Ten minutes into our Saturday drive we saw a “Next Services 94 Miles” sign and turned around to make our way back to Biggs Junction to fuel up, letting the service attendant attend us as is the law in Oregon. We then headed up a lonely but beautiful road across the high desert of North Central Oregon. For nearly 2 hours, as we made our way to Fossil, we had the high hot road to ourselves (105 degrees at 3500 feet!). No cars passing us, a rare car coming towards us, no homes, but amber fields of wheat punctuated by the occasional green oasis and abandoned farmhouses.
We arrived in Fossil near high noon. We were looking for Wheeler High School where we had heard you could dig for fossils at the school. It being Saturday we weren’t sure that was possible. We drove the near ghostly quiet town a few times and couldn’t find the school. We parked and walked to the only cafe open in town for lunch. They gave us directions and explained how we might need some digging tools. Tawny went to the local mercantile while we waited for our food and tried to buy some gardening equipment such as a trowel. No luck. But for $1.50 at the local thrift store she was able to puchase an ancient slotted spoon and two carving forks. They would have to do.
The themometer read 107 when we parked at the school and made our way up the fossil hill behind the school. Luckily there were some tools set out in a shed by the trail you could use for a small donation.
We worked fast in the scorching heat promising we’d all leave as soon as each had found a fossil. Ten minutes in we hadn’t any luck. “Dad, is it always this hot where pepole are looking for fossils? If so, I’m not going to become a palentologist”. As we were about to quit we found our first fossil. Then quickly another, and another. With a solid four we quickly made for the car, out of the heat, and on with our drive.
We turned off the lonely road to a yet lonlier one that headed up over a winding and stunning mountain of shades of green grasses, sage, and dotted pines towards another town of near ghosts in Mitchell. We were able to get a few gallons of expensive fossil fuels here and tthen head up the road to the Painted Hills National Monument.
Along another lightly trafficked road we came upon the Shoe Tree – a bunch of lonely soles just hanging around.
It wasn’t far from here to Dayville (population 197) and the Fish House Inn – a clean and cute little RV park with grass and shade for 6 campers. We set up the mister and cracked a beer to cool ourselves. The place smelled fantastic, of pine and sage. Then ashes began to fall on us. There was a fire, a large fire from the previous night’s thunder storms a few miles from us behind the hills just beyond the John Day River. We watched sheriff vehicles and helicopters stream by try and contain it.