Today's Stop on the Land Use Trail: John Day Fossil Beds

Throughout the summer, we'll be featuring stops on our new Land Use Trail. Today, July 25: John Day Fossil Beds. This extraordinary place has revealed what Oregon was like millions of years ago. 

The fossils, sediments and formations help to paint pictures of what life might have been like back then and helping us to put time in perspective so we can learn from, remember, and honor our natural heritage.

About:  Known for well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived between 44 million years ago and 7 million years ago, the John Day Fossil Beds attract over 125,000 visitors annually. The monument contains 3 separate units, the most prominent being the Painted Hills, near Mitchell. The beautiful blacks, golds, yellows, and reds that decorate the hills are formed from the different geological eras in which the beds were formed.

Key Fact: In the 1860’s, soldiers stumbled upon the fossils that permeate the area. Geologists and paleontologists quickly recognized the importance of the beds and began unearthing prehistoric life.

Another Cool Fact: In 1974 President Gerald. R. Ford authorized the National Park Service to make the John Day Fossil Beds a National Monument.


The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is composed of three primary units that are dispersed throughout Wheeler and Grant counties. Each offers its own attractions. If you visit in summer, be sure to bring plenty of water!

Learn More:

Going to the John Day Fossil Beds this summer? Share your photos with us! We'll pass them on.

See the whole Land Use Trail, featuring exceptional Oregon natural places, communities, and working lands from every corner of our state.

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Text by Nathen Lamb, Communications Intern. Photo by Bala Sivakumar. Creative Commons.