Rockhounds know that Kittitas County is the only place on earth you’ll find the “Ellensburg Blue” agate. Most finds are made on private or leased land northwest of Ellensburg, making it a difficult prospect for rock hunters as most owners won’t allow you on their land.
Fortunately, you can still try your luck at the Rock N Tomahawk Ranch (2590 Upper Green Canyon Rd., 509/962-2403, $5). The owners here will give you a brief orientation about finding Ellensburg blue and then set you loose on their 160-acre spread to see what you can find. If you want to scour public lands, you can check Dry Creek on Highway 97, or Horse Canyon Road.
Here are the rules: no digging—surface hunting only; respect property lines and fences; and don’t bother the cows. If you come up empty-handed, Ellensburg stores sell the uncut stones, as well as jewelry.
Formed millennia ago and deposited in the glacier till surrounding the Ellensburg mountainsides, the rare and beautiful Ellensburg Blue Agate has captivated local people for only a blink of an eye compared to the length of its existence.
Also known simply as E-blue, this precious gem comes in a range of colors from sky blue to a deep purplish color, though prized above all is a vibrant cornflower blue. According to local legend Native American tribes valued these blue stones for their beauty, so much so that only tribal chiefs were allowed to wear them.
The first white man to pluck them from the agate beds was Ellensburg’s first mayor, Austin Mires, who in 1905 sent them to Seattle to be set into rings. But it wasn’t until 1913 that they drew widespread attention. In that year, jeweler J. N. O. Thomson had the local Native Americans show him where to find E-blue and started promoting them heavily.
His marketing paid off — for several decades tourists came up to Ellensburg just to root around the soil for E-blue. The famed New York jeweler Tiffany & Co. even used the gem in some of its jewelry.
This popularity was the gem’s undoing, however — by 1940 or so the most productive agate beds were depleted. Today it is a difficult prospect getting your hands on this scarce rock. Most of the existing beds are on private land, and even those who do get a chance to scour them consider a single small find pretty good for a whole day’s work.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition