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Oregon Fossils

Finding fossils in Oregon is not so much a question of where to look for them as where not to look. Fossils are rare in the High Lava Plains and High Cascades, but even there, some of the lakes are famous for their fossils. Many of the sedimentary rocks in eastern Oregon contain fossil leaves or bones. Leaf fossils are especially abundant in the rocks at the far side of the athletic field at Wheeler High School in the town of Fossil. Although it is rare to find a complete animal fossil, a search of riverbeds may turn up chips or even teeth. In western Oregon, the sedimentary rocks that are primarily marine in origin often contain fossil clams and snails. An occasional shark’s tooth or crab can also be found. Marine fossils are also abundant near the town of Vernonia and along the central to south-central Oregon coast.

Collecting of fossils is permitted state-wide within highway right-of ways, unless excavation is destructive to the roadcut, and is permitted on private land with the owner’s approval. Collecting fossils is prohibited or a collecting permit is necessary to collect fossils on state and federal lands and in parks. Collecting is prohibited in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Places to see fossils:

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Contains a 40-million-year records of plant and animal life in the John Day Basin in central Oregon near the towns of Dayville, Fossil, and Mitchell. The Cant Ranch Visitor Center at Sheep Rock on Hwy. 19 includes museum exhibits of fossils. Open every day 8:30-5.
For general information, contact John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, 420 West Main St., John Day, OR 97845, phone (541) 575-0721.

Also, learn more about the Oregon Paleo Project

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
1945 SE Water Ave., Portland, OR 97214. Open Thurs. & Fri. 9:30-9; Sat. through Wed. 9:30-7 summer hours; 9:30-5 rest of year, phone (503) 797-4000.

The Condon Musuem at the University of Oregon
Condon Museum, Department of Geological Sciences Cascade Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR. 97403, (541) 346-4577. The Museum operates without a budget and space is limited, tours of the facility must be small groups only. The Museum operates on donations which can be made specifically to the Condon Museum Fund at the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon. Portions of the Condon Fossil collection can be seen in the exhibit Living on the Edge: The Geological Story of Oregon at the Univerity of Oregon Museum of Natural History. The exhibit covers fossils and the geological processes that formed the Oregon landscape we know today.

Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History
Off I-5 at exit 123 at Roseburg (PO Box 1550, Roseburg, OR 97470). Open Tues.-Sat. 10-4, Sun. noon-4, closed Mon., phone (541)440-4507

High Desert Museum
59800 S. Hwy. 97, Bend, OR 97702. Open 9-5 every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. phone (541) 382-4754.

Maps and publications about Oregon’s Geology and its geologic treasures are available from the Nature of the Northwest Information Center, a partnership of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and the USDA Forest Service. Nature of the Northwest is open 9-5, Monday through Friday at:

800 NE Oregon Street #5, Suite 177, Portland Oregon 97232,
ph. 503-872-2750, fax 503-731-4066 Web address:

Information source: Nature of the Northwest

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