As a conclusion to our glorious, albeit truncated, rafting trip down the John Day River, we explored around the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We had lunch in the picnic area, and couldn’t help but notice a huge boulder that appeared to have duck lips sticking out of it. They have been puckered up and smirking up on the hillside for the last 56 million years.
This area is rich in fossils from the Eocene era and onward: just after the dinosaur extinctions, the beginning of the rise of mammals in the environment. This desert area was a rainforest then, hot and humid and dense with jungle growth. Tiny horses, crocodiles, early dogs, and huge brontotheres roamed about. The climate gradually cooled, plants and animals changed and adapted, and the area became temperate and seasonal. All of these happenings are reflected in the various layers of rocks.
We searched eagerly for fossils, not really knowing what to look for. The fossils I had found in my own backyard were in soft clay, with blackish substance around them, and very fragile. Fossils in museums are shiny and polished, brilliant with color. What would a fossil look like here, in its natural unpolished state? There was a nature trail there, and some leaf fossils were pointed out via an explanatory sign. They were not fragile and crumbly–they were definitely hard stone. The sign said they were from the Oligocene era–approximately 30 million years old.
Fortified with new knowledge, we were able to find other fossil leaves embedded in the boulders. Collecting is forbidden here, so we took only pictures. The tan shape in the photo above is a leaf fossil.
The entire area is fascinating, filled with magnificent rock formations in various colors. It is rugged and steep, and filled with beauty at every turn.
Armed with a field guide to rocks, a camera, and a notepad, I could spend many happy hours exploring and learning about the rich geologic history of our state. I hope to one day attend the Forever Learner program at UO and earn a BS degree in Geology, just for my own benefit.