Club Corner: Digging at McDonald Ranch

McDonald Ranch petrified sequoia.

By Bruce McKay

In June of 2020, the Central Oregon Rock Collectors Club went on a field trip to the McDonald Ranch near Ashwood, Oregon. The McDonald Ranch offers petrified wood, angelwing agate, and thundereggs.

We met in downtown Madras, Oregon, in the morning and caravanned North on Highway 97. No carpooling was allowed due to COVID-19 concerns. We drove past the Richardson Rock Ranch and turned South on NE Pony Butte Road towards Ashwood. In 9 miles, we passed the polka dotted trailer that marks the entrance of the Polka Dot Agate mine, and within a half mile past that was the sign for the McDonald ranch at the first right turn after Polka Dot. The gravel road to the McDonald Ranch Agate Beds is well maintained and, at 5 miles in, ribbons mark the ranch entrance.

Historic Destination

The McDonald Ranch is a 3,000-acre ranch that has been in the McDonald family for generations. The family history dates back to the 1800s when Ashwood was a gold-mining town and the McDonald’s great grandfather was one of the first livestock operators before the Homestead Act. Today, the ranch is run by Alex and Cheryl McDonald and their son, Tom. In the 1960s, the family began to open their ranch for rockhounds and have continued to do so ever since.

Cheryl McDonald weighs some wood for a club member.

The group first started at the petrified wood location. The ground has been bulldozed, exposing large quantities of petrified wood. This is primarily petrified Sequoia, which is well silicified and takes a great polish. There is plenty to pick up from small to massive broken chunks and intact limbs and trunks. Logs have been dug there up to 30 feet long, and there is a 16½-ton piece at the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. A geology professor from the Smithsonian was present when that log was shipped.

Exploring Angelwing

Next, the group went to the angelwing agate area, about a 1/3 mile farther down the dirt road. This area has also been bulldozed and has loose piles of dirt to search through to find agate. Beyond the loose dirt was some agate exposed in basalt that required serious digging. I stayed with the loose piles and was rewarded with a very nice 2-pound piece of angelwing. Club members left with some very nice pieces from this dig site.

Another 100 yards beyond the angelwing is a long trench where thundereggs can be dug from the trench wall. This was the hardest digging of the day. I spotted a thunderegg on the wall and began to carefully chip away around it. I chipped and chipped, but it is still there for the next more patient rockhound.

The thunderegs are $1 per pound, the petrified wood is $2 per pound, and the angelwing agate is sold at $3 per pound. Scales set up at the petrified wood and angelwing sites let us know how much over budget we had gone.

The McDonald Ranch is open by appointment only. This is a working ranch, and the McDonald family needs to know when guests are coming. Call Alex McDonald at (541) 489-3290, leave a message, and Alex will return your call.


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