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April Showers Bring May Flowers ... and fossil hunting and wild cow milking 

If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims, of course.

click to enlarge outdoors_johnday.jpg

If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?

Pilgrims, of course.

Backcountry skiers and mountain bikers have been pilgrimaging to Bend lately for our coveted spring conditions. Like an anthill covered with ants, South Sister has been a magnet for backcountry skiers since the Cascade Lakes Highway opened on May 25. About 370 bike racers stormed along the Peterson Ridge Trail for the inaugural Sisters Stampede on May 30. Eight hundred trail runners will be stampeding into town this weekend for the sold-out Dirty Half. But sometimes it's a good idea to mix it up and go the other way, so I headed east with a friend last weekend to find respite from the rain, balloons and beards.

We headed north on Highway 97 to Madras, east to Fossil, south through Spray and Kimberly, west through Mitchell and Prineville and then back to Bend. It makes for a classic 300-mile roadtrip.

FOSSIL HUNTING

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument comprises three "units" encompassing 14,000 acres of sedimentary rock preserving a record of plants and animals from 40 million years ago. Our first stop was the Clarno Unit, 20 miles west of Fossil. The Trail of the Fossils and the Clarno Arch Trail are two short paths that begin at the base of the cliffs of the Clarno Palisades, which were formed when ash-laden mudflows inundated a forest. We examined some cool fossilized leaves and logs along the way.

WILD COW MILKING

Our next stop was for a late breakfast of biscuits and gravy in Fossil. The crowd in RJ's Restaurant was an interesting conglomeration of churchgoers in their Sunday best, including the blue-haired lady in her festive orange pumps, and tattooed bikers in town for the A.B.A.T.E (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) motorcycle rally.

After some serious artery clogging, we proceeded on to the town of Spray for the 63rd annual Spray Rodeo. We missed the Eastern Oregon Half Marathon and parade the day before, but we did catch the wild cow milking, which made the trip totally worthwhile. If you have never seen wild cow milking, here's how it goes:

First, they set a wild cow free. Then a cowboy on horseback chases the cow and lassoes it. Another cowboy runs over and tries to hold the cow still. The first cowboy jumps off his horse wielding a glass, dashes over to the struggling wild cow, pulls on a teat, and then sprints to the finish circle brandishing a sloshing glass of milk.

You had to be there.

We wrapped up the weekend with a drive past the Sheep Rock Unit and two more short hikes on the Overlook and the Painted Cove Trails in the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds just west of Mitchell. We luckily reached the vividly-hued hills of weathered claystone at the perfect early-evening photo-taking hour.

Fossils, bikers, wild cows, painted hills... it was a colorful trip, in more ways than one.

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