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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument- Sheep Rock
Ranked #2 of 3 things to do in Fossil
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Reviewed 9 August 2017 via mobile

We went during hot summer day. I know right...

We drove 4.5 hrs from Corvallis to Clarno Unit and hiked the Trail of the Fossils and Geologic Time Trail. The Palisades itself was amazing. They have several informative stops along the trails. Aside Palisades, the surrounding view, especially across the road was awesome too. We spend almost an hour here. Then continue driving to Sheep Rock Unit which took almost 2 hrs. Oh btw, they have a clean restroom at the picnic area.

We had a quick stop at Blue Basin. Well, not really quick. After hiked, we returned to the parking area and had our lunch at the only one shaded picnic table. The trail to the end of basin was a bit longer compared to Clarno Unit. (Or maybe we already tired and it was freaking hot too). It has several short bridges along the trail and I recommend to wear at least sport shoes. The color of the basin wasnt that bluish on our cameras because it was too bright. If you have plenty of time, you could come later in the evening. Overall, I enjoyed the view. I would say it was Blue- Green Basin and once you are at the end of the trail, you would be awe-struck.

Then we continue drving to Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. It was only 10-20 min from Blue Basin. They have a 18-min video showing the history of John Bed Fossil Monument. Other than that, they have alot of fossils in the exhibition room! Take time to see them! And opposite of this center is Sheep Rock. Not because the rock looks like sheep, but because the place used to have alot of sheeps! Next!

We continue driving to Painted Hill, it took ard 1 hr from the Center. The view was stunning. We managed to get the 'real color' of the hill on our cameras. We hiked the shortest trail. Sit on the bench for awhile to enjoy the view. Because we are running of time, we had to leave early and heading to our campground.

Enjoy the no filter/edit photos

1  Thank Bal K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 29 April 2017

We finally got to the Sheep Rock Unit. We visited the Clarno Unit and the Painted Desert Unit in April 2016. This unit, the Sheep Rock Unit, has a visitor center, modern rest rooms, and trails. One feature is someone examining fossils dug up on location, using a high resolution microscope that has a viewing screen for the public. There is also a well-laid out display of fossils found on location. The staff is friendly and well informed about the area and fossils in general. If you like hiking or are interested in fossils, then this is a good destination. As for hiking, I didn't explore any trails other than a few yards, since my wife is not able to go any distance. Summers here are hot, so I would recommend spring or fall if you intend to hike.

1  Thank F4981JCmichaels
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 15 July 2016

If you’re reading this review, I can only assume you have visited the Painted Hills. If you haven’t then you should put the Painted Hills on your list of attractions to visit.

After our visit to the Painted Hills, we drove about 44 miles (71 kilometres) to the Sheep Rock Unit. Sheep Rock is one of the three units (sites) of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument; the other being Painted Hills and Clarno.

Like the Painted Hills Unit, there is more than 1 attraction / site to visit within the Unit.

The sites within the Sheep Rock Unit include:
1. Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (“Center”)
3.5 out 5 rating for what we saw; not enough time.
2. James Cant historic ranch – we skipped this site due to time constraints.
3. Blue Basin area – in my opinion a must visit – 4+ out of 5 rating.
4. Cathedral Rock – huge cliff type rocks off the highway. Blink and you’ll miss it. Watch for the signs; – 3 out of 5 rating.
5. Foree area (past Cathedral Rock) – we did not visit; short hiking trails – less than ½ mile in length.
6. Goose Rock – probably saw it as we were driving by and it is on OR 19 between the Cant Ranch and Blue Basin.
7. Picture Gorge – we weren’t looking for it but part of it is at the junction at OR 19 and US 26, in the opposite direction of the Center. This junction is where you turn left at OR 19 to get to the Center.
8. Mascall Formation Overlook – missed this site as it was in the opposite direction of the Center. At the junction of OR 19 and US 26, stay right on US 26 (on way to Dayville).

The Center is a museum with a working laboratory to study and clean fossils. An employee was cleaning some fossils in the laboratory behind the enclosed window when we were there.

In my opinion, other than the Center, the “MUST” visit site at Sheep Rock is the Blue Basin Area – because of the blue / green tinge in the rock formations and the fossils.

The Blue Basin Area is a very short drive from the Center – less than 2 miles (3 kilometers). At this site, you have a choice of 2 hiking trails – the 3.25 miles (5.25 kilometers) trail or 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) “Island in Time” trail. The longer trail eventually connects with the shorter trail. Due to time constraints we did the shorter hike.

The 1.3 mile trail is mostly compact dirt and gravel trails with a few short trestles. In my opinion, this is an easy trail with a gentle, gradual elevation gain of 220 feet (68 meters). There are interpretative posts along the way with enclosed fossil exhibits. We spent about an hour walking the trail and taking in the views. We were there in late May and it was warm but be wary of the changing weather conditions. I’d recommend you carry a light windbreaker and water if you intend to do the longer trail during the summer months. Proper foot wear would also be a great idea when hiking the trails.

As for Cathedral Rock (past Blue Basin), it’s not much to see just a big colourful rock face that you can see as you are driving by. If you’re going to the Foree area, you might as well stop and have a look. There’s no parking area so you’ll have to pull off to the shoulder of the road. See my photos.

We did not do the visit to the Sheep Rock Unit any justice as we ran out of time. In my previous review of the Painted Hills Unit, I had suggested a minimum of 8 – 10 hours to visit all three units (probably more like a 12 hour day) – Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno. It can be done but you will spend about a couple of hours at each unit – barely enough time, in my opinion to really appreciate everything. It has been suggested by some people that the entire John Day Fossil Beds National Monument warrants a 2 day visit.

If I were to do it again, Sheep Rock Unit probably warrants, at a minimum 4 to 5 hours if you want to do the trails and spend a bit more time at the Center. If you’re not planning to do any hiking at all then you’ll probably just want to visit the Center and the historic Cant Ranch in which case probably 2½ hours is plenty.

My overall rating for the attraction is 4+ out of 5 based mostly on our visit to Cathedral Rock, the Blue Basin Area and the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.

Notes and Tips
• No admission fee to the Center. You get to see all the sites for free.
• Pick up site information (pamphlets) at the Center
• Washroom facilities are also at the entrance of the Center
• Large parking lot at the Center
• Washroom facilities (outhouse) are also at the Blue Basin Area
• Re: Blue Basin – stay on the trails and do not disturb or otherwise pickup “souvenirs” from the trails.
• If you’re coming from Prineville, the last stop for gas is in Mitchell – a very small town. Your best bet is to get gas in Prineville.
• Pack a lunch as there are no restaurants between Painted Hills and Sheep Rock but there are facilities within an hour on either side of the attractions. According to the “NPS” website, there are no eating facilities at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (and I did not recall seeing any). Check the “NPS” government website for additional information.
• We did not visit the Clarno Unit. If you are driving from The Dalles / Columbia River Gorge, you may wish to consider doing Clarno Unit first. Of course, this will also depend on where you will be staying.
• This was day 3 of our journey to Central Oregon and the Pacific Coast including Washington State. Our 8 day journey included Columbia River Gorge, Smith Rock and Crater Lake.
• The 7 Wonders of Oregon is a tourism marketing strategy. The 7 wonders include Crater Lake, Painted Hills, Smith Rock, Wallowas, Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon coast. More by coincidence than anything else, we visited 5 of the 7 wonders. See my reviews.

7  Thank Bottomshelfhockey
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 June 2016

The picture listed is actually of the general store and gas station in Fossil. The store is actually very well stocked and the people are very friendly and willing to help you with what ever you need. The town is comprised of about 150 people and has several restaurants and pubs that seem to be very popular with the local residents.

We did not find anything earth shattering pertaining to fossils, but we did enjoy the town. This was a stop over for us before heading to Dayville and the Painted Hills which we really enjoyed.

Thank Skipper3436
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 11 June 2016 via mobile

The John Day National Park is absolutely amazing. It is not as publicised as some others but it is right up there with the giant sequoias and Bryce Canyon. The interpretative centre is really well done. The Painted Hills, Blue Basin, Clarno Palisades, all are amazing. You do need a couple of days. We based ourselves in Dayville at Fishhouse Inn.

Thank Bukashaus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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