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John Day Exploration

  • WWCC Main Parking Lot 500 Tausick Way Walla Walla, WA, 99362 United States (map)

Explore the past on this weekend trip to the vicinity of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north-central Oregon. We will spend three days with Whitman geology professor Bob Carson learning about the region’s geologic history, beginning with sites near the town of John Day, where we will spend Friday night. On Saturday we will head to the National Monument to hear from local Park Service guides at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and hike in the Blue Basin, one of Oregon’s hidden gems. After stops at Stein’s Pillar and elsewhere along the road, we will spend Saturday night in Prineville. On Sunday we will go to the Painted Hills, one of Oregon’s seven wonders, and make stops in Clarno and Heppner, learning about the geology of each location, before arriving back in Walla Walla in the early evening.

The Pacific Northwest’s unique geologic history and magnificent scenery are exemplified in north-central Oregon. After plate collisions and the withdrawal of Cretaceous seas, the Pacific Northwest was dominated by volcanism. The Eocene in central Oregon was like today’s Cascades with their volcanoes and lahars. In the Oligocene, the area was like today’s Yellowstone, with ash flows and falls. The Miocene brought the familiar Columbia River basalts.

We will travel through time, partly on foot, collecting samples (except in the national monument) and taking photographs. No background in geology is necessary. This trip is intended for ages 18 and up; however, children can be accommodated if needed.

For more information about this event, please contact Lauren Platman at or 509-525-3136.

Photo by Claire Pinger.

Suitability: Children not encouraged, but can be accommodated if needed.

Difficulty: Involves walking and standing for periods of time over the course of several days.

Things to bring:

  • Lunch for first day (each evening we will buy lunch for the next day)

  • Snacks


  • Money for other meals

  • Clothes for one weekend. Dress appropriately for fall in the high desert – can get hot in the day and cool at night

  • Jacket

  • Waterproof layers (top and bottom rain gear)

  • Hat (for sun and cold)

  • Sunglasses and sunscreen

  • Sturdy shoes, ideally waterproof

  • Nature journal

  • Camera

  • Hand lens (optional)

  • Day pack

Earlier Event: September 22
Nature Painting
Later Event: October 6
Hanford B Reactor Tour