[Wildflower Hikes and Trips in Grant County, OR]

Blue Basin

Sheep Rock Unit: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Blue Basin: Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

A view into the the Blue Basin from the Islands in Time Trail that meanders to the center of the basin...........May 28, 2007.

The Blue Basin is an area of exposed blue-green ash or claystone from the John Day Formation located along Oregon Highway 19 about 3 miles north of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Trails within the unit allow visitors to view interesting geologic formations from a close distance and can give them an opportunity to view the areas vegetation close-up. There is a decent native flora present, but fires and grazing many years ago have left much of the area at least partially covered with cheat grass (Bromus tectorum).

There are 2 hikes in the Blue Basin area. The first hike is the Island in Time Trail which is a gently ascending trail that leads to a natural amphitheater carved into the blue-green ash slopes which make up the John Day formation. There are a number of interpretive signs along the mile long trail to help describe what is seen along the trail.

The second trail is the Blue Basin Overlook Trail, a 3 mile loop (600 feet elevation gain) which circumnavigates the Blue Basin and looks downhill into it. The Blue Basin has fairly healthy native plant communities, each adapted to the soil types, aspects, topography, and availability of water. A prescribed fire was conducted in 2002 to restore the natural process of fire to the landscape (although I think that produced a profusion of cheatgrass on the site). From the trail one can look down into the basin and view the John Day River along with exposed fossil beds from the Tertiary Period, a time when mammals and flowering plants were undergoing dramatic changes. Numerous native plants, shrubs and grasses, among them, mountain mahogany, Idaho fescue, Thurber's needlegrass, purple clover and various milkvetches and lupines can be found along the trail. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The trail does climb fairly quickly along the southern route of the trail, so take time to stop and rest while looking for some of the native plants to be found there. Temperatures can reach 100 degrees or more!

Map of trails in the Sheep Rock Unit.

Partial Plant Lists for the Blue Basin Overlook Trail And Island in Time Trail:

May 28, 2007: Blue Basin and Picnic Area trails

May 23, 2003: Blue Basin Overlook & Islands in Time Trails

Blue Basin: Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

A view into the the Blue Basin from the trail that circumnavigates it...........May 23, 2003.

Paul Slichter