Road Trip: John Day Fossil Beds, Service Creek and Clyde Holliday

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is often overlooked by those looking to enjoy Oregon's natural beauty. The Fossil Beds receive approximately 110,000 visitors a year, most of those in the summer. In comparison to Crater Lake which receives around half a million visitors a year. 

I had been craving another trip to Eastern Oregon after our last camping trip on the Crooked River, so I pulled my maps out and started looking for places I had never been. It was settled when I asked my girlfriend if she had ever been to the John Day Fossil Beds. I immediately found a picture of the Painted Hills and showed her; she couldn't wait to go.

We decided on camping for one night and then staying at a lodge of some kind the second night seeing that snow was on the way. Camping options in winter near the Fossil Beds can be unpredictable being that most are between 4,500-5,500 feet. After searching for lower elevation camping options I came across Clyde Holliday State Recreation Site. I knew it wasn't going to be an awesome remote camp spot, but at least we wouldn't wake up covered in snow. 

Clyde Holliday is little more than a wayside and is located about 8 miles east of John Day or 2 miles west of Mt. Vernon. The small town of Mt. Vernon has all the last minute camping supplies you might need. Don't buy wood in town though, the campground was selling it for cheaper. 
One of the Stores in Mt. Vernon

When we pulled into Clyde Holliday we were the only people there. Which made picking a campsite somewhat difficult, but after a few minutes we settled on site 13. It was near the creek and as far as we could get away from Highway 26. The campground was definitely set up primarily for those with RVs or like vehicles. There were full power and water hook-ups at every site.  The campground also had restrooms and showers. For 17 dollars a day I do not see this as a good deal if you're camping in a tent and not utilizing all the services provided, but if you had an RV it would definitely be worth it.
Campsite 13
After a chilly night I woke up and cooked my favorite camp breakfast; breakfast burritos with bacon, eggs and cheese, all produced in Oregon of course. Shortly after we were on our way to John Day, we wanted to fuel up because we figured gas anywhere off Highway 26 would be insanely priced. Our next stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

Sheep Rock 
I really think that if it's your first visit to this area you should stop here first. It has a lot of interesting and cool fossils of everything from Dawn Redwoods to Hippo like animals. Also it will give you an idea of what you are looking at when you drive and walk through the surrounding units of the National Monument. Made even better by the fact that it's free. The Cant Ranch is located just about a mile north on Highway 19 from the Paleontology Center. It's essentially a small museum about human history in the area, of both Native Americans and settlers. Admission here is also free. After looking at the area map we decided to head to Blue Basin, which lies north on Highway 19. 

Blue Basin- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

 The Blue Basin is a fairly large canyon that has a strange blue-green color. There are 2 trails that leave from the parking lot. There is the Overlook trail which was 3 miles with an elevation gain of 800 feet. If you hike it clockwise the uphill is much more gradual. I would allow about an 1 hour 45 minutes to hike it, because you'll probably be stopping to take a lot of pictures. I highly recommend hiking this trail, the views were absolutely stunning.

 We had debated on staying at either Hotel Oregon in Mitchell or the Service Creek Lodge. Being that all cafes in Mitchell were closed when we drove through we thought Service Creek, would be a better option, given that they have a cafe attached. We set out north on highway 19 toward Service Creek.

Junction at Kimberly
We were pretty hungry when we arrived at Service Creek, we left our things in the car and ordered some lunch. I had the Phillycheese Steak, it was outstanding. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect of their food or lodge, being that they are the only option for many miles. I was impressed with the food and our room. We stayed in the 'Thomas Condon' room, which had a kind sized bed and a private bathroom, which was across the hallway. It also had a porch area that was only for the room, but we didn't get any use out of that. The house it's self was very cool, built in the early 1900's. It had been updated with modern heating, which was nice. The walls were fairly thin, but the noise wasn't a problem. Also if you're excepting at TV in the room, you will be disappointed there is only one in the living room. The only issue I had with the stay was the spotty WI-FI, the owner said it was because of the bad weather. 

The Service Creek Lodge

The Thomas Condon Room

The last stop for us was the Clarno unit. We were heading back home at this point because of the snow fall on the west side of the Cascades and wanted to be back before dark. So our stop at Clarno was just to snap a few pictures. I will definitely be back to hike the trails under the Palisades when we have more time. 

This area of Oregon is breathtakingly beautiful it is definitely worth the drive out there. Plan for at least 2 days, but more if you really want to take your time and see everything the area has to offer.

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