Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sheep Rock Unit

We stopped by the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to check out the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and picnic at the Cant Ranch. The Paleontology Center is fascinating and just packed with interesting fossils from the Eocene, buried in volcanic lahars (volcanic mudflows) from 50-35 million years ago.  The lahars seem to have trapped nearly everything in their paths, animal, vegetable and mineral. So they contain pretty complete records of various ecosystems over time.  Fossils reveal tropical forests where banana trees and palm trees grew and strange mammals such as creodonts (nasty carnivores you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley), Hyrachyus (herbivorous ancestors of tapirs) and brontotheres (herbivores that looked like rhinos). The fossils document how the animal populations changed dramatically over time, as the climate changed from tropical to desert.  It's a tiny museum but rather impressive.  Cant Ranch was a sheep ranch established in 1910 and operated by the family until about 40 years ago.  Original buildings and some old rusting equipment give the place tons of atmosphere.  

A 44 million year old cicada fossil.
Zaisanamynodon protheroi skull (a marsh rhino), 40 million years old.
As things started to get much dryer 7 million years ago, the region saw the appearance of these three camel species, represented by their jawbones.
Paratylopus, an early camel from 22 million years ago.
Archaeotherium caninus, an entelodont or "terminator pig"!
They offer a window into their lab, where they have a Miohippus or 3-toed horse fossil.
A common merganser and her ducklings.  She appeared to be running drills through the swift current of the John Day River.
Wild rose.
Sheep-shearing shed.

No comments: