Oregon is a great place to hunt for and collect rocks.
If you are visiting the Medford area and want to get out in the country to hunt for rocks (but aren’t familiar with the area), this article will help you understand what you can look for that isn’t too far from the city.
Rockhounding Near Medford (For Beginners)
The information provided in this article by YesDirt.com is for informational purposes and is subject to change. Laws are updated. Accessibility guidelines and restrictions change. Be sure to confirm the land status and collection rules before you travel to an unfamiliar location or collect any material.
Rocks and minerals in the region include:
- Sandstone and Conglomerate
- Andesite, Olivine, and Augite
- Porphyry copper
- Schist and Soapstone
- Josephinite, Agate, and Jasper
- Pink Rhodonite
- Pyrite (Fool’s Gold)
The following five areas lie within an hour and a half drive from Medford, Oregon, with significant amounts of exciting minerals, rocks, and crystals for beginners through expert rockhounds:
- Upper and Lower Table Rock
- Elliot Creek Ridge
- Illinois River Swinging Bridge
- Althouse Creek
- South Umpqua River Bridge — Days Creek
Upper and Lower Table Rock
The dwarf wooly meadowfoam wildflower grows upon the summits of both the Upper and Lower Table Rocks.
These mesas also provide abundant springtime pools that give the fairy shrimp one of the few places in the world that it can survive.
Consequently, due to the threatened status of the wooly meadowfoam and the fairy shrimp, the Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management do not permit the harvesting of rocks, crystals, or fossils from the summit of either mesa.
Instead, you may photograph your finds as long as you do not do so near the vernal pools, nor anywhere you see any wooly meadowfoam flowers.
So why visit these two sites if you cannot take samples?
Along with its status as one of the most environmentally sensitive geological sites in the Medford, Oregon vicinity, Upper and Lower Table Rock also feature some of the oldest rock in the area. Subsidence and vulcanism resulted in an abundance of igneous and metamorphic rocks.
Due to upthrust, the oldest rock formations appear at or near the surface.
As a result, you will encounter sandstone, conglomerate, and ancient river deposition from the Payne Cliffs, at the bases of both mesas, where you may engage in a hobby collection of rock specimens using hand tools only.
Geologists believe that the sedimentary rock and river deposition formed between the end of the Early Eocene period and the Late Eocene.
Ancient lava flow covered and protected the sedimentary rock at the bases of Upper and Lower Table Rock.
It consists of black andesite, olivine, and augite.
In addition, it includes as much as 25 percent plagioclase.
Andesite often contains porphyry copper deposits, along with apatite, garnet, ilmenite, biotite, magnetite, and zircon.
Rich in phosphorus, apatite of lesser quality serves as fertilizer, while higher-quality crystals in brilliant shades of green, yellow, blue, pink, and purple make beautiful cabochons when fractured correctly. Sometimes apatite crystals may appear brown or clear-hued as well.
Ordinarily, green olivine does not appear as abundantly as it does around Upper and Lower Table Rock because it weathers away rapidly.
But, interestingly, the August birthstone peridot is a variety of olivine.
Additionally, blast furnaces use a magnesium-enriched version of olivine to remove impurities while making steel.
Magnetite, also known as lodestone, usually appears black but can look gray with a brown tint when seen in sunlight.
Magnetite’s high iron concentration — up to 72 percent — makes it the most magnetic naturally occurring mineral on the planet.
Like apatite, zircon appears in various colors, including blue, green, pink, purple, and yellow.
Heating will either make it more transparent or enhance the brightness of its colors.
Even expert rockhounds sometimes fail to distinguish zircon, a natural gemstone composed of zirconium silicate, from cubic zirconia, comprised of zirconium oxide and used to grow simulated diamonds.
Zircon rarely occurs and therefore commands a higher price than cubic zirconium.
Elliot Creek Ridge
Soapstone and substantial nodes of garnet-rich schist lie just west of the Squaw Lakes Campgrounds, a little over an hour south of Medford.
Cross the Applegate Dam and continue driving eight miles to the Squaw Lakes trailhead.
High in talc, stone carvers value soapstone’s softer nature.
Although gold nuggets as large as one pound appeared nearby in 2006, expect to find only occasional flakes if you decide to pan.
Illinois River Swinging Bridge
Located 1 hour and 30 minutes from Medford, you will find josephinite, agate, and jasper in a gravel deposit below the Illinois River Swinging Bridge.
If your luck holds, you might even find gold or platinum if you decide to pan below it in Josephine Creek.
Oregon Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 lists josephinite as one of two of the state’s official minerals.
The terrestrial nickel and iron alloys that form josephinite occur only rarely anywhere else on the planet.
Due to its high iron content, bring a magnet with your tools to confirm any josephinite finds.
Weathered josephinite nuggets make beautiful pendants when polished.
Located about an hour and 35 minutes southwest of Medford, Althouse Creek rock finds include trace amounts of gold and jasper in the creek itself, along with far more abundant amounts of pink rhodonite.
Also known as manganese magnesium carbonate, rhodonite obtains its distinctive pink, rose-red, and brownish-red ribbons from its manganese content.
Formed when magma came in contact with sedimentary rock with high manganese content, crystal lovers prize rhodonite for its beauty when made into jewelry.
The largest gold nugget ever discovered in Oregon weighed 17 pounds and probably found its resting place 12 feet above the average level of Althouse Creek due to flooding.
If you decide to pan here, expect only occasional flecks of gold, not nuggets, and use accurate maps and GPS coordinates to ensure that you have not infringed on someone’s private claim.
South Umpqua River Bridge — Days Creek
Located about one hour and 15 minutes north of Medford, the South Umpqua River Bridge lies near the unincorporated village of Days Creek, population 264 as of 2020.
The gravel bar on the northeast riverbank contains significant amounts of quartz, agate, jasper, pyrite, and schist.
Interestingly, the pyrite found here corresponds closely to pyrite found in South America, used as eyes for ancient clay figurines.
After an assay, archeologists determined that the pyrite originated here in Oregon.
The trailhead leading down to the gravel bar from the bridge lies at GPS coordinates N 42°58.391′ W 123°10.253′ | 42.973183, -123.170883.
Hazards of Rockhounding Near Medford, Oregon
The trails leading to the bases and summits of Upper and Lower Table Rock harbor ticks and rattlesnakes, so bring a snakebite kit and thick leather gloves and wear tight-fitting, full-length, heavy denim pants tucked into hiking boots.
Remain vigilant in other areas as well, since the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and one of its two subspecies, the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (C. v. oreganus), may be found in the area.
All four river and creek locations require significant agility, especially after rains.
In particular, the South Umpqua location cautions against children or the elderly attempting the climbs alone or without assistance.
Bring plenty of drinking water along and boil any groundwater you intend to drink, even if you also use water purification tablets or Life Straws.
Oregon Rockhounding Resources
If you are interested in having a physical book in hand while exploring Oregon (when wi-fi/cell signal is not reliable), consider:
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When you go rockhounding near Medford, Oregon, do your research.
Know where you are rock hunting.
In some environmentally sensitive areas, you are limited to taking only photos and leaving no trace, even though the most exciting rock, crystal, and fossil specimens appear.
In addition, no excavating, altering, or removing any items or fossils from archaeological sites in the state can take place without obtaining a permit issued under ORS 390.235.
While it may feel disappointing, leaving your finds in situ ensures that future rock hunters continue to enjoy these geological wonders.
Despite some areas having such onerous restrictions, you will still find numerous privately-owned sites that do permit you to carry your rock, crystal, and fossilized finds away with you.
Bring a tripod for your phone or camera for stability, and use your timer rather than a selfie stick to allow yourself to appear in your photos safely.
Additionally, bring a ruler or tape measure so that you will be able to show the accurate size of your photo-only finds.
Finally, take photos while lying on the ground, squatting, and kneeling to capture your discoveries at the perfect angles, rather than only taking pictures while standing and pointing skyward or at the foot of the rock formations cradling your finds.
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