What a fabulous day! We departed home at 7 a.m. for the drive to Fossil. Despite a few setbacks, we arrived safe and sound just after 10 a.m. where we met with Will Boettner, the Executive Director of the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute. After introductions and a stop in the necessary or lu, we drove the short distance to Wheeler High School whereby we listened to a volunteer as she explained a little about the geology of the area and what we could expect to find.
The fossil beds were formed 30 million years ago when volcanic ash fell during the formation of the present day Western Cascade Range. The ash was washed into the lake basin along with leaves and other plant material, level after level piling up. The ash preserved the leaves long enough for impressions to form under the pressure of the overlying layers.
About 35 species of plants, most of them belonging to genera that are no longer native to the Pacific Northwest, are found there. The most common plants are alder, maple, beech, dawn redwood and pine in what appears to represent a deciduous hardwood forest. This implies, according to Will Boettner, that the climate at that time was much more moist and more temperate than is presently the case in the shrub steppe and savannah of today.
We spent about an hour ‘excavating’ in the shale behind the high school. Everyone was successful in finding fossils. I was delighted with how intrigued the kiddos were as they diligently picked up piece after piece of shale in hopes of finding a little treasure preserved between the layers. Prior to departing, we were able to browse the many fossil samples that have been found previously, including several amphibians and fish species.
We took a break for lunch … whereby Will shared more about his experiences, the geology of the John Day Basin, and about the community of Fossil. We then proceeded southwest to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds for a guided nature walk through a canyon.
It was a delightful walk. Everyone was entranced by one thing or another. We all had an opportunity to ask questions and explore the region more closely. We saw first hand how the layers of sediment had built up over millions of years and how the rocks formations had changed over time due to weathering. We talked about the impact man has had on the water table in just the past 150 years or so… changing the once temperate, deciduous forest to the dry scrub land of today (mostly Juniper and Sagebrush). Everyone walked away with a new awareness and appreciation of the natural history of our region.
Thank you to Will Boettner of Oregon Paleo Lands Institute for providing such a wonderful learning opportunity for us all.
“Do what you can
with what you have,
where you are.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
I have very fond memories of visiting the Wildlife Safari when I was a little girl. I was thereby very excited to share the experience with my own children. We arrived Friday just before 11 a.m. and proceeded to drive through the park. Immediately, animals were visible all around us. Though we were able to see all the animals relatively well, most were not very active due to the heat.
Preceeding our visit, I attempted to contact the education department to inquire about possible pre-visit activities and field booklets they may provide for school children. Unfortunately, no one returned my calls. I thereby had to create our own activity books. Sweetie was focused and worked diligently on completing the pages – she even collected observation data to help us to answer the question, “How often do elephants interact?”
Buddy, on the other hand, was focused on another objective, “When we go to Grandma and Papa’s? I’m ready to go now. How much longer? It’s been a long time.” He makes me laugh! Whenever we go anywhere, he is very anxious and filled with excitement and anticipation. No sooner do we arrive and he is ready to depart for the next adventure.
Throughout the park, they allow you to have your windows rolled down to take photographs. The only area that this is restricted is in the bear habitat. They even have a guy on patrol watching for would be violators! As I am taking photos from the passenger window, DH rationalizes that it must be okay to roll the windows down since the bears are playing with one another some distance away.
As he does so, the patrol guy announces over the loud speaker,”Keep your windows rolled up in the bear habitat!” Busted! I think DH felt a little silly for breaking the rules… we quickly moved on to the next area.
Sweetie enjoyed the safari as much as I predicted she would. She spent most of the evening drawing pictures of the animals that she had observed. I was a little disappointed with the facilities. The park was opened in 1973 and it is very obvious that the buildings and structures are dated.
I was surprised that there were limited number of ‘Ranger Talks’ and opportunities to learn more. We basically observed the animals from a distance, nothing more. No signage. No talks. No docents or volunteers anywhere!
It is unfortunate that the region doesn’t have a stronger economic base with which to support their endeavors with fund raising and private donations. Gives me things to mull over and discuss with my Roots & Shoots group in the near future.
On a related note, we are going to be focusing on vertebrate animals in our science studies over the next couple of months. I generally start with inverts… but since we had an opportunity to go on safari, I figured it was a good kick-off.