By Michael E. Yeaman: NWSSA Roving Reporter
When was the last time you wandered into a Rock Shop?
You know what I am talking about…or do you? Perhaps you have never been in one of these places of dying Americana. If so, this confirms yet another aspect our 21st century, increasingly digital world. There is much to lament about this vanishing institution of the American West. For many stone sculptors, these lost shops provided us childhood introductions into the world of stone and ultimately sources of carving material when we picked up our first hammer and chisel. Often these places would be found in the smallest of towns, especially in the West, and be owned by former miners, rock hounds or just old fogies out to make a buck. The rustic ambience of these stores was usually somewhere between mystic temple and junkyard. Yet, we always seemed to find something we couldn’t leave without. And although there will always be the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (the TGMS), Marenakos, Neolithic Stone and whatever Pat Barton shows up with next year; where will we be without these sources of divine geologic inspiration?
The Richardson Rock Ranch
The glorious past is not quite dead yet, as demonstrated by my recent visit to the remarkable Richardson Rock Ranch. Located just north of Madras Oregon, off an abandoned spur of highway 97, this place is ideally located in the middle of nowhere. Besides having a classic rock shop, this site is surrounded by a yard of rough dimension stone as well as being a favorite site for do-it-yourself geode digging. It has been owned and operated for over 43 years by Johnnie and Norma Kennedy Richardson. I met Norma directing hordes of parents and their fanatical geode/thunderegg-hungry kids one afternoon this last August during my visit there. She was courteous but direct in describing where I could find what I was looking for and how much it would cost per pound.
As I walked outside, I knew I was in the right place…acres of stone and most of it in carving dimensions. This was no ordinary, dusty mom and pop rock shop back-water. Over the decades Johnnie and Norma have built an oasis of stone far from the distant annual show lights of the TGMS. From boulders of smoky quartz to endless piles of black obsidian, the Richardson Rock Ranch seemed to be a lost world of carving potential. Long after I left, I have continued to wonder just who do they sell these remarkably diverse raw materials to? During my visit there I saw only the geode-hunting masses barely stopping to look over these Elysian Fields before rushing to the outcrop with pick-axes in hand. Oh well, all the more for me!
I took my time surveying what seemed like endless possibilities of sculptural potential. Most stones had the heavy rind of transport/abrasion which required me to use my geologic imagination to picture what might lie beneath the surface in a final polished piece. In the end, I decided on four very different pieces; a finely layered piece of banded iron formation from Australia, a fascinating blue boulder of apatite from southern Madagascar, a cored fragment of highly silicified petrified wood from eastern Oregon and finally a beautiful shard of rock crystal from central Brazil. Stay tuned for the sculptures that will come from these remarkable stones.
And what about digging for my own special treasure of thundereggs in the red, dusty, 100 degree outcrops of the Richardson Rock Ranch? Why bother when the biggest ones have already been found and put in a take-away bin for my pleasure.
Long live the American Rock Shop!