Clarno Palisades Hikes

Stepping back in time at Clarno Palisades

Arch at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Arch at Clarno Palisades

In May I visited the Clarno Palisades area, 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon in the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This unit gets light usage.  We only saw a few other visitors.

The palisades at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

The palisades

There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.

An almost-tropical forest covered this region 44 million years ago. 120 inches of rainfall per year, compared to about 9 inches today. Bananas used to grow here! Bear-like predators, four-toed primitive horses, and other creatures once roamed this land. The Clarno Arch Trail takes you up ¼ mile trail (yup, another ¼ mile one!) to the base of a cliff with a natural arch cut into the stone. This trail has a 200 foot elevation gain. If you hike all the trails out and back, it adds up to 1.25 miles.

Spring shrubs and flowers

When I was there in mid-May, wildflowers were in full bloom. The rose bush featured in one of my earlier posts—Wild Rose: Friday Flowers—was near where we parked. The “trunk” of that shrub looked like a formidable weapon!  We saw orange globemallow blooming along the trail.  Large netleaf hackberry shrubs grew on the slopes near the cliffs.

Canyon wren at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Canyon wren

Birds of the cliffs

There were a handful of birds out that day. Canyon wrens serenaded us with their descending song. A prairie falcon, American kestrel, and golden eagle flew near the cliffs protecting their nest sites. A California quail called Chi-ca-go in the background. Swallows flitted overhead.

Fossilized logs forming a "T" at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Fossilized logs forming a “T” on the cliff face

Logs and lichens

We spotted several fossilized leaves and branches along the Trail of Fossils. When we went up the Clarno Arch Trail, we saw large fossilized logs sticking out of the cliff face. The colorful lichens covering the rocks attracted my attention as usual.

Colorful lichens at Clarno Palisades 8 15May2018

Colorful lichens on the rocks

Stairway to the arch

The columns of the Palisades were formed by volcanic lahars 54-40 millions years ago. They are stately and beautiful but the stair step-like structure beneath the arch really got my attention. Water must have pooled up in each “step” before falling.

Steps beneath the arch at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

Steps beneath the arch

When we were there with Bend Parks and Recreation, it was a cool day. I imagine it gets hot in the summer here so plan your visit with that in mind.

The palisades at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

The palisades

Other attractions nearby

I highly recommend visiting the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, an hour and a half southeast of the Palisades. Read my post on that amazing place here.

Here is a Trail Guide for hikes in the Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rocks Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

An ombre monolith filled with fossils at Clarno Palisades 15May2018

An ombre monolith filled with fossils

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