north; and, 2) The Story Stone Trail slightly south.

Route 19 is on the western border of this section of the unit. Route 19, which travels north-south, also parallels the John Day River. Traveling south past the Foree Area is Cathedral Rock. Continuing south is the James Cant Ranch Historic District. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and Visitor Center is in this area. At the top northern portion of this section is the Blue Basin area where the Island in Time and Blue Basin Overlook trails are located. Midway between the Blue Basin Area and the visitor center is Goose Rock. Traveling south past the visitor center is Picture Gorge, and closeby is the Mascall Formation Overlook.

The inset map provides close-up details of the paleontology and visitor center area. Slightly north of the visitor center off of Route 19 is the James Cant Ranch. A barn and corrals are in this area along with the Orchard Picnic Area and parking. From the parking lot, the Sheep Rock Trail runs north-south, paralleling Route 19. Further east and closer to the John Day River is the River Trail. From the barn and corrals and/or the parking area, this trail meanders south and east to the river.

The map legend indicates that about one and one-quarter of an inch equals one mile and about three-quarters of an inch equals 1 kilometer.

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Description: Sheep Rock Unit Photo

A steep mountain with a point at its uppermost center tip rises underneath a bright blue sky dotted with white clouds in the center of the photo. The mountain’s colors are a mixture of light and medium browns and faded green groundcover and light grey and beige stone.

The groundcover and exposed rock are interspersed through the mountain’s face. Portions of the exposed rock are jagged with deep-cut crevices. Behind it and to the left on the photo is another mountain area. The groundcover covers its rounded top. It also has exposed grey and beige areas of rock. In front of the pointed mountain are foothills covered with variations of brown and faded green groundcover. In front of that in the left foreground is a road which meanders to the right across the photo. On either side of the road are clumps of brighter green grasses interspersed with the other groundcover.

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TEXT: Clarno Unit

Clarno Unit is 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon, off OR 218. There is a picnic area and restrooms. This unit also has two significant fossil sites not open to the public: Clarno Nut Beds and Hancock Mammal Quarry (see other side of brochure).

  • Trails: Two trails with interpretive displays let you explore the towering Palisades. These craggy cliffs looming up to 150 feet over the valley were formed when a succession of ash-laden mudflows (lahars) swept through a forested landscape45 million years ago. A jumble of fossils are embedded in the rocks.  The 0.25-mile Trail of the Fossils allows you to see actual fossils embedded in rock. The Clarno Arch Trail is a 0.5-mile climb to a natural bridge arch in The Palisades. 
  • Hancock Field Station: Operated by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, this camp offers educational programs on geology, paleontology, and ecology. Please visit by appointment only. For additional information, visit 

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Description: Clarno Unit Map

The map is orientated with north pointing up. In the upper left corner of the map is a small inset map that shows the Clarno unit in its entirety. The unit is shaped like the lower right portion of a square cut on the diagonal. The diagonal border going from the bottom left to the upper right is shaped like a set of stairs. In the southwest section of the unit is the Hancock Field Station, marked as “private.”

Underneath it, is the detailed map of the southeast section of the unit, where there are amenities and trails. A more highly patterned section of the map in the southwest is colored with various shades of brown and beige. Its label identifies it as The Palisades.

Route 218 runs east-west on the bottom of the map. Below it and also running east-west is Pine Creek. In the left (west) portion of the map off of Route 218 is one of two parking areas. From here, there are two trails. The Clarno Arch Trail meanders north into the Palisades. The Trail of Fossils is to the east (right of the Clarno Arch Trail). It is a loop that takes you around and back to the parking lot. Intersecting off of the east side of the Trail of Fossils is the Geologic Time Trail. This trail travels east and parallels Route 218. It takes you to the Palisades Picnic Area where there is parking and restrooms. Drinking water is available May through September.

The map legend indicates that a little less than an inch equals 500 feet and about five-eighths of an inch equals 100 meters.

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Description: Clarno Unit Photo

In the left foreground of this photo, four hikers walk toward us. They are in a line and the dirt path under foot is narrow. Around them are clumps of mostly beige grass. The height of the hikers is dwarfed by the extra tall Palisades mountain. This mountain looks like a wavy wall that surrounds them on their right and behind them. The rock has layers of color varying from beige to light brown to a faded red clay color. The rock is jagged and has many deep-cut horizontal crevices and some vertical ones. 

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TEXT and IMAGE: Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

Text: Located in the Sheep Rock Unit, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is a National Park Service research facility dedicated to the study of the John Day Fossil Beds. It is also the park visitor center and fossil museum. Picture windows let you view the working laboratory and collections room with over 60,000.

In the fossil museum gallery, you can walk through nearly 50 million years of the Age of mammals. Hundreds of fossil specimens are displayed, along with eight large murals depicting plants and animals of the time. Each display explains the geology then and now.

Photo caption: Fossil museum gallery. 

Photo description: On either side of a wide floor area are exhibit displays. The exhibit structures are rock-like. Embedded in, on and behind them are exhibit panels, flora and fauna displays and colorful wall-length murals. In the distance is a wide doorway where another exhibit area is located. The dominant colors of the mural in the front exhibit are blues and greens. In the back exhibit, the dominant mural colors are reds and browns.

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TEXT: James Cant Ranch

Text: The dry hills of eastern Oregon provided ideal grazing land for livestock, mainly sheep and cattle. James and Elizabeth Cant, Scottish immigrants, bought this land in the early 1900s. The Cant family operated the ranch until the National Park Service purchased it in the 1970s.

The 1917 ranch house has been renovated to house the park headquarters and a museum telling the human story of the area, from the American Indians up through the sheep and cattle ranchers. You can tour the original ranch buildings and see some of the original ranching equipment.

Photo caption: Historic James Cant Ranch house. 

Photo description: At an angle the front and left sides of this white, two-story house are visible. The house sits on a green lawn. The front porch has a low brick wall on the sides and part of the front. Corner columns lead from the wall to the ceiling at the front of the porch. In the center area at the front of porch are two columns that frame the entrance. Above the porch roof is a landing surrounded by a wooden railing with posts. The house has hip-style roof, meaning that all four sides of the roof are inclined. A dormer is in the center of the front and left sides of the roof. Multiple windows are on both floors, including a three-window alcove with a small roof on the left side. A portion of a tree overhangs the front lawn and provides shade.

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