Park Brochure

The park brochure is available in a variety of formats, including print copies, audio-description, and text only.


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Audio-Described Version


Quick Overview

This is the audio only described version of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s park brochure. It presents the history of the park and information about planning your visit. The brochure is a combination of text, illustrations, maps and historic and contemporary photographs of people and fossils.

Side one presents the paleontological history of the park and its fossil record dating back millions of years. In many cases, a fossil is presented alongside the illustration of what the species may have looked like within its environment.

Side two focuses on information about the park and its units. There is a map of the park in its entirety and maps for the Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno units. Color photographs of these units as well as the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the James Cant Ranch are provided along with text about getting to the park, what to do once you arrive and information to stay safe and get the most out of your visit.

The content of the brochure and descriptions of the visuals are presented under their own sections.

John Day Fossil Beds: An Introduction

The top one third of side one of the brochure is an artistic color illustration of what the John Day Fossil Beds area might have looked like millions of years ago. The text and descriptions of the illustration and two fossils are presented under their own sections

Text: Uncovering Past Life

Title: Evidence of Past Life Preserved by Geologic Processes. Text: Under the hills and valleys of eastern Oregon is one of the richest fossil beds on Earth, an ancient record spanning most of the Age of Mammals. Though the fossil organisms are long gone, their descendants may be living in our own backyards.

Named for the nearby river, the John Day Fossil Beds expose extraordinarily well preserved specimens. Also remarkable is the great number and variety of fossils: entire communities have been uncovered. There are remnants of past soils, rivers, ponds, mudslides, ashfalls, middens, track-ways, prairies, and forests. This record occurs in an ordered sequence, well interspersed with datable rock layers.

Science is ongoing here, and the discoveries do more than add to the list of fossils. They uncover an amazing array of evolutionary events: global and local changes in the distant past, climate fluctuations, extinctions, and life forms new to science. The John Day Fossil Beds reveal clues to our present and a glimpse of what our future could hold.


Descriptions: Illustration and Fossils

Following is the description of the illustration and two associated fossils.

Illustration description: This is a panoramic artistic rendition depicting fauna and flora found in the Hancock Mammal Quarry of the Clarno Unit, as it would have looked 40 million years ago. In the foreground is the end of a meandering muddy stream. On the right, one large adult brontothere, a rhinoceros relative, and a juvenile walk along a path of puddles where the stream tapers off. The forest of deciduous trees and vines grows thick in the background and a volcano looms in the far distance beyond the trees.

Tapirs-like animals, which have a shape similar to that of large pigs, graze near the waterfront and in the distance. In the left background, a Hemipsalodon, which is a large carnivore the size of a bear, feasts on an animal. Several skulls and skeletons with large rib cages are found along the water's edge, foreshadowing the fossils found in present day at the Hancock Mammal Quarry

Illustration caption: Above [top one-third of side one of the brochure] Inhabitants of the Hancock Mammal Quarry 40 million years ago. Top [left]: Alnus leaf fossil and skull of the nimravid Eusmilus, a bobcat-sized predator from the Turtle Cove Assemblage.

Artifact description: The oval, brown Alnus leaf fossil is short stemmed and rounded with a tip. It lays flat on an almost white rock that has tan sections and grey specs. The leaf fossil has one main vein extending from its base to its tip. Smaller veins branch off on either side. On the upper left area of the leaf, a small circular portion is missing, further exposing the rock beneath it.

Artifact description: The skull of a sabertooth carnivore fossil, called the nimravid is presented. Its mouth is open, displaying its two large fangs and several sharp incisors in front. The tan skull is angled to show its left side, which highlights the bony ridge on the top portion of the skull, its wide nose bridge and long bottom jaw line that leads to a bulbous chin.

In Search of Lost Worlds

This section presents text and descriptions for four associated photographs.

Text: Eastern Oregon was first recognized as an important paleontological region in the 1860s, thanks to the young frontier minister, Thomas Condon (pictured left of text). Paleontology, the study of ancient life, was still a new science at the time. Condon’s discoveries spurred scientific interest. By the late 1800s, scientists from Yale, Princeton, and the Smithsonian Institution had acquired tons of fossil specimens from the area, which they classified and presented to the scientific community.

This early work set the stage for field paleontologists like John C. Merriam of the University of California, who in 1899 began placing the John Day fossils into their geological, chronological, and paleoecological context. His work helped preserve these fossil resources. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 1975.

Exploration and study continue today (pictured middle right and far right of text). Each year adds hundreds of specimens to institutional collections. Most are mere fragments —a few teeth, for instance— but each is accompanied by a wealth of field data: geographical location, stratigraphic position, and other facts about its recovery. This information, as well as that gained as the fossils are prepared and studied in the lab, becomes part of the global paleontological record.

The John Day Fossil Beds are dispersed across 20,000 square miles of eastern Oregon. The beds have yielded such a wealth of information that scientists can assemble and reconstruct ancient ecosystems. Eight of these ”assemblages” are re-created in the museum gallery of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. They are summarized below.

Photo description: The black and white portrait shows young Thomas Condon sitting on a velvet stool next to a small table on his right. His body is angled slightly towards the table, but his face is squared to the front. His expression is neutral. His wavy dark hair covers the top half of his ears. His dark beard is trimmed and without a mustache. He is dressed in Victorian-era clothing with an unbuttoned dark suite, vest, and flat bowtie. His right arm rests on the table on which he holds a fossil. The fossil is a football-sized block of marine shells encased in rocks. Behind the fossil are two hardcover stacked books. A lace-edged curtain drapes the table and is seen in the background. His other hand rests on his knee.

Photo description: A contemporary color photograph of a paleontologist on the ground. Her left leg is outstretched. She rests on her right hip. Her semi-upright torso leans forward as she closely examines the ground for fossils. The top soil has been removed from the five foot by two foot rectangular section of rock she is on top of. The tan rock that surrounds her looks like thin layers of small slabs of sedimentary rock, shaped like playing cards. A few brown short grasses grow in the top soil that surrounds the rock. Fossil tools are near her feet and include a rock hammer, dust broom, collection container, and mapping tool.

Artifact photo description: A cut-out picture of a marsh pick is on top of the photo of the paleontologist in the field. It is a hand tool used for splitting and breaking rocks. It has a wooden handle. The head is metal and attached to the handle at a right angle. One side of the chisel has a broad, flat blade and the other is a pick.

Photo description: In this contemporary color photo, a paleontologist sits behind a large fossil in a lab. The fossil is within its rock, which is partially exposed. Surrounding the bottom portion of the fossil is its plaster jacket. In her right hand, she holds an air scribe, which is a pen-sized mini jackhammer used to remove the rock matrix around the fossil. She wears a white lab coat, blue face mask, safety earmuffs and eyeglasses. In the background are metal shelves, drawers, and microscopes.

Deep Time in the John Day Fossil Beds

The bottom half of side one of the brochure is an illustrated timeline. Following is a description of the center timeline and associated content. Text and descriptions for specific assemblage sections are presented under their own titles. The color artistic recreations of how the pictures of the fossils as species may have looked within their environment are referred to as “illustrations.” The fossils themselves, which are cutout photos, often over top of a portion of each illustration, are referred to as “fossils.”

Image description: A perpendicular column in the middle section presents a geologic timeline. It relates to the eight major “assemblages,” which are groupings of associated fossils found in the same stratum, from 5 to 55 million years ago on either side of this middle column. The assemblages are found within four different geological formations, which are based on distinctive stone features, not time. The four formations in order from youngest to oldest are:

  • Rattlesnake Formations
  • Picture Gorge Basalt
  • John Day Formations
  • Clarno Formations

The eight assemblages related to the formations found on either side of this geologic timeline are:

  • (1)The Rattlesnake Assemblage, found in the Rattlesnake Formations, is just over 7 million years old.
  • (2) The Mascall Assemblage, found in the Mascall Formations, is approximately 15 million years old.
  • (3) The Haystack Assemblage, (4) Kimberly Assemblage, (5) Turtle Cove Assemblage, and (6) Bridge Creek Flora found within the John Day Formations and range in age from 20 to 33 million years old.
  • (7) The Hancock Mammal Quarry and (8) Clarno Nuts Beds are found in the Clarno Formations and are approximately 40 to 55 million years old.

Rattlesnake Assemblage: 7 Million Years Ago

Text: Scientists have found more fossils here of grazing animals than browsers. These animals lived in a relatively cool, semi-arid climate dominated by grasslands (illustration at right). Forests grew around lakes and rivers and at the higher elevations.

Many of these fossilized animals are very familiar to North America today: horses, bears, deer, dogs, pigs, and true cats, for example. Others, like elephants, rhinos, camels, and ground sloths, seem out of place, though they flourished in the Rattlesnake’s prairie environment.

The fossil [pictured] at right is the lower jaw of a young camel.

Illustration description: This environment looks similar to the modern landscape with the exception of an active volcanic eruption. Ash fall and streams of smoke rain down on the landscape which includes a valley full of yellowing grasses, shrubs, and trees with foothills behind it. A herd of hoofed mammals run away from the ash fall. In the bottom corner of the scene, a carnivore looks up from eating another hoofed mammal and towards the smoke and ash behind it.

Fossil description: The camel’s partial lower jaw is in profile with gaps in between several molars attached to what would have been its jaw bone.

Mascall Assemblage: 15 Million Years Ago

Text: Sufficient rainfall and fertile soil fostered the growth of lush, nutritious grasses and mixed hardwood forests much like those found today from Illinois to Ohio. This savanna-like landscape had broad floodplains with scattered lakes.

The grass and forest environment was home to swift, long-legged, hoofed animals like horses and camels [pictured] (above) that resemble their modern relatives. [Pictured] above right are the horns of the dear-like Dromomeryx borealis. The Mascall environment also attracted newcomers: true cats crossed over from Asia, along with early elephants called gomphotheres.

As forests receded and competitors changed, some groups like oreodonts headed toward extinction.

Illustration description: In the foreground, a thin meandering stream travels from the center of the image to a large body of blue water. In the distant background, a lush green forest lines the water’s edge. In the foreground, on the right side of the stream are two camel-like creatures with long necks. Another creature resembling an extra-large cat or foxlike mammal walks towards the stream. On the left side of the stream is another camel-like mammal. Behind it in the water by the shoreline is another mammal close to a clump of tall green grass. The ground on either side of the stream is brown, with the area in the front right filled with short tan clumps of grass.

Fossil description: A fossil of two long horns is connected in the middle across the top of what would be the animal’s head. The horns are thicker on the bottom and taper off some at the top.

Haystack Valley Assemblage: 20 Million Years Ago

Text: Similar to the Mascall, this timespan featured cottonwood trees, alders, shrubs, and shallow rivers. These trees and leafy plants fed rhinos and calicotheres—large, clawed creatures related to horses, tapirs, and rhinos. They were joined by open habitat species like camels (skull [pictured] at left) and horses, both more suited to the newly developing grasslands.

Daphoenodon, a bear-dog the size of a wolf (illustration at left), was a common predator. Bear-dogs are extinct today.

Illustration description: In the right foreground on a lower ledge of a rocky mountain, two bear-dogs walk. A third bear-dog is ahead and below them. This bear-dog is stepping onto a rocky shoreline with a fast-running river cutting through the left side of the image. The rocky area on which the two bear-dogs walk is mostly dark grey with green mossy patches. The bear-dogs are a grey color with a white horizontal stripe on their upper side with black underneath the stripe. Their tails are long and their bodies are stocky and long. They have shorter legs and large heads and mouths.

Fossil description: A profile of a tan, camel skull fossil. The camel’s snout is long. Its jaw is open. The lower jaw connects in the back and protrudes passed the upper jaw. Molars are in the back of the jaw and one of its fangs protrudes upwards in the front bottom section of the jaw.

Last updated: July 10, 2018

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