Blue Basin Trail – Island in Time

Green scenes on Blue Basin trail

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
An otherworldly landscape in Blue Basin

I did this easy hike on the Blue Basin trail in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument last October. I felt like a stranger in a strange land on this trail through blue-green badlands.  

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
A bench along the trail

The trailhead is 14 miles northwest of Dayville, Oregon. This trail is in the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument. The Island in Time trail is a 1.3 mile long out and back trail with an elevation gain of 200 feet. The Blue Basin Overlook trail also starts here. It’s a 3.25 mile trail with a 760 foot elevation gain. There are several other trails nearby.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
Colorful contrasts

The geologic history

The unique blue-green colors of the rock formations in Blue Basin are stunning.  They range from a pale dinner mint green to a darker, bluer green. The blue-green and tan claystones and siltstones are part of the John Day formation.  There were multiple eruptions of Cascade Mountain volcanoes 29 million years ago. The ashfall formed the blue-green layers of this basin. Celandonite and clinoptilolite give these formations their green color.

A shallow creek of green-tinted water

You’ll see impressive tiered layers of rock bordering the trail. At the end of the trail, an amphitheater of colorful stone will surround you. I had the place all to myself on my hike. Rotate your way around this photo sphere to see what I saw.

Blue Basin Lower Trail

I also noticed the smaller landscapes on this trail. Here are a few of those scenes.

Fossil and facts on Blue Basin trail

You will see several fossil replicas covered with protective plastic bubbles along the trail.  They removed the actual fossils to protect them from the elements.  Over 2,000 species of plant and animal fossils have been identified in the vicinity.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Cat-like Nimravids. These cats ranged in size from bobcat-sized to tiger size.
Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Oreodonts. This sheep-sized mammal was once as common as deer are today.
Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018

Tortoise. This tortoise is like species living today.
A cracked shell may have caused its death.

Map and a word about dogs

Blue Basin map, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
Map of Blue Basin and vicinity

Here’s a map of the Blue Basin. Please note the warnings associated with this trail. In the warmer months of the year, you may see rattlesnakes. In October, I saw none.  Blue Basin experiences high temperatures in the summer months so be prepared.

Blue Basin hike, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon 26October2018
My dog liked this nearby trail better. No bridges!

There are 13 metal grate bridges on this trail. The sign says dogs may refuse to cross and you may have to carry them. My dog would not cross the first bridge.  Sorry, but I couldn’t imagine carrying a 60+ pound dog over 13 bridges.  She waited patiently in the car on that cool day.  

Amazing paleontology center

Don’t miss the amazing Thomas Condon Paleontology Center while you’re here. The displays impress me and I’m always excited to see paleontologists hard at work in the viewing area. I often wonder what new treasures they will uncover in their daily work.

8 thoughts on “Blue Basin Trail – Island in Time

  1. I like this post a lot, especially he photograph of the bridge surrounded by cliffs. I have a sense that I could sit for a long time contemplating and meditating on this image.
    It got me wondering about dry river beds turning into gushing rivers during storms. Reminded me of the arroyos in New Mexico.
    I love the blue and green, it seems magical. How amazing to touch into our past in this way, to have such a visual and tactile experience of our planets history.
    I know the term ‘badlands’ is used to describe certain areas and I imagine it comes from people, in some way, feeling unsafe in these places and yet… how could the land ever be bad or wrong? It just is.

    • Thanks for your insightful comment! 🙂 Yes, the badlands there seemed more magical than bad. I too loved the colors in Blue Basin.

    • Yes, I agree. We were there as stormy weather was moving in but it would look a lot different on a sunny day.

      Rainfall makes the color of the nearby painted hills more intense.

  2. That is an amazing colorful part of the state. My book club went there last September, spent time in Fossil and Spray as well. I loved the Cant Ranch also; we had a fascinating tour there.

Leave a Reply