John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Category: Landmark Place

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GPS coordinates: 44.555833, -119.645278

Discovery of Oregon’s richest fossil beds is credited to Charles Sternberg (1850-1943), a pioneer in paleontology who undertook a massive excavation along the banks of the John Day River in 1878. It was Sternberg’s second trip to Oregon, which at the time was still a rugged and dangerous wildness. The previous year, he’d set up camp and excavated the fossilized remains of llamas, horses, dogs and beaver from Fossil Lake, about 170 miles (273 km) southwest of the John Day area. He would later recognize these animals as the descendants of those unearthed at John Day, but he’d never fully understand the importance of his discovery. For today, the John Day Fossil Beds are considered one of North America’s richest and most complete records from the Cenozoic Era or the “Age of Mammals.".

These fossil beds are unique not only for the number of new species found, but because scientists can investigate entire biological communities captured forever in the rock – from microscopic organisms living in the ancient soil to entire forests with trees as tall as skyscrapers!

Although the animals found in the John Day area are long gone, some of their descendants are common, perhaps even living in your house, in your backyard or on your farm!

The Fossil Beds are remotely located in eastern Oregon between the towns of Dayville and Kimberly and not easily accessible from the coast. Still, if you’re a fossil collector or a rock hound, a visit is well worth your time.



Take A Video Tour of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

This short video will introduce you to the rugged landscape of the John Day area and the ancient secrets it contains.

What Is A Landmark Place?

What Is A Landmark Place? A landmark can be one of two things. It’s either a natural feature of the landscape around us that’s easily recognizable from a distance, such as a mountain, a hilltop or a river. Or it’s a place where something remarkable happened which was important to the people living in the area. This could include a naturally-existing area, but it might also be a human construction like a building, a bridge or a railroad.

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Oregon's Prehistoric Cat: The John Day Tiger

You’ll have a hard time spotting this species unless you happen to be in the interpretive center at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in eastern Oregon. The John Day Tiger (Pogonodon platycopis) was a large nimravid predator, an ancestor to the modern cat. It’s commonly known as the John Day Tiger because of the geological formation from which it was excavated. Nimravids had short, powerful legs but were probably not fast runners. Scientists believe they behaved similarly to modern large cats and were closest to the jaguar in size and weight. Like the jaguar, the tiger was an ambush predator, lying in wait and then pouncing on its prey. Long curved teeth jutting from the upper jaw gave it a superficial similarity to the better known Smilodon, or Saber-tooth Cat, although the two species were not closely related. The teeth, large head and powerful jaws indicate the John Day Tiger was able to take down mammals of similar size such as oreodonts, ancient hog-like animals.