John Day Fossil Bed National Monument consists of three separate sections, called "units". These are the Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units. We visited Painted Hills and Sheep Rock.
Painted Hills: Truly unique! There is a paved road that goes about 6 miles off the main Hwy 26 and leads to a picnic area and restrooms. From there the road is graded gravel for about another mile or so. It is suitable for smaller RVs. There is parking at the top and an easy trail (which used to be a road many years ago) follows the ridgeline slightly uphill to provide a great overview.
The hills are just splashed with colors -- red, pink, tan, yellowish, near-black -- all in "stripes". The colors are caused by various minerals weathering over the eons - pick up a free brochure and it explains it in much more detail. The view is very impressive.
Drive a little farther on to the Painted Cove Trail. This is a much smaller area where you can get right up close to the hills. There is a boardwalk suitable for wheelchairs that goes part way around, then the easy trail continues for a total of about 1/4 mile. In this area, the small hills are bright red.
As you drive in and out of the Painted Hills, you'll see hundreds of acres of rich bottomland farming, mostly alfalfa fields. Some of these farms and ranches have been in the same families for 150 years
Sheep Rock: This is where the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is... but don't let that dry-sounding title deter you from visiting!
The visitor center is very interesting, even for children. There are several rooms with hundreds of items on display and beautiful, colorful wall size murals depicting all sorts of extinct animals. You are given a notebook to read as you go along, which provides more information about the displays. There is also a short movie.
Outside, there are dramatic rock formations and trails to walk along for nice views. The trails vary from short and easy to a more strenuous 3 mile overlook trail. The pretty John Day river winds through this area.
Just a short distance down the road is the James Cant Ranch, a restored 1917 ranch house that houses cultural and historical displays.
Although quite different, both these units are well worth visiting. Allow enough time to see them both!
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