Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Rock Hounds
You could call Brad Newport’s backhoe a “time machine” – as it crawls across his “Holleywood Ranch” near Sweet Home, Oregon.
“Everyone has his or her hobby,” noted the ranch owner. “For some people it’s fishing or hunting – crafts – and for me, it’s right here – under the ground. I love it so much because I know that everyone who comes out here is going to have a great time. You just can’t help it if you’re a rock hound.”
Each chunk of earth that Newport’s “time machine” lifts out a piece of Oregon pre-history.
This time, the Rock Hounds who gathered to sort through the dirt and debris were members of the Tualatin Valley Gem Club.
Each has come to Newport’s ranch for a different reason: some say it for the “discovery” of something new, others say it’s for the value of a new found treasure – all seem to agree, it’s the beauty of what they find – Petrified Wood.
“Each piece is pretty – glassy, they take a polish, they shine – especially petrified wood – it has so much character,” noted geologist Taylor Hunt.
The “Holleywood Ranch” doesn’t have cows, sheep or horses – but it does have something more wonderful.
Cedar, maple, alder, oak, plus 54 other known wood species – all of it petrified wood dating back 30 million years – have been found on the site.
It’s the site of an ancient collection of wood that washed up on these Cascade Mountain foothills millions of year ago – a time when Sweet Home, Oregon was oceanfront.
All of it is down deep in the ground – and requires shoveling – scraping – wiping – 30 million years of mud to bring the 21st century to light.
Taylor Hunt described what it all might have looked like so long ago:
“We would have looked out to open ocean or an inlet or bay – there could have been driftwood here, but looking behind us there wouldn’t have been any cascades – just going in a straight shot into Eastern Oregon.”
30 million years ago volcanic activity was common across the Oregon landscape – Hunt says, think of Mt St Helens times 100.
“Roughly 30 million years ago that velocity with huge volcano eruptions
like Mt St Helens – ripped the trees up – branches, logs, everything and brought it this way and then it gets deposited as outwash that’s followed
by ash that buried it and fossilized it.”
Most of the petrified wood are small fragments from the past, noted club member Carl Weaver who had his hands full with scores of rocks that he found:
“This is my first trip here and it is looking like it’s going to be a good trip with lots of rock for only 30 minutes of digging. I don’t think that’s too bad because I’ve been some places where you dig 6-8 hours and only had 2-3 pieces to show for it – so this is pretty good.”
Every now and then someone gets lucky – like John VanLoo who found an
an intact petrified branch from off a larger tree.
“That’s a trophy right there,” noted the excited VanLoo. “It’s actually the first log I’ve ever found and I was shaking as I dug it out. I was pretty excited.”
All the Rockhounds agree that the mystery of their unique adventure keeps them coming back for more.
“Ah, it’s the camaraderie, noted Weaver. “Getting with other people and visiting and everybody gets a chance to share their finds that way. Plus, you always know you’re going to be the one to come home with a super big piece. Everyone has fun with it that way too.”
Newport noted that Rockhounding is a “blood sport!” Once it’s in your blood, it never, ever leaves:
“I do like it when other people find something cool, especially when it’s my son or daughter, but I still want to find it – to be the first human that’s seen something that old – it’s just the rock hound in me.”
Editor’s Note: Grant’s Getaways is a production of Travel Oregon brought to you in association with Oregon State Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State Marine Board. Episodes air Fridays and Saturdays on KGW Newschannel 8 and Saturdays on Northwest Cable News Network.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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