Love is a friend putting extra blackberries in your morning oatmeal upon hearing you refer to fruit as "nature's candy." That same flush of affection is also the skip in your step when embarking to rock hound in the wilds of Oregon country, as I did, several weeks back. This is the tale of the Holleywood Ranch, found in Sweet Home, OR (yes, there is such a place!). If you find yourself venturing into Oregon on the hunt for some petrified funsies, I implore you to roll on down to the Holleywood Ranch. Right out of the gate, let's start with the #1 Deal Breaker for all nature hobbies: location. The Holleywood Ranch is just southeast of Albany, OR, nestled in the rolling quainthood of Sweet Home, OR. Fun fact alert! Sweet Home, OR, is actually named after the famously overpowering Alabama sweet tea produced and distributed by the original settlers of the area way back in 1811.* It is not a question of whether or not you will walk out of these trenches with some quality petrified bits, but of what glorious quality the ancient trees will provide. Let me assure you, the rewards will be great [Figure 1].
I'll not waste your time with a run-down of the many magical angles from which to view the splendor of Holleywood Ranch. They have a website. The link to it is at the bottom of this post & I earnestly demand that you all click and read on! There are all kinds of Travel Channel recommendations, interviews, testimonials, and fancy photos to get you frothing at the mouth for a tasty bite of their fossilized bait. Take the bait, fellas. Goes down smooth. Alternatively, let's talk about the Whys and the Whats of this petrifying experience. Despite the website clearly stating they open at 9am, I gave one of the owner and operators a hollar around 8:15am from the roadside of one locale featured along Ames Creek, just a hop, skip, and jump from the ranch. With the Ames Creek spot posted and readily available to the internet, I was not shocked to fight my way down 20m of bushwhacking only to detect no trace of petrified promises. The finds listed with the roadside location were petrified wood and jasper, but I turned the 'ole boot heel and hefted my way back up to the car after about 15 minutes of scouting Ames in both directions. I found the creek bed and surrounding brush area licked clean mineral sign.
Fine. Ames Creek was a happy accident tacked on to my Oregon exploration, anyway. Tacked on sounds so blasé and that's not entirely fair... I was totally stoked to see that there were hounding hot spots surrounding Holleywood! Was I disappointed to find it licked clean? In truth, not really. That happens all the time. I would much rather pop in and out of a spot like that and not have the time to explore far enough from the site to find something, knowing that other rockhounds have been there and the only sign remaining being the lack of minerals instead of trash and trampled creekbeds. It means those classy OR Rockhounds are keepin' it real and doin' their part. As we all should.
SO THANKS FOR BEING FLY, GUYS.
Anywho, the Holleywood dig site is a series of small troughs in what is essentially the backyard of an actively operated farm. Pretty dope. I crossed the threshold onto the site and immediately knew the uneven terrain would be murder on the delicate alignment of my hips and spine (still on the mend from some back injury nonsense, I'm afraid) and so no vigorous activity would take place on my watch. Or on my boots, hands, knees, or even the classy geologic pick Bristol had lent me following our fruitasmic oatmeal breakfast. Given that my gait was uneven and any light moving of surface material would be entirely ineffectual at garnishing the kind of prizes promoting the Holleywood site, I resigned myself to safely pick round on the tailings of former hounds' efforts.
It's a fabulous sign when poking through leftovers alone bids a quality chunk or two, and I did stroll back to the car with some red and glossy fossilized fractions to show for my travels. The gemy sections of some wood hunks were either too damaged, or the attached mass too large for me to justify hauling back to Washington via my Amtrak backpack so I let a few beauts be [Figure 4]. The owner was around, tending his cattle in the next field over and roving by the dig site in something that looked like a tractor. Each time he passed we waved cheerily at each other. Over the phone he explained the process of digging and paying for digs is based on the honor system (as you all know, much of rockhound culture is like that which is one of a thousand reasons why it exemplifies the pristine nature of shared outdoor hobbies). I will now outline the steps to striking the Holleywood likihood right frickin' now in the only way I know how:
1) Find the place: It's just a white farm house along the road with a sign out in front to identify it [Figure 2].
2) Walk through the green gates in the back leading to the trenches [Figure 3].
3) Weigh & pay for your finds using the bathroom scale on the petrified stump just outside the green gates [Figure 4]. The rate is $1.50 per pound of material.
4) Drive on home and connect with your other tribesmen over what a wonderful treat it is to partake in the shared milk of human/nature connections embodied by the bits of ancient fossilized forest you carry with you.
I hope the owner found the $5 bill I folded and slipped into the empty gallon jug I found next to the scale. Just in case putting it on the stand with the scale wasn't enough, I rammed the message "THERE IS SOMETHING INSIDE THIS JUG FOR YOU" home with a hand gardening tool I plugged up the opening with. Rolling out past the green gates and back towards the interstate with the trowel happily calling attention to the jug with my payment within, the tiny shovel waved at me from the rear view mirror like a triumphant little flag.
Although it took my hominid brain a solid minute and a half to realize I was in no physical condition to actually dig anything up, much less throw in the Rock Rat trademark vigor to unearth something marvelous from beneath my soles, this in no way reduced my seizure of the Holleywood experience. Standing ankle-deep in an ancient arboreal graveyard soothed my soul like a mystic aloe balm [Figure 5]. It just goes to show you, in the rockhounding world, just showing up with yourself is enough. Yes, my lovely readership, you will likely need safety gear and shovels, but know that deep in your resplendent spirit beats the golden heart of a rockhound regardless of the credentials you walk on site with or the finds you walk away with. The Holleywood Ranch is a gay 'ole time, and I implore you to take a jaunt right on down into Sweet Home, OR for just such a petrified treat as the pleasure of doing so.
*None of that is even remotely true.