Sheep Rock

Sheep Rock is an outcropping - not quite a hill but not quite a mountain. It is vaguely pyramid shaped, with a basalt capstone and blue-green and pink sedimentary layers below.
Sheep Rock is named after the bighorn sheep that once populated its slopes.

NPS / Tim Gohrke, 2018 Artist in Residence

The Sheep Rock Unit is located on Highway 19, between the towns of Kimberly and Dayville, Oregon. Prominant, non-fossil bearing rocks date back as far as 89 million years old. Fossils of plants and animals are found in a number of geological layers dating from 33-7 million years ago. The Sheep Rock Unit is the hub of monument operations, with both the headquarters of the monument and the main visitor center located near the namesake peak.

Unit Features:

 
Foree trails
Green claystones along the Story in Stone trail (Foree trailhead)

NPS photo

Colorful Strata...


The Sheep Rock unit contains an amalgam of colorful strata and complex geology. From Cretaceous conglomerates to the flood basalts, the geologic features in this portion of the monument are a spectacle to behold.

The predominant exposures of green rock seen on Sheep Rock are a multitude of reworked layers of volcanic ash. The rich green color of the claystone was caused by chemical weathering of a mineral called celadonite. This happened millions of years ago as water moved through the alkaline ash beds under high pressure.

 

Trails in the Sheep Rock Unit

 
A map depicting major destinations in the Sheep Rock Unit, including the Foree Trailhead, the Blue Basin Trailhead, the Cant Ranch Historic District, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, and the Mascall Overlook.
Map of the Sheep Rock Unit

NPS Photo

There are seven hiking trails in the Sheep Rock Unit, ranging from 0.25 miles to 3.25 miles in length. The trails are listed from north to south, arranged by trailhead.

Foree Trailhead

Flood of Fire (0.4 miles round trip) This gravel trail ascends a small ridge to a viewpoint overlooking the John Day River Valley and a colorful rock formation similar to Cathedral Rock.

Story in Stone (0.3 miles round trip) This trail skirts above a small basin of blue-green claystone. The formation contains fossils of animals that lived here 25 to 30 million years ago. This mostly level trail is partially paved.

Blue Basin Trailhead

Island in Time (1.3 miles round trip) This gravel trail ascends to an amphitheater carved out of the blue-green claystones of the John Day Formation. The volcanic ash, now turned to stone, contains a rich variety of vertebrate fossils. Interpretive signs and fossil replicas are located along the trail.

Blue Basin Overlook (3.25 mile loop) This trail brings you to a spectacular vista overlooking the John Day River Valley. It is dusty in places and may be impassable in wet weather. Moderate to strenuous with over 600 ft. elevation gain (and loss.)

James Cant Ranch Historic District

River Trail (0.6 miles round trip) This packed gravel and mostly level trail leads to the John Day River from the Cant Ranch parking lot.

Sheep Rock Overlook Trail (½ mile round trip) Starting at the front gate to the Cant House, this trail ends at an overlook with a great view of the valley and the river.

Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center

Thomas Condon Overlook Trail (¼ mile round trip) This trail ends at an overlook with a great view of the valley. It begins at the south end of the parking lot.

Mascall Overlook

Mascall Formation Overlook (150 feet) Sweeping views of the John Day Valley and Picture Gorge can be seen from the overlook.

 

Fossil Layers of the Sheep Rock Unit

 
30-25 million years ago, the forest canopy gradually opened allowing more open spaces.

Turtle Cove (30-25 Ma)

Turtle Cove is the thickest and most productive fossil-bearing layer within the John Day Fossil Beds, yet few leaf fossils were preserved.

Grasses make their mark on the landscape and its fauna.

Upper John Day (24-20 Ma)

The ecosystem became an open habitat with the appearance of burrowing and running animals.

As grasslands expanded some species thrived while others slowly died out.

Mascall (15 Ma)

Long-legged hoofed animals including horses, camels, and giraffe-deer swiftly crossed open meadows to escape beardogs and cats.

Welcome to the semiarid wooded shrubland with giant sloths and saber toothed felines.

Rattlesnake (7 Ma)

The ecosystem preserved here is more familiar to modern eyes- except for the occasional elephant and giant sloth.

 

Other Places to Visit in the Monument

 
Clarno is the best place to see fossils in situ.

Clarno Unit

The Clarno Unit is home to the oldest exposed layers of the John Day Fossil Beds, and the only place in the monument to see "wild" fossils.

Painted Hills Unit consists of fossilized soils from wet forests no longer found in eastern Oregon.

Painted Hills Unit

The colorful stripes and gentle ripples of the Painted Hills makes it one of the most popular destinations in the park.

The monument's visitor center and research facility.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center displays fossils from the entirety of the John Day Fossil Beds.

Last updated: December 13, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

32651 Highway 19
Kimberly, OR 97848

Phone:

(541) 987-2333

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