Some 54 million years ago, this entire region of Oregon lay beneath the Pacific Ocean. Within the striated rock, scientists have found fossilized evidence of more than 2,200 plants and animals and of great shifts in temperature and precipitation that may reveal clues to the planet’s climactic cycles. The park’s 14,000 acres are divided into three parts — the Clarno, Painted Hills and Sheep Rock Units — offering rugged hiking trails, spring and summer wildflowers, scenic drives, and of course, a museum of fascinating fossils to help visitors reflect on the planet’s long history.
The fossils at John Day span 40 million years and offer one of the richest evolutionary records of the Cenozoic Era, including prehistoric alligators, bears, dogs, pigs, horses, cougars and even hippopotamuses. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in the Sheep Rock Unit has more than 500 of these fossils on display.