Monday, November 13, 2017

Blue Basin

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Our Golden Rule when traveling:  Talk to the Locals.  This is how you learn about those offbeat places that turn out to be highlights of any trip.  When we told the receptionist at the Hotel Condon we were on our way to the Painted Hills, she said, "Make sure you go to the Blue Basin.  The hills are blue and green rather than red and yellow.  They're amazing."

These Oregon Badlands are located in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  They are north of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, which is another "Must See" on this particular road trip.
We decided to hike the Island in Time Trail because it follows the canyon floor.  We wanted to get a good hard look at these rugged  blue-green cliffs.  Plus, there are exhibits and fossil replicas along the way which tell the story of this fascinating landscape.  I mean . . . are you kidding . . . who wouldn't want to walk among sabertoothed nimravids, three-toed horses, mice-deer and lemur-like primates?

We had entered a Lost World.  Our imaginations were spinning.
Crocodile Rock

But watch out for snakes!

These rocks are younger than the ones found at Painted Hills.  The layered soils that make up these formations are only 24-30 million years old (!) and have provided paleontologists with fossil records of the Oligocene Epoch, which is the last epoch of the Tertiary Period.  Before the ancient Cascade eruptions, this was a beautiful time in Oregon's history.  Oaks, sycamores, hawthorns and evergreens dotted grassy meadows and animals roamed freely.  Food was in abundance.

The blue color comes from the rhyodacite ash of the volcanoes.  Each layer represents between 10,000 and 50,000 years.  As the cliffs erode, fossils are pushed to the surface, providing a gold mine for scientists.  Many of these fossils can be seen at the museum, and believe me, some of them are very very weird.  Dr. Suessian weird.

Walking among these ancient fossil beds is a thought-provoking experience.  Rapid climate change is upon us.  Species of animals are becoming extinct at an alarming rate.  Our planet has seen many such changes, but this one is man-made; this one is new.  And so I want to leave you with this quote, which can be found at the museum.  It puts things in perspective.  It humbles.  It prompts reflection.

"Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock.  Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history.  Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day."

                                                                                    Stephen Jay Gould

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