TOUR THROUGH HISTORIC RANCHING COMMUNITIES AND GHOST TOWNS INTO THE HEART OF THE JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT ON THIS SCENIC TOUR.
Biggs perches on the rocky shore of the Columbia River at the crossroads of Highways 84 and 97, serving as a hub for travelers in search of fuel and sustenance. From here, start your scenic tour and set forth south on the northern end of the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, which ultimately winds over 300 miles through some of Eastern Oregon’s most beautiful and ancient lands.
WINDY PLAINS AND RIVER CANYONS
The byway begins at Biggs, along the Columbia River, and curves south on US-97 between the canyons of two more major Oregon rivers: the Deschutes and the John Day. The skies here seem huge and the views stretch for miles, with checkerboard wheat fields and undulating golden hills. Make a stop in the small community of Wasco, the center of Oregon’s wind energy boom, where turbine blades rotating on nearby hills form a dramatic backdrop to the journey. If you’ve brought along your bicycle, ride of the gravel roads, pavement and trails in this region, which sometimes hug the rimrock rims of both the Deschutes and the John Day Rivers. Well maintained but lightly trafficked roads make the region a cyclists’ paradise.
SHEEP FARMERS AND GHOST TOWNS
Settled by ranchers and farmers in the late 19th century, today Sherman County is home to miles of rolling wheat fields that paint picturesque vistas across 360 degrees of horizon. Continue south to Moro and peruse local history at the Sherman County Historical Museum. More than 15,000 artifacts tell the story of centuries of history, from Native Americans to Oregon Trail pioneers and dry-land wheat farming to conservation. Travel south through the farming communities of Grass Valley and Kent, where historic buildings dot the landscape as the only interruption in miles of open plains.
ANCIENT BEASTS AND 32-MILLION-YEAR-OLD LEAVES
Head east to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and take a short hike through the rock spires known as The Palisades. This land was once a lush rainforest, occupied by tiny four-toed horses, huge rhino-like brontotheres, crocodilians, and meat-eating creodonts. All that remains of these magnificent beasts are the fossils left behind in these rocks.
The city of Fossil is aptly named, and this little town is rich with history and geology. Visit the Oregon Paleo Lands Center for maps and travel itineraries for the ancient forests and sea floors of the greater John Day Fossil Beds National Monument area. The City of Fossil Museum is a great spot to soak up more local history, including tales of the rich pine forests that once fueled a logging industry here. Don’t leave town without visiting the fossil beds behind Wheeler High School, where you can comb through artifacts of ancient flora and fauna—the only fossils in the region that you are free to pick up and take home. The kids will love this real life treasure hunt.
FIDDLING AND A ROUND-UP
Downtown Fossil boasts the beautiful historic Wheeler County Courthouse. If it’s summer, it’s time for the Wheeler County Bluegrass Festival, held on the lawn of the courthouse and around town. Kick up your heels and spend a night at Wilson Ranches Retreat B&B, an authentic working cattle ranch offering six ranch-style guest rooms in a genuine 1910 Sears Roebuck kit house. Wake up to a hearty family-style ranch-style breakfast and saddle up for a ride into the high desert to round up the ranch’s cattle, take a hike, or mosey around the ranch while soaking in the diverse flora and fauna.
Before you leave town, fill the gas tank at Fossil Fill-Up. Maybe hit a few balls at the tiny Kinzua Golf Club, and say hello to the onsite greenskeeper.
AN APPLE A DAY
South of Fossil en route to Spray, you’ll reunite with the John Day River, Oregon’s longest free-flowing river. You’re in the heart of river country now, with fishing, rafting and lazy days on the water at the ready in this wide-open landscape under seemingly endless skies. Catch some thrills with a white-water river trip, best negotiated with a guide, or for tamer river times, try your hand at bass fishing. Spray is a charming small farming town that sits on a scenic bend in the John Day River. Visit the Spray Pioneer Museum, representing life in the 1800s with Indian artifacts, fossils and settlers’
histories. Stay at the River Bend Motel, with riverside views available and peace and quiet, guaranteed. Camp at the Spray riverfront. Catch the Spray Rodeo, the “best small-town rodeo around.” Spray is the jumping off point for the John Day River Farm Trail, offering over a dozen stops to see the diversity of food, flowers and drink produced around here. Just past Spray in Kimberly, visit Thomas Orchards, Apricot Apiaries and the John Day River Trading Post to sample some of the fruits and flavors of the John Day River Valley. Another driving tour is referred to by locals as “The LOOP,” which connects Fossil, Spray and Mitchell as an offshoot to the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.