Tag Archives: John Day Fossil Beds NM

May 29: Alligator soil and flowers where you least expect them

Today was a short drive day. I spent the morning exploring the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds, which turned out to be my favorite part. The hills weren’t just multicolored – red from iron, gray from manganese, lavender and yellow from minerals I don’t remember, sorry – they’re textured to look like the skin of some ancient reptile. Nothing grows on them where the soil hasn’t been disturbed, because of the density of the clay and a whole bunch of other things. Where they have been disturbed, even out in that desolate country, there are flowers. I saw three species I had never seen before, and thanks to a lovely identification panel on the kiosk at the picnic area, I now know what their friends call them <g>

My first painted hill,
My first painted hill,
Orange globe mallow.
Orange globe mallow.
Along a nature trail in the Painted Hills.  That's jugwalk just like in Yellowstone, BTW.
Along a nature trail in the Painted Hills. That’s jugwalk just like in Yellowstone, BTW.
To me this looks like some giant ancient reclining reptile.  And yes, that's Merlin in the background.
To me this looks like some giant ancient reclining reptile. And yes, that’s Merlin in the background.
Prairie clover.
Prairie clover.
Golden bee plant.
Golden bee plant.

Prineville was about an hour’s drive on, and I stopped there for lunch before coming on to Redmond (just north of Bend), where I have taken my first motel of the trip (I had always planned on stopping in motels about every third night – for showers and wifi and easy charging of stuff, if nothing else). I was a bit concerned about finding a motel on the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, so I checked in early, then drove over to Sisters, of quilt show fame.

Sisters is sort of the Cannon Beach of central Oregon. Or maybe that crossed with Winthrop? Anyway, lots of tourists, but some really good huckleberry ice cream. And the Stitchin’ Post (the shop that started the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show all those years ago), which was something of a disappointment. For one thing, half the shop is knitting stuff now, and for the other, I don’t know who their fabric buyer is these days, but her taste and mine do not agree. I was looking for fabric that would say, this came from Sisters to me, but mostly what they had was that sixties-looking stuff that does nothing for me, and has nothing to do with where the shop is.

It wasn’t important (having just packed up my entire stash a couple of days ago, I am acutely conscious that I need more fabric like I need a hole in my head), but it was sad to me, anyway.

I did get some spectacular views of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Bachelor along the way, but there was no place to pull over and actually take pictures. I promise to try to do better on that front tomorrow.

May 28: Volcanoes and Stonehenge and fossils, oh, my

Having fallen asleep before most children’s bedtime last night, I woke up with the birds this morning. And ended up driving a bit further than I thought I would for one day, but that’s okay.

Odd landscape just before Yakima.
Odd landscape just before Yakima.

Down U.S. 12 to Yakima, where I drove five miles of I-82 before I could escape onto U.S. 97, about 60 miles down to the Columbia River. 97 crosses the Yakama (yes, that’s spelled right) Nation Indian Reservation, and for some reason I’d been expecting high desert. What I got was beautiful foothills, and peekaboo glimpses of Mt. Hood, until I got to the little town of Goldendale, where I had gorgeous views of both Hood and Mt. Adams to its north. And a farmers’ market on this Saturday morning, where I bought some strawberries.

Mt. Adams from Goldendale.
Mt. Hood from Goldendale.
Mt. Hood from Goldendale.  Sorry about the foreground...
Mt. Adams from Goldendale. Sorry about the foreground…

Then I went to Stonehenge <g>. No, not that Stonehenge, but the replica built back after WWII as a war memorial, perched over the Columbia River. It’s made of concrete and is seriously surreal.

The Stonehenge replica along the Columbia River.
The Stonehenge replica along the Columbia River.

Then across the wide Columbia River and my first state line of the trip, into Oregon, and on south through miles of wide open countryside, over at least one pass and past several hundred wind turbines (more than I’ve ever seen anywhere including Washington state’s Palouse country, which is saying a lot), along the John Day River, and through some cute towns.

Wasco, where someone’s got a weird sense of humor, and Condon, which I’m really glad isn’t a typo, and Fossil, where I ate lunch in the middle of a motorcycle rally. Well, in a café in the middle of a motorcycle rally, anyway.

Amusement in Wasco, Oregon.
Amusement in Wasco, Oregon.
In front of City Hall, Fossil, Oregon, with peonies.
In front of City Hall, Fossil, Oregon, with peonies.

I was headed towards John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. The landscape there reminds me in some ways of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Lots of multicolored rock layers. The history was interesting, too. John Day (whose namesake was a fur trapper) was sheep farming country before the fossils were discovered, and the park service has preserved one of the farms, with well-done interpretation.

Cathedral Rock, John Day Fossil Beds NM.  I love the stripes.
Cathedral Rock, John Day Fossil Beds NM. I love the stripes.
A sheepshearing shed at the history exhibit at John Day Fossil Beds.
A sheepshearing shed at the history exhibit at John Day Fossil Beds.

But the best part was the John Condon Paleontological Center (John Condon was one of the first people to discover the fossils). They don’t do dinosaurs at John Day. They do ancient mammals. The Cenozoic period, to be precise. Fascinating stuff. I spent a good chunk of my afternoon there.

One of the exhibits at the paleontology center.  That horned thing was supposed  to be sort of like a horse, and sort of like a giraffe.
One of the exhibits at the paleontology center. That horned thing was supposed to be sort of like a horse, and sort of like a giraffe.

But it was time to find a place to stay for the night. I’m in another forest service campground (I figure on finding a motel or hostel or whatever about every third night), up in the forest above the high desert. It’s nice and cool, and there are wildflowers, and I got the last campsite <g>. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Prairie starflower at the Barnhouse Campground.
Prairie starflower at the Barnhouse Campground.