Having the day off yesterday we decided we wanted to see the John Day Fossil Beds about 150 miles west of the campground. Heading out early we drove through the beautiful forest and then the landscape began to change. Following the John Day River bottom, the mountains gave way to arid hills but miles and miles of fertile hay ground in the valley would make any rancher drool! Stopping at the little town of Dayville we encountered the Mercantile which was opened in 1896 and still looks like it did the day it opened. Boy could the owners grow hanging baskets of beautiful flowers. Soon after leaving Dayville we arrived at the first of three designated areas of the John Day Fossil Beds called the Sheep's Rock Unit. Where once a fertile forest grew much like those found today from Illinois to Ohio. Back then it was inhabited with many hoof-like animals like horses and camels, cats from Asia along with early elephants. Looking at that landscape today it is beyond the imagination of what it looked like so many millions of years ago. Also part of that first area is the Rattlesnake Assemblage, formed about 5-7 million years ago, Picture Gorge 16 million years old, and Mascall Formation formed 15 million years ago. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center has over 2000 species of plants and animals that have been discovered and they are still finding new species. Next it was on to the Painted Hills Unit which was formed about 30 million years ago. On our way to the Painted Hills we came across a stange sight that we're sure wasn't part of the Fossil Beds but funny...guess they don't have "Money Trees" in Oregon but a different kind of "Shoe Tree!" There were hundreds of pairs of shoes thrown up over the tree branches. SOme one has a sense of humor. During that time they can tell by the different layers of rock that over 80 huge volcanoes rocked that area, about one every 8000 years. It once was a tropical forest, now baked mounds of clay where many fossils of tropical pants and leaves have been discovered. One of the most gorgeous sights we have ever seen, it is hard to imagine it was once a tropical forest. As you walk close to the mounds of clay, they look like popcorn dried and hard but when it rains they turn from the deep burgundy and yellow to a sheen of pastel pink and gold. You can see by the vertical lines coming down from the tops of the mounds where the clay when wet, makes streaks down the mounds. The red is from rusty iron minerals oxidized by long exposure. The yellow is made up of a mixture of oxidized magnesium and iron, metamorphic claystone minerals which over time have changed to Bentonite which absorbs water very quickly. Black hash marks are rich in manganese. Each of the colors represents a different geologic process. The third unit is called the Clarno and was created between 40-55 million years ago. It was another 40 miles and was getting late with a storm brewing so we didn't make it there (have to save something for next time)! It was a jungle before the volcanoes came rushing through so we are anxious to go there as the 2 units we did explore were very different from each other. Tired but happy with our exploration we drove home through a huge rainstorm with drops so big they sounded like hail. How fun it is to explore places we never even knew existed which is what this is all about.