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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
IUCN Category III (Natural Monument)
Location Wheeler County & Grant County, Oregon, USA
Nearest city Kimberly, Oregon
Coordinates 44°33′00″N 119°38′04″W / 44.5498657°N 119.6344289°W / 44.5498657; -119.6344289Coordinates: 44°33′00″N 119°38′04″W / 44.5498657°N 119.6344289°W / 44.5498657; -119.6344289[1]
Area 14,000 acres (5,700 ha)
Established October 26, 1974
Governing body National Park Service

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a 14,000-acre (5,700 ha) park in eastern Oregon. Located within the John Day River Basin, this U.S. National Monument is world renowned for its well preserved, remarkably complete record of fossil plants and animals, a record that spans more than 40 of the 65 million years of the Cenozoic Era (also known as the Age of Mammals and Flowering Plants). The monument is divided into three units: Painted Hills (named for the delicately colored stratifications) northwest of Mitchell, Sheep Rock which is northwest of Dayville, and Clarno which is 20 miles (32 km) west of Fossil. Blue Basin is a volcanic ash bowl transformed into claystone by eons of erosion, colored pastel blue by minerals.

Visitors can follow trails into the badlands and examine fossils displayed at the visitor center while scientists continue field investigations and the painstaking analysis of the monument's vast fossil record. The Sheep Rock unit includes the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center with exhibits of fossils, and the Cant Ranch Museum which serves as the monument's headquarters and includes exhibits about human settlements on the ranch and in the area. The museums are located 2 miles (3.2 km) miles north of Picture Gorge along Route 19 near Dayville.

Exploration and study of the John Day fossil beds continues today. In many of the beds, the fossils are widely scattered, and their occurrence cannot be predicted. Many types of fossils deteriorate rapidly once erosion exposes them to the elements. Thus the fossil beds are continually canvassed by paleontologists. Visitors often take rocks as souvenirs, which is a federal crime.[2]

The fossil beds contain vestiges of the actual soils, rivers, ponds, watering holes, mudslides, ashfalls, floodplains, middens, trackways, prairies, and forests, in an unbroken sequence that is one of the longest continuous geological records. The rocks are rich with the evidence of ancient habitats and the dynamic processes that shaped them; they tell of sweeping changes in the John Day Basin. Great changes, too, have taken place in this area's landscape, climate, and in the kinds of plants and animals that have inhabited it.

Painted Hills unit


History of the fossil beds

Hoodoos at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

In 1861, fossilized rhinoceros teeth discovered in the area during an army expedition were given to Thomas Condon, who was then pastor at the Congregational Church in The Dalles, Oregon.[3] Although paleontology was still a new science at the time, Condon recognized the fossils as a scientific treasure. Discoveries such as Condon's galvanized scientific interest in the field.

By the late 19th century, researchers at Yale, Princeton, and the Smithsonian Institution had requested and received hundreds of specimens from the John Day Basin. They were then classified and described in the scientific literature. This early work set the stage for field paleontologists such as John C. Merriam, who in 1899 began the task of placing the John Day fossils in their geological, chronological, and paleoecological context. His efforts were instrumental in the preservation of the area.

The area's National Monument status was authorized October 26, 1974 and established in 1975.

Geologic formations

Strata at the Fossil Beds

The strata represented at John Day Fossil Beds consist of four geologic formations, presented here from top (most recent) to bottom (oldest):

Rattlesnake Formation (8 – 6 Ma)

These most recent strata, named for typical exposures along Rattlesnake Creek, are less fossiliferous than the older formations but contain fragmentary fossils of horses, sloths, rhinos, camels, peccaries, pronghorns, dogs, bears and others, with a preponderance of grazing animals over browsers, betokening a dry, cool climate that was dominated by grasslands.

Mascall Formation (15 – 12 Ma)

This is a warmer, wetter period. At its base, a roughly five-million-year interval between deposition of the Mascall Formation and the John Day Formation that underlies it is marked by intermittent flows of basaltic lava that repeatedly leveled and denuded the region. A period of moderate climate ensued, with more precipitation than today's, building up some 200 m of fluvial-lacustrine siltstones and sandstones that are the remains of highly fertile volcanic soil which supported a lush mixture of hardwood forest and open savanna grassland, already home to a great variety of recognizable horses, camels, and deer, as well as bears, weasels, dogs, and cats. At the same time large mammals made a resurgence: among them were the gomphotheres rhinos and bear-dogs.

John Day Formation (37 – 20 Ma)

Deciduous forests in a wide range of systems characterize this late Eocene to early Miocene sequence. More than 100 groups of mammals have been found in this formation as well, including representatives of dogs, temnocyonines, cats, swine, oreodonts, horses, camels, rhinos, and rodents. During this time, repeated volcanic events each left their unique "fingerprint" in thin layers of volcanic ash that have hardened to tuff. Securely dated by direct radiometric means and by comparison with the same ash layers at other locations the ash layers, like chapter headings, provide dated markers for the formation.

Sheep Rock and the John Day River
Clarno Formation (50 – 35 Ma)

The mantle of evergreen tropical to subtropical forests are revealed by a splendid sample of fossil seeds, nuts and fruits, leaves and woody structures, including fossilized remains of a member of the banana genus. Hundreds of species have been identified in this richly diverse ecosystem. Among the notable mammals were the giant browsers, the brontotheres and amynodonts, strong-jawed scavengers, hyaenodontids, and ruggedly framed predators such as Patriofelis. None of these left modern descendants.

See also


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