John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – April 2023

Thomas Condon Visitor Center

We were highly impressed by this visitor center. It’s located in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Most of the attention that is given to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is related to the Painted Hills Unit which is located near Mitchell, Oregon. The Sheep Rock Unit is around 45 miles east of the Painted Hills Unit.

The collection of fossils at the visitor center was very well curated, labeled and staged. The center tells the story of the John Day National Monument, thus all of the pieces in the museum were collected locally in central Oregon. 

The museum is also an active fossil research facility, complete with windows and signs so that visitors can look in to see researchers working on fossils. 

There’s no fee to enter the visitor center. The focus is primarily on fossils and there isn’t a whole lot of information about the area’s geology or other attractions in the national monument. 

Island in Time Trail

Although the visor center didn’t have Luckily, we brought along Oregon Rocks!, which has a feature on each of the units in the John Day National Monument. Each feature includes geological information about the area, photos and things to see

We went on the Islands in Time trail in the Blue Basin hiking area. There are a few trails at this spot, but we took the shorter one because we were short on time. The scenery was extremely impressive with sedimentary rock and paleosol formations all around you, up close. The paleosol has been altered into a blue/green color. When we there in mid-April water was flowing in the creek along the trail, but the water had so much sediment in it that it was a mint green color, which was a unique sight. There are interpretive signs along the trail but researching the area before you go will help you appreciate it even more. 

Mascall Overlook

This overlook is a very short drive off highway 26, near the turn onto highway 19 to go to the visitor center. The views are impressive and worth the short detour.