A mere four hour drive southeast from Portland through Prineville toward John Day are some of the most amazing fossil beds in the world. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a must visit. It’s made up of three “Units” – Painted Hills, Clarno and Sheep Rock. We visited Sheep Rock and Painted Hills, saving Clarno for the next visit. Mitchell Oregon was the first stop on a 2½ weeklong road / raft trip through eastern Oregon and Idaho. We arrived mid-afternoon on a hot August day. The self described Gateway to the Painted Hills, Mitchell is nick-named Tiger Town after its raucous seedy past. Clear high mountain desert air, star filled nights, plenty of dust, and a prideful local population. After an arduous 4 hours in the car, it was time to stop for the night. The perfect, and perhaps one of the only, places to stay in Mitchell is the Oregon Hotel. A white clapboard building built in 1938, it is perpetually for sale. Clean rooms, a comfortable bed and an inviting front porch, perfect for an evening beverage (bring your own) or morning coffee. During our cocktail hour we chatted with the hotel manager and the gas station attendant who was seeking refuge from the sun of the single pump station across the dirt parking lot. I sure learned a lot about the locals!
What to do in Mitchell? Walk down the block and explore the idiosyncratic vibes. Grab a decent meal at the Tiger Town Brewing Company. Take photos, including a shot that is sure to diminish your travel partner.
Sunset is a great time to explore the Painted Hills Unit. It’s 9 miles NW of Mitchell on a quiet country road. There are hiking trails or short jaunts from the well marked narrow roadway. During summer, the sun is intense. As soon as it drops, the cool air moves in.
The next morning destination, Sheep Rock Unit. It was an early start day to beat the heat, driving 35 miles due east. The visitor’s center opened at 9:00, and we were waiting when the doors opened. The paleontology exhibit is worth some time. And, the park rangers, as always, were available to answer any questions. We explored the Historic Cant Ranch but skipped the hiking trails. We had a long driving day to make our ETA in north central Idaho. While not as visually dramatic as the Painted Hills Unit, Sheep Rock is equally interesting.
I leaned all about Entelodonts—aka hell pigs or terminator pigs. They roamed the earth about 20+/- million years ago and were omnivores that lived for about 21.23 million years on planet earth. One never knows what might peak your interest.All that learning made me hungry. We continued along the scenic byway for seven miles to the Dayville Cafe. While this trip was months ago I can still taste the best Huevos Rancheros I’ve ever eaten. That’s saying a lot considering I lived in Texas for 30-years! I’ve thought about going back just for that meal. Unfortunately the coronavirus has the cafe shuttered with a “for sale” sign. GIANT SIGH! After lollygagging half the day away, it was time to put the pedal to the metal for the six plus hour drive to Stanley.
Thanks for joining my journey along memory lane – It helps me a lot while dreaming about trips to come, hopefully in the not too distant future.