Sunstone Day

Today, on Memorial Day, we are in Summer Lake Oregon where it is raining

Plush Oregon May 24 Sunny and cool High 60 Low 37

Day 2 sunstones_004DSC_0004Ahh, let’s sleep in.  Except no one told the dog and the cat.  Abby has this thing, she shakes so that her collar rattles.  Jeremy starts purring.  Loud.  Both of them begin this little ritual at exactly 5:30 AM. Not such an issue in a big house, but in a small RV?  I think we did manage to sleep till 6am at least.

Day 2 sunstones_001DSC_0001The skies were clear and gorgeous, but we had no desire to run off in a hurry.  Our plans for the day were to drive the 20 plus miles of gravel and dirt road to the BLM Sunstone Collection Area and root around for the Oregon state gem.  No need to get out there when it was still in the 30’s, no matter HOW sunny the skies were.

Point A is Plush, B is our boondock site, C is the turn off the hogback road E is the next turn and F is the digging area

sunstone mapInstead I made some rich, dark Seattle’s Best french press coffee, and toasted some of the sourdough bread we still had left over from the Bakkery in Mammoth Mountain to go with our yummy, leisurely breakfast.  We settled Jeremy in with the Fantastic Fan set to go on if it got warm, loaded up Abby and snacks into the Tracker and headed north with our shovel, bucket, and 1/4 inch mesh screens Mo built for this day.

Day 2 sunstones_007DSC_0007The BLM roads show well on the map, and we also had several brochures I picked up from the Interagency Office yesterday in Lakeview with varying degrees of clarity describing the route.  There are several private mines in the area around the public digging sites, but our first destination would be an area where we could just walk around and pick up the beautiful sunstones right on the ground.  Why look for sunstones?  Why not?  We knew the chances of finding anything particularly valuable were slim, but sunstones are lovely little feldspar crystals, most often a clear pale yellow and sometimes pink, green, or shades of red depending on the level of copper inclusions.

Day 2 sunstones_006DSC_0006The Hogback road goes north from our boondock site near Plush and eventually will hook up to Highway 395 near Abert Rim, famous for hang gliding jumps.  The Sunstone area is east of the Hogback, and the several roads and turns are actually well marked if you pay attention.  Nice sized signs saying “Sunstone Area” are at each turn.  The roads are all gravel, not dirt, and they are rough, with sharp stones.  We had a spare tire, but if we did this again we might think about bringing two spares.

UhOh.  We had just arrived at the shade shelter near the digging site when Mo saw the flat tire.  It wasn’t too difficult changing the tire, but we weren’t too happy about our plans to explore more rough roads later in the day without a spare.  We also weren’t too happy about the fact that the nearest place to buy a tire was a very long way back in the town of Lakeview.

looking for sunstonesNot to worry, we just decided to think about it later and get on with the adventure of looking for sunstones.  The brochure for the sunstone collection area says to just keep your eyes to the ground, looking for the translucent yellow stones lying among the rocks.  Of course, you can also dig, but are asked to fill in any holes you excavate. 

very tiny wildflowers at the BLM sunstone collection area that is my gloved fingerWe spent most of our time walking the draws, thinking that the erosion would bring stones to the surface, but found out later that there are often more and bigger stones up on the flat areas northwest of the shelters.  Large ant hills are everywhere, and sometimes they excavate nice sunstones and leave them lying around.

tiny sunstones and tiny flowersWe were a bit nervous about driving off into nowhere with a flat spare tire, so only wandered off less than a mile and took off walking again.  In some areas around the anthills the sunstones were so numerous it looked like the ground was covered with glitter.  Most of these stones, however are less than 1 or 2 mm in diameter.  We found as the day wore on it took a bigger specimen to get us to bend over and pick it up.  By the end of a couple of hours of exploring we had a nice little stash of glittering, lovely sunstones, and a few that were as big as an inch.

Day 2 sunstones_026DSC_0026We had planned to stop at the Spectrum Mine, just a couple of miles further down the road, but with the tire problem we thought it might be smart to stop at the Dust Devil Mine, located right at the entrance road to the BLM public diggings.  We knew that our chances of finding a tire any closer than Lakeview were really slim, but still we thought it might be good to stop and ask.  We had no desire to do what is called “Fee Digging” at the mine.

Day 2 sunstones_048DSC_0048We drove in and parked near the collection of old trailers and piles of mineral specimens.  In a few minutes, an older guy with a big gray beard showed up and when we asked him about how far to a town with a tire, he said, “I think I may have one that fits out back”.  Whew!  In the mean time, Mo decided to take the punctured tire off the rack and as she did another guy came up and looked at it and said, “I can fix that!” and off he went with our beat up tire.  Within moments he was back with a repaired tire and a warning to get it replaced as soon as we could.  At least we had a spare to get us back to civilization. No charge.

another nice guy from the Dust Devil MineWe all stood around and talked tires for awhile and they all insisted that we had to have 6 ply tires to drive these gravel roads without mishaps.  Included in the conversation were lots of stories about 2 or more flats on a single trip.  Hmmm, maybe a place for carrying 2 spares.  We didn’t even carry two spares on the back roads of Alaska!  They ended the conversation with an invite to watch how the fee digging worked.

amazing contraption separates and washes ore to find sunstonesThe equipment is all huge and crazy looking.  The sunstones occur in the clay layer below the basalt where the feldspar cooled slowly enough to form large crystals.  Varying levels of copper in the crystals lend the pink, red, or even combinations of red and green colors to the really fine stones.  For 50 bucks, you get a hopper load of ore dropped onto a moving belt where you pick out the sunstones among the basalt gravels.  Then you have to decide what pieces you want because you have to pay for “color” you wish to keep, at 1/3 the wholesale price.

picking for sunstones as the belt rolls byIt looked fun, and the couple that was doing the picking had come from Red Bluff, California.  They had found several pieces worth faceting in the past and the woman had some very nice sunstone jewelry to show for her efforts. Still, we hadn’t come expecting to pay for sunstones, we just wanted a little bit of collectible stuff and we already had that. After the belt was finished, the nice guy who had fixed our tire unlocked the main trailer to let us in to see some of the beautiful faceted sunstones they had for sale. 

Day 2 sunstones_040DSC_0040There are several “fee digging” mines in the vicinity of the public area, and who knows how to decide which one to visit.  Just on the basis of pure friendliness and fun I would highly recommend the Dust Devil Mine. Oregon sunstone was declared the Oregon State Gem in 1987 and the Dust Devil Mine started operating just a few years after that.  The sunstones are only found in the remote high deserts of Lake and Harney counties.  It is a great place if you like to rockhound and putter around in the desert.

Day 2 sunstones_035DSC_0035We had planned a different route home via a western route to the Hogback, but our guys (I can’t believe I never got their names) insisted that we shouldn’t attempt that route.  They said it was longer and rougher and meaner.  So we went back the same way we came, taking a little side road east to drop down into the Warner Wetland area and along the edge of Flagstaff Lake, one of the larger water bodies in the complex wetlands.

our sunstone stash from a couple of hours of pickingBack up on the 6155 road, we passed a beautiful basalt cliff tucked into a western hill that looked inviting.  Turning up the dirt road led uphill to another beautiful overlook site perfect for boondocking.  The view east of the mountains was gorgeous, but the site was fully visible from the road below.  The other down side is that this site was about an additional 7 miles of travel on rough gravel road.  For some reason, we don’t want to do that in the MoHo unless absolutely needed.  I laugh at this thinking about our 115 mile run on dirt  on the Top of the World Highway in Alaska, but why do it if you don’t need to?  If our current spot was filled, we might consider traveling north to this other site when we come back to this area.

Once back at camp we settled in for a lovely late afternoon.  Jeremy loves this site because he has free run of the desert.  There are some sage surrounding the site, but he does a pretty good job of staying close and rolling in the gravel. 

hand quilting and a campfireMo loves the desert tooWe kicked back on the chairs enjoying the cool sunshine and I even took some time to practice my hand quilting before Mo started up the bbq for supper.  Once again, we waited for a dramatic sunset, but the skies were subtle and the sun set in nothing less than a blaze of non-glory.

Day 2 Sunstones

Jeremy loves the freedom of hanging out in the desert, and even found a new toy

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

9 thoughts on “Sunstone Day”

  1. Nose-to-nose with a bug … that's a funny shot of Jeremy. Nice surprise to come across those helpful guys who not only helped you with your tire situation, but shared their fee digging experience with you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: