Bridge Creek fossil beds, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Final Bridge Creek pano Bridge Creek area many years ago at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument


Bridge Creek Mural by Larry Eifert in 2006

Following a world-wide cooling event around 34 million years ago, the sub-tropical-like forests of Oregon were gradually replaced by more temperate ones.  Thirty three million years ago, the landscape of eastern Oregon consisted of hilly topography that held numerous lake basins.  The flora growing near those ancient lakes seasonally shed their leaves into the lakes.  Occasionally, conditions were just right to preserve those leaves as fossils.

Collectively known as the Bridge Creek Flora, these fossil remains tell us that Oregon was once a deciduous hardwood forests like those found in Eastern North America today.  Ancient relatives of trees such as alders, elms, walnuts, maples, and birches dominated the ancient ecosytem.  However, the abundance of fossils from other tree genera like Metasequoia (the dawn redwood), and Cercidiphyllum (katsura) tell us that these forests more probably resembled deciduous forests growing in Asia today.

The lakes and surrounding vegetation also supported a variety of animals including Diceratherium, primitive two-horned rhinos, Paleotaricha, an extinct type of newt, Rana-like frogs, Mesohippus three-toed, leaf-eating horses, and hesperocyonines small, short-faced dogs.  There is also evidence that a variety of birds inhabited these ancient lake shores and forests including species similar to gulls, sandpipers, cormorants, hawks and oil birds.

Species List: Bridge Creek panorama mural


View from left to right

  1. Maple and Elm trees in upper left
  2. Some vitus vines hanging from Maple
  3. Metasequoia mixed in with maples and elms
  4. Cercidiphyllum leaves
  5. Young alder sprouts along bottom
  6. Short-faced dog type (is this an appropriate representation?)
  7. Large Sequoia tree type
  8. Goshawk bird type flying out of forest
  9. Rhino and young getting a drink (one horn?)
  10. Andesite dyke coming into lake with meager birch and alders along it.
  11. Equisitums along shoreline, lower center
  12. Sandpiper species flocking along shoreline
  13. Waterlilies in shallow water
  14. Cormorant species drying wings on log
  15. Larus gull types soaring like gulls do
  16. Metasequoia with buttressed trunk just right of center
  17. Yellow Bat flying in front of metasequoia
  18. Mesohippus horse type (three toes)
  19. Oilbird types on branch with birch leaves surrounding them
  20. Mix of small alders and metasequoias all along right side
  21. Rana frog type on fallen log
  22. Rough-skinned newt type also on log
  23. Caddisfly on birch leaf in lower right

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