Monday, June 1, 2009

Exploring Rockhound Sites in Okanogan County, WA

The weather was fabulous, so how could resist the trip into Northern Washington this weekend? I decided to check on a few rockhound locations I saw listed in an old rockhound guide from the 50's.

Okanogan county is reputed to be a rockhound destination from way back when. Of course, way back when, people didn't have to deal with closed roads and private property like we do now.

On our trip we found that in the area of Conconully, anything we had seen on maps or guides that indicated mineral areas were now private property. That was okay - we had as long as we wanted to be out so we continued North to the Windy Peak area.

From the time we got North of Conconcully until we got back to the Riverside area, the wildlife never ceased to amaze me. The animals were so unafraid. I sat at a picnic table which I ended up sharing with some baby birds of some sort. Not sure what they were but their heads were still covered with white downy fluff so they looked large for their bodies - very cute. They had no qualms about resting on my head or arm whatsoever. At a lower altitude lake, a turtle sat on a rock beside me, seemingly completely unconcerned that some humans would have bagged him for soup - or just cooped him up as a pet. A baby chipmunk also seemed quite content to eat some of my snacks with me without any thought that I might be dangerous. Butterflies fluttered around me and landed with no cares.

Munchie didn't notice the birds..or the turtle...or chipmunk.......but he saw the bear.....

Getting to Windy Peak which is near the Canadian Border, I was astounded by the devastation from fire in the area. The road to the mountain was closed and I can't be sure if that is due to fired damage, winter road damage, or if the Gov just hasn't opened their fee booths yet. As far as I could see, though, if the road is re-opened, you will be paying to drive it - or even to park and walk in for that matter. It seems to be a popular enough area for the Gov. to want to collect fees for access roads to the area.

With Munchie in his advanced age and on heart meds I knew he wasn't going to make a several mile walk in - especially with some of the steep climbing that would be necessary, but I figured we'd walk for a ways and I could check out the rock on the way to see if I could snag something impressive. We were about an eighth of a mile from the car when I stood up from checking out some rock and I saw the bear standing right in front of me. It was a baby, very small, cute, and curious. It would have been fun to pat it, but my only thought was "this is too young, where's momma?"

I started to retreat slowly, calling Munchie to me. He saw the bear and wanted very badly to play with it so once I had him by the collar, getting him to move back up the road toward the car was no light ordeal. The little cub was making matters worse as it decided to follow us. That's when Momma showed up, charging up the road toward us. I didn't want to scream at the baby and scare him away because mom might have taken it as aggression toward her kid, but I also knew that I had to get distance from this little That's about the time I remembered I had doggie treats with me and grabbed one out of my pocket.

I threw the treat toward the cub and it stopped to see what it was. When he picked it up I threw a handful at him and kept retreating at a decent pace without breaking into a run. We were on flat ground and I didn't want to alarm that big brown for anything. Munchie still wasn't helping matters but I was able to put enough distance between the cub and us to relieve the situation. When mom got to her cub there was enough distance between us that she stopped her pursuit. Her baby was safe so she seemed fine with giving up a chase that would have ended with tangling with a human and a large dog..especially with a few more doggie treats left to munch on with the cub.

Thank God for small favors. We were back at the car by this time and I wasted no time in getting Munchie inside and getting us out of the area.

I made two notes to myself about that area. The first is to call and see if the roads are open before I go back, and the second......take bear deterrent with me next time. That was too close for comfort. It just completely escaped me that I was going out in the wild at a time of year that mom's were protecting small young ones. Had the bear been a grizzly instead of a brown, I may not have been so lucky in my retreat.

I decided to head back toward Riverside and sleep on lower ground that night and do the Tunk and Mcgaughlin canyon trip the next day. Mcglaughlin looked promising although it was way too hot to do much scouting. I will definitely return there when the weather cools a bit again. I picked up a few square crystals of something metal - probably pyrite, and one small crystal of what looks like schrol. This is not an area for summer hunting though. I could see waves of heat rising from the canyon and think we might have been able to cook our lunch without a fire with no problem in there so stayed to the canyon rim until the heat drove us out of the area.

Tunk canyon was a disappointment, with most areas that looked like good hunting being posted private. The heat prevented me from searching as much as I'd have liked to, though. I'm sure more exploration later will turn up some primo area not yet posted private. I will definitely do some research before I return to the area.

The last day of our trip we visited Omak lake and I am really glad I did. The lake is Caribbean blue and just breathtaking from the road above. The walls of the slopes around the lake are pink and grey to purple granite which is peppered with minuscule garnets (by minuscule, I mean you won't see them without a magnifying glass). These gems may get larger in some areas of the lake, but I didn't see them from our area. The walls are steep and you can't just walk around the lake easily but there are points you can reach on foot with some hiking.

All in all, though I didn't find my dream cache, the trip was a great one and I found many places that I will be going back to for further hunting. I would urge anyone hunting East of highway 97 to keep your hunt for cooler weather. West of 97 is a great area to escape from the heat, though. Go prepared to meet wildlife. And please - be careful with fire and take your trash with you when you leave.

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