John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – The Clarno Unit ~ 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, Oregon * Phone: (541) 987-2333 ~
The Clarno Unit is one of three sections of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument that was designated by the United States as an area of special concern in Wheeler and Grant counties of Eastern Oregon. It is located within the John Day River basin and operated by the National Parks Service. The focus of the protected area is its geology and paleontology specializing in well-preserved layers of fossilized materials including flora and fauna. Most found here date from the late Eocene around 45 million years ago to the late Miocene at 5 million years before present. The Other two units are Sheep Rock and Painted Hills. The total designated area is 13,944 acres of semi-desert shrub land, riparian zones, and badlands. It was originally visited by Native Americans such as the Sahaptin who hunted, fished, and gathered roots/berries in the region. Then came the Euro-American visitors who established ranches, farms, and small towns along the river. Under guidance of Thomas Condon in 1864, geologists and paleontologists began digging in the area and making the discoveries that the area is famous for today.
Clarno is the westermost of the three units and is approximately 1,969 acres roughly 18 miles west of Fossil along Oregon Route 218. A breathtaking rest stop along the scenic Journey through Time scenic byway in Oregon is the geological features known as the Pallisades. It is located roughly 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon. These cliffs and land forms are created by prehistoric volcanic lahars (or volcanic mud flows) roughly 54-40 million years ago. This landscape was quite different at that time – a lush semi-tropical rainforest with jungles, vines, trees, shrubs and mega fauna. After the volcanic cataclysms, the environment was turned into the arid desert it is now. Fossil evidence depicts a vast arrange of plant life from leavaes, fruits, nuts, seeds, and petrified wood of over 173 species of trees, vines, shrubs, and other plants. Numerous faunal fossil remains of crocodiles, mini four-toed horses, huge rhino-like brontotheres, and meat-eating creodonts were found. There are three distinct hiking trails all under a mile in length demonstrating the fossil and geological record. Picnic tables and restrooms make for a restful stay. Drinking water is available from the rest stop May through September.
Fossil is a very small town in the Oregon desert in Wheeler Country. It is also the county seat. The town was named by the first postmaster Thomas B. Hoover who found fossils on his ranch and he therefore named the town after their occurrence. As of 2010, there were known to be a population of approximately 473 residents. The post office was founded on February 28, 1876 on Thomas Benton Hoover’s ranch along Hoover Creek. In 1881 he opened a store with Thomas Watson near the confluence of Butte and Cottonwood creeks. The post office was later combined into this store. Thomas Hoover became the first mayor of the town in 1891. Fossil was named the temporary county seat in 1899 when Wheeler County was formed and in 1900 was made the permanent county seat. The first bank was founded as well by residents Winlock W. Steiwer and George S. Carpenter as the “Steiwer and Carpenter Bank” – first for the town and the county. A flour mill, a blacksmith shop, a drug store, a jewelry and optical store, livery stable, and three general merchandise stores opened up in the early 20th century.
A sign about Fossil in town stated “In 1876, Thomas Hoover chose the name “Fossil” for the first post office because he had found mammoth bones on his ranch. James Chambers arrived in 1869, the first white to settle this area. The local Indians had told Chambers of the waist-high grass on the rolling hills, the scores of creeks and the rivers they fed. The grass was of particular interest to Chambers for he needed good grazing for his race horses. The following year Chamber’s inlaws, the Thomas Hoovers arrived, as well as William Bingham, Lafayette, and Woodson Scoggins. In 1880 Hoover and an associate built a store, which has served as the Masonic Lodge, and now houses the Fossil Museum. In 1899 Wheeler Counter was formed and Fossil became the county seat. The county courthouse, built with locally made brick, was completed in 1902.”
The Public Art house with images painted on the outside of the buildings. One was of Johan (Jack) P. Steiwer (Jan 17, 1926 – Oct 4, 1999) He was born at Portland, Oregon January 17, 1926, the son of William II Steiwer Sr and Dorothy A Kerus Stewiwer a prominent family in Wheeler County and statewide. He attended grade school at Fossil and high school at Shannigan Lake on Vancouver Island. He attended Stanford University and graduated with a pre-law degree from the University of Oregon at Eugene. Mr Steiwer served in the military during World War II and later returned to Fossil and became associated with his father and brother in the Steiwer family operations. His civic service to his community ad state was beyond reproach. He served two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives in the late 1940’s. He served as Mayor of Fossil, as secretary of the Wheeler County Fair Board and was o the founding board of the Fossil Ambulance Service. He served as secretary of the Oregon Wool Growers association, was a member of the Pacifi International Livestock Exposition, was a member and chaired the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, was a member of the Wildlife Heritage Foundation and the Oredgon Humanities Commission and was a long time member of the Oregon Historical Society Board of Directors. He also served on the Maryhill Museum Society Board of Directors and was a member of the University Club at Portland and the Greater Condon Arts Association and was a long-time trustee of the Eastern Oregon Pioneer Association. Through his Weekend County Store at Fossil and in his unceasing efforst to attract economic and political attention to Wheeler County, he was one of the first to offer guided rafting trips down the beautiful John Day River, which he loved and valued as a unique resource. His contribuitons to local facilities, such as Asher clinic and the Fossil Museum were countless. In honor of his mother in 1987 he purchased and refurbished the Liberty Theater at Condon and hosted lived performances and movies for several years. He chaired Fossil’s Centennial Celebration activities, co-authoring and producing the chataquia stage show associated with that event, and more recently was honored as grand marshal of the Wheeler County Centennial celebration at Fossil. He honored and reveled in the history of his family and the area, and was a contributor to the publication of Wheeler County historical times and events “Glimpses of Wheeler County’s Past”. He had become the official announce of the Wheeler County Fair parade each year and his generosity counted as he hosted refreshments for parade watchers each year in front of his place of business. He loved entertaining guests at his unique home and was an accomplished chef. Mr Steiwer held his family, his community, and friends, his state and county in high esteem.”
“Here in the City of Fossil lies an abundance of fossil plant deposits, ranging in age from one million to 32 million years ago. These fossils are part of the “Bridge Creek Flora” the general scientific term given to fossilized plant deposits found in the John Day River basin of north central Oregon – an area that encompasses present day Fossil to Mitchell to the John Day Valley. Many of these remnants of fossilized flora are distant relatives of similar species found today in regions of eastern Europe and Asia. Preserved under cataclysmic events, these delicate fossilized leaves, ferns, fruits, stems, and seeds reflect Earth’s passages and give scientists clues about ancient ecosystems.”