BLUE BASIN STITCHED PANORAMA
A FEW TREES,SOME GRASS, AND THE MOON IN THE SKY ARE THE ONLY CLUES THAT YOU ARE NOT ON MARS
This week I would like to concentrate on the Blue Basin, a geologic formation North of Sheep Rock in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We took our longest hike in the Monument on the Island in Time Trail, about three miles in and out into the center of the basin. While it is overshadowed by the nearby Painted Hills (next week, I promise!), the Blue Basin is another area of John Day that is not to be missed.
THE EROSIVE POWER OF WATER, DESPITE ITS APPARENT ABSENCE.
HINTS OF A BASIN
First, a mea culpa. I violated at least several of the rules for hiking in the High Desert, so that my enjoyment of the hike was cut short. My first mistake was to properly navigate the shorts/jeans debate - I chose wrong with long pants, violating the rule that if it might be hot, always choose to risk being cold. I didn't bring a hat, and there was absolutely no shade on the trail unless you were willing to sit down next to a big rock, which I eventually did. I forgot my water bottle, a cardinal sin. Thus large portions of this hike became an unpleasant slog. I started to even get mad at the signs, which promised 19 bridges on the trail - I stopped counting at 22, but my number was suspect. So the best part of the hike for me was the downhill portion at the end, when we emerged from the basin. A big part of being a landscape photographer is knowing what you are getting into, and I blew it.
TWO DETAILS OF VOLCANIC ERRATICS AMID THE DRY STREAM BED
Despite my problems, the outing was certainly worth it. The trail runs along and across a dry stream bed which shows evidence of water, but the kind of evidence that astronauts might someday find on Mars. When you visit a place like John Day, you know that the conditions are probably not going to be ideal. The perfect day would be cloudy and cool, just after a recent thunderstorm that would fill the creek with blue-green water coming off the cliffs of the basin. The recent rain would also bring out the colors of the red volcanic boulders that litter the stream bed. But at least there were no flash floods to worry about.
AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
MOUNTAINS SURROUNDING THE BLUE BASIN
Two things first. The Blue Basin is not really blue, but a shade of blue/green/gray layers that really only appear blue in contrast to the surrounding brown landscape. The only place that you will actually appreciate the "basin" is if you hike the longer and higher loop trail, where you can actually see the geological bathtub below the surrounding mountains. Since you are walking through ravine into the heart of the basin, it is kind of hard to see that you are in a depression.
ACROSS THE JOHN DAY RIVER
MY ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE A WELCOMING STIFF BREEZE IN A STILL IMAGE
AFTER SAND AND ROCKS, SAGEBRUSH NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD
With these caveats, and the oppressive heat, the Island in Time Trail has a lot to offer. Whatever the actual color of the sedimentary layers, this is an unworldly landscape, where geology really comes alive. The time scale of erosion is so far beyond the realm of man's imagination that it is difficult to understand how many millions of years these cliffs represent. On the other hand, you are awfully glad you weren't around on the days that the little stream moved around the volcanic red boulders in the ravine. At the end of the hike I really appreciated the wind in the sudden reappearance of High Desert grass, the occasional tree, and the slightly more fertile surrounding hills. I didn't even mind an encounter with a baby rattlesnake, who was kind enough to m ake his presence known. There is nothing like that sound to get your attention at the end of a long hike.
JOHN DAY SHADOWS AT THE END OF THE DAY AT THE END OF THE HIKE