John Day Fossil Beds: A Study (Preliminary)
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Should the national monument become a reality, some improvements in the units suggested, plus limited land acquisition, will be necessary as outlined below.

1. Land Acquisition

Road Right-of-Ways: Acquisition of the private lands to provide access from the major highways to the Mascall Overlook, Sheep Rock, Turtle Cove, and the Foree Units.

Administration: Acquisition of that portion of private land in Cottonwood Creek Valley located between the Mascall Overlook and Picture Gorge. The acquisition of additional private land in the Sheep Rock Unit is necessary for the development of an administrative site and a right-of-way for a river crossing between the present parking area and the fossil formation. At Clarno a good portion of outstanding formations now occurs outside of the existing State park. The boundaries of this area should be expanded and the private land involved purchased. so as to include these formations in the proposed unit.

2. Development: Parking areas currently exist at all of the proposed units; however, they are inadequate and some enlargement and reconstruction is needed at each of them. A major visitor center and an administrative headquarters unit, including an office building, residences, and utility buildings, are proposed at the Sheep Rock Unit.

At this unit, there is the problem of visitor crossing of the John Day River. Some type of facility, such as a tram or foot bridge, will be needed. All development can be accommodated on the west side of the river along State Route 19 and the need for a vehicle bridge is not foreseen.

Unmanned interpretive centers are proposed at all areas except Sheep Rock and the Cathedral Unit, with inplace exhibits planned at Turtle Cove and Foree. Nature and interpretive trails are proposed at Sheep Rock, Turtle Cove, and Clarno. Permanent quarters are proposed in the headquarters area, with seasonal quarters planned at the Turtle Cove and Clarno Units. A complete signing program, both within the national monument units and throughout the area will be necessary. This program should include both information and interpretive signing.

All units will require fencing to protect them from existing noncompatible uses, such as livestock, hunting, and rock and fossil hunting.

A national monument as described above would be the minimum solution feasible in terms of National Park Service management, development, and interpretation. The alternative to this solution would be complete administration by the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Division. Under this alternative, the Service could be of valuable assistance to the Division, if requested, in the cooperative planning of a comprehensive interpretive program.

Several inter-connecting segments of the existing highway system afford opportunity for excellent loop tours that lead through the combination of sites, reduce back-tracking on the part of the visitor, and provide access to good camping facilities that are available at the high elevation forests out of the summer heat.

One such loop tour is afforded by State Route 19 from Picture Gorge on U.S. 26, north to Kimberly, west to Spray and Service Creek, then continuing south on State 207 to Mitchell and returning to U.S. 26.

A second example would be a loop tour along the same route as above to Kimberly, but then turning east on State 208 to Monument and Long Creek, then southward on U.S. 395 to Mt. Vernon and U.S. 26.

View of Sunken Mountain, adjacent to State Route 208 near Monument.



A series or combination of sites situated both in Grant and Wheeler Counties is suitable for geological and paleontological exhibit and interpretation as a John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This conclusion is well documented and reinforced by the Shotwell Report.


While geologic exposures like the Clarno, John Day, and the Columbia River Basalts occur frequently throughout Wheeler and western Grant Counties, units of the Oregon State Park System certainly contain some of the more significant exposures and, so far as is known, perhaps the core or the heart of the paleontological resources. Thus, the resources already are available for public use and benefits. It would not appear desirable or feasible to make changes in this present arrangement, especially since the State apparently does not wish to release its interest in the area at this time.


The national significance of the geological and paleontological resources of the Upper John Day River Basin is recognized. From preliminary studies, it appears that the area is suitable for establishment as a national monument. Because of feasibility factors, however, the area is not recommended for inclusion in the National Park System.

If the future situation indicates the need for further protection or if the State should actively seek national monument status for the resource, then additional study should be made at that time, looking toward the possibility of establishing a John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. In the meantime, National Park Service efforts should be directed toward offering the State planning or other assistance which will afford adequate protection and use of the resource.

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Last Updated: 07-May-2007