Category: Landmark Place
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.