Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Women Who Dig Rocks

Recently, my old friend Thena came through town to visit on an Oregon rock hounding/fossil hunting road trip with her daughter, Raine who has big plans to become a Paleontologist. Being the rock collector that I am (I can't help it! They just come home with me everywhere I go!), I was very intrigued by their trip. Armed with their rock hammers, pick, shovel and a book called Gem Trails of Oregon by Garrett Romaine, they set off for adventure.

Their journey started at Mt. Adams where they met us to pick huckleberries. What better way to start off on adventures than with a good breakfast of huckleberry pancakes with friends? From here they drove through Portland to a site called Cedar Butte in the Tillamook State Forest to find black agite crystals. Here, they had a little too much adventure with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, Thena is a no-nonsense woman who can change a tire, which she did, and got them back on their way with their haul of black crystal points.

The next morning, they caught a low tide out at Otter Rock on the Oregon Coast near Lincoln City. Here they found seashell fossils, agates, a few crystallized snail shells, and a large, dead sea lion (they didn't bring this home). They also found some good clam chowder.

After a stop-over at our house to do some laundry and have some down-home food at Papa's Soulfood Kitchen, they headed up the McKenzie River to a site called Gold Hill to dig quartz crystals. This location sounded a little questionable in their guide book due to rough road and issues around active mine claims, but quartz crystals were just too good to pass up, so they headed up into the hills. As they arrived at the place the book said to go, they saw a family pulling in with picks and shovels, so they quickly made friends and teamed up. This family lived in the small, nearby town of Vida, and said they came up there to dig frequently. They found a few holes others had started alongside the dirt road, and started digging away. Here, once again, they had a little more adventure than they bargained for when a forest ranger pulled up and said they were trespassing on an active mining claim and the penalty was a 1500 dollar fine! The local family talked the ranger out of it with only a warning, but he said they had a lot of trouble there recently with some unsavory folks hanging out, taking loads of crystals and even beating up the mine owner when she came out to work her claim. My friend considered herself very lucky to have found this family, so they dug up crystals the rest of the day, shared a picnic and a lot of relief over narrowly avoiding a scrape with the law.

For the next leg of their journey, they headed out to Eastern Oregon where they visited the painted hills, the Grant County Historical Museum, the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute in Fossil, and the John Day Fossil Beds. Here, Raine met the head Paleontologist who happily gave her an autograph and shared some insights on her chosen career. They spent their last night camping out on the Ochoco Reservoir watching the Perseid meteor shower flash across the sky.

The next day they added a little hot spring stop to their itinerary and spent the morning at Cougar hotsprings soaking in the warm pools. They were talking to a woman about their crystal finds, and she told them there were crystals right here, and you only needed to dig in the muddy bottom of the pools with your toes. Sure enough, they found a few quartz crystals. As the day heated up, they hiked back down to a cove with a waterfall on the reservoir for some cold water swimming to cool off. Here they met another family with the same idea, and splashed the afternoon away with their new friends.

They came back to my house on their way home to regroup and clean up their crystals. After some scrubbing with an old toothbrush, we got their rocks all clean and shiny. I don't know about you, but I've never seen that many crystals at once, except maybe at a rock shop, or the crystal cookie cave at the Waldorf School. It was an impressive sight to behold.

They headed back home with a car full of fossils, crystals, agates, huckleberries, some really good artisan cheese of Oregon, and memories of great adventures. I thought it was a great example of going with your child's interests and planning a do-it-yourself trip around it. Who needs Disneyland when you can dig up crystals, meet a Paleontologist, find fossils on the beach, have a near run-in with the law, and camp out under a meteor shower? I know which vacation I'd pick, hands down. Memories of Disneyland fade into obscurity, but I'll bet Raine will be telling the story of this road trip to her grandchildren someday. Heck, I didn't even go on this trip, but I know I'll be telling it to mine!

Thena's advice on having a really fun rock hunting road trip with your child:  "I didn't try to force my plan on the situation, I went with the flow of the day, and made sure to take time to do things Raine wanted (I.e. swimming as much as possible)."


  1. My mother used to have a rule that I was only allowed to bring one rock into the car each time we stopped - or else I would stuff my pockets full! Now, every where she goes(Italy, Germany, Chicago, etc.) she brings me home one special rock! What a wonderful story about your friend and her daughter's experiences rock hunting! Take care, - Tweedles