John Day (May 23-25, 2008)

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john_day_coverConditions: Road Trip & Day Hikes
Gear: nothing special, camera gear
Map: USGS Painted Hills OR, USGS Mount Misery OR
Area: Central Oregon

Part 1: Snohomish, WA to Redmond, OR, 5/23

I needed a road trip. I wasn't exactly feeling sorry for myself as much as itching to get away for a few days. One year ago this week I was camping in the Upper Enchantments. This year, I'm struggling with gimpy knees. I couldn't find any takers but that was OK. A solo road trip is good for the soul sometimes.

A few years ago Dad gave me one of those National Park Passports and I figured it was time to catch up on some stamps. This turned out to be the perfect trip.

I left home pretty early and the trip to Portland was uneventful. From Portland I kept my eyes peeled for 26>97. After Portland the overland route turns pretty spectacular. Too bad the trip up to Government Camp was shrouded in clouds and pouring rain. I didn't mind too much. The unsettled forecast for the entire weekend made me decide to find a motel in Redmond vs camping. I didn't want to hide out for long stretches in the tent avoiding the rain. It was a good choice. Note to self: if weather looks good stay at the Ochoco Divide Campground. It's awful purdy looking up there.

I found a couple of spots along the way to get out and stretch the legs and give the knees a break. The first real stop was NW Pelton Dam. The narrow road in the canyon to the dam was a nice treat. The real treat was the osprey nest atop a pole at the parking area. I tried to get a couple of shots (timing is everything) but the adult pair was very nervous about my being there and I didn't want to disturb them so I didn't linger long.

I was in Redmond by about 2pm and after dropping some stuff off, I headed out to Painted Hills for the evening.

Part 2: Painted Hills, 5/23

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a pretty interesting place geologically. It first was recognized as important in the 1860's due to the treasure of the fossil beds found there. The monument is composed of 3 units (Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno). Basically, the sedimentary rock of the rocks preserve a 40 million year record of plant and animal life. It was established as a National Monument in 1975 and when I asked at the information desk, was told that it was previously an Oregon State Park.

Painted Hills is the unit known for the very colorful hills that are the eroded remains of the lower John Day Formation. Volcanic ash and pumice from ancient Cascades volcanoes buried the area in many layers about 33 million years ago. Soil formation processes affected the layers differently resulting in the different hues. Red comes from rusty iron minerals. Golden colors come from oxidized magnesium and iron. Black from manganese. The lavender grey layer is the remains of a rhyolite lava flow (40 million years ago) and is part of the Clarno formation.

I got to Painted Hills in late afternoon. Good luck for me that is had recently rained, that helped bring out the color in the hills. The bad news is that the clay in the area had turned to glue. My boots and bottom side of my car got caked in the stuff and no amount of clapping of the boots could shake the stuff off. There were a couple of other cars in the Unit. I headed to the main overlook first, then the Cove, then Leaf Hill and finally sunset on the 3/4mi overlook trail. Painted Hills gets a  thumbs up from me.

The Painted Hills Unit is about 60 miles from Redmond, OR 126>26>Burnt Ranch Rd.

Part 3: Sheep Rock Unit, 5/24

Saturday brought yet another early start and I hit the road for the drive out to this portion of the monument 126>26>19

Wow, I didn’t expect what I found at this section of the unit. It’s about a 90 minute drive east from Redmond. The drive is fabulous. Once again I headed over Ochoco Divide and then over the Waterman Flat area. Wow, the area is stunning even with it’s shroud of low clouds and chilly weather. Eventually 26 drops down as it approaches 19. At the 26/19 junction the road squeezes though Picture Gorge and one gets a first view of the strata of Sheep Rock.

This unit of the monument is an active dig area. The blue clay-like rock of the area is loaded with fossils. There are signs all over the area warning one not to take rocks or fossils from the park. I didn’t realize that at the visitor center there is an active lab of sorts when one can watch the cleaning of fossils found within the park. It was very Jurassic Park like in the feel of the area.

I first headed off to the longest trail within this unit, the Overlook Trail (3mi). Winding my way clockwise around the feature was pretty interesting. Of course, lots of flowers was a plus. On the back side of the feature the trail climbs a few hundred feet to overcome the “gorge”. From up high you walk a trail that completely circles this “gorge”.

After the Overlook Trail I continued north on 19 and quick look see at the Flood of Fire Trail before heading back to the James Cant Ranch (HQ for the monument). There is a very nice museum there. After the tour of the museum it was time to head back to Redmond.

Part 4: Homeward Bound, 5/25

I decided to take a different route back home. I so glad I did this. From Redmond I followed 26 til the 97 junction. I followed 97 and then 197 north to The Dalles and Hood River. A driving tour of the south side of the Columbia River was perfect! On the drive north, I don’t recall exactly where the pullout was, but there was this sign that said “mountain identifier”. Of course I had to stop to see what the names of those gorgeous peaks were. Good thing I stopped.

I decided to take a tour of Bonneville Dam (thumbs up from me) before crossing over the Columbia on the Bridge of the Gods (major thumbs up). Then it was a scenic drive to Vancouver on 14 before taking the 205 bypass and then finally picking up I-5 for the remainder of the trip home.
John Day Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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