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“Excellent Wander Through Geology”

Ranked #1 of 7 things to do in John Day
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Reviewed June 8, 2013

Our time was limited so we only visited the Sheep Rock Unit with the Thomas Condon visitor's center and the historic Cant Ranch, and walked the Story In Stone Trail located at the Foree picnic area. The trail was paved for use by wheelchairs and we did push our wheelchair the whole way, but the entire loop was not paved, we should probably have returned the way we came to make things easier for the chair.

Ranger Axel at the Thomas Condon center was very kind and helpful. When we arrived they had not quite opened and he was out raising the flag. Then he offered to let us in early and show us the film as soon as we wanted. He was soon joined by Ranger Megan Wilkins who had been up on the hillside photographing wildflowers. Megan helped us find the paleontologists who were digging on the side of Sheep Rock, aligned the binoclulars and the bench just so we could enjoy seeing the scientific method in progress.

The Cant Ranch House was my favorite part of the visit. I learned so much about the sheep wars and the process of growing and getting wool to the mills! I loved that we had the freedom to look in the only partially updated kitchen to see how things used to be done. The old photography was also well preserved and interesting. One of the first things we saw there was the tree map posted on the front wall of the house and it was one of the last things we referred back to, as well.

Everything was clean and well-stocked. The only thing in short supply was shade! Luckily, the Cant Ranch still has part of its old orchard with picnic tables beneath a few of the trees and we were able to eat our lunch in comfort.

If you are creationists, the Thomas Condon center is annoying - the film is the most annoying part because there is an excess of imagination and "millions of years ago" all shown as postitive truth when most of it is still theory, conjecture, and guesswork. I would have much preferred a film showing how the digs went, who did the digging, what was found - in other words, the history of this site rather than imaginative drawings of what things might have been like and footage of Hawaiian lava flows. That is the only reason for the lower rating.

On a wet day this is probably a miserable place to be. On a sunny day it is a very hot place to be. I don't advise anyone to go there in the heat of summer but that is the most likely time for travel so don't say I didn't warn you. Bring your own drinks and food, there are no stores closer than 10 miles and they close early.

Thank Lucinda S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviews (356)
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265 - 269 of 356 reviews

Reviewed May 29, 2013

The way this monument is set up, we had to do it over a couple different days to do it justice. What a spectacular place to see desert scenery and fossils. Each of the 3 units are unique and fascinating to visit. All have picnic areas so bring a lunch since you're not really near any major towns. My favorite of the 3 units is the Painted Hills unit near Mitchell. It's like an artist went into the desert and painted a masterpiece. The reds, yellows, greens, whites, and even some purple on the hills are awesome to look at even on a gray, windy, day when we visited. Lots of short trails to overlooks and formations. We took all but one here. The 2 I highly recommend are the Painted Hills Overlook Trail and the Painted Cove Trail. The Cove trail is handicapped accessible and takes one right next to a red formation. Pretty cool.

The Clarno unit near Fossil is the smallest of the 3 and really doesn't take too long to visit. If you park in the picnic area, you can walk a connector trail explaining the geologic eras. If not, there is a small parking area near the start of the Fossil Trail. You have to look carefully, but this is the best trail in the park to see actual fossils in the rocks. There is a side trail that takes you up to an arch in the rocks. It can be seen without taking the trail.

The Sheep Rock unit near Dayville is the biggest unit of the 3 and was done on a separate day which was a nice one. The visitor center does a great job describing the geologic eras and the types of formations you can find throughout the area. Across the road is the Cant ranch which is a nice step back in time. A lot of nice side trails to overlooks at both places. Be careful with the Barn Trail since we did see a snake nearby. Sheep Rock is the dominant rock feature here and it's cool to look at. The northern part of the unit, the Foree, has a couple nice short trails to more rock formations. The Blue Basin area is great too. If you only take one trail in the Sheep Rock Unit, the Island In Time trail takes you into the heart of the basin with rock formations galore and more fossil talk. The Blue Basin trail is fine too if you want to overlook the area. If so, do it clockwise. The south end of the trail is steep and it's better going down than up.

The John Day Fossil Beds is an Eastern Oregon must.

6  Thank Rainier72
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 28, 2013

We visited two units in this fantastic national monument- Painted Hills Unit & Sheep Rock Unit. We split them up across two days so that we could drive around and visit near(ish)by attractions and towns like Prineville, Smith Rock, Ochoco Forest, Fossil & Spray, etc. The weather was lightly rainy with lovely sun-breaks. We went to Painted Hills on the sunnier day, and Sheep Rock on the rainier day, and that was a good choice, since much of what we enjoyed at Sheep Rock was the indoor interpretive center.

One thing I highly recommend is that, if at Painted Hills you'd like to do all of the short little trails (walks), then do the Carroll Rim hike last. It is so wonderful to go to all of the other places first, then go to the very top and look down at everywhere you have already visited.

If you're looking for "real" hikes that take some good time, then head back to Ochoco and tromp around the forest. Other than the already fairly short and easy Carroll Rim and the longer Sheep Rock's Blue Basin Overlook Trail, everything else is a simple walk that can very nearly be done in flip flops!

2  Thank superphoebe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 23, 2013

What a great national monument! Went to two out of the three sites and they were great. The Painted Hills Unit really looks painted -- bright reds, greens, whites, stunning against the bright blue sky. If you go, don't miss the Museum at the Sheep Rock Unit, it's terrific. Loads of skeletal remains of mammals and other critters, arranged nicely in a timeline from Early to Late Tertiary. You can really see the progression as you wander through. Loads of hippos! What a treat. More colorful rock assemblages with nice trails and good signage. If it rains, it could be very muddy with the clay strata so don't wear your best shoes. You could spend an hour or two or all day.

Thank websurfonly
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 22, 2013

There are three :units" to this unbelievable park, we went to The Painted Hills, and Sheep's Rock. Painted Hills is like being in the desert, except all hills and all colored, hard to describe. There are several short trails. It is a mystical experience, where you turn your head in all directions and gasp at the beauty! Sheep's Rock has a couple of hikes that take you into blue and green rock formations that look like ruins. Everywhere you drive between the units the landscape is absolutely spectacular, big gorgeous skies, mountains, words cannot describe the experience.

Thank HeyJudeOregon
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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