The badlands at Blue Basin and the surrounding valley to the north (Turtle Cove) have yielded many of the most valuable fossils recovered in the John Day region. These fossil discoveries helped establish much of the chronology of North American Tertiary-age mammalian faunas. Today the region continues to not only yield new and intriguing fossil plants and animals, but is also providing a wealth of knowledge about past climate history and environmental changes associated with the development of the the ancestral Cascades and Coast ranges, and episodes of widespread catastrophic volcanism in the Columbia Plateau region.
Many of the early fossils were collected as "float" from landslide and alluvial deposits (such as the deposits shown in the foreground of this image). However, paleontological studies conducted today require the more arduous task of studying fossils found in place. Fossils found this way are typically rare and difficult to get to, but their value is much greater.