Date of visit: May 29, 2011
A little northwest of Dayville is a unique feature called Picture Gorge. Early settlers traveled through the gorge along a rough trail which crossed the river several times. Obviously this was only possible by foot or horseback, not by wagon. A proper road through the gorge was constructed in the 1920s then paved and realigned in the 1930s. The steep walls of the gorge rise on one side of the highway and the John Day River rushes along just feet away on the other side. I’m sure it must have been quite the engineering feat to squeeze that road in there, but I wasn’t able to find anything about the construction of the highway.
Picture Gorge is not just remarkable because of the highway running through it. In 1931 Professor Michael Mueller, an amateur paleontologist, discovered complete skeletons of long-extinct animals in the walls of the gorge, including a saber-toothed tiger, a rhinoceros, a turtle, and two three-toed horses. The skeletons had been buried by lava flows but the erosion caused by the John Day River over the centuries had slowly unearthed them. Scientists have also discovered petrified logs and stumps. In Picture Gorge there is about 10,000 feet of strata revealed, comprising at least eight geological formations. Not only that, but the gorge is also the site of some Native American pictographs which depict humans, animals, and geographic designs and which are centuries old. The gorge got its name from this pictographs.
Of course, as you’re driving through Picture Gorge it’s hard to see any of this. All your concentration is focused on the narrow winding road. But south of the gorge is the Mascall Overlook which has a great view of the gorge from a distance. I highly recommend stopping there if you’re ever driving through.