Once we got set up we headed out to the the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, the National Park Service research facility which is solely dedicated to the the Fossil Beds, and located in the Sheep Rock Trails Unit. If you are into fossils and paleontology this is the place to be. There are over 45,000 specimens in the museum. We toured the facility which is state of the art and is also a "green building" powdered by solar power and windmill generators. The Sheep Rock Unit offers several trails including two in the Blue Basin area.
The next day we hit the road and were on the Island In Time Trail by 8:30. The temperatures were suppose to get into the high 90's and air quality due to the fires 50 miles away near Canyon City was bad so we needed to get an early start. The Island in Time Trail is a fairly level trail , one mile or so round trip, which brings you to the bottom of the basin and a box canyon. We walked up to the end of trail and were surrounded by beautiful blueish hills and numerous fossil replicas.
Sheep Rock from the visitor center
Joel decided he did not want to hike the Blue Basin Overlook Trail which included 760 feet of elevation gain, so he stayed behind and I forged on. The elevation gain is all at the beginning (or end depending whether you are going clock wise or counter clockwise). The switch backs for the 760 feet were gruesome, but I made it to the overlook and the views were worth it. Once the initial elevation gain is over the rest of the trail was pretty level. At one point I was going to turn back because I did not have my hiking poles with me and I'm not very good at going down steep hills without them. As it turned out the the part of the trail that continued past the overlook back to the parking lot was a gentle 500 foot decent. I hiked the trail counter clockwise and I would recommend most hike it clockwise unless they are adverse to descending steep switch backs. There is less elevation gain and switch backs initially going clockwise.
On the way to the overlook
And the views were worth it
It was early enough in the morning that I didn't see any other hikers, except when I was almost back to the parking lot. At that point two young men in their late 20's or 30's were coming up the trail and I had to take a double take. One of the men was buck naked. No kidding! The other man said good morning as I hurried past. )The naked man wasn't even good looking LOL). My next stop was back to the visitor center to report them. Joel had seen them get out of their car while he was waiting for me and pointed out their car. The ranger now has their license plate and make of car.
The fire in Canyon City is continuing to burn and the smoke is very, very thick. One other area I wanted to photograph was Picture Gorge. The highway goes through the short section of the gorge but there are are no pull outs. It was so smokey I don't think the gorge would show up in a photo anyway. Next time.