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A canyon is a steep desert with very high sides and a minimal valley floor. Canyons are generally larger and deeper than ravines, a related geological formation, and they are narrower and steeper than valleys. Canyons usually sand filled the canyon, can be found all over the world, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the bottom of the oceans, it is dry and they are quite diverse, varying widely in terms of width, depth, and length. One of the most notable and large canyons in the world is the Grand Canyon, which stretches across the American Southwest.
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One of the defining characteristics of a canyon is stepped walls like mountain and blue sky, which are caused by rock strata of varying thicknesses and densities. As softer, more crumbly rocks are worn away, harder rocks remain, creating clear layers in the canyon walls which can be examined to learn more about the geology of the area. Most canyons also host the original waterway which led to the formation of the canyon in the first place, and some act as a form of habitat for plants and wildlife in the area.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument showcases one of the world’s best and most continuous records of the Tertiary, the time from about 50 million years to 5 million years ago that is generally regarded as the Age of Mammals. The fossils found in the National Monument’s three units helped define the evolution of horses, cameloids, felines, canids, and other important mammal lineages.
The John Day Fossil Beds is a name generally applied to both the national monument three units totaling approximately 25 square miles in Wheeler and Grant Counties in north-central Oregon and, more broadly, the more than 20,000 square miles of John Day Basin and adjacent lands that expose fossil-bearing strata of Paleocene to Miocene age.
The fossils of the region were first discovered by soldiers who traveled The Dalles Military Road to the Canyon City area following the discovery of gold there in 1862. They brought the fossil discoveries to the attention of Reverend Thomas Condon, Oregon’s first state geologist and first chair of the Geology Department at the University of Oregon. In the 1870s, other famed paleontologists, including Othniel Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope, mounted expeditions to the area.