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  • Rockville!

    Rockhounding can be a rewarding way to get down and dirty
  • Glittering treasures lie on the ground throughout Southern Oregon waiting for sharp-eyed rock hounds to gather them up.
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      To learn more about rockhounding in the Pacific Northwest, check out the Oregon Department of Geology website. www.oregongeology.org/sub/learnmore/learnmore.htm
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      Learn more
      To learn more about rockhounding in the Pacific Northwest, check out the Oregon Department of Geology website. www.oregongeology.org/sub/learnmore/learnmore.htm
  • Glittering treasures lie on the ground throughout Southern Oregon waiting for sharp-eyed rock hounds to gather them up.
    "Oregon has a lot of different rocks to collect. We have a lot of volcanic rocks like obsidian," says Charles Rogers, a Rogue Community College geology instructor and curator for the Crater Rock Museum.
    Rock collecting is different from prospecting, says Rogers.
    "Prospecting is looking for mineral resources, such as gold or copper. Rock collecting is looking for nonprecious minerals, petrified wood and agates. It's looking for semi-precious stones that can be cut, looking for the pretty qualities in the various layers," says Rogers.
    When rock hound Susan Newman moved to Ashland six years ago from Scituate, Mass., she didn't realize at first that her new neighborhood was a hot spot for rock collectors.
    "I lived here for like two years before I realized how much was here. I was looking at a book about all the gems to find here. I was like, 'Oh, my god, I'm in heaven.' I had no idea."
    The most common finds for Rogue Valley rock hunters are petrified wood, agates and fossils, says Rogers.
    Eastern Oregon has opal mines and thunder eggs, as well as free Bureau of Land Management sites where people can dig for obsidian and sunstones.
    "There are copper deposits and jade deposits in parts of the Klamath mountains, and chrome minerals sometimes. Amethyst crystals have been found — not high quality, but usually there are clusters," says Rogers.
    In the Rogue Valley, rock hounds can find banded agates and fossils of clam impressions and turritella, which are ancient sea creatures about 30 million years old, according to Rogers.
    "We also find leaf fossils in old lake beds from volcanic lahar. There are a lot of leaves, bugs and flowers that we find in those lahar deposits at Lake Creek."
    The Agate Desert is another popular place to look. The area — actually a prairie and not a true desert — is located in White City near where Camp White was located. While on a rock-hunting trip in the Agate Desert with her husband, Newman found the largest agate they have ever collected.
    "We posted a picture of it on Facebook after we found it. Everyone thought it was a giant potato," says Newman. "It's not worth anything, it's just cool to have a nice big piece that's bigger than your hand."
    Crater Rock Museum hosts field trips for members to special places known to have lots of good collecting potential.
    At the Siskiyou summit, Rogers likes to look for clam and snail fossils because it's not private property.
    "It's hard to find a place where you can just collect rocks, without impinging on someone's private property," says Rogers, "and we go up there because it's part of the highway easement, so we're able to pick up rocks there."
    Rock hounds can collect stones on many public lands in Oregon, including Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land. On BLM lands, people can gather up to 250 pounds of rocks a year for free, according to the agency's website.
    Commercial collecting for the purpose of sale or barter is not allowed without special authorization. Also, rock cannot be collected on public lands for construction or decorative purposes in landscaping without a permit. Rock hounds may use hand tools such as shovels and picks, but no explosives or power equipment is allowed, BLM says at www.blm.gov/or/programs/minerals/rockhounding.php.
    Some areas, such as Glass Buttes obsidian area and a public sunstone area in the BLM Lakeview District, have been specifically set aside for rock hunters. On Forest Service lands, free or special fee permits might be required, depending on the forest and the type of rocks being gathered.
    Beaches are another place to find natural treasures, according to Rogers.
    "Lots of petrified wood washes down the rivers to the beach, where you'll also find agates," says Rogers. "Sometimes we find whale bones. The coast is an active erosion area."
    Petrified wood can act like a sponge and soak up agate material in the ground water, says Rogers. As the wood slowly dissolves away, the agate replaces it cell by cell.
    Rock hounding won't make you rich, but it brings joy from the thrill of finding something beautiful and unique just lying on the ground.
    "We love having them all over the yard, they are real garden enhancers," says Newman. "It's probably the least offensive pastime someone can have. We're just surface collectors."
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