While visiting the state-of-the-art Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, be sure to take in one of the surrounding hikes.
The Blue Basin’s Island in Time Trail, approximately 3 miles north of the Paleontology Center, is more than just spectacular scenery for the eyes.
The tan and blue-green layers of claystones and siltstones, volcanic ash turned to stone, have peeled back a treasure trove of fossils over the years.
At 1.3 miles, round-trip, the hike has a gravel trail with metal bridges and benches to rest on along the way.
The hike is easy enough for children, too.
Interpretive signs and fossil replicas located along the trail show the variety of vertebrate fossils that have been found, including oreodonts, similar to field hogs, and tortoises.
Even after 150 years of study, new fossils continue to be discovered in the basin.
Hikers should stick to the trail, and if a fossil is found, they can take a picture of it and show a ranger. Taking fossils or rocks is prohibited.
Another route at the trailhead, the Blue Basin Overlook, is a 3.25-mile loop with a spectacular vista. It is considered a moderate to strenuous hike with a 600-foot elevation gain and loss.
Directions: Travel west on Highway 26 from Dayville 6.9 miles to the Highway 19 junction in Picture Gorge. Turn right at the junction. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and Cant Ranch is 2.1 miles north. Approximately 3 miles farther, clearly marked with a brown metal sign, is the Blue Basin Trailhead, which includes paved parking, a picnic area and restrooms, but no water.
Traveling a short distance farther north is the breathtaking Cathedral Rock and, shortly after, the Foree Area’s Flood of Fire and Story in Stone trails.
The Flood of Fire (0.4 miles round trip) has a gravel trail with a viewpoint overlooking the John Day River Valley and a colorful rock formation similar to Cathedral Rock.
The Story in Stone (0.3 miles round trip) trail, which is partially paved, skirts above a small basin of blue-green claystone. Like the Blue Basin, the formation contains fossils of animals that lived in there 25 to 30 million years ago.