As a kid, I was fascinated by dinosaurs (who wasn't?). If a school enrichment field trip would have taken me to the John Day Fossil Monument, that just may have sealed my career fate as a paleontologist. Through an incredibly beautiful high plains desert stretch along highway 26 in central Oregon, you wind through the canyons of Picture Gorge, and you feel their prehistoric presence, seeping from geologically stratified walls that whisper stories of their old, mighty reptilian kingdom. It even smells prehistoric. With little traffic, I found myself stopping frequently, letting the area's aura take me back in time until I could almost see them grazing, flying, or stalking. Then a dry, dusty breeze would wisp through and I was back on my bike, in flow with their ghosts.
The visitor center two miles up 19 also serves as a paleontological research center. After walking through the galleries of fossils and exhibits, you can peer through the windows to see the laboratory where the work is done. Lots of fancy-looking, hard-core, hi-tech scientific equipment. Solar panels on the roof powered the building. Outside, you look across the valley to a landscape so broad, so dynamically carved and colored, that you simply sit, stare, and feel the impress of its power.
Once back in the gorge, the wind makes for a difficult escape, but right as I was approaching the opening, its direction (or appetite) strangely changed, and spit me back out into our modern world of mechanized farming and irrigated pastures. Looking over my shoulder, I wondered if it would take me back.