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A road paved with glass.
That’s how I think of Glass Butte, Oregon, now that we’ve been there. The road sparkled in the sunlight and the glass crunched under our feet. It was magical, in a way.
As we blossomed into rockhounds, collecting obsidian became an obvious prize. We wanted to collect it ourselves, and in Oregon there’s only one legal spot to go: Glass Butte.
How to Get to Glass Butte, Oregon
Drive through Bend and as you approach milepost 77 on Hwy 20, this is your first view of Glass Butte, Oregon. It’s just as remote as it looks, about 13 miles from the nearest “town”, Hampton, which has a great cafe and one gas pump.
Turn off the highway at milepost 77 and start up the gravel road. We have a minivan, and the road was really good at first. It does degrade after a while, but we could still travel pretty easily, if carefully, in our van.
We stopped a couple of times at well-used primitive campsites. These are very often used by knappers (people who make arrowheads and knife points from obsidian). At the first stop, piles of shards were everywhere we looked. We didn’t let the kids out here, especially our little ones. There was just too much glass all over the ground and it was very sharp.
As we explored, we picked up some lovely shards. Immediately, I realized that obsidian comes in a lot more colors than black.
We drove up to the turnoff that heads up to the butte-top where the red obsidian and rainbow can be found. This road was not passable with our van, so we pulled into the campsite there to turn around. Our plan was to head back down to the aurora borealis pit and start digging. But instead, disaster struck.
As we pulled into the campsite, our van temperature suddenly started rising. My husband shut the van off, and as he did, smoke billowed from under the hood. Uh oh.Long story short, a piece broke off of our radiator. My husband was able to jury-rig it and we made our way back toward the highway. We were planning to camp anyway, and as it was getting late, we went ahead and made camp at the closest site to the highway. The next morning, we got up early, broke camp without eating, and drove very slowly to the highway.
Once on the highway, we had to stop every couple of miles to refill the radiator with water. Every time we stopped, other people stopped, too, to offer assistance and water. One family followed us the rest of the way to Hampton, stopping when we stopped. They waved heartily as we pulled into the Hampton Cafe and they continued on. We were safe and had a wonderful breakfast while we waited for a tow truck.
Examples of Primitive Camping at Glass Butte
Glass Butte doesn’t have any official camping. There are zero amenities. You’re truly on your own here, so be prepared to pack it all in and pack it out again. No garbage service, no toilets, no designated campsites.
However, since the area has been in use for decades by knapping groups and rockhounders, there are primitive campsites somewhat established along the roads.
Obsidian We Collected at Glass Butte
Once we got home, I sorted and washed the shards and pieces we’d found around the campsite. We did come away with some nice pieces, even if we never reached the dig sites and we never dug any ourselves. I can only imagine what we’d have found if we’d have made it to the dig sites!
If you go, and I hope that you do, here are the details you’ll need to know.
Cost: free, 250 lb per person per year limit
Maps: We used the map in Gem Trails of Oregon and it was a great map. There’s also this excellent map that floats around online, but I haven’t found the creator of this map (so if you know, let me know!)
For More Info: While Glass Butte is managed by the BLM, the Deschutes National Forest has a helpful writeup and can also assist with questions.
Ages of our children: 11, 6, and 3, and 4 months
Tips: we had great cell service the entire time (AT&T), there is a cell tower on the larger Glass Butte. No bathrooms, not even pit toilets. Take your own toilet paper! Glass was everywhere and it was very sharp, so wear good shoes. There are no facilities whatsoever, so pack in everything you’ll need, including water.