Rock Locations in the Desert
Thundereggs at the Straw Beds
by Delmer G. Ross
Straw Beds thundereggs – at least the geodes – are different from those from other areas. Cut open to reveal the hollow center, some have been found to contain fine straw-colored sagenite crystals. Resembling very straight hairs up to nearly two inches long, the crystals are extremely delicate. That is how the geode collecting area, located less than two air miles northwest of the northern end of the Hauser Geode Beds, earned its name.
While those containing sagenite crystals are rare, Straw Beds thundereggs themselves are readily found by rockhounds who dig in the right areas. They are different from those at the Hauser Beds. Both hollow-centered geodes and solid-centered nodules often contain wide bands of black fortification agate, the agate lining the core. In this respect they resemble some of the thundereggs taken from the Hidden Saddle Beds, the North Black Hills Beds, and the Black Agate Thunderegg Mine, all located in the Black Hills a few miles to the north of the Straw Beds.
Whether or not you are fortunate enough to find a geode with a display of sagenite straws in its core, digging Straw Beds geodes and nodules can be very rewarding. They are quite colorful. Moreover, no two are the same, or, for that matter, even very similar. Thus far, anyway, I have observed none of the almost humdrum sameness that sometimes can be seen in thundereggs dug from the same hole elsewhere. So, if you find a productive spot, just keep on digging. Assuming you have not found a pocket of complete duds – a most distressing state of affairs that sometimes happens even to expert rockhounds – you should end up with a nice variety.
If you look carefully you may spot weathered thundereggs and thunderegg cores on the desert pavement surrounding the present digging sites. These are quite collectible and, when cut, can be as colorful and intriguing as those you may dig from the ground. While most are of the usual star variety, I found a rare naturally weathered biconoid core west of the main dig in early 2002.
The collecting area at the Straw Beds is extensive. About one-tenth of a mile wide, it begins about a quarter of a mile north of the road into the area, and continues south of it for half a mile or more. Because it has not yet been thoroughly searched, it seems likely that it will grow as time goes on.
Unlike some of the other thunderegg sites, reaching the Straw Beds is neither complicated nor difficult. Unless it is particularly low slung, the family sedan should be able to handle the trip without undue problems. Drivers will need to watch for and avoid sharp, high rocks that could cause a flat tire or put a hole through the pan of the engine.
To reach the collecting area, take the Wiley’s Well exit from Interstate Highway 10. It is located some 15 miles west of Blythe, California. Drive south on Wiley’s Well Road, past the entrances to a state prison and Wiley’s Well and Coon Hollow campgrounds, some 13.5 miles to the Riverside-Imperial county line at 33º 25.800’ N by 114º 54.180’ W. There you should see a sign indicating that the Hauser Beds are to the west. It was erected in early 2000 by the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies.
Wiley’s Well Road becomes Milpitas Wash Road in Imperial County. You won’t travel far on it, though, because almost immediately south of the county line, at 33º 25.794’ N by 114º 54.182’ W, you need to turn right and angle southwest across a stretch of desert pavement. Go right again at the next road, located at 33º 25.429’ N by 114º 54.620’ W. About 0.6 mile from the county line, it is generally known as the Black Hills Road and serves as the main road into much of the huge thunderegg-rich rockhounding area in the Black Hills.
Approximately 4.5 miles from the county line, at 33º 24.824’ N by 114º 58.152’ W, the road forks at a place called Middle Camp. Take the right fork, a continuation of the Black Hills Road.
A little more than 0.7 mile farther west, at 33º 24.785’ N by 114º 58.926’ W, you will reach a road leading southward from the Black Hills Road. This is the Straw Beds road. Turn left onto it. It will soon curve westward. Approximately 2.3 miles from the Black Hills Road, at 33º 24.300’ N by 115º 00.713’ W, a road drops down the hillside to your right, and crosses a wash to the north. This is a shortcut back to the Black Hills Road if you wish to go to its western end. If you are through digging at the Straw Beds and want to try the nearby Hidden Saddle Beds, taking this shortcut can save time.
To go to the Straw Beds, though, continue in a generally westerly direction. Only 1.2 miles from the junction with the shortcut, you will reach a flat parking area – nothing more than a stretch of desert pavement with some smooth spots where one may get off the road – at the edge of a wash. Pull into the parking area on your left, at 33º 23.677’ N by 115º 01.602’ W. Opposite that area a little-used road leads northward. Both north and south, on the hillsides immediately ahead, you should be able to discern places where rockhounds have dug for geodes. To the south, across the wash, you should see a trail climbing to a little saddle. Take that trail, across another little wash, not quite 0.1 mile to the main Straw Beds collecting site. It is located at 33º 23.613’ N by 115º 01.586’ W, south of the saddle.
Across the Straw Beds road, at 33º 23.689’ N by 115º 01.602’ W, the road leading north provides access to several small Straw Beds digs. It continues northward a total of 0.6 miles to the Black Hills Road. Although this road is the shortest route between the Straw Beds and the Hidden Saddle Beds, it is a very poorly marked jeep trail. It is not recommended unless you are already well acquainted with the area.
If you continue westward on the Straw Beds road, not quite 0.2 mile ahead you will reach a trail that goes north to some other Straw Beds digs. The road continues, past the remains of what once was a picturesque little cabin, then ends, about 0.3 mile ahead. Four-wheel drive and high clearance are needed to drive west of the parking area.
Because summer temperatures often exceed 120 degrees, the best time to visit the Straw Beds is from late October to late March. When you go, be sure to take along plenty of drinking water because none is available at the collecting site. Then be sure to drink what you take! Be sure your vehicle is in good working order, and take along extra gasoline and oil, a tow strap, and a tool kit. Some, but certainly not all, cell phones work in the Straw Beds region. If the signal is strong enough, a cell phone can be used to summon help if needed. After taking all of the usual desert travel precautions, probably the best insurance against things going badly awry is to use the buddy system of having at least two vehicles along.
Those who might wish to spend the night near the Straw Beds are allowed to camp on public land as long as they remain within 300 feet of an existing road. No fee is charged for such camping, but a 14-day limit may be enforced by rangers from the Bureau of Land Management. Campers may also stay at nearby Wiley’s Well or Coon Hollow campgrounds in the Mule Mountains Long Term Visitor Area. During the camping season, from September 15 to April 15, a fairly substantial fee is charged at those locations. The closest motels and other services and supplies are at Blythe, some 35 miles northeast of the Straw Beds.
Delmer G. Ross is a Professor of History, La Sierra University
Photos by Karen A. Ros
There are hotels and motels in Blyth, with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list. Click Here. (Rates, availability and reservation online)
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