The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Sean C. Morgan
Of The New Era 

Ranger district offers guidance in the fine art of finding hidden gems along the river


September 7, 2011

Spend a little bit of time in the right place on the Sweet Home Ranger District, you’ll find quite a bit of zeolite and, if on a good day, agates and jaspers hidden among the rocks along the South Santiam River – especially after the stormy rainy season this year.

You can pick them up and keep them with a few limitations, and the Sweet Home Ranger District is showing people how and where to do it as part of its annual list of scheduled heritage hikes. Scientists from the district lead the way for laymen. “People have loved rocks forever,” said Tony Farque, district archaeologist. They have been useful as tools and used by shamans for spiritual and healing purposes.

“As an archaeologist, rocks are interesting because I’m trying to find out what people used to do every day,” he said.

He held up a flat disc. Farque said it looked like jasper; but it was really a “Calapooian $20 bill.” The Native Americans knocked pieces off in exchange for other items and to create tools. Although rare in this area, obsidian was an even more valuable currency. What can be found in the Sweet Home area did not occur naturally. It was carried here.

Leading a hike on Aug. 12, Farque was excited to be out to see what the weather had wrought.

“We had a real active winter,” he said. “That’s a hydrologist’s dream, but it’s also good for archaeologists.”

It uncovers all kinds of things, from interesting rocks to stone tools and artifacts.

“You have to look for use,” he said, and scratches or smoothness can show it. Stone artifacts can range from the relatively rare stone bowls used by Native Americans to old knives used by pioneers such as Andrew Wiley.

Rock hounds should leave artifacts exactly where they find them and let the Forest Service know about the find, but they are welcome to carry stones out of the woods.

People are limited to one five-gallon bucket out per month, and they should not take more than one piece of petrified wood, jasper or agate, said hydrologist Lance Gatchell.

They cannot be carried out for commercial purposes or sale.

Rock hounds also need to be careful where they pick up rocks, watching out for mining claims, which should be posted.

Alex Lauber, a wildlife technician in Sweet Home from 2003 to 2005, was on the hike with his wife, Kate. The couple now lives in Portland.

“I’ve always wanted to come back and do one of these heritage things,” Lauber said as Kate was getting ready to load him up with a large chunk of devitrifying igneous glass, probably a basaltic glass. “It’s not the biggest thing she’s had me carry out.”

Keren Levine of Brownsville managed to get into two hikes this year.

“This is my first Forest Service walk,” she said. “I’ve heard people talk about how great these walks are.”

Levine’s second trip will be a mushroom hike scheduled for October.

“I don’t get up in the mountains enough, and this is why I live in Oregon – the beautiful mountains,” Levine said. The hikes are a way for her to do it, while getting expert tour guides.

For more information about heritage hikes, contact the Sweet Home Ranger District at (541) 367-5168.


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