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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument - Oregon
What to do if you have little time : Painted Hills
John Day Fossil Beds is a National Monument cut in three parts : Painted Hills, Clarno Unit and Sheep Rock. The interset of the 3 sites is not equal and our preference clearly goes to Painted Hills.
The town of Mitchell is the ideal base for exploring Painted Hills. It's a town with authentic charm, very far west, with its hotel that kept the decoration of that time, its too short beds and bath in the old way. The pumpman seems straight out of a John Wayne's western.
Painted Hills is one of the 3 sites of John Day Fossil Beds NM. They are what we call badlands, desert areas where nothing grows. It's really an amazing place. The hills have surprising colors red, orange, yellow and black. They would have formed after a volcano eruption that occured 30 millions yers ago. It's very nice, provided you have a clear sky or even better after rain. The main hike is Overlook trail, about 0,5 mile roundtrip, which, as its name suggests, offers a beautiful panorama of the hills. Another hike (Red Hill 0,5 mile) leads to a red hill. The Painted Cove trail is also very short (loop of 0,2 mile) and partly arranged : the walk is done on wooden pontoons. The Caroll Rim trail is 1,6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 450 feet. It allows to climb on a hill to have an overall view. The trailhead is located on the opposite side of the road that leads to Overlook trail.
Access : the entrance to the park is 9 miles from Mitchell. Departing from Mitchell, take 26 West and at the turn of a hill, turn right, on the Bridge Creek Road and then left after a few miles on Bear Creek Road.
Second site of John Day, very different of the Painted Hills unit. Here the mountain takes surprising colors : green, blue. This site is rich in fossils protected under glass bell. Several hikes are possible. For our part, we made the Island in the Time Trail (1.2 mile roundtrip) which presents no difficulty and leads to the heart of the Green Mountains. On the course, fossils can be observed.
Access : from the city of Mitchell, take US26 east for 30,6 miles. Turn left (northward) on OR19 for 5,2 miles. Sheep Rock is on the right.
Last unit in John Day, less interesting than Painted Hills or Sheep Rock and much smaller. Here, you can see a few rocks in the shape of fences and fossils embedded in the rock. Three small footpaths of 0.5 mile roundtrip each can be used to visit the place. One of those paths leads to a small horizontal arch on top of a rock.
Access : from the city of Madras, take US97 north for 17.2 miles. Turn right on OR293 east for 13.5 miles to the small town of Antelope. Continue on OR218 for 18.1 miles until you reach the parking.
Small city "old west" trying to keep a historical street (for tourists) with its saloon and hotel. Must not miss the visitor's center (Judy's Place), the gas station and the restaurant "Little Pine Cafe".
Access : on highway 26
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Copyright Magali and David BELLEC