Adventures in Rockhounding

Photo by Joshua Savage
Grab the shovels, picks, gloves and whatever other digging tools you have at home for a rockhounding adventure in Central Oregon. A map at the visitor center in Bend or an online search directs rock enthusiasts to the best locations to legally find and collect the many stones of Oregon—obsidian, agate, petrified wood and thunderegg (Oregon’s state rock).
 
For the beginner, Richardson’s Rock Ranch in Madras is the best place to start. Colorful peacocks walk casually around the area. A friendly staff supplies you with a bucket, tools, and goggles while giving you the safety spiel about how to rockhound and where to explore on the many acres of land. On sunny weekends you may see many fellow rockhounders, but the areas to dig are large and numerous, and you are guaranteed to find as many thundereggs as you can carry.
 
Choose your best rocks and return to the ranch. The staff will weigh and charge you by the pound for what you keep. For an extra fee, they will professionally cut your thundereggs, all of which have intricate, unique designs inside. If you are still not satisfied with your discoveries, Richardson’s has stones of all sizes from all around the world waiting for new owners to take them home.
 
After your adventure at Richardson’s, you should feel confident to go rockhounding on your own. Pick a day with nice weather and take a trip to Glass Butte. Bring your own tools, pack a lunch, and drive an AWD—the roads can be rough. You may even want to camp overnight and make a weekend of it. There are several primitive campsites scattered around the area.
 
As you approach the site driving on Highway 20, the large sky and picturesque mountains are enough to make the visit worth it, especially if the bright yellow rabbitbrush is blooming. But wait, you came to this 5-million-year-old volcano for the obsidian, and you will find it almost everywhere; mahogany, black, pumpkin, and other types of this shiny glasslike rock.
 
Near parts of the unpaved road a gully is eroding, and obsidian is ripe for the taking. The deeper you delve into the Bureau of Land Management site, the rougher the roads get, but the more precious and unique the obsidian becomes. If you’re lucky, you will find pieces of the coveted rainbow type. By now, you are a veteran rockhounder and are already planning the next adventure.
 
Learn more about Richardson’s Rock Ranch at richardsonrockranch.com. The Glass Butte obsidian deposits are located about two hours southeast of Bend on Highway 20. Before milepost 77, a signed dirt road will veer off to the right; drive about 2 miles to the parking lot and set out on foot from there. Find information about traveling in Central Oregon at visitcentraloregon.com.