Elephants, Camels, and Bananas. Oh My

Take a trip to the John Day fossil Monument Center in Eastern Oregon to learn about our country’s ancient past. Fossils fascinate me, but I never thought about how they how they became preserved. It turns out that this region of Oregon was subject to volcanic activity, frequent in geologic time. On a recent trip there I was surprised to learn how tropical is its past, and that elephants, camels, and dinosaurs once there roamed, while banana trees bore fruit. Because volcanos violently poured out so much lava which mixed with mud–called lahars—animals and plants in its wake were killed but preserved .Then Mother Nature began over again in the resultant new ground. The resulting fossils were so numerous, investigating scientists have supplied museums all over the world. Many samples can be seen in the Visitor Center.

In addition, an area in the park called the Painted Hills is amazingly beautiful.  Stripes of rust red and pale-yellow circle the hills. It turns out that the climate prior to a lava flow determines the color. If it was wet, the rust from iron ore provided the red stripes. If it was dry, the lava dried to the pale-yellow. Odd, since we also visited lava caves in Northern California. Peaked hills of black and deep cavities of black block-shaped, but evidently the vegetation or other influenced the final color after centuries. Other places were green. The drive from a hotel in Prineville, Oregon was most interesting geologically. It’s a trip I highly recommend for nature lovers.

On the way we stopped at the Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California not far South of the border between California and Oregon. There were a myriad of caves of varying difficulty to walk through mostly because of the need to duck, and to get down into the caves. One interesting piece of history was that these caves were cleverly utilized to hold off settlers that wanted to take over the Modoc territory. Despite being outnumbered, the caves made it possible to hold off the invading settlers until the US army was sent in, and they were held off for over 6 months until the Modoc leader, Captain Jack surrendered,and the Modocs had to move to the Klamath reservation. Man’s inhumanity to man throughout history and going on today is hard to stomach.


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