John Day Fossil Beds
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was created in 1974 by an Act of Congress.
It was named after the John Day River, which in turn was named after a man called John Day. A National Historic District has been established in the park.
Thomas Condon was the first scientific investigator of the fossils in the John Day region. Fossils found over the years include those of numerous vertebrates and flora.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument comprises 14,400 acres in three widely-separated noncontiguous units in the US State of Oregon: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno.
All are in the watershed of the upper John Day River in the north-central part of the state. While each unit has a distinctive geological history and landscape, all are united in sharing a common cultural history.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument lies in an area of limited population. This has been its situation throughout the historic period.
Until well into the twentieth century, the area was extraordinarily remote and difficult to access. Isolation runs through the story of the John Day country.
By 1875, government grants of tens of thousands of acres of land to The Dalles – Boise Military Wagon Road Company compelled the General Land Office to withdraw much of the area from public entry.
The fossil beds locale drew a sparse, hard-working population who lived a rural, subsistence existence.
Most engaged in stock-raising and concentrated for decades on the production of cattle and sheep.
From the 1870s, geologists of note sojourned in the fossil beds on expeditions to collect specimens, but they did not remain. The scientists who collected specimens wrote their reports in other places.
It was not until the 1920s that improved roads finally began to open up the region to the modern world. With motorized vehicles, large-scale logging and milling in the area’s vast forests of ponderosa pine became viable, and gradually brought a shift in the traditional ranching economy of the area.
When the State of Oregon opened two parks in the vicinity of the fossil beds after World War II, a new era of tourism ended once and for all – in both symbolic and literal terms – the isolation of the John Day country.
See maps of the three units of the park.
(This page was updated in November 2012.)