For the past 20 years, one or two good friends and I spend Memorial Day weekend in wild places away from home. These adventures have become one of the most cherished times of the year. A couple weeks ago we returned to a special place only two hours away: the John Day country. A river runs through ancient fossil beds, while endless vistas await the traveler on every summit.
Despite a low rain spring, the John Day landscape appeared as verdant as Oz, with flower paint making for a most pleasing palette. We spied pronghorn antelope, beaver munching on willows, lots of birds, and many moments to sit and wonder.
We drove first to Cottonwood Canyon, Oregon’s newest state park and were surprised to find no one there. An old West ghost scene without the tumbling tumbleweed. It was like the bad guy had come into town and everyone had locked their doors and dove behind the saloon bar. We later did meet a couple from Hungary. The next day Marc and I hiked nine miles round trip with the lilting sound of the river always close, always calming.
The next day we passed through the once Rajneeshpuran, a sprawling 64,000 acre ranch once inhabited by 7,000 red-clad Rajneeshes, now dedicated to Christian youth. Do you remember the Rajneesh?
Day three brought us to stunning John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and their most popular unit, the Painted Hills. Speaking of palette, some great artist went wild turning brown soil into colors rainbows can only dream about. Then there are the fossils going back a mere 54 million years ago. I like the fact that the Clarno “Nutbeds” are among the finest fossil plant localities on the planet, with hundreds of species — many new to science — now preserved.
We discovered a free place to camp a stone’s throw from the Painted Hills boundary, and perhaps the highlight of the weekend was waking at dawn and walking into the park, knowing that I was the only one in the Painted Hills. A few birds shared the early morning with me, but mostly I felt the hush of a new day, of a new world. ~