Eight Dollar Mountain

Eight Dollar Mountain
By The Rogue Rockhound

Amid summer, Southwest Oregonians flock to the Illinois River Valley to evade the heat. Like many other locations in Oregon, the Illinois River Valley derives its name from the local river. This Rogue River tributary has 56 miles of crystal-clear water from the Klamath Mountains that cut through the Cascade-Siskiyou National Forest as the water makes its way to the Rogue. For some, the Illinois River Valley offers more than just pristine beauty and a reprieve from the heat.

Home to Eight Dollar Mountain, this Josephine County rockhounding location has historically been mined for chromium, nickel, cobalt, iron, and gold, leaving little wonder why local rockhounds love Eight Dollar Mountain. The mountain quickly reaches an elevation of roughly 4,000 ft. and features a 1,200-acre Botanical Area. The star of the Botanical Area is the carnivorous pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica, which is always popular with kids. 

According to locals, children visiting Eight Dollar Mountain are not nearly as excited by the legions of rattlesnakes that have allegedly acquired a taste for human ankles. From the fully accessible walkways, eco-tourists can enjoy the environment, reduce their erosion contribution, and minimize unsavory snake-related experiences. Unfortunately, unprepared rockhounds may also experience unpleasant moments if they encounter another type of snake indigenous to the area: the ignorant gold claim owner. 

Carnivorous plants? Crazy claim owners? Pit vipers with a taste for human ankles? Why rockhound in such an environment? Well, besides the exhilarating rush of getting almost halfway through your third PB&J before you notice you’re sitting (alone) in a den of venomous pit vipers, Eight Dollar Mountain is one of the few places in the world where one can find awaruite.

Awaruite’s name is a mistake. Initially, the Awarua River and Awarua Bay in New Zealand were thought to be the original locality, but nope, the locality was over 160 miles away. Unfortunately, changing the name was too much of a hassle, so we got awaruite instead of getting some cool name like Zealandite or Māorite. Regardless of the missed naming opportunity, awaruite is a mineral that should be in every rockhound’s collection.

Awaruite, also known as Josephinite, is a silver-white nickel-iron alloy commonly misidentified as a meteorite (but what isn’t?). Awaruite has a metallic luster, a hardness of 5, and is softer as the nickel content increases. Awaruite has a measured density of 7.8-8.22 g/cm3 and a calculated density of 7.74(127) g/cm3. Common impurities of awaruite include cobalt, copper, sulfur, phosphorus, and silicon.

Finding awaruite requires diligence, luck, and a sharp eye. Astute readers may have realized the effectiveness of a magnet when searching for awaruite. The iron found in awaruite does make it highly magnetic. Magnetic driveway sweepers in hardware stores are a great option, but nothing compares to a high-pull strength neodymium magnet. Eight Dollar Mountain has considerable amounts of magnetic iron and magnetite, so stick to the cobbles and rockier areas. Sticking to the rockier areas will help reduce the time spent cleaning the magnet.

The Illinois River Valley’s Eight Dollar Mountain is one of the few spots in the world to find awaruite. The metallic, semi-soft mineral is found with a magnet, but using magnets will also attract the other magnetic minerals such as magnetite and iron. Rattlesnakes, steep slopes, and ignorant claim owners can create problems for the unprepared rockhound, so make sure to bring appropriate gear, stick to the public areas, and be aware of claim markers. The carnivorous plants found in the Botanical Area are a safe, must-see for the whole family. 

I also run a YouTube channel, The Rogue Rockhound where I share my adventures rockhounding across the state of Oregon.