The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is comprised of three separate units encompassing 14,000 acres. Now referred to as One of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, the Painted Hills Unit, 10 miles west of Mitchell, Oregon, includes the most colorful rock formations of the three units. Best seen at sunset, the Painted Hills offers spectacular views of exposed and eroded volcanic ash layers, revealing their delicately colored stratifications, making for dramatic photography any time. Add a little inclement weather, in the form of thunderstorms, to the mix and the scenes unfolding can be down right amazing, as the panoramic image "Rainbows End" clearly shows. The Sheep Rock Unit to the east includes the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, the principal source of information for the Monument and includes an excellent museum exhibition displaying many fossils recovered from the John Day Basin. Also of interest just up the road is the James Cant Historic Ranch and museum, which provides visitors with a history lesson of the first settlers to the area and how they survived in this inhospitable land. Also not to be missed while visiting the Sheeprock Unit is the Blue Basin area. One way to experience the fossil beds up close and personal is to take the Island In Time interpretive trail for an easy stroll or hike the Blue Basin Overlook trail for a more strenuous climb overlooking the Blue Basin with spectacular views of the valley's badlands.
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