Oregon is blessed with John Day country's beautiful landscape
Contributed by Dick Herb
The John Day country is such a wonderful gift. I'm so glad central Oregon exists and that my wife and I reside here. It gives us peace knowing such a wild and pristine country is in our backyard. Every time we have visited the John Day country to raft, canoe, kayak, backpack or attend a bluegrass festival in the town of Fossil, our blood pressure goes down and we smile a lot. We feel blessed. And we've barely scratched the surface. With places like Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven soon to have manageable access, my wife and I will have two spots more spots to add to our list of locations to inhale and explore.
In 1958, I spent a summer, excavating mammal fossils in the Clarno fossil beds with Lon Hancock. Those beds now bear his name, as does the camp where I stayed, Camp Hancock. To have worked alongside a legend, which Lon Hancock has become, I have been blessed. We were uncovering 15 to 20 finds per day: a fist-sized tooth, fossil bones of miniature horses, giant beavers, camels, predatory cats and more.
Mornings were a delightful time to work, as the daytime temperature often exceeded 100 degrees. Sometimes we excavated in the cool of the night by lantern light, and on the hot afternoons headed for the cool relief of the John Day River under the Clarno Bridge. We'd get in the current and swim upstream. Swim speed and the current were about equal, and we could stay in the shade of the bridge for a good long workout.
That was my first central Oregon experience. I was a college junior. We traveled around the John Day country -- to Mitchell to find ammonites, to Spray to excavate leaf fossils, and to Antelope, Condon and Shaniko. The country hooked me. After 50-plus years, it didn't take much to return to central Oregon three years ago to retire from career in Colorado.
Two years ago, my wife and I launched under the same Clarno Bridge for the week long canoe trip to Cottonwood. We didn't make it. We took out just below the Clarno rapids. We had the wrong boat (for us) with the river running at 1,000 cfs, and falling fast, after having been 2,500 cfs the week before. So, we bailed rather than busting the boat or getting hurt in the middle of nowhere and hiked out. Disappointed, and a little wiser, we'll try again this spring.
Getting into the John Day country firsthand is just part of this story. I'm just glad it's there. The mere existence of this wonderfully beautiful wild silence gives me peace, even when I'm in my home in my recliner. It is country that deserves continued caring and thoughtful, studied, eyes on the ball, compromise, negotiation and management.