For several years now Jeremy Baenen, my nephew, and I have spoke of going to the John Day Fossil Beds Monument in central Oregon. One thing after another prevented this from happening; covid, health issues, family commitments and so forth. Well, it finally happened. I am on my own at this time and Jeremy’s family members were busy with commitments of their own, so away Jeremy and I went for a nephew / aunt adventure. I, for one, enjoyed myself immensely.

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one park with three separate units, each as interesting as the others. The Clarno Unit, The Sheep Rock Unit, and The Painted Hills Unit, Each site has short trails to dramatic views of colorful rock formations. The Sheep Rock Unit is also home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. There are no fees to enjoy the different units or to visit the Paleontology Center. Thomas Condon was the first to realize the treasure trove that was discovered and spent his life scientifically exploring the area. Fossils were first discovered in the John Day Basin by soldiers during the Civil War. Preserved within that Basin is a fossil record that spans over 40 million years. This is a very interesting place and beautiful as well.


Our first stop was the Clarno unit located right beside the road. It consists of a short climb up to towering cliffs that reach to the sky. Visitors do the climb and then move on to the next unit.

Thursday morning and the weather was perfect


Shortly before noon we reached the Sheep Rock Unit by way of a beautiful drive along the John Day River. Noon is not the best time to be there but we made the most of it and spent the afternoon hiking the short trails and visiting the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, which is not only a museum but a paleontology research facility. As I mentioned earlier there are no fees required to visit these units and they are well worth the trip. There was not a lot of research going on we could see, except at the end of one of the trails a couple people were involved in digging.

Thomas Condon Research Center

The geology of this region is truly amazing with beautiful colors and shapes.

Leaving Sheep Rock Unit later in the afternoon we made our way through Mitchel, Oregon, past the turn off to the Painted Hills Unit and onto BLM land to set up a free camp alongside the John Day River at Priest Hole Recreation site. By Thursday all the best spots were taken but you can camp anywhere. I have not been able to find how Priest Hole got its name.

John Day River near Priest Hole
A dry land camp not far from the river
We came out about even in Cribbage games played
View to the left of our camp
View to the right of our camp
A Nighthawk

Just at dark we saw nighthawks out to eat insects which they eat hundreds of per bird. The common nighthawk is not really a hawk. It is actually a member of the nightjar family. The nightjar family includes the whip-poor-will and the common poorwill. We didn’t recognize them as they looked black in the night sky. It was enjoyable watching them sore over head snagging insects.


The Painted Hills unit never looks the same as the lighting constantly changes. I was hoping for Jeremy’s sake there would be a magnificent sunset when the hills seem to glow, but that was not meant to be. Be that as it may it was still great to be there and beautiful to behold. Where the campsite along the river was crowded the three units had few people when we were there, which was early in the morning or later in the evenings.

The hills change with the light


Each morning, the President of the United States receives a highly classified briefing on the most important issues facing the country — The President’s Daily Brief. Now you can hear your very own PDB, in the form of a podcast hosted by former CIA Operations Officer Bryan Dean Wright. Each morning at 6am Eastern, he’ll bring you 20 minutes of the most important topics of the day and why you should care, arming you with what you need to know to help solve America’s most pressing challenges.  At the end of his podcast he offers listeners to send emails with their own thoughts and ideas. Jeremy, a faithful listener of these podcasts, recently did, indeed, email Bryan Dean Wright on his ideas of dealing with the Russian situation. About three emails are selected and shared at the end of the podcasts. On June 25th, Jeremy’s birthday by the way, Jeremy’s thoughts were selected to be shared. Furthermore Bryan Dean Wright commented that Jeremy’s thoughts were notable and he appreciated Jeremy sending them in. It was very exciting to listen to. I am not going to attempt to tell you what was said as I am sure I would mess it up but Jeremy suggested ways on how to get Putin to the negotiating table., “Good for you Jeremy, well done and Happy Birthday.”