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Sheep Rock, towering 1,100 feet above the John Day River, gives its name to this unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The green and pink layers of Sheep Rock represent a period of time approximately 28 to 25 million years ago.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a 14,000 acre park near Kimberly, 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 west of Fossil. Blue Basin is a volcanic ash bowl transformed into claystone by eons of erosion, colored pastel blue by minerals.
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.
This area's National Monument status was authorized October 26, 1974 and established in 1975.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument protects one of the longest and most continuous records of evolutionary change and biotic relationships in North America.
Here, scientists have unearthed countless fossils of land plants and animals dating back 6 to 54 million years as well as evidence of the dramatic climatic changes that have occurred.
The monument includes over 14,000 acres found in 3 widely separated units, the Sheep Rock Unit, Painted Hills Unit, and Clarno Unit. All 3 units are in the John Day River Basin, a major tributary of the Columbia River and the longest undammed river that flows into the Columbia today.
Deep ravines and eroded, fossil-bearing formations bisect the steep mountainous terrain. The monument lies within the Blue Mountain physiographic province in northeast Oregon. With average rainfall in the 9-16 inch range,due to the rain shadow effects from the Cascades and Ochoco Mountains to the west, it is categorized as a semi-arid climate. Elevations run from 2,000 to 4,500 feet within the John Day Fossil Beds and much of the precipitation for the area comes as snow in the winter.
The river and streams are vital to the survival of many of the wildlife species inhabiting the monument. Over 50 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, 14 species of reptiles, 6 species of amphibians, and 10 species of fish use the park either seasonally or yearlong. Over 240 plants and flowers have adapted to the growing conditions found here.
Two Research Natural Areas are found in the Sheep Rock Unit and protect nearly pristine vegetative communities. Seventy-five acres of agricultural land is irrigated and maintained to preserve the cultural landscape of the Cant Ranch National Historic District.
Trails at the Sheep Rock Unit
Flood of Fire - [1/4 mile hike] Gently ascending. This trail crosses a ridge to a viewpoint overlooking the John Day River Valley and the surrounding basalt cliffs.
Story in Stone – [1/4 mile hike] Easy. This trail, featuring touchable exhibits, skirts a basin of blue-green claystone of the John Day Formation. The formation contains fossils of mammals which lived here 25 to 30 million years ago. This trail is traversable by wheelchair with moderate difficulty.
Blue Basin Area
Island in Time - [1 mile hike] Self-guided nature trail. This gently ascending trail leads to an amphitheater carved out of the blue-green John Day Formation. The volcanic ash, now turned to claystone, yields a rich variety of vertebrate fossils. Interpretive signs and fossil replicas are included along the trail.
Blue Basin Overlook – [3 mile hike] Strenuous, 600 ft. elevation gain. A strenuous, but rewarding, loop trail brings you to a spectacular vista overlooking the John Day River Valley. It is dusty in places and may be impassable in wet weather.
James Cant Ranch Area
River Trail - begins at the James Cant Ranch parking lot [½ mile hike] Accessible to those in wheelchairs, this trail leads one down to the John Day River. Trail exhibits feature the current natural and cultural surroundings.
Sheep Rock Overlook Trail - begins at the James Cant Ranch house [½ mile hike] Starting at the front gate,this trail ends at an overlook with a great view of the valley.
Thomas Condon Visitor Center area
Thomas Condon Overlook Trail - begins at the Thomas Condon Visitor Center [½ mile hike] This trail ends at an overlook with a great view of the valley. It begins at the south end of the parking lot.
Mascall Formation Overlook - one mile south of Picture Gorge off of Route 26 [300’ hike] Grand views of the John Day Valley and Picture Gorge await one here. Exhibits along a short trail feature both prehistory and human history.
To log this cache there are 2 requirements. First, post a picture of yourself and your GPSr at the visitors center or another known feature in the background. Second, do some research and email me the correct answers to three (3) of the following questions: Please do not post your answers in your log.
1)Who was the first scientific investigator of the fossils in the John Day region?
2)In what year did the first scientific investigator visit the John Day region?
3)What is a fossil?
4)What is the study of fossils called?
5)Name two methods (stopwatches) for dating fossils?
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