The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a .U.S. National Monument managed by the National Park Service and consists of three widely separated units – Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno. The Monument is known for its well-preserved layers of fossils of plants and mammals that lived in the region between the late Eocene, about 44 million years ago, and the late Miocene, about 7 million years ago. Each of the units is easily reachable from Mitchell by car on the scenic byeway “the Journey Through Time”. The 3 units are characterized by rugged ancient landscapes of hills, deep ravines, and eroded fossil-bearing rock formations but each has it’s own unique setting, special atmosphere and typical geology.
Two of the units are in Wheeler County, the Painted Hills, only 9 miles away from Mitchell, and Clarno, located 18 miles (29 km) west of Fossil on Oregon Route 218, about an hour and a half drive from Mitchell.
The Sheep Rock unit is located along Oregon Route 19 and the John Day River upstream of the little community of Kimberly. This unit is mostly in Grant County, although a small part extends into Wheeler County. The Sheep Rock unit is further subdivided into the Mascall Formation Overlook, Picture Gorge, Cathedral Rock, Blue Basin, and the Foree Area. Some of these are separated from one another by farms, ranches, and other parcels of land that are not part of the park but all are close enough together so that they can all be visited within a reasonable time frame.
The 3 units cover a total of 13,944 acres (5,643 ha) of semi-desert shrublands, riverbeds, rock formations, and colorful badlands. About 125,000 people visit the park each year for outdoor activities such as hiking and sight seeing, landscape photography, or to visit the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center which functions as the park’s headquarters and main visitor center and is located in the Sheep Rock unit. Located across from the center is the James Cant Ranch Historical Museum which offers a glimpse into the old West pioneer way of life.
For more information please see National Park Service John Day fossil Beds