If you drive just a couple of hours east of Bend, Oregon you will find strikingly painted hills and a center devoted to paleontology. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center will impress you with fascinating information and artfully displayed artifacts. Wow! What a place.
In 1862 minister and self-trained scientist Thomas Condon learned there were fossils in the John Day basin from soldiers stationed in the area. He began excavating fossils in 1865 and sent specimens to the east coast for verification. There was a great amount of interest in the specimens he uncovered. He was later appointed to be Oregon’s first state geologist due to his many discoveries.
Fossil collectors collected as much as they could as fast as they could for many years. In the late 1800’s, John C. Merriam, Professor of Geology at the University of California, developed a new practice when collecting specimens. Detailed notes were taken about the layer of rock strata a specimen was collected in. Merriam, along with Ralph W. Chaney and Chester Stock, led the way in correlating the fossils found in each layer with the geological age of the strata.
As early as 1903, concerns were voiced over the preservation of the fossil beds. Concerned citizens wanted the area to be designated as a state park. They later pushed for the protection that national park status would provide. In 1975 the area was designated as the John Day National Monument. In 1984 Ted Fremd was hired as the Monument’s first paleontologist. He developed a program of systematic prospecting, mapping of geology, and radiometric dating of the rock layers. Scientists in a wide variety of fields were employed in helping to understand the flora, fauna, and geology of the region.
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center was built in 2003 and houses fossils found in the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and areas nearby. It is located in the Sheep Rock Unit near Dayville, Oregon. Visitors can get a good view of scientists carefully cleaning fossils found in the field as they work in a lab with large viewing windows. Scientists have found 2,200 species of plants and animals in the lands of this National Monument. The Center displays fossils in glass cases and large murals with re-creations of what scenes may have looked like when those animals and plants existed. A small store with fossil and dinosaur-related products is located in the lobby.
The Monument covers 14, 000 acres in its three units. The units are many miles apart and services are limited so plan in advance. There are several trails in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to give you a close-up view of the landscape. Since this is a National Monument, collecting fossils is not allowed.
Digging for fossils is allowed on the hill located just behind Fossil High School in the town of Fossil. I have collected fossils at that location and the site is easily accessible. For more information on collecting fossils there, go to http://www.oregonpaleolandscenter.com/#!wheeler-high-school-fossil-beds/c17uw
To find out more about the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/learn/photosmultimedia/Thomas-Condon-Paleontology-Center.htm