Grant's Getaways: Digging Oregon's state gem – kgw.com
Grant’s Getaways: Oregon State Gem
Grant takes us to southern central Oregon – a landscape that’s marked by endless sage brush and juniper trees, but one of the few places in the world where visitors can dig Oregon’s state gem!
Oregon’s high 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’s Oregon’s state gem called 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.
“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,” said Jessica Schenk, Sunstone Mine Manager.
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 the “redder the sunstone, the more valuable the sunstone.”
”Now, these are cutable stones (they can be faceted and polished by a jeweler) and they’ll be worth $100 a carat,” Rose said. “This one is about 25 carats is pretty rough but after being cut and cleaned it will probably be about a 5 caret gem – not bad, eh?”
Not bad at all! 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 in minutes. It shimmered in the brilliant sunshine and showed off a golden hue.
Colleen didn’t mind the southeast Oregon remoteness or the summer heat that rose to the high 90’s across a rugged countryside that few folks visit.
“Oh, not at all – 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 that Chris digs up for us. Plus, these are state gemstones after all 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 southeast Oregon. It’s the microscopic copper bits that give sunstones their color. That color ranges from light champagne to ruby red.
Mining for sunstones is an exciting adventure because you just never know what you are going to find and it’s so easy anyone can try.
“The word is word is getting out and more people show up each summer,” said Schenk. “Visitors don’t mind the long drive from the Willamette Valley 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, water and are prepared for an emergency.
If you would like to explore more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.”
You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.
The stories offer detailed directions and promise to set you on your own path of discovery across Oregon. The new book is also available as e-book download so you can take my new book with you on the road.
Grant’s Getaways is produced in partnership with Travel Oregon, as well as:
You can learn more about many of Grant’s favorite Oregon adventures in his new book: “Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures”
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