Please note, to be able to photograph at the actual John Day Fossil Beds at night or for commercial purposes, you have to get a permit and sign paperwork with the US NPS and have items such as insurance. Otherwise, photographing the night sky on the monument itself could be considered trespassing. We are not telling nor encouraging you to trespass on the actual monument itself, as what we are saying is that the surrounding Bureau of Land Management camping sites provide the same level of Astronomy experience without the worries of paperwork.
Located within the John Day River basin and managed by the National Park Service, the area is known for the well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived in the region between 45 to 5 million years ago. The monument consists of 3 geographically separate units: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno, which make up a total of 13,944 acres. To learn more about doing astronomy such as camping and weather, check out this article.
Please note: the acronym BLM means the Bureau Of Land Management.
Very Dark Skies
Due to its location in central Oregon far away from large cities, the John Day Fossil Beds Monument is located in a Bortle Zone of 0 or 1 in certain areas. This means that the area has very similar dark sky viewing properties of the Oregon Star Party, but could be free to use if a BLM campground is chosen. This amazing dark sky allows for viewing the Milky Way and other deep sky objects that wouldn’t be available to observers at other more light polluted skies.
Lots Of Space And Lots Of Room
In addition to having extremely dark skies, the John Day Fossil Beds area has a plethora of campsites and areas to use for astronomy. Although space is limited in these campgrounds, the limitation is not due to high demand and high utilization, but due to limited parking and few spots. Many of the BLM dispersed campgrounds have fewer than 10 cars allowed and have a vast expanse to get settled. This means campers can settle down in an area that is far away from others, with distance between campers being several hundred yards or more. Moreover, you will probably be one of the only ones doing astronomy, so that means you won’t need to complete with others for the prime spots.
In addition to extremely dark skies and a plethora of opportunities to stargaze, there are tons of free camping! Unlike many popular observing locations that have reservations and walk up camping for a cost, these BLM campgrounds are not reservable and are totally free. The catches are that one has to get there early to ensure a spot and one must clean up after themselves. Once you’ve reserved a spot, you can set your things down and make camp, then go explore the monument as your gear should be fine. If some of these spots are full, it might take a bit of time to find an opening.
Close To Where Oregon Star Party Held
If unable to make the Oregon Star party, going to somewhere near the John Day Fossil Beds will give you similar viewing experiences and opportunities throughout the entire year. This proximity also means that if you have traveled to one location and done Astronomy there, you’re likely to be prepared to visit the other in many ways. Although the Fossil Beds lack the gathering of the Oregon Star Party, the Fossil Beds and BLM dispersed camping are free and less congested typically.
Lots Of Daytime Activities
Although this isn’t an astronomy reason, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has amazing daytime activities that are fun for the family. With a plethora of daytime activities such as hiking, fishing, picnics, and visiting the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.