Collecting Fossils and Common Fossils You Can Find in the John Day Basin
The rules about collecting—and not collecting:
While the John Day Fossil Beds are a world-renowned fossil locality, they are now part of a National Monument, and also part of the National Park system. COLLECTING FOSSILS OR ROCKS (or anything else) is prohibited on the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument without a permit—permits are granted only for research purposes. All collecting is also prohibited on the Pine Creek Ranch, Warm Springs Tribal lands. Collecting VERTEBRATE fossils on other federal or state lands is prohibited without a permit. You may, however, collect PLANT and INVERTEBRATE (mollusk, worm, ammonite, trace fossils, etc.) FOSSILS on Federal BLM and U.S. Forest Services lands without a permit.
We can provide a guide for a day of successful fossil hunting at the WHS Fossil Beds (collecting) or other localles (not collecting) for individuals, groups, school classes or families. Please call us at (541) 763-4480 or e-mail us to arrange a half-day or full-day adventure.
If you are going to look for fossils or rocks on your own, please check with local BLM and USFS field offices for up-to-date collecting information before you head out. And also please be sure you are on public lands for hiking and collecting.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, OR 97848-9701
Visitor Information/Sheep Rock Unit 541-987-2333
Painted Hills Unit (541) 462-3961
Clarno Unit; (541) 763-2203
USFS: Deschutes-Ochoco National Forest, Prineville Office : 3160 N.E. 3rd Street Prineville, OR 97754. (541) 416-6500.
COMMON FOSSILS in the John Day Basin
About 100 million years ago, in the heyday of the dinosaurs, this was a rugged beach. The most abundant inhabitant was a coiled-shell mollusk known at an ammonite. Theses animals, relatives of the modern chambered nautilus, died out in the same extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.
Magnolia (?), Paleocene age.
Paleocene fossils, 65-57 million years in age, are rare, but some have been found east of Pendleton. These plants are even more tropical that the Eocene Clarno plants (below).
Walnut leaf, Clarno FormationCypress leaves, Herren Fm.
Mudflows and stream deposits of the Clarno Formation, 57-35 million years old, yield fossil leaves of subtropical plants. Some of the most common fossil found in the mudflow deposits are simply casts of branches or limbs caught in fast-moving mudflows. In places where quieted waters prevailed, (lakes, ponds, and sluggish streams) common fossils include magnolia leaves, palm fronds and walnuts and walnut leaves. Older Eocene lakebeds and tuffs can yield bald cyprus needles and wood.
Metasequoia, Bridge Creek Beds, Wheeler High School Locale.
The best place to collect fossils in Wheeler County is at the Wheeler High School Fossil Beds in Fossil. Here, you’ll find well -preserved fossil leaves 32.5 million years old that fell into a shallow lake. The site is publicly accessible, and the small fee ($5.00) supports the fossil Public Schools. Common finds include Metasequoia, the Oregon Stat fossil and a deciduous conifer, a as well as oak, alder, maple, and sycamore leaves.
“Fossil Flora of the John Day Basin, Oregon”, a publication by Frank Knowlton, 1902. Historically interesting, and a foundation for subsequent paleobotany: http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/joda/index.htm
Link to current catalogue of most plant fossils recognized on the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and other portions of the John Day Basin: http://www.nps.gov/archive/joda/floraslist.htm
Link to current catalogue of most common animal fossils found at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: http://www.nps.gov/archive/joda/faunaslist.htm