Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 8 - Travel through Time in the John Day Fossil Beds

Miles  Driven - 101
Total Miles -     653
Clyde Holliday State park to Ochoco Pass NF Campground

We began the day driving west down the John Day River valley.  Being May, it is still green.  Never having driven this section of Oregon before, it was pretty neat.  My main impression of central Oregon had been over by Bend, and also along the basalt bluffs of Columbia River where it is dry desert sage brush.  Amazed at the ranches, pine forests, and beauty.

In eastern Oregon lies one of the most complete natural history of the past 60 million years.  The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument occupies 3 main units in eastern Oregon.  We visited 2 units.  Driving west from John Day, Oregon we follow the river through the narrow Picture Gorge where we see 17 different volcanic layers each representing over 8,000 years of time.
Picture Gorge.  17 volcanic layers averaging 8,000 yrs each.
This is an amazing place.  Essentially, there are layers of volcanic ash dating back 40 + million years ago in which fossils the whole Mammal Age can be found.

The monument was inaugurated in 1975 with 3 distinct units.  We first visited the Visitor Center on the John Day River, spending 3 hours touring one of the best educational displays we have ever seen, which covers each era of which there about 8-10.
Amazing displays at Visitor Center
We then drove further north to the first unit, the Blue Basin and pulled into the parking lot trusting there would be room to turn around.
John Day River Valley near Blue Basin
 We were assured by the ranger that we could turn around in the parking lots so we headed in.  There was room.  Whew.  Ya never know.
Backside of blue Basin Overlook Trail looking north
Two hikes were recommended. We set off on the Overlook trail first  which took us around the backside then steep switchbacks up about 800 feet to the overlook.

Overlook of the Blue Basin
We hiked about a mile along the rim before descending via switchbacks to the center of the canyon.

Most of our photos were shot with the iPhone, however I did manage to shoot a couple with the big Canon.  They will be on my Flickr page.
Is it really that blue down there?
 The second hike took us down into the center of the canyon.
Blue and Green Volcanic Tuff with many layers on top
The blues and greens are volcanic Tuff layed down 30+million years ago. Over time, many layers heaped on top caused compression and metamorphosis of the tuff turning it these fascinating colors
Yep, it's blue all right
 All during the hike, CharLi and Mr. Toad waited faithfully in the parking lot.  Just barely fitting in.
Charli and Mr. Toad waited in the parking lot, waaaayyy down there.
Our second visit was to the Painted hills unit about an hours drive west.  It was after 5 PM when we departed back to the main highway, over a mountain pass, down into another river valley, north 6 miles just hoping we arrive in time before the sun pops behind clouds for rest of night.

Painted hills.  Also Volcanic Tuff like blue basin.  Just different color
We were not disappointed.  In fact the clouds accommodated us quite nicely, darkening the distant hills and accentuating the painted hills.  Photos do not really depict how incredible the beauty really is.
Love the 10 second delay on the big camera.
We didn't want to leave but had to head out at almost 8 PM because we didn't know where we would camp this night and still had, maybe an hour of useable light left to park.  After all, there are no Walmarts around here.
Shooting the Painted hills.  I only had about 20 minutes of good light.
We drove back out to the main road.  Along the way we did see one possible BLM dry site, however, with the fading light, was not sure we could make it in there and didn't know about rain overnight leaving the road muddy and stranding us.  Such wusses we are.  Plus we did know of a Forest Service campground up on Ochoco Pass (4723' elevation) which we thought would have space for us.  

Turns out we found a sweet pull through and cost us only $6 to camp in the tamarack and pine forest.  We pulled in around 8:45, dropped the levelers and out go the slides.  Sraddha had started some Posole early in the morning which just needed to be reheated and seasoned.  We ate, listening to the wind rustling in the trees and slept soundly, quite satisfied of a full day or hiking, learning, and being in some incredible natural beauty we had not even imagined a few days before.
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