In July 2013, our family traveled to the middle of nowhere to hunt for Oregon’s gemstone: the Oregon Sunstone. We drove about 7-8 hours from our home in the Willamette Valley with our 3 kids, ages 8, 3, and 4 months. It was an epic trip, the first of its kind for our family.
On the day we chose to hunt for sunstones, we slept in and ate a leisurely breakfast. This was a mistake. If you go, get up early and try to be there by 8 or 9 am. The sunstones are in a very arid, shadeless desert and by the time we got there, it was HOT. We ate lunch in the parking lot of the free collection area, managed by the BLM. They had several picnic tables, each covered with a shade awning. There was a reasonably nice pit toilet available, too.
|Edge of the parking lot. Yes, this is the area we drove 7 hours with 3 children to visit!|
|My husband tried some kite flying. In the parking lot, you see one of the covered picnic tables.|
After lunch and some running off energy, we set off down one of the dirt roads leading off the parking lot. The BLM collection area is large and there are several roads and trails to explore. Generally, they say the less traveled the road, the better the collecting. But we were eager and soon we pulled off to check out the area.
We took a shade awning for comfort; our 4 month old baby and I stayed underneath it, close to the car, so we’d stay cool. My husband and our other two children fanned out to find “diamonds”. I poked around under the sagebrush bushes close to me and found several largish pieces.
|Our collection of sunstones. They don’t look very impressive. One friend said they look like “dirty quartz”. He was right, they do.|
My husband had taken a shovel and small rock pickax, but he found pretty fast that digging doesn’t really help. Either you’re in a good spot, or you’re not. Sunstones littered the ground everywhere, it was easy to walk around and pick them up. Some photos we’d found online showed bigger stones, or some with red color. We didn’t find anything like that, but we also didn’t explore as much as we would have liked. It was getting late by now, and we were over 20 miles from the nearest paved road.
After a while, we packed up and decided to explore one of the nearby pay mines. It was only a mile from the BLM site. The Spectrum mine has a small gift shop and some examples of larger sunstones on display. We drove through the mine and then stopped at the gift shop. It was run by a man named Sasquatch and he patiently answered our many questions as we looked around. They have a pretty decent rock shop with rocks and minerals for sale from all over the world. Ultimately, we didn’t buy anything and we left to head back to our cabin.
A few months later*, we found a local rock & gem shop, Five Elements, that would send our stones for faceting. We took the whole bag of sunstones in with us and the owner helped us pick out the best, ironically (or not) the same ones I held in my hand in the above photo. He sent them to Thailand for faceting. After about 6 months, almost to the day that we’d collected the gemstones, he called us. Our faceted stones were in and we headed right down to pick them up.
Our three stones had been cut into 4 (the largest became 2) and they’re absolutely gorgeous. Very reasonably priced, too, for the faceting. Someday I hope to mount them into a couple of necklaces.
Cost: free at the BLM site, no limits on what you gather as long as it’s for personal use only
Equipment needed: trowel, bucket, ziplock bags, maybe a classifier & shovel if you want to really dig. Shade canopy is helpful if you find a good spot and want to stay a while. Lots of water.
Ages of our children: 8, 3, and 4 months
Other notes: no cell service, so let someone know where you’ll be. We found that the pay mines usually have people there day and night. Download the BLM brochure here.
*Note: I wrote this post in 2015 but backdated it so that the blog would be chronological.