The John Day Fossil Beds, named after the John Day River which flows through the area, contain the largest accumulation of mammalian fossils in the United States. There are no dinosaur fossils here, only mammal, birds, and plants, but they are extensive. Only a tiny portion of the more than 20 square miles of the beds have been explored.
This is a replica of an actual fossil found in the John Day beds. For protection most of the fossils on display are replicas made from the originals. The hills of the fossil beds are bentonite, that form of fossilized volcanic ash that we have seen so much of in the west, recently in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. As the Bentonite erodes due to wind, rain, and freeze thaw cycles, the fossil are exposed. The fossils are fragile and must be located quickly as they emerge, before they are damaged by the same forces that expose them.
We passed a couple of hours in the visitor center before heading out to see the Historic Cant Ranch (the Cant Families sheep ranch which originally contained much of the fossil beds). the ranch has been restored to the period it was most active, in the early twentieth century,
Sheep Rock in the background and a contraption on the right, involving a very big bag, lots of wool to fill it with, two men to toss the wool, and a small boy to jump up and down on the wool to compress it into the bag. A full bag could weigh over five hundred pounds.