Digging Into Oregon’s Past

September 4, 2009 (Updated February 2, 2012)

Oregon offers a treasure trove of interesting places and fun activities that can reveal much about our region’s past.

In fact, one Eastern Oregon town offers fascinating lessons in “pre-history,” that – with a bit of imagination and some handiwork – can transport you to a quite different Oregon. In Fossil, Oregon all you need are some simple tools, keen eyes and curiosity to learn more about the state – as you dig into Oregon’s past.

Eastern Oregon’s gigantic landscape holds on to memories – old homestead sites – where families once worked the land and carved out their livelihoods across the high desert. Time has passed most of them by and what often remains today are small reminders in a big country that are worth a pause to consider.

Fossil, Oregon is worth more than a pause! Especially if you enjoy history, like to get your hands dirty and really dig buried treasures!

It’s a much different slice of outdoor life for the visitors who stroll through the back gates at Fossil’s Wheeler High School – pass under the goal posts of the school’s football field and then take a step back in Oregon history. It’s the only public fossil dig area in Oregon that offers surprises with each handful of dirt and rock that you turn over.

Today, the fossils that you dig reveal a much different scene in this part of Eastern Oregon. In fact, 30 million years ago the region was more akin to today’s Oregon Coast Range Forest – a temperate rain forest with ancient firs and cedars and ferns and even prehistoric insects. All were covered and trapped by ancient mudflows born of volcanic eruptions that were a common geologic feature in this part of Oregon.

All of it adds up to a stark contrast to the high desert sage and juniper country that surrounds Fossil in the 21st century. Just down the street, the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute will teach you much about the fossils that you collect.

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.