Thursday, May 18, 2006
Hiking John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Welcome to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. If you are ever in the middle of nowhere in central Oregon, you are probably in John Day. This remote part of Oregon in the north central part of the state has some amazing geology and some very nice hikes. Most of the rock in the area is eroded volcanic and if you look closely you will see fossils almost anywhere you look.
Because we were on a quick day trip through the area, we only stopped at the Clarno Unit of the National Monument. If you are wondering, the National Monument is HUGE! Getting to John Day can be quite a trip, it is 240 miles from Portland, Oregon and 122 miles from Bend, Oregon. We drove up Highway 97 through Bend and Madras up to Road 218. Be advised the Road 218 is a narrow two-lane road. Usually there is very little traffic but we happened to get caught behind three busses full of students, obviously making there way out to John Day as well. I say obviously becuase the only thing east of this area is Fossil, Oregon, and once you drive through Fossil, you realize that the whole town would not even fill three school busses. On a side note, when you leave Bend, Oregon, you pass one of the great climbing areas in North America, Smith Rock State Park. This trip was not about rock climbing, more about geology, but it is hard to pass one of the first places in the country to have a 5.14 climb!
As far as hiking goes, the trails are pretty easy and well defined. You can find yourself getting lost wondering around and looking at the beauty of the rocks. If it is hot you can always go to the John Day River and take a soak, it looked quite appealing when we passed but time was not on our side. A very family friendly hike along the Geologic Time Trail is well worth the hour or so you can spend on it. It is only 1/4 mile long but plan on taking the Trail of the Fossils loop as well as the Clarno Arch Trail (arch pictured above). All in all you can hike 2 or 3 miles at this location from the parking lot and back.
If you have the time, to the Painted Hills Unit and do some of the hikes there as well, once again all are well marked and fairly easy to hike. The overlook view is spectacular. Enjoy the area and if you have some rock shoes handy, remember you are close to Smith Rock...