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Wood You Rather?

Figure 1: View from the canyon top of Rattlesnake Dance trail in Yakima River Canyon.

Wood can turn into opal. Guys. I'm not just blowin' smoke up your skirts, here, this is real life. Opalized wood is a thing and I found it in Washington [Figure 1]! Also, it's notably distinct from petrified wood -only,... its not that different. Distinct enough to merit research, sure, plus interviewing generously patient NW Rockhounds, Googling myself into a harmless fury, and then pronouncing a series of supremely enthusiastic reports to acquaintances that, "Yes- there is such a thing as opalized wood! And here it is! And did you know?! I didn't know, look at this other piece!"

Figure 2: Sign at the start of Rattlesnake Dance Trail, off Canyon Rd. south of Ellensburg, WA. This isn't that "official" name of the trail, but it is at least one colloquial name.

In an effort to swerve around infringements on Pocket Rocks (which, incidentally, I need to finish writing) I will glaze over the deets concerning the fun pocket rocks I left this adventure with. Instead, I will impart unto you the great and terrible burden of knowing that trees can become just about any dang mineral you can imagine, including opal. Common opal, in this case, which is the white, waxy underling of that glossy, hydratedly iridescent diva so many October babies familiarize themselves with around the time they order high school rings.

Why hydratedly iridescent? Because opal is "commonly precipitated from silica-rich solutions," which basically means it's both incredibly fragile and incredibly sexy [Simon & Schuster's Guide to Rocks and Minerals, 1978]. In fact, one source claims that precious opal is so sensitive, given it's moist origins, that when mining it, you have to be very careful to hydrate it immediately after you extract it, lest it dry too quickly and crumble to worthless bits [Scott's Rocks & Gems, blog,]. Lapidary also tends to be difficult when dealing with precious opal, as preservation of antique specimens and treating younger ones is a delicate balance between gemstone cutting and mineral chemistry [Random Person; personal communication]. But, let's face it, nothing is worthless when your rummaging deep in land & soul for an earth treasure.

My question to you is, "Would you opalize yourself if you could?" Like, if you have a plan for your body after death. Your lifeless corpse is hangin' around on Earth, whatever, but instead of following the typical decomposition debate of worm food vs. preservatives vs. carbon worm food (i.e. cremation), would you rather turn into opal? Not precious opal, mind you, that sounds horrendously expensive in terms of time invested in mineral-rich solution & let's face it- no one would let you stay together once you were made of gemstone material. I think you would. I think most life would.

Figure 3: Trail leading up Yakima Canyon, littered with intermediate specks of mineral deposit.

If not precious opal, then what would be worth that kind of effort? Common opal. A white and yellowy-brown state of your former self. Sounds like a slow way of going about immortalizing yourself against this mortal coil, but a prospect attractive for its rarity. Or is it a rarity? This is the story of my false-start in collecting petrified wood, and how it wasn't really a false-start, because I came away with a mason jar full of opalized wood. The trip to Umtanum Recreation Area, the topic of Big Sexy Rocks (Part 2), was preempted by a hike up Rattlesnake Dance Trail (RSDT). RSDT is also in the Yakima River Canyon [Figure 2]. There was a note about that in the record I found at the top of the canyon hike, but we will circle back to that later. The alarmingly steep trek of RSDT courses almost directly upwards along a ridge from a small pull-off on Canyon Rd [Figure 3]. Directly across from the Yakima River, which bisects the landscape between Ellensburg and Yakima, WA; RSDT hardly dawdles to remind a hiker of their lacking cardio game.

In Big Sexy Rocks (Part 2), I mentioned that it took me two tries to explore Umtanum, and this is true. Upon my first attempt, I didn't have any cash on hand to leave a day pass and opted to return another day to scourge for the fabled, flirtatious, and petrified goodies. Later, I did find silicafied petrified wood, but you know that already. Basically, that wood was buried in sand and the pretty coloration and subsequent perfection are a result of delicate quartz playing its games with your fragile heart by turning wood into something equally wonderful.