Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saddle Mountain Washington

 After returning home from New Mexico, I figured I'd just take it easy for a while and recharge my batteries. But as luck would have it, I somehow ended up with a four day weekend off and nothing to do. My husband, a diehard camper had missed out on a planned trip earlier because of my unexpected trip down to New Mexico, so we planned a spur of the moment trip to Central Washington to search out nice rockhounding spots.

We decided to head to the Yakima River area because it was pretty cool in the Rosalyn area and Yakima sounded warmer. Unfortunately I didn't do my homework on the rockhounding areas and we almost ended up with nothing but a nice camping trip along the river (not so bad). 

We ended up setting up camp at the Bighorn Campground late Friday night. All the river spots were taken by all the rafters and fishermen, but we had a really nice spot anyway. I highly recommend this campground over the many other BLM sites we passed, because it had a lot more shade than the others further South.

Nice Shady Camping Spot at Bighorn Campground
The next morning, rather than tubing down the river (which did look like a lot of fun), we decided to go rock hunting. I had an old book which told about petrified wood along Umtanum Creek. It had little other information. It just said search the canyons and river beds to the south of Umtanum Creek Trail. So we headed down the river to the Umtanum bridge.

Yakima River Rafters - Looks Like Fun!

Umtanum Bridge
It was easy to find the suspension bridge. It's the only one across the river. As soon as we got to the other side, we ran into two out-of-breath hikers who told us to beware of the rattlesnake up the trail. Well, that did it for us. Even though we were both raised in New Mexico and never gave a thought to rattlesnakes, we suddenly became super aware of the possibility and did not have the courage to leave the stupid trail to look for petrified wood. We just couldn't do it! Meanwhile, Bandito decided that the upper 80's was too much for him and settled into the creek at the first spot we came to.

Bandito Laying in the Creek
We found a few chips of petrified wood laying under the railroad bridge at the beginning of the trail and near a washout area up the trail, but we were just too conscious of the snake danger to get off into the brush and look, so we just found a shady spot near the river and rested awhile and headed back.

View of the Yakima River Valley from the Umtanum Creek Trail
I have since done my homework and now know where to look, but that trip will have to wait for cooler weather when the snakes aren't around.

The next day, Sunday, we had two choices of places to hunt. I had read a bloggers report about petrified wood up the Old Durr Toll Road, and Saddle Mountain, which was about an hour away on the other side of the Columbia River. I did have specific directions to Saddle Mountain, but the Old Durr Road was closer, so we headed that direction first. Here is an interesting description of this historic road:

It was a cool day as we started our  drive down the road. There was a great view of rolling hills and farms along the way.

Farm House on Durr Road
Several miles down the road we were greeted with a huge sign with the notice that a Discover Pass was required. This notice should have been posted at the beginning of the road. We decided to just continue on.
Now You Tell Us a Discover Pass is Required?

The road was VERY rough and had spots where melon-sized rocks had been put down for traction. There were some spots with steep drop-offs and we had to cross Umtanum Creek without the benefit of a bridge. All in all, it was not too bad, and I wouldn't classify it as a 4-wheel drive only road. You do need a high clearance vehicle with really good tires though. After inching along for several miles, we finally came to a 3-way intersection and decided to stop. There was an old ranch gateway just sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

Gateway to Where?
After searching around the area, we only found a few small pieces of petrified wood. Later I would discover we were searching the wrong side of the hill. Just our luck! We decided to head back and get over to Saddle Mountain where I had good directions. It took us quite a while to get back down Durr Road and over the Columbia River, but we made it in a couple of hours.

Saddle Mountain is a well-known rock hounding area on BLM land outside of Mattawa. The petrified wood found in this area is what is known as "bog" wood. The theory is that there were piles of downed trees in a swampy area and a lava flow came along and buried it. Then over time, the minerals turned the trees into stone and then the lava started to erode and expose the wood. Whatever the theory, there is sure a lot of wood out there!

As soon as we reached the first area we found pieces of wood laying around everywhere. We immediately started following the pieces to some good sized dig holes. Michael, a firm believer in digging, started going at it. Me, I reconnoitered the area looking for the best spots to dig. I found so much without digging that I just kept collecting.

Can You See The Petrified Wood?
When we left, we felt bad about picking up the small pieces we first found because the wood was everywhere! at the second spot, we found a huge hole with trees visible embedded in the rock. I know Michael was thinking he was glad he hadn't had to dig that hole!

I Have to Dig That Deep?

The agatized wood inside the hole was beautiful. We chipped at it a while, but decided it was just damaging the whole log and there was plenty of large pieces laying around for our needs.

Agatized Logs at the Bottom of the Hole

All in all, our trip to Saddle Mountain made the day a huge success and we were really glad we headed out there. We'll definitely have to make another trip in the fall. I know that for sure after reading this trip report from the Kitsap Gem & Mineral Club. Meanwhile, we were completely happy with our finds for the day.

The Pile of Our Finds

Close-up View

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