The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the National Park Service's best kept secrets. It's also unusual in that the monument is made up of three 'units' spread out over a hundred miles of north-central Oregon. The Painted Hills unit is almost 50 miles west of the Monument Headquarters, and it's 100 miles on to the Clarno Unit.
The Painted Hills and Clarno units are largely undeveloped - no real visitor's center except for a small kiosk, manned only during the 'busy' season. While the entire monument is primarily devoted to preserving rich fossil resources, the average visitor will never see an actual fossil 'in the wild', so to speak. The museum at the Sheep Rock unit is a must see, but the Painted Hills definitely win the prize for scenic beauty.
Winters in the region can be bitterly cold, and summers are blisteringly hot. Spring and Autumn are my choice for prime time to visit. Early May finds wildflowers in full bloom, cloudy skies with patches of blue, and on this particular day, 77 degree temperatures, a far cry from the 50 degree rain in Portland that same day.
It's a stretch to make this trip in one day from Portland. It means an early morning with a late return. From Hillsboro it was 450 miles and 16 hours to take in the Painted Hills, Clarno and the lower Deschuttes Canyon and Sherars Falls. The map below shows our route through the sight-seeing portion of the trip.
I also managed to get off one spherical panorama during the day. I nearly had to abandon the image for a couple of reasons. I accidentally shot it at 530 megapixels, the largest I had ever shot. The movement of the clouds during the exposure made it impossible to automatically stitch the image. I ended up processing it in two pieces and splicing it together after assembling the sky by hand. I'm reasonably pleased with the results.
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