Who the Hell is John Day?!

OK, I’ll get to John Day in a minute, but first let me tell you a little bit about the area around Crater Lake before moving on.

One of the things I learned at the Crater Lake Visitors Center was that, even though no rivers or streams feed into the lake, snowmelt that doesn’t spill into it, feeds intermittent streams that flow outward towards the Klamath, Rogue, and Umpqua River Basins.  I didn’t know it when I booked a room at the Prospect Historic Hotel, but I ended up staying several nights along one of the rivers (Rogue) fed by Crater Lake runoff, right in the Siskiyou National Forest.  I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of the quaint little hotel built in 1892, which is in the National Register of Historic Places!  I home-based out of my room in the little town with a population of a few hundred people, to explore Crater Lake and the surrounding area, and to just have a little down town.  I even took a nap on one of the hotel’s comfy porch couches one afternoon 🙂 

A nature path, less than a half mile from the hotel, led me to Pearsony Falls.  A great place to sit and listen to nature.
From the time I turned east at Grants Pass on my way to Crater Lake, until I left the Umpqua National Forest as I made my way north when I left the Park for my next destination, I rode the Upper Rogue segment of the Rogue Umpqua Scenic Byway.  Oregon does a great job of designating, and labeling, its scenic byways!
I took this pic of the raging water below standing at an overlook 45 feet above the Rogue Gorge, just a few miles down the road from my hotel.  The gorge forms a chasm 500 feet long and narrows to 25 feet…it was pretty loud!

OK, now on to John Day…

Content with my time in the Crater Lake area, I set my sights on the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, northeast of Bend, OR.  Of course, my first question was “Who was John Day?”  He must’ve done something truly heroic to have a national monument, as well as two rivers, two cities, a county, a dam, and a reservoir named after him.  From what I can find, he did absolutely nothing, other than to exist, to garner these kinds of honors.  He was a frontiersman, who came to Oregon in 1812 as part of an overland expedition, apparently hired for his marksmanship ability to provide food along the journey.  His claims to fame appear to be being left behind by the expedition at one point (either due to his, or a companion’s illnesses, reports conflict), then being robbed and left naked by Indians, going “insane” when sent back to St. Louis then returned to Oregon where he spent the remaining eight years of his life hunting and fishing.  As far as historians can tell, he discovered nothing- no fossils, no rivers, nor did he contribute to anything that bears his name.  Well, isn’t that interesting?!  (NPS, Legends of America, City of John Day). 

At any rate, the national monument that bears his name is divided into three separate units; I visited two of them: Painted Hills and Sheep Rock.

Access to the Painted Hills unit of the monument entailed traversing a couple of miles of gravel (mostly packed) road.  I paused part-way to take a break and snap this pic- you can see a bicyclist making his way down the road.
The red and tan hues that make up the colorful hills called the Painted Hills, are fossil soils from deciduous forests, about 33 million years ago.  They reminded me of the Painted Desert that I visited in Arizona several years ago. –NPS website 
A short walk along a boardwalk allows you to stroll along the hills in Painted Cove.
Strolling along the boardwalk through Painted Cove gives you a close-up look at the pop-corn textured claystones that make up the Painted Hills.  
About an hour ride through the gorgeous Ochoco National Forest brought me to the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center in the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument.  Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages, the facility was closed for the day, so I wasn’t able to view the fossil museum gallery or paleontology lab, but I enjoyed a rest stop in the parking lot overlooking the unit’s namesake- Sheep Rock.
This barn on the historic James Cant Ranch was part of the sheep and cattle farmstead established by Scottish immigrants, James and Elizabeth Cant, in the early 1900s.  The 1917 ranch house, also on the property, now serves as park headquarters and a museum.

Although I didn’t get to see many fossils or the paleontology lab, I still enjoyed my visit to this national monument- even if it’s named after a seemingly insignificant character of the past.

Now, it’s time to head west again for another meet-up with friends I haven’t seen in several years!

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