Those interested in paleontology in the Pacific Northwest, should look no further than Fossil, Oregon. This small town in Central Oregon is aptly named, since it is a gateway to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. In Fossil, you can do more than just view fossils, however; you can also dig for them yourself at the town’s high school.
According to the website for the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute Center, the information center for the John Day Fossil Beds area, the Wheeler High School beds are part of the remains of a shallow lake that existed more than 33 million years ago. Most of the fossils you can find there are plant remains, but some aquatic animal fossils have also been found.
When you arrive at the high school, you’ll be asked to pay a small fee ($5 for individuals or $15 for a group of four); the proceeds benefit the high school’s programs. This fee also includes the use of tools provided at the site, though their supply is limited, so consider bringing your own. Any fossils you find are yours to keep, and you can head over to the Paleo Lands Institute Center (oregonpaleolandscenter.com), also in Fossil, to learn more about the ones you find.
After digging at the high school, you can go explore the nearby Clarno unit of the John Day Fossil Beds. To find out more, go to nps.gov/joda/clarno_unit.htm. For more information about the city of Fossil, visit their website at cityoffossil.com/see-do/.