The John Day Fossil Beds

I just now got in from another evening campfire at our site here in Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR. It was another perfect night for a fire... cool temps, little wind, clear skies, cheap wood. Does life get any better?

And I'm serious when I wrote "cheap wood". Dreaded tree-killing insects have pretty much squashed the idea that you can drag your own cheap firewood from Cousin Biff's woodlot in Northern Idaho into a campground for those nightly campfires. Most States now have restrictions about it and demand that the wood you use come from within a few miles of the campground where it's consumed, or, conveniently, you can buy the wood they have available for sale. It seems the going price is $4 or $5 per little bundle... pretty much wherever you go. And it usually takes 2 bundles to have a decent campfire, if the wood is burnable at all. That's why we don't have as many campfires as we'd sometimes like.

Except here in Eastern Oregon. Here, at Clyde Holliday State Park, they have a large woodshed filled with an abundance of dry and very burnable wood... excellent wood for campfires. And imagine this... the woodshed is unlocked... they use something called "the honor system". They have a fee collection station right there and you deposit $3 into the slot for every load you take. They have a wheeled cart that's 2 cubic feet in size... about the amount of wood needed for a nightly campfire and more than twice what you'd get for $4 other places. They have a chopping block so you can split your own wood right there before filling the cart. Once full, you use the cart to drag your purchase to your site. Hmmm. Sounds too simple and too trusting... it'll never work. But it does. And that's why we've been having a fire every night and why I think I'm home!


Today, Tuesday, we got an early start and headed back to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument -- about 30 miles west of our camp. We stopped at the Visitor Center there on the way down with the bus-house on Sunday and collected some basic information on where to go and what to see. Today we went back to explore.

Over the past 50 or 60 million years, pretty much the time frame for the development of mammals on the earth, the Eastern half of what is now Oregon had been inundated by the effects of volcanic activity in the western part of the USA. Layers upon layers of ash or lava or mud or all three at the same time have preserved a record in fossils of life during those years, plant life as well as animal life. Because the different layers of volcanic material can be dated very accurately, the records of life contained within each layer can be dated in the same manner. And because most of these volcanic inundations happened quickly, many animals didn't have time to escape and large numbers were caught in the fossil record we can see today. The landscape all around us here is filled with the evidence of early life and scientist have only begun to scratch the surface of what's here. For a paleontologist or a geologist, it's a very exciting place to be.

The National Monument itself preserves about 20 square miles of these rich fossil-bearing rocks, only a small portion of the, oh, maybe 20,000 square miles that exist. But those 20 square miles are some of the most dramatic landscapes you'll ever see.

Earlier today, we again stopped at the Visitor's Center in order to learn more about the area and the work that's going on here. There are wonderful exhibits that help a novice like me understand a bit more about it all. Then we drove to two of the three far-flung units of the Monument to hike out into the landscape and see for ourselves what it looks like up close. A total of three short hikes today.

I don't have pictures ready to go with this journal update, but in a day or so you'll be able to see, in an online photo album, some of what we saw today.  I'll also do another journal update tomorrow, Wednesday, with a little more detail of what we saw today.

Hope you're well...

Thom Hoch
Clyde Holliday State Park near John Day, OR.


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