Rockhounding/Gold Panning

Sweet Home Rocks! Part II – Pyrite

Pyrite

Pyrite

Last week we told you about the fabulous petrified wood field open for public digging outside of Sweet Home, Oregon. We also told you this is a great area to find pyrite.

Jerry & Marilyn - "Enough pictures, it's still a half hour to the site."

Jerry & Marilyn – “Enough pictures, it’s still a half hour to the site.”

On this same weekend, my little brother, Jerry, his wife Marilyn, and daughter Jessica, headed up to Sweet Home to check out the “pyrite seam” as Jerry called it. Many years ago Jerry and my stepdad used to pan for gold on Quartzville Creek outside of Sweet Home. This is an area set aside by the Forest Service for public, no fee digging. They found out about the pyrite seam from one of our neighbors so many years ago. He had been on the road crew that cut the road through the seam – apparently they all thought for a few minutes that they were rich!

We headed up Quartzville Road east of Sweet Home. It goes past Sunnyside County Park, a park we highly recommend if you want to stay in the area. It’s large, roomy, has a couple of boat docks where we launched our kayaks into the river rather than right out into the busy Foster Reservoir.

Keep going several miles and you’ll see Green Peter Reservoir. From the pictures, you can see why “green” is in the name. Why it is Green Peter though, I have never found out.

Green Peter Reservoir, Sweet Home, Oregon

Green Peter Reservoir

Finally, we turned on a road leading past an obvious dry camping area, and just headed up about 2 miles. We saw a couple of cars parked alongside the road and a couple of people on the small hillside. Suddenly Jerry exclaimed, “That’s it!” I think he was worried it would be all overgrown after so many years. Jessica jumped out as excitedly as I did to run over to the hill. You could see sparkles all over the hillside and even down onto the road! They were calling to us! Jerry reached down and picked up a beautifully shaped piece and Jessica and I were nearly giddy with excitement.

Nancy, Jessica & Jerry at Pyrite Seam

Nancy, Jessica & Jerry at Pyrite Seam

Now, the hillside is a little slippery because the rock and dirt is soft. You have to be very careful going up and down it because it’s easy to fall and hurt yourself. But does that every really stop a rockhounder?

We gathered pieces we broke out of the rock as well as pieces that I wanted to take home to show the grandsons.

Pyrite in matrix

Pyrite in matrix

Finally we had to leave and stopped back by the dry camp area for lunch. Thankfully Jerry brought a small BBQ and we replenished our energy with hot dogs, chips and drinks.

Nothing better than a BBQ after rockhounding!

Nothing better than a BBQ after rockhounding!

Then he decided to try panning for gold in the creek. It was mainly to show Jessica how to do it. Jerry really didn’t expect to find anything because that particular spot is heavily panned. But it was a great day to cool off down by the river.

Jessica and Rusty enjoyed playing in the river while Jerry panned.

Jessica and Rusty enjoyed playing in the river while Jerry panned.

Although Jessica and I would have been happy to go back and spend a lot more time looking for pyrite, we ran out of time this day. But we all meet up every year in Oregon, so I know Jessica and I will definitely make sure we go back again and find more of that beautiful pyrite!

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Oregon, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet Home Rocks! Part I – Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood, Holleywood Ranch, Sweet Home, Oregon

Petrified Wood at Holleywood Ranch

The Sweet Home, Oregon area is known for Holley Blue and other agates. But did you know you can also dig petrified wood and gather pyrite? Now I know some people say, “Pyrite?! Who wants Fool’s Gold?” Well, this is very pretty, nicely shaped Fool’s Gold.

Jerry and Jessica ready to dig petrified wood, Holleywood Ranch, Sweet Home, Oregon

Jerry and Jessica ready to dig

On this day, my little brother, Jerry, his wife Marilyn, and daughter Jessica, headed up to Sweet Home to check it out. We first arrived at Holleywood Ranch just outside of town, to dig for the petrified wood. We saw the sign showing we were at the right place, but no one was in sight. It turns out you should always phone ahead because the owners live on a hill behind the field where the digging takes place, and so they aren’t always in the field. There is a white house next to the fields but that is rental property, so please don’t bother the renters.

Petrified Wood Field, Holleywood Ranch, Sweet Home, Oregon

Petrified Wood Field

We met up with owner Brad Newport, and he showed us the wagons and probing tools and told us to head on out to see what we could find. The top of the ground was literally littered with pieces of petrified wood. It’s tempting to reach down and pick up several pieces but even more tempting to see what we could dig up for ourselves. We saw several trenches where other people had dug so we checked them out and found several pieces nice enough to keep. Most pieces were rather small, but there were some pieces in the field that were simply too big to pick up!

Jessica standing on large piece of petrified wood, Sweet Home, Oregon

Jessica standing on large piece of petrified wood

After choosing several pieces we headed back to the gate where there was water available to clean our finds and decide which ones to keep. The details really show up when the rocks are wet! Then we took them up to Brad’s house to pay for our keepers.

Petrified Wood from Holleywood Ranch, Sweet Home, Oregon

Petrified Wood from Holleywood Ranch!

When we walked into his shop, we were enthralled! Petrified wood everywhere! Limb casts, huge pieces, colorful pieces – it was a rockhounder’s heaven. We had some time to talk to Brad, an extremely pleasant gentleman, and he told us how he bought the property not knowing the petrified wood was on it. And when he did find out, he nearly wore himself out digging every day after work. I could completely understand, I would have done the same thing!

Brad Newport, Owner of Holleywood Ranch, Sweet  Home, Oregon

Brad Newport, Owner of Holleywood Ranch

He didn’t plan to open his property to the public until the Travel Channel Cash and Treasures show called him and wanted to visit. One of their requirements is that the property be opened to the public so he decided to try it. He had a great time telling us the story of the filming of the show, and some of the funny highlights. Holleywood Ranch has also been featured on Grant’s Getaways!

Holleywood Ranch is open for digging every day (weather permitting), just make sure to call ahead to 541-401-0899 or 541-409-6047. The digging is easy, the ground is soft and flat so no hiking, just a simple walk out into the field. You only pay $1.50 per pound for the pieces you choose to keep.

 

More gorgeous petrified wood! Holleywood Ranch, Sweet Home, Oregon

More gorgeous petrified wood!

You can find Holleywood Ranch online at http://holleywoodranch.com/

The link to the episode on Cash and Treasures, as well as Grant’s Getaways can be found here: http://holleywoodranch.com/claim-to-fame/

Come back next week to find out more about how Sweet Home Rocks! Part II – Pyrite.

Categories: Oregon, Outdoors, Roadside Attraction, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For The Kid in All of Us: Rock and Gem Shows

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OAMS Rock Show

Besides actually going out and collecting rocks, rock and gem shows are a great way to get kids interested in rockhounding. They can see all the different kinds of beautiful rocks and the variety of colors. That can help them visualize what they are actually looking for when they are out collecting.

Over President’s Day holiday we went to Portland, Oregon to check out the rock show sponsored by the Oregon Agate and Mineral Society. We took my grandson, Anden, because he likes rock collecting and it has been the joy of my life to share my passion with him.

The show was held inside the OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) hall and admission was free. While it was probably the smallest show I have ever been to, it was still packed with amazing specimens to see, rock-related items to buy, and demonstrations.

When we first walked in we were greeted with a “food table” – every item on the table looked like food but was actually some sort of rock. It was quite impressive. At another table young girls were making painted rocks and creating other crafts from rocks. There was a table with various rocks on it called the “Touch Table” to let kids know they should pick those rocks up and touch them all they wanted!

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Rock “Food”

The table with samples of meteorites was a new experience for us. We had never seen one and were able to touch them and feel how heavy they were. There were little magnets available so we could see how magnetic the rocks were. They really looked quite different than I expected and I’m not sure I would recognize one out in the field if I came across it.

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Meteorite with Magnet

At the back of the room were the demonstrations. That’s where we met 11-year-old Zach Taylor. He was making cabochons for guests. A cabochon is a piece of rock that is most often formed into an oblong piece that is then polished. It can then be placed into a necklace or other piece of jewelry. It was impressive to watch Zac expertly run the “Genie,” a grinding and polishing machine that has six wheels of varying roughness to shape the rock, then polish the scratches out, then finish polishing the stone. The finished product is truly a work of art.

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Young Rockhounder Zach Taylor

Zach has always been interested in rock collecting and joined the Oregon Agate and Mineral Society about three years ago. One of the other members worked with Zach for a couple of months teaching him how to use the equipment and Zach has now been making cabochons for about two years. The field trips or “expeditions” as they call them, are what really get Zach excited. Zach and his mom, Mary, are excited for the next club field trip which will be to Lincoln City, Oregon to collect agates. This club really knows how to involve the kids!

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Josh’s Finds

Moving on in the room, down the outside row of tables were vendors selling small slabs of various specimen of rocks. Josh had a great time picking out some great pieces to add to his collection. Another activity for kids was the “wheel” and for 50 cents kids could spin the wheel to win from a selection of rocks or rock pieces of art. Both Josh and Anden, spun the wheel several times. Anden was thrilled with his winnings but also “needed” to buy something. All those beautiful rocks are hard to resist! He saw a quartz crystal that he really wanted so of course Grandma bought it for him.

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Anden and His Crystal

At the far side of the room were display cases with gorgeous collections. One of my favorites was the picture jasper just because I think it is amazing you can find rocks, cut and polish them, and they really do look like intricately painted pictures!

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Picture Jasper

My other favorite collection was the sunstones. Sunstones are the state rock of Oregon, and there is land set aside in the southeast part of Oregon, outside of the town of Plush, where you can go to collect them for free. They are quite abundant so I would say you are guaranteed to find stones.

Sunstones

Rockhounding is a great way to connect with kids and to get them outside. It’s great for the kid in the rest of us as well!

There are many rock clubs all over the country, several in every state. And there are many rock and gem shows that you can attend.

Categories: Oregon, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rivers of Glass – Glass Butte, Oregon

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Obsidian “Flow”

Rivers of black glass, gleaming in the sun. Chunks of obsidian, shining like beacons saying, “I’m right here, come and get me!”

Glass Butte in Central Oregon is one of the best rockhounding areas in the northwest. It’s on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, set aside for rockhounds to access for free. Obsidian is formed from lava that cools very quickly. This area had a huge lava flow millions of years ago so there is a LOT of obsidian. Obsidian has also been called “volcanic glass” and has been used over the years for arrowheads and knives. Today it is mostly used for jewelry, garden features, and other decorations. That’s part of the fun of obsidian, that it has such a variety of uses.

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Glass Butte – the middle of nowhere!

Located 77 miles east of Bend on Highway 20, you’ll see a plain brown sign on the south side of the road showing you where to turn. You’ll really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing to see for miles and only a couple of small trees. But this is where there truly are hidden gems.

Slow down before mile post 77 because it’s easy to zoom right past. There will be a dirt road. Go slowly and carefully. It can have deep ruts from heavy rainfall and chunks of obsidian may have washed down onto the roadway or exposed by the rain. Obsidian can be very sharp. While we have never had our tire punctured by it, we did hit a piece hard enough to poke a hole in our oil plan. So just be cautious.

Then head on into the property. There are several roads to follow. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t be able to get off BLM land and onto private land because it is all fenced. Also, don’t be surprised if you see tents because people are allowed to camp there.

There are two books that are really helpful in this particular rockhounding area: Gems Trails of Oregon by James R. Mitchell, and The GPS Guide to Western Gem Trails by David A. Kelty. This is where the treasure hunt begins. There are many different colors of obsidian – black, snowflake, mahogany, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, and fire. And most of these colors are here in one place! You can stop in one spot and only find black or stop in another and find mostly mahogany. They can also be mixed. Rocks come in different sizes and shapes, small shards to HUGE pieces! Again, be careful – it is sharp and can cut you. It also gets very hot sitting in that Central Oregon sun.

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Black and Mahogany Mix

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Silver Sheen (see the silver streaks?)

The rainbow and fire, in my opinion, are the most elusive. You have to hold the pieces up to the sun to see the fire or rainbow properties. The color glistens like a rainbow dancing on the edges of the rock. The fire obsidian shows like a flame in the center when the sunlight hits it just right.

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HUGE Piece of Obsidian

Sometimes you have to break open a rock to see the lace/snowflake which are white lacy or snowflake looking shapes inside. Again, it’s sharp so use eye protection when breaking obsidian. You will also want to take gloves in case the rocks are really hot.

Remember, this is the desert. Take plenty of water (and a picnic. We believe in picnicking every chance we get.) Then make sure you stop picking up rocks before you are too hot or too tired. That 77 miles is a long way back when you’ve worn yourself out. And it’s easy to do. The first time we were there we were so excited but what we were seeing and how easy it was to find, we just simply didn’t want to leave. But by 3:00 it was dangerously hot.

Please remember that collecting rocks on BLM land is for personal use only. You can collect up to 25 pounds per day or 250 pounds per year. So please be respectful and don’t take more than your share.

Other than that just be careful of the heat and the sharpness of the obsidian, and have fun in one of the best rockhounding places in the country!

Categories: Keatons Out and About, Oregon, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

In Search of Sapphires – Gem Mountain, Montana

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Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

If you’re a rockhound like me, you probably usually enjoy rockhounding where you can do it for free. But every once in awhile you’re willing to pay for it. One place that is worth it is Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine.

Located 22 miles outside of the town of Philipsburg, Montana, Gem Mountain lets you have the hands-on experience of loading up a two-pound bucket with dirt, gravel and invisible sapphires. I say, “invisible” because when they are covered with dirt and dust, you can’t see them in the bucket of gravel. Then you take a little shovel and put some of the mix onto a screen, which you then take over to a trough. There you put the screen underwater, shake it around a bit, then take it back to your table where you quickly dump it upside down. There on the top of the pile of gravel, will be beautiful shiny sapphires! Because they are heavier than the gravel, they settle at the bottom of the screen which becomes the top when you turn the screen over on your table. You then use tweezers to pick out the sapphires and put them someplace safe like a baggie or old film canister. After you have picked out all that you can see, it’s a good idea to put the gravel back into the screen and wash it another time or two – you might have missed some sapphires.

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David and Josh (age 7) picking sapphires

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Heat-treated, faceted sapphire

You can buy one bucket at a time ($20 each) or buy six and get one free. Yes, it’s a little spendy, but if you know you are going you can simply budget for it as you would any other entertainment. After finding all of your sapphires, you can either choose to just take them home that way, or if you have some spectacular ones, you can leave them with the mine office to be sent off to be heat treated and faceted (for an extra charge, of course.) Heat treating is what gives the sapphires that cobalt blue color. Otherwise they are a dull blue, but they can also be yellow or white.

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Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

Another fun thing you can do if you can’t make it there is have them send you a jug of dirt to screen at home. David did that for me for my birthday after we had been there the first time and had so much fun. He felt a little weird telling people he got me a jug of dirt for my birthday but I was in absolute heaven! Again, if you find some spectacular ones, Gem Mountain includes a return envelope and you can send one or two back to them to be heat treated and faceted. Be ready to practice your patience though – it can take up to six months to get them back.

There is a small store with limited snacks and water and six free first-come, first-served camping sites.

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Trough where you wash the gravel

Sifting gravel and picking sapphires is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. It was like an addiction, very hard to quit. Thank goodness they close at 5pm or I would have gone until I passed out!

We spent the entire day sifting rocks and picking out sapphires. By the time we left I was as worn out as a kid on Christmas day. David was driving and I said, “I’m so tired, I just need to sleep,” and he said, “Go ahead.” I leaned over on the seat and BOOM, I was out! THAT, my fellow rockhounders, is a GREAT day!

Website: http://www.gemmountainmt.com/#

Gem Mountain is open through September, from 10am-5pm, seven days a week.

Getting there: Gem Mountain is located at 21 Sapphire Gulch Lane, at mile marker 38 on Highway 38, Skalkaho Pass Road between Hamilton and Philipsburg.

Categories: Montana, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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