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Oregon Thundereggs

According to ancient Native American legend, when the Thunder Spirits living in the highest recesses of snowcapped Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson became angry with one another, amid violent thunder and lightning storms they would hurl masses of these spherical rocks at each other. The hostile gods obtained these weapons by stealing eggs from the Thunderbirds' nests, thus the source of the name "Thundereggs."

History

Oregon deposit recognized, 1893
Dr. George F. Kunz, Tiffany's famed gem authority, estimated as much as $20,000 worth of opal-filled eggs from one Oregon deposit had been marketed in 1892.

Thunderegg designated Oregon's official state rock, 1965

Today
Thundereggs are made into beautiful jewelry, especially bolo ties and pendants, pen stands, bookends, and decorator pieces. Their value ranges from about $1 per slice or half egg to well over $100 per slice or single cabochon.

  

How Thundereggs Form

A Thunderegg is not actually a rock. It is a structure, sometimes a nodule, sometimes a geode, occurring in rhyolite, welded tuff, or perlitic rocks. However, without question, the Thunderegg is by far the most popular "rock" in Oregon.

Scientists do not agree on the processes forming Thundereggs. Some insist that the characteristic and unique internal pattern of typical Thundereggs is due to expansion and rupture of rock by gases. Others claim the pattern is due to desiccation (drying) of a colloid or gel. Whatever the process, after the cavity that contains the egg is formed, further development is extremely variable in the amount of time needed to complete the egg, degree and type of infilling, and physical characteristics.

Thundereggs range in size and weight from less than an inch and under one ounce to over a yard in diameter and over a ton in weight. Most eggs collected are between two and six inches in diameter.

How Thundereggs Look

Typically, an egg has a russet-colored outer shell that is often knobby and often has a characteristic ribbed pattern. Frequently, the inside of the outer shell has a relatively thin intermediate or transitional lining. This is sometimes composed of an iron or manganese compound, often with a thin coating of opal or chalcedony. Sometimes only opal or chalcedony is apparent. Finally, the center of an egg is usually filled with chalcedony or opal and may or may not have inclusions, pattern growth, or crystals. In some variants, the egg may be hollow or may have a thin layer of chalcedony coating the interior.

This layer sometimes is topped with a coating of small quartz crystals. Growths of algalike tubes, or plumes, or "moss" of manganese or iron compounds or of clay may be free standing or partially or wholly embedded in chalcedony. Some eggs with plumes ("flowers") in chalcedony are among the most valuable specimens. Several zeolites have been observed or reported in Thundereggs; clinoptilolite is fairly common, and mordenite, natrolite, and mesolite have also been reported.

Thundereggs are sometimes found with fortification banding just inside the shell, then an area of horizontal layering, with the remaining central area filled with clear chalcedony or inward-pointing quartz crystals. Banding and layering vary in color, thickness, and content. Some layers are composed of a fibrous cristobalite (lussatite). Other eggs have a partial botryoidal filling of an opal form of low cristobalite. This opal is often fluorescent because of a low content of uranium salts. One collecting site in Oregon has eggs filled with carnelian. At another, the filling may contain cinnabar, which colors it pastel to intense red. Some eggs are filled with pastel jaspers. Others may have any one of a variety of opal fillings that may be opaque blue, opaque red, translucent pastel blue, translucent yellow, translucent red, white, or colorless. Some of the opal can be faceted, and a small percentage is true precious opal.

Some eggs have well-developed calcite crystals encased in chalcedony, and others contain pseudomorphs of chalcedony after calcite. Some eggs have layering that is fanned from one edge, because the egg was rotated by earth movement while the filling was being deposited. This and other features suggest that the complete development of some eggs may have taken considerable time, and the filling-in of the egg may have recorded a series of geologic events. Some eggs contain brecciated rock fragments, while others show faulting, offset, and healing. One of the most unusual Thunderegg variants is up to 3 feet long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter and looks much like a fat gray worm. In some areas, it is common to find the characteristic chalcedony core weathered out of its shell. If a complete egg is sawed in the right orientation, one or more conduits through which filling materials flowed may be found. The beauty and complexities of many of the cut and polished eggs explain why Oregon rockhounds have long been fascinated by Thundereggs.

Where to Find Thundereggs in Oregon

Thundereggs can be collected at many sites in Oregon. Some localities occur in beautiful forested hill country, others in dry, desertlike terrain. Some are "free sites," while others are "fee sites." As Thundereggs have been collected in Oregon for fifty years, collectors on "free sites" must expect to dig and work for the eggs. Proper equipment, including shovel, pick, and bar, makes the job much easier. The "fee site" will almost always have some preparatory work (overburden removal) done. Eggs often may be purchased and equipment rented at the site office. Conditions change, so collectors should contact sites for current fee status and appropriate authorities for permission to dig.

For information on places to collect in central Oregon, contact

    Madras Chamber of Commerce, 197 SE 5th St., Madras OR 97741, phone 541-475-2350;

    Prineville Chamber of Commerce, 390 North Fairview, Prineville, OR 97754, phone 541-447-6304,

    Richardsonís Recreational Ranch, Gateway Route, Box 440, Madras, OR 97741, phone 541-475-2680 or 541-475-2839. This is a commercial site.

    Lucky Strike Mine, PO Box 128, Mitchell, OR 97750 Phone: 541-462-3073, Email info@luckystrikemine.com
    website:http://www.luckystrikemine.com/index.htm
    This is a commercial site.

    In Southeastern Oregon contact the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 100 Oregon Street, Vale OR 97918, phone (541) 473-3144,

    To find out more about Thunderegg Days (held for five days around the first of June), in Nyssa, click here.

    White Fir Springs
    Thundereggs from this spot contain both Agate and Jasper filled cores. The cores also have the shape of a diamond (biconic). Head east from Prineville on US 26 to MP 41. Turn left on 3350 and head up the road for about 5 1/2 miles... don't turn on any of the spur roads. Once you reach a sign saying Chamber of Commerce Claim you are at the jasper core locality. For agate filled thundereggs turn right on the road just before you reach the jasper deposit.
     

Maps and publications about Oregonís Geology and its geologic treasures are available from the Nature of the Northwest Information Center, a partnership of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and the USDA Forest Service. Nature of the Northwest is open 9-5, Monday through Friday at:

    800 NE Oregon Street #5, Suite 177, Portland Oregon 97232, phone 503-872-2750, fax 503-731-4066. Web address: http://www.naturenw.org.

Information source: Nature of the Northwest

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