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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Why a Wonder: Unique, colorful landscapes of eroded badlands and the opportunity to explore the prehistoric past of Oregon.

Where: North Central Oregon, about three hours from Portland or two hours from Bend.

When: The three units of John Day Fossil Beds are open year-round. Best time to visit is in May when temperatures are pleasant, the yellow Chaenactis and bee plants blossom in the Painted Hills, and foliage is at its best throughout the region. Late afternoon light is usually the best for the Painted Hills.

Photography: The biggest draw for photographers is the Painted Hills Unit near Mitchell, Oregon. Colorful layers of volcanic ash have eroded to folded hills with stripes of red and gold. The view from Painted Hills Overlook Trail is superb for expansive landscape photography. Use your telephoto to make intimate landscapes of the contours from the road at the base of the hills. The boardwalk trail through Painted Cove lets you get close-up to rusty-red mounds of ash. A 3/4-mile hike to the top of Carroll Rim rewards the climb with a panoramic view of the Painted Hills.

The Clarno Unit rock formations are made of lahars, solidified mudflows from volcanic eruptions, which have eroded to jagged spires. Early morning to early afternoon is best for photography of the main Palisades formation.

The Sheep Rock unit has several areas of interest, including Cathedral Rock, the strangely colored mudstone and ash of Blue Basin, and Sheep Rock rising above the John Day River. The John Day is undammed for its entire 284 miles and is the 4th longest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States. Historic Cant Ranch and the Condon Visitor Center are also located in the Sheep Rock Unit.

Learn more: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and Greg Vaughn Photography.

© Greg Vaughn

This post sponsored by Breakthrough Photography Filters.

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