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photoMike Melton has been an avid rockhound in this area for more than 25 years.

Stone Hunter
Mike Melton's passion for rocks

Carlton man Mike Melton collects rocks from all over Washington State and brings them to his table at the Saturday Methow Valley Market in Twisp. He said his grandmother, Thelma Roos, who owned the school house in Carlton, “was a big rock hound.” That is where his interest started. He’s been collecting seriously for 25 or 30 years.

Melton’s true-blue rockhound fascination isn’t a big money-maker, but it “pays for itself” he says. He doesn’t cut the stones he finds, but he sometimes polishes them in a tumbler. He has been selling his finds at the Market for about 12 years.

For a time, Melton worked for local mason Rick Renn, helping pick rocks walls and chimneys. “I seem to have an eye for it,” Melton said.

In the Methow Valley, he searches out smoky quartz near Liberty Bell and Silver Star mountains and in the Cutthroat Creek drainage. He finds gem-quality rose quartz up the Twenty-mile Creek drainage and also in Junior Creek. He once sold a ‘soccer-ball-sized’ piece of rose quartz for $600.

Clear and milky quartz crystals can be found in the 20-Mile Creek drainage, he said. Texas Creek has garnets and geodes. “War Creek Ridge has big veins of quartz crystals all over the ground up there,” he added.

photoThulite is only found a few places in the United States - Okanogan County is one of those.

But maybe the star gem in Okanogan County is thulite, a type of zoisite found in only a few places in this country - and around the world. Thulite is pink, mostly, and polishes nicely. “Thulite from Okanogan County has been known for some time,” Melton said.

The gem was discovered in Norway in the 1820’s and was named after ‘Thule’ a mythical island, according to Wikipedia, which also states that a large new deposit has been found near Riverside, Washington. Riverside’s peach-color form of thulite/zoisite is “only found in this county so far,” said Melton. Local rockhound entrepreneurs have named it ‘avalonite’ and are marketing it on the internet, claiming it has healing qualities.

Melton has found his best thulite near Tunk Creek in the Okanogan Valley. He said that about 25 years ago he got permission from local land owners to search for thulite on their property. “You go right ahead,” the landowners told him, and he found a lot of high-quality thulite. He goes back to the general area each year.

Once he found a boulder weighing maybe 300 pounds, but transporting and breaking up the huge chunk of thulite “was a lot of work.” He focuses on finding pieces fist-sized or smaller that he can break up easily for polishing.

Melton said the rarest of rare minerals in this area is one called okanoganite, which can be found in the Golden Horn batholith off the North Cascades Scenic Highway. “It’s the only place in the world” it's found, he concluded.

closeup photo of black glassy obsidianMelton's obsidian came from Red Top Mountain in Kittitas County.   photo of miscellaneous mineralsMelton sells a variety of what he has collected, both rough and polished.   close photo of flecks of iron pyriteIron pyrite is also called fools gold, for good reason.


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Red Top mountain is also known for agates and geodes.

Paul Kaufman