Richardson Rock Ranch: The Best Place In Oregon To Find Thundereggs
Over the last several years, I’ve been taking my son on a multi-day river canoe fishing and camping trip. We do it because that’s what he loves. This year my daughter turned 7, so now it’s her turn to start having her own special father/daughter camping trip.
And even though my daughter loves to float the river and loves fishing, even more than that, she loves rockhounding. Which as you can imagine makes me the proudest father in the world.
The fact is, whenever I do take her on the river, we almost always end up paddling up to different gravel bars to look for agates, jasper, petrified wood and any other geological treasures we can find anyway.
So for this, her first solo trip with me, I decided to surprise her with a 2 night camping trip near Madras, OR in our 1955 Siesta canned ham trailer, with the highlight of the trip being a visit to the Richardson Rock Ranch.
If you haven’t heard about this Oregon destination, then please keep reading. This is a location you’re going to want to visit!
What Is Richardson Rock Ranch
If you’ve never heard about or visited the Richardson Rock Ranch, it’s a destination you need to put high on your list of rockounding vacation destinations.
Located about 11 miles North of Madras, Oregon, Richardson Rock Ranch is a massive 17,000 acre working cattle ranch that for the last 45 years has opened up it’s doors and its gates to rockhounds from all around the world.
And located on the massive Richardson Rock Ranch property are the world famous Priday Agate Beds. It’s among these incredible beds where you can find all the thundereggs your heart could ever desire.
But before you ever get to the agate beds where you’ll be able to dig for thundereggs, you’ll first need to make your way to the Richardson Rock Ranch store and main office, where you’ll need to check in.
Getting To Richardson Rock Ranch
The ranch is located only about 11 miles northeast of the town of Madras in the central part of the state of Oregon.
To get to the ranch, all you have to do is take U.S. Highway 97 north out of Madras. Once you start getting near the area, the roads are very well marked with signs that give you plenty of notice as to where to turn off the road.
The main turn-off to the ranch is at milepost 81. Here, there’s a large sign telling you where to go. From this point, all you have to do is follow the well marked road for about three miles.
You’ll feel like you’re driving in the middle of nowhere (which you are), but eventually you’re going to drive up to what looks like a farmstead.
You’ll know you arrived at the ranch because the outside is absolutely full of different types of rock specimens you can look through and buy. From piles Black Butte Obsidian to Morrocan Geodes, massive petrified logs, huge chunks of tigers eye, pallets of many different types of exotic rock and mineral specimens. Basically, anything you could imagine is out there.
In addition, there’s a number of peacocks as well as chickens that run around freely on the property, which was actually really neat to see. The peacocks are quite tame and were pretty fun to take pictures with. If you want to take a peacock feather home with you, however, they cost $1 each.
Once you arrive you’ll find parking available directly in front of the store. On busy days when rockhounds show up in droves, parking is also available along the side of the dirt road that you came in on.
Check-In At The Richardson Rock Ranch Store (and Museum)
After parking, you’ll make your way through tables of sliced thundereggs, mountains of obsidian and other geological treasures into the front entrance of the store.
As you can imagine, the store has all kinds of polished this and polished that to choose from. But don’t miss the museum that’s in the back of the store. There’s a lot of really interesting items in there to see that’s been collected by the Richardson family and others from all around the world, including fossils, geodes, petrified wood, arrowheads and more.
After you’ve puroused the store and museum, you’ll need to check in with the lady at the cash register and let her know you want to go dig thundereggs.
You’ll go through a short orientation and be given all the information you need to have a successful time digging thundereggs. They’ll also let you know which of the agate beds have been producing the best thundereggs as of late. (If they don’t tell you this, then be sure to ask!)
You’ll be provided with a very basic map of the Richardson Ranch digging areas. Even though the map is very roughly drawn, it comes in very handy, as it provides you with the number of miles you’ll travel on the property before needing to make a turn, etc.
Finally, you’ll be asked to fill out a waiver, essentially releasing the ranch from any liability from injury or damage to your vehicle.
Don’t forget to also grab a bucket, or two, on the way back to your car! You’re going to need them!
Driving Out To The Dig Sites
It’s a solid 30 minute drive from the store to the dig sites. But the scenery and geological formations that you’ll get to see is absolutely stunning.
You should know, however, that the dirt roads are quite rocky and bumpy in some areas and will be a slow go, especially in vehicles not built for off road driving.
With that said, any vehicle can make it to the main dig sites. There is one dig site on the ranch though, that requires a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle to access.
The Richardson Ranch Thunderegg Dig Sites
The day we visited the ranch, there were 3 dig sites we wanted to visit. The South Blue Bed, Red Bed and Pony Butte Bed. Pony Butte Bed was at the top of our list though, since they said it’s been a hot spot during the orientation.
All of the dig sites are very well marked with signs. The map that we were given was very helpful as it gave the distance to expect to drive before reaching each location.
After an incredible 30 minute drive down rocky and windy dirt roads, we finally made it to the Pony Butte Bed.
I was really surprised at how easy it was to locate the thundereggs once we started digging. It was simple enough that my 7 year old daughter was able to locate a thunderegg within the first 5 minutes or so.
I brought a crowbar along with me, which I highly recommend you doing. Once I started using the crowbar, we were finding double the amount of thundereggs.
Richardson Ranch Thundereggs
Most of the Richardson Ranch thundereggs are between the size of a golf ball and baseball size. Even though those made up the majority of the thundereggs we found, we still were fortunate enough to locate a couple that were as big as softballs, if not a little bit bigger.
In no more than an hour or two, my daughter and I were easily able to dig up about 50 pounds worth of thundereggs. And we were excited to get them back to the rock shop where they offer to cut them in half for you.
The rock shop at the ranch charges a per inch fee to cut open the thundereggs you find. So I let my daughter choose 5 thundereggs of her choice, and I chose my largest two thundereggs.
Needless to say, the five my daughter chose turned out to be absolutely stunning. The two large thundereggs I chose were complete duds, and looked exactly what you’d think a compact dirt claude would look like if you cut it open. I’m glad hers turned out though!
If you didn’t get a chance to visit the rock shop and the museum inside, while you’re waiting around for your thundereggs to be sliced open is a great time to look around and maybe buy a few extra rock specimens to take home with you.
How Much Does Richardson Rock Ranch Cost?
The prices at the ranch have changed many times over the years, and are always subject to change again. But during our trip, this is what the fees were:
Digging Fee: $1.50 per pound with $15.00 minimum (per car)
***Note: A full 5 gallon bucket weighs about about 50 lbs ($75)
Thunderegg Cutting: $.50 cents per square inch
***It was about a 20 minute wait for us
I loved the visit to Richardson Rock Ranch, but most importantly, my daughter loved it. When we got back home I asked her what her favorite part was about the camping trip, without hesitation she said it was the trip to the Richardson Ranch.
So if you’re ever in the area, or planning a trip to Oregon, be sure to make this one of the stops on your route. It’s a trip that can easily be done in half of a day, leaving you with plenty of time to explore the area and admire the thundereggs you dug up.
You Might Also Like…
One of the best tools I’ve owned as a rockhound here in Oregon is the book, Rockhounding Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites. This guide is full of exact location dig sites for all kinds of rocks, minerals and fossils. It includes in depth descriptions as well as turn by turn directions as well as GPS coordinates and rockhounding maps for some of the best dig sites in Oregon.
If you live or plan on spending time in Oregon, you won’t regret owning a copy of this guidebook. You can learn more about it or pick it up at Amazon through this link.
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