It’s hard to believe in an area that is just grass, rocks, sagebrush and juniper was once a subtropical rainforest. The area 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon, was that. Then, about 44 million years ago, volcanic eruption claimed to even make the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption “puny” forever changed the landscape. The record was etched in stone.
The “recorded” history is found at the John Day Fossil Beds Clarno Unit. The Clarno Unit is one of the three John Day Fossil Beds National Monument locations (also Painted Hills and Sheep Rock units).
Three trail systems travel within the Clarno Unit. The Geological Time Trail starts with the earliest event at the west and works its way to more recent events at the east, ending at the picnic area. Trails of Fossils is west of the picnic area, making a loop to each fossil feature. Clarno Arch Trail leads up along the slope to a fossil tree and a naturally formed arch.
Can you find the leaf in the boulder in the image above?
It’s amazing that nature has a way of “recording” past events, such as fossilizing plants and animals. To see what it is today, a desert environment with cows grazing in pastures, imagine this area some incredible carnivorous animals inhabiting the subtropical rainforest at the time.
Plan on spending about an hour or two at the Clarno Unit. The picnic ground has sheltered tables, vault toilet, and drinking water. There is no fee to visit.