Spring Basin and John Day Fossil Beds

Friday–Sunday, May 17–19, 2013
Leader: Janet Jacobsen
Ext Trp: 17 miles (Moderate)

Thursday and Friday we explored the trails and sights in the John Day Fossil Beds and capped the weekend with our stay at the Hancock Field Station to hike in the Spring Basin Wilderness. Nineteen good-humored Obsidians allowed me to herd them to my list of “Next Stops.”

Thursday, we left Eugene at 7:30 am to meet at the Painted Hills Unit for lunch. With overcast skies perfect for photographers, we hiked the maintained trails at Carroll Rim, Painted Hills Overlook, Painted Cove, Leaf Hill and Red Rock. Then it was a quick 1 ½ hour drive to John Day for the 4:00 tour of the Kam Way Chung Museum. A few blocks away, Dreamers Lodge and the Outpost Pizza and Grill were on tap for our evening delights.

Friday morning at 8:00, we drove to the Mascall Formation Overlook for views of the John Day Valley and Picture Gorge. Next stop was the Sheep Rock Unit where we hiked the trails at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and James Gant Ranch. It was hard to tear people away from the fossils but we needed to hit the road again for a short drive to Blue Basin Overlook Loop Trail. The steep trail to the top for lunch offered breathtaking views of the basin and blue green badlands. This is a hike not to be missed! Some also hiked the Island in Time Trail ascending along the canyon floor. After a quick stop at Fossil, we were more than happy to head for the OMSI Hancock Field Station (HFS) and our rustic cabins. It was time to unpack sleeping bags and then relax in the dining hall with our appetizers and beverages.

The Hancock Field Station is nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by desert hills and trails. The staff made us fell right at home. Christy, the program director with a smile, answered our questions and explained everything. The food was amazing with fresh fruit, veggie options, cookies, bread pudding, ice cream, soups, omelets, oatmeal, muffins and calzones. No one went hungry. The showers were hot.

Saturday Jim Whitfield led a 6 ½ mile hike that seemed like 8 miles across the sagebrush steppe of the Spring Basin Wilderness. Valerie Metcalfe led the way for those who wanted to walk up and back the same way. Vista points gave sweeping views of rugged cliffs, canyons and the John Day River valley. It was ideal hiking weather with overcast skies, sun breaks and light rain at lunchtime. We spotted the Hedgehog cactus just ready to bloom. Except for Holger Krentz, I could not drum up enthusiasm for a “next stop” at the nearby Clarno Fossil unit. Everyone seemed desperate to go back to camp to shower, play board games, relax, and watch the movie, Kam Way Chung.

After dinner, Valerie led a hike out of camp over juniper sage grasslands with colorful views of sky and canyons. Others settled down in the library to watch the film, The Way, with May Fogg and Patty Mac Afee who will be walking the El Camino later this summer.

Sunday after we ate breakfast, cleaned our cabins, and fixed our lunches, some headed home and others went on the “last stop” to the Clarno Unit to hike the Trail of Fossils, Geologic Time Trail and Clarno Arch Trail.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group to share the experience. Their generous, curious, and enthusiastic spirit were a thumbs up for leading extended trips.

No, we didn’t see everything. A return trip is needed to search for the Hancock Lady Petroglyph and buy one of her T-Shirts from Christy at the quaint HFS store. Meanwhile the “next stop” is the Museum of Natural Cultural History at the U of O to check out Thomas Condon and the John Day Fossils.

Members: Janet Jacobsen, John Jacobsen, Holger Krentz, Nancy Whitfield, Jim Whitfield, Patricia Mac Afee, Julie Dorland, Verlean McCoy, Valerie Metcalfe, Jim Duncan, Sharon Duncan, Janel Laidman, Beth Roy, Wayne Cleall, Anne Bonine, Brenda Kameenui, Nola Nelson, Mary Livingston. Nonmembers: Nancy White, May Fogg.

Painted Hills landscape—photo by Janel Laidman
click here for more photos from this trip

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