Fossil, the Town

Our stay in Fossil, Oregon, county seat of Wheeler County, population 479, was, as usual, very pleasant. No cell phone service exists anywhere in the county, and so people seemed pleased to chat with strangers on the street corners. We were told of certain high spots in the landscape where you might be able to cop a signal, but they were on hiking trails, not in neighborhood cafes.

This is a photo of the whole of Fossil, taken from a winding gravel road that curls its way up a butte south of town. Butte Creek, a good size to practice your long jump on, runs through the town, and you can dig for real fossils in the hill behind the high school. Digging for fossils costs $3 (if there’s someone there to collect) and either 3 fossils or 3 handsful of fossils (we’ve heard both versions) can be taken away (provided you haven’t found a rarity, in which case the women in charge identify and snatch back the treasure). When we were there, the volcanic gumbo was so thick the digging beds were closed. But we were told that some people, with extra boots, we hope, were digging anyway.

This time we got a room at the Bridge Creek Flora Inn. Bridge Creek is a creek that runs through the town of Mitchell, to the south, and then through the Painted Hills — also to the south. (It’s Butte Creek that runs through Fossil.) The “flora” in the Inn’s name is a particular set of fossils, found around Bridge Creek (and around Fossil, too, particularly in the hill back of the high school).

The Bridge Creek Flora Inn is best known for its wooly mammoth:

The Inn’s proprietor, Lyn Craig, has a good sense of humor as well as the ability to produce astonishing breakfasts.

Just across the street from the Bridge Creek Flora Inn is the Fossil Bible Fellowship church. As usual, I couldn’t resist painting the local scenery.

As I was painting in the evening, the sun set (to the right of the church), and cast gorgeous golden light on the long side. I worked at the light long and hard, was dissatisfied with it, and gave it another try the morning we left town. Lyn, the innkeeper, kept the painting to present to the church’s retired pastor, who was coming back into town for a wedding in a few days. I never got a photo of the finished work, and probably never will, but it makes me cheerful to think of the pastor having a bit of an early Fossil summer’s eve to take back to Arizona with him.

The town’s motel has a motto that makes a pun about sleeping in a fossil bed. I groan every time we pass it. –June

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