Sunstones: Digging Oregon’s State Gem
Oregon’s desert is a vast stretch of the state where distances are great and people are few – but if you know where to look, there are remarkable treasures waiting to be found.
When the Spectrum Sunstone Mine rock hopper fills up and the generator fires up the conveyor belt gets your hopes up: that Oregon’s state gem, sunstones, will roll past you by the hundreds.
The Spectrum Sunstone Mine is located 30 miles northwest of Plush and you’ll want bring a bucket to hold the sunstone riches you find in this pocket of the high desert. Sunstone Mine Manager Jessica Schenk said, “It’s very quiet out here and it’s very rural so be ready for that – plus, there’s no shade whatsoever so bring a sun hat, gloves, water and a bucket to carry your sunstones back home.”
Chris Rose, owner and operator of the Spectrum Mine, said that he’s been working his claim for more than 12 years. He showed us how easy it is to find them. In a matter of minutes, he worked the soft dirt with a rock pick and pried a gorgeous 25-caret red sunstone from a six foot deep sunstone pit. He noted that the “redder the sunstone, the more valuable the sunstone.”
The Spectrum Sunstone Mine is open to the public and for a fee, you can scoop up shovel-loads of sunstone-rich ore, dump each onto a screen and shake away the dirt to find the stones.
That’s the technique Colleen Schlosser and young Jonah Luedecke chose after they traveled to the Spectrum Mine from Portland – in fact, it was their third visit of the summer to explore and dig sunstones! We watched as Jonah found a dandy sunstone within minutes. It shimmered in the brilliant sunshine and showed off a golden hue.
Schlosser didn’t mind the remoteness of Southeastern Oregon, the summer heat or the rugged countryside. “This is great mother-son camping time and we are treasure hunting,” she said. “It’s exciting because you are constantly picking sunstones from the ore – plus, these are state gemstones and that’s fun too. I love Oregon and it’s cool to bring home buckets of the state gem to show off to our friends and family, and I craft jewelry with them.”
Sunstones are copper-laden crystals that formed tens of millions of years ago – the crystals flowed to the surface with volcanic magma and are concentrated in this part of Southeastern Oregon. It’s the microscopic copper bits that give sunstones their color; a color ranges from light champagne to ruby red.
Mining for sunstones is an exciting adventures because you just never know what you are going to find and it’s so easy anyone can try. “The word is getting out and more people show up each summer,” said Schenk. “Visitors don’t mind the drive because it’s so beautiful out here and the sunstones are gorgeous too. Every Oregonian should have an Oregon sunstone!”
The Spectrum Sunstone Mine is open daily and their season runs from May to November. In addition, the Spectrum Mine is located near a BLM public sunstone site where you are able to dig and keep any sunstones that you find for free.
It’s also important to note that the sunstone area is extremely remote – 30 miles of gravel road from the closest town of Plush. So, be sure you carry extra food and water and be prepared for an emergency.
about author Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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