Saturday, July 12, 2008

Some of the Best of the West

It is hard to choose when you have so many memorable scenes at hand, but I picked the photos that best represented the adventures I've been relating to friends and family. When, you first start out on a cross-country rockhounding venture, there is the anticipation of discovery, besides also revisiting the familiar wonderful sites that have yielded treasures in the past.

About 15 years ago when Brian and I were on our way to becoming diehard rockhounds, we heard about a site in Oregon called Glass Butte-a piece of hilly territory that abounded in mahogany obsidian. At that time, with the Rand McNally roadmap in hand, I located a shortcut to Glass Butte from Lakeview and we ventured forth in our small rental car to an area called Christmas Valley, where a series of small roads promised to lead to the coveted obsidian. Our only problem, was that the promised roads did not exist. So we rode for miles, without the aid of a 4-wheel drive, over muddy road cuts, cow pastures and boulders. We were very lost and just about running out of gas and it was near panic time, when we suddenly spotted the natural glass in its brown, black and orange combos on the road before us. Alas, we had arrived!

So, this year, in honor of that ridiculous experience, again totally disregarding the topo maps, we decided to follow that same road one more time, which, by the way, is still posted in the new Rand McNally. We must have just gotten it wrong the first time, right? Well, after a few false starts up Christmas Valley, a rancher in the area pointed us in the direction of an old raggedy wire cow gate and a bumpy looking dirt road and sent us on with the infamous two words, "Good luck!" She had it right on, of course, but at least this time, we did not run out of gas. A word to the wise-Do not trust Rand McNally road maps for secondary roads!

Oatman, Arizona, off the old Route 66, is an old western town complete with turn-of-the-century storefronts, old hotels and tourists, who are often surprised to see wild burros roaming the streets looking for handouts. They come from the surrounding mountains and you can purchase a bunch of carrots for a dollar to make them happy. The first time we came upon Oatman, it came as a big surprise because we were really headed to Las Vegas via the Black Mountains, which give out chalcedony and fire agate in the lava areas. The narrow, scenic mountain roads of Route 66 lead down into Oatman, and it is a wonderful respite from the rockhounding and hairpin turns you go through. Yes, we bought the carrots and the burros were instantly our best friends.

We took a side trip to Wikiup, to check out some rock sites and found that Burro Creek also had an abundance of cactus all over the place. I'm fairly good at climbing the steeps but often I find it easier to just sit on my butt and slide down the hills to get back. Not a great idea here, because that very fuzzy looking friendly cactus is not your friend after all. My hands were all bruised from the prickles and I spent hours trying to remove them from "all over!"

A new discovery that totally thrilled me this year was a hill somewhere in the Wyoming wilderness that yielded golden crystals. Are they quartz (citrine) or calcite or some of both? The gemologist at the mineral store on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe says they are "citrine for sure," so we will go with that.

We finally found the famed Blue Forest area in Wyoming which Bobby, owner of the Kemmerer rock shop, has all charted out for his friends on a handwritten paper that looks like a treasure map. This year, I gave Bobby a pecos diamond and he gave me a gorgeous blue agate petwood piece which provided enough incentive to finally locate the spot from the maze of roads that lead out from the reservoir. It was indeed wonderful and we found many treasures of petrified wood inlaid with the blue. And the little horny toad protected his favorite piece of blue wood and hung around me, making sure I left it there.

My brother Blue Star took us on a day trip to the Dinwoody petroglyphs on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, after first introducing us to his cousin, Virgene Tarness,a respected interpreter of the ancient drawings. We enjoyed the ride in his pickup to this sacred spot for the Shoshone and learned a great deal from him as we always do. I've posted photos of the petroglyphs and our day at the Dinwoody cliffs on my Facebook site.

Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada is a popular site for hunting gorgeous black and sometimes red garnets. This year, we discovered a new use for the mountain--sheep herding, and what a beautiful sight that was!

The Black Rock Desert in Nevada always gets a visit, along with enjoying Bruno's hospitality in the great hamlet of Gerlach. The endless Black Rock playa is fun to drive because you can go in circles, in any which way, and at any speed and there's no cop to give you a ticket. It's a big problem though when it is wet because you can lose your car really fast in the quicksand. The rule of thumb is that if the playa looks brown instead of white or light gray, do not even try. We thought about riding it, until we met the driver of a pickup who spent the last five days out there, waiting for the sand to dry and then he barely made it out. Maybe next time.

The mountains around the Black Rock Desert hold all kinds of treasures for the rockhound and you never know what you'll come up with. I don't ever recall a year we were disappointed. This year, there was a hint of translucent orange opal in those hills which is definitely something that begs to be followed up.

Brian took the big hike up the fourteener,Mt. Antero, this year while I hung back with Jeannie in Salida. Everywhere, on our trip, starting with the Sierras and then the Rockies, there was snow. So much in fact, that the Jeep could not get very far up the mountain and Brian had to navigate a pretty sizable glacier to get to the top. He came back with very beautiful Antero minerals and plenty of photos of the mountain.

Topaz Mountain in Utah can sometimes surprise with more than you bargained for. Not only can you find the prized golden transparent topaz but on rare occasions, a tiny red beryl will be uncovered. The beryl is only found here in Utah and is very valuable and this year there were two. Thank you, Topaz Mountain!

While I was winding down and so very ready for rest after 4 days of hiking the hills of SR34 in Nevada, Brian came in from the opposite direction and told me about a wilderness site he discovered with huge boulders of bright jasper. With instant new found strength, I followed him up, up and up the hill and through the old abandoned wire gate and saw beauty that one's eyes were very grateful to behold. I felt like a ten year-old, running free in some kind of fairyland of colors, and the red continues to stoke the fires of my imagination. We took many photos but left it all untouched because it belongs there forever and there is something very comforting in that thought.

Brian took 4 hikes this year alone because I need to rest up after hiking for more than two days. He took many photos which I am thoroughly enjoying because when you miss a day, you can miss out on some very beautiful sites that are found only out here. One day, while hiking the Nevada wilderness, a real cowboy came riding up the hills looking for his "pardner". He even tipped his hat to me as he rode over the cliff just like in the old western movies. Sometimes you see the mustangs, the wild horses riding together or all alone, and Brian captured a beauty on film during one of his hikes in the Nevada hills.

So, here are the photos that belong to the stories!

From top to bottom:

Setting straight a twisted wire cattle gate on a muddy dirt road somewhere around Christmas Valley, Oregon; A wild burro walking the streets of Oatman, Arizona; Twin cactuses at Wikiup, Arizona; Golden calcite and citrine found in the Wyoming hills; A horny toad camouflaged in sand and rocks in the Blue Forest; Wyoming, Brian and Blue Star on the cliffs in Dinwoody, Wyoming; Sheep herding at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada; The Black Rock Desert playa, Nevada in early June; Chalcedony in the Calico hills, Nevada; A snowy Mt. Antero at 14,000 feet Colorado; Topaz Mountain at dawn, Thomas Mountains, Utah; Red jasper field at SR 34, Nevada; Wild horse in northern Nevada wilderness.