National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Brief - Visitor Experience at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

In 2005, the state of the art Thomas Condon Paleontology Center opened to the public. Named after the prominent 19th-century Oregon scientist who first recognized the significance of the fossil beds and did the first scientific collection and study of specimens, the 11,000 square foot center greatly improved the monument's ability to serve both the public and the scientific community. Performing a dual purpose, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is a National Park Service research facility dedicated to the study and public understanding of the paleontological resources of the John Day region.

The world-class museum displays over 500 fossil specimens chosen to represent the primary significance of the John Day Fossil Beds. Scientifically accurate murals visually represent the environments in which these animals lived and soundtracks provide an audible representation of these extinct species. These elements add emotional connections and a simulated natural ambience to the visitor experience. Viewing windows into the laboratory and collections area allow the public to watch scientists actively studying fossils. A webcam is connected to the lab microscope to closely show fossils being prepared for study. A short film provides another way for visitors to connect with the monument's significance. A small bookstore area provides educational products for sale to facilitate visitor understanding of the paleontological resources.

The entire facility is "green", with over 98% of the electricity coming from wind generators along the Columbia River. The remaining power comes from a photo voltaic system on the roof which produces between 500 and 1000 kilowatts of electricity each month. The sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system provides separate climate control zones for protection of museum collections and a comfortable atmosphere for visitors and staff. The HVAC system also takes advantage of constant-temperature water from the park's spring by running the water through a heat exchanger to significantly lower the heating and cooling costs. The Thomas Condon Visitor Center is carbon-neutral in its energy effect on the global environment.

The two prominent materials used on the building's exterior are regionally sourced wood and stone. The wood is red cedar from southern Oregon and British Columbia forests milled in Eugene, Oregon. The hand cut, gray lava stone is basalt quarried in Camas, Washington, within the Columbia River Gorge. The quarry has basalt that is part of the same widespread Columbia Flood Basalts that can be seen cresting the ridgelines outside the center. These flood basalts cover over 60,000 square miles of Oregon and Washington, with the oldest layers being approximately 16 million years old.

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Last Updated: June 19, 2017 Contact Webmaster