The Yakima River Canyon

Yakima 002

Scott's Rock & Gem participates in an annual gem and mineral show held in the city of Yakima, Washington. Friday is student day, and many bus loads of local students get to preview the weekend show. 

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For some students, this might be the only chance they get in a year to be able to see and touch the beauty of the rock and mineral world, which is suddenly, magically concentrated before their eyes. 

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This young man radiates pride of ownership. Though his grab bag may only contain a few common tumbled stones, still this is a first step towards an interest that might open up for him later, in a good way. 

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With hundreds of school children in the room, are there shenanigans? You bet! That's part of the deal. But I'm happy to put up with em, in the hopes of allowing at least some of the students to move closer to what they naturally love!

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One thing's for sure: For a few hours on Friday, kids rock! 

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After the show, there is still plenty of daylight left so I head up into the Yakima River Canyon, to get my exercise, and hunt for some of the well known Yakima petrified wood. 

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It's a glorious day and the hills above the canyon are coming alive after their winter's sleep. As one local rockhound put it, "It's a beautiful time, before the bugs and the heat." 

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As I climb, the only noises are my heartbeat and my breath. Late afternoon light shimmers on the river, and catches in the tops of tall trees, highlighting the riparian zone. 

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Near the top of Selah Butte, at the south end of the canyon, the ground starts to become littered with petrified wood. 

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Small chips and pieces of wood are actually quite thick in some places. Although the last time I was up here, in 2015, a lot of this had been picked up by local rockhounds. So this blog also provides a record of how things looked before Ebay sent it's minions to scour the land! (Wink)

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Actually, this area has been on rockhound's radar for generations, and early diggers here found entire logs encased in the Miocene age basalt flows. Here, a large pit on the shoulder of Selah Butte signifies where a petrified log was uncovered, probably decades ago. 

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Though not as colorful as the famed Arizona wood, the Yakima wood none-the-less has pleasant opalized tones of creams, browns, tans, and whites. 

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Some of the larger pieces will cut showing great grain structure. 

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On a tip from a man I meet down on the road who is spotting Bighorn sheep with binoculars, I head north, higher up into the Canyon, heading for the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area. 

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According to this fellow, he saw a group recently digging out a large log from the roadless side of the Untanum Creek area. Truth be known - all the ridges and draws on both sides of the river here provide good hunting grounds for petrified wood. Note the rock pick at the top of the BLM map! 

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A foot bridge crosses the Yakima River at Umtanum Creek, providing access to roadless terrain on the other side. My "guide" points to a pit that is visible from the parking lot. It's two small ridges upriver, but you can definitely see it if you know what you are looking for. 

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I reach the pit easily with only about a quarter mile's walk, and a moderate elevation gain above Umtanum Creek.

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It's a pretty good sized excavation and there is a good amount of petrified wood laying about in the tailings.

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There is still wood in the bottom of the pit. I see numerous tree roots fanning out from the empty hole and going back underground into the hillside.

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A large root shows opalized brown, black, and cream color and good grain structure.

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What have the local rockhounds been pulling out of their pits? Back at the show, club members have various treasures on display. Here, a beautiful twisting trunk section with limb in the background. 

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This case showed off a large gnarly trunk with beautiful cut and polished round, as well as numerous limbs. 

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 A lovely twisted trunk sits atop a gorgeous large black full round with well preserved grain patterning. 

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What a find! An excellent petrified hollow log. 

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An extra large polished full round with fantastic grain pattern, in lovely creams, tans, and browns.

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 The Yakima Gem & Mineral Show also hosted a very fine display of some of the best Morrisonite type jaspers from Eastern Oregon that I've seen. 

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Check out this stripey, varigated beauty! 

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These orbed jaspers were truly museum pieces. 

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I loved this one which seemed to contain a marvelous mythological creature! 

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Without a doubt the finest plume agate that ever came out of Graveyard Point in far Eastern Oregon came from the famed Regency Rose Claim. 

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How about this stylish Wingate Plume from the Mojave Desert area of Southern California?

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This might be some of the best Stinking Water Creek plume that I've ever seen (Near Juntura, Oregon)

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Fantastic pink plume agate from the sage hills east of Nyssa, Oregon.

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Rockin Eastern Oregon plume!

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Inspired to get out into the field I head back up to the Yakima River Canyon, to check some less visited areas. 

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The river is calm with late afternoon light blazing on the canyon rims. 

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There are numerous pullouts at various locations along the winding canyon. Some have rockhound trails leading up, and others do not. Just about any of these pullouts might lead to petrified wood! 

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In general though, you are not going to be able to do too many canyon wall ascents during a day, due to the rugged elevation gains necessary to get to the high, wood bearing horizons, and the weight of anything that you pack up and pack down. 

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These eroding basalts erupted from mile long fissures in the earth's crust, spreading like bubbling molassas to cover more than 200,000 square miles of the west. Some flows reached the Pacific ocean. A well near Yakima was drilled almost 3 miles deep, and still did not reach to the bottom of the basalt flows. 

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I'm looking for the presence of any small amount of wood to clue me that I might be near a wood bearing area. The wood will show as small chips in the soil or amongst the basalt cobbles. Some areas I've walked are completely devoid of wood, and other areas show chips like these. 

WoodOutcrop600

I'm also looking for a fairly large outcrop of the wood bearing rock that I spotted from the top of Selah Butte. Here it is, taken with max telephoto lens, but it's quite high up on a steep section of the canyon wall, and several ridges over from Selah. It's not visible from the road, and looks to me like it wouldn't appear until you are right upon it, so it's difficult to tell exactly how to get there, when you are starting up from below. But this site looks like it might yield wood. Telltale chip appears to be scattered below, and the knob looks undug by even the tenacious rockhounds who share these walls with the bighorn sheep. Unfortunately, I miss the outcrop this time out, so it's still up there, waiting to be looked at. 

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Suddenly, and without warning, I come upon a large rockhound pit. I know I'm in a good area when I see one of these, but I'm quite high up, and the path was little more than a goat run. 

 

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The pit is about 8 feet deep, and you can imagine the log that came out of here. This speaks to the tenacity of area rockhounds to be able to pack out this sort of a find. There are some beautiful small pieces right on the surface of the tailings, so I doubt that very many people come up this high.

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Unbelievably, I find an entire log in a small excavation nearby. It's running back into the basalt with about 4 or 5 feet of the trunk exposed. I'm guessing there are over 1000 pounds here. The only problem: 600 feet of elevation gain in about a half mile, over a goat trail. I'm going to go ahead and leave this one here for you! (wink) 

Wood 001

Here are some of the small treasures that I brought down: a lovely opalized wood piece with caramel colored layer of semi-translucent agate over the top. 

Wood 002

Another one of those frosted agate pieces from the high pit area. Beautiful colors! 

Wood 003

 Multi-colored frosted agate limb section. 

Wood 004

This type of frosted agate presentation is going to cause me to go back up that goat run and look for more! 

Wood 005

A beautiful little limb piece with knot that has become druzy. 

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 A gnarly rippled root with pretty reds in the color scheme. 

Wood 007

One of the interesting and unique things about these deposits is a material I call "mash" which is like an opalized ash flow in which vegetable material, small twigs and limbs were swept along and buried. Chunks of this will cut with neat little opalized limb cross sections.

Wood 009 

A couple of nice limb sections, one with sweet knot detail. 

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Cool rippled root with two colors of opal replacing the wood. 

Root 003Resized

The same piece after I zipped a contour polish along its long edge, to accentuate the beautiful shades of cream, tan, and brown. 

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Dusk had blanketed the canyon by the time I got back down, just as it has for the last 17 million years. I stayed well within my legal limit of 25 lbs. of wood per person per day, so there should be plenty of collectibles left high up within these lofty canyon walls for you to find. Have fun and be safe. I wish you all the best in your collecting efforts here!