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John Day Fossil Beds

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located in three different units within the John Day Basin. The 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, (Near Dayville, featuring the Blue Basin and Foree areas, with rocks 15-30 million years in age; the Painted Hills Unit, ten miles from Mitchell, that displays the colorful Big Basin member, John Day Group, and Clarno Unit, 15 miles south of Fossil, where fossil can be seen in 45 million year-old volcanic mudflows. 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.

Description and map courtesy, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, NPS.

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.

Oregon Paleo Lands  
Institute Center

We are currently closed for the season. 

Upcoming Events

May 11, 2024 - Community Listening Session and Annual Spring Cleaning 


Opening Day for 2024 Season - TBA.

Want to Volunteer?

The Paleo Lands Center invites you, to meet the public and school groups at our educational hub of the John Day Basin. Volunteers can serve as Board Members, Advisors, Center helpers and docents and help share exciting natural history exhibits, brochures, and books with visitors and schools.
Please Contact the Center at 541-763-4480 or for details


Road and Weather Conditions


*Please call or email if you would like to schedule your school group for a visit during the week. Thank you!


Contact Information

333 West Fourth Street

Post Office Box 104

Fossil, OR 97830
Phone: (541) 763-4480




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