Cedar (age 13) and Violet (age 9) pose in front of a display of thundereggs in the gift shop at Richardson's Rock Ranch before heading out for a morning of rockhounding.
Cedar (age 13) and Violet (age 9) pose in front of a display of thundereggs in the gift shop at Richardson’s Rock Ranch before heading out for a morning of rockhounding.

The Bend Visitor Center has seen a surprising surge in inquiries about rockhounding in recent months.

Actually, I should take back the word “surprising,” since it’s an activity my step-kids have been nuts about for the last three years. But I’m delighted to see a wider burst of interest in this fun, educational way to see Central Oregon’s great outdoors, and I figured folks could benefit from a few of the things we’ve learned along the way.

The basics

First off, rockhounding in the city limits of Bend isn’t really a thing. You’ll need to drive at least an hour to reach any major rockhounding site, but Bend makes an excellent home base to explore many of the top spots.

Craig and Violet hunt for thundereggs at White Fir Springs outside Prineville.
Craig and Violet hunt for thundereggs at White Fir Springs outside Prineville.

Though you don’t need any serious equipment to go rockhounding, here are a few things we’ve found helpful in our explorations:

  • The Central Oregon Rockhounding Map available for purchase in the Bend Visitor Center or online from the S. Forest Service website. This thing has become our Bible for rockhounding, so don’t leave home without it.
  • Sturdy gloves for each family member
  • Plenty of water and snacks. Most of the areas you’ll visit are remote parts of the desert without facilities nearby, so plan accordingly.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray. The latter won’t be necessary in most places you’ll visit, but it’s handy to have just in case.
  • Buckets or backpacks to carry your rocks (unless you’re visiting Richardson’s Rock Ranch, where they provide this for you).
  • Small hand tools like chisels and spades are handy, but not mandatory (and again, Richardson’s Rock Ranch gives you loaner chisels for free).
  • A snakebite kit. I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian and 18-year Central Oregon resident and I have never once run across a rattlesnake in the high desert. That said, I believe in being prepared, so I usually have one in my backpack.

 

What can I find?

A hunk of obsidian from Glass Butte.
A hunk of obsidian from Glass Butte.

The aforementioned Central Oregon Rockhounding Map spells it out beautifully, but generally speaking, the primary treasures you’ll be seeking include thundereggs, obsidian, and various forms of jasper. You can also find petrified wood, calcite, and moss agates, depending on where you’re searching.

Be sure to scope out photos in the Central Oregon Rockhounding Map or online so you know what you’re looking for. Thundereggs (one of the primo finds in Central Oregon) actually look quite ugly on the surface, so kids who prefer seeking out sparkly, colorful stones might lose interest quickly on a thunderegg quest.

 

Where do I go?

Your Central Oregon Rockhounding Map will include tons more ideas, but here are a few of my faves.

Richardson’s Rock Ranch for thundereggs (roughly 1.5 hours from Bend)

Cedar and Violet hunt for thundereggs in the South Blue Bed at Richardson's Rock Ranch.
Cedar and Violet hunt for thundereggs in the South Blue Bed at Richardson’s Rock Ranch.

My personal favorite rockhounding spot is Richardson’s Rock Ranch. The shop is located 11 miles north of Madras, though you’ll drive another 20 minutes on dirt roads to get to the actual rock pits.

The shop has oodles of rocks to admire and purchase, plus some lovely scenery and glorious peacocks strutting around the grounds. If these three things are all you’re after, you might prefer to stick closer to Bend by visiting Petersen Rock Gardens halfway between Bend and Redmond.

But if you want to actually hunt for your own rocks, Richardson’s is worth the extra drive time. You start off in the shop, where they’ll give you an idiot-friendly tutorial on where to drive, what to look for, and what it will cost you to lug back a bucket of rocks. They also loan you the buckets and chisels, which are handy for folks who don’t travel with those things in the trunk of the car.

(Sidenote: If you actually do travel with a chisel in your car, I might be a little afraid of you).

Smashing rocks at the Richardson’s dig site is strictly forbidden. You’ve gotta wait until you get home or get back to the shop where they’ll cut them for you. In addition to whole thundereggs, you’ll find plenty of crunched up thundereggs, jasper, and sparkly crystals I couldn’t possibly name, but that caught the eye of my 9-year-old stepdaughter.

The outside of a thunderegg found at Richardson's, alongside a photo of the same thunderegg cut open at the ranch.
The outside of a thunderegg found at Richardson’s, alongside a photo of the same thunderegg cut open at the ranch.

My 13-year-old stepson had a little more patience for seeking out the ugly-on-the-outside thundereggs that would eventually prove to be much prettier when sliced open in the shop. The fact that they actually cut thundereggs for visitors on-site is a huge bonus in my book, since it gave us a chance to see what our treasures looked like on the inside.

Prices are subject to change, and you can scope those out here, but when we were there July 2015, there was a $1 per pound price with a $10 minimum. A full 5 gallon bucket weighs about 50 pounds, but between myself and the two kids, we only hauled out 17 pounds. We chose 10 or so small thundereggs to have sliced open on-site, and at a rate of 35-cents a square inch, we paid less than $15 for the cutting. All told, for the rocks, the cutting, several stones and trinkets from the gift shop, and the pleasure of exploring their well-maintained rock beds, we paid $48. Totally worth it, in my opinion.

 

White Fir Springs for thundereggs (roughly 1 hour from Bend)

If freebie rockhounding is more your speed and if you know what you’re looking for, a trip to the Ochoco Wilderness might be in order. We followed the directions in our Central Oregon Rockhounding Map to reach White Fir Springs outside Prineville.

Craig and Cedar show off their thundereggs at White Fir Springs.
Craig and Cedar show off their thundereggs at White Fir Springs.

The rocky, uphill dirt road leading there is a little tricky to navigate, but we made it just fine in my little 2013 Honda Fit without four-wheel-drive (though I suspect winter/fall/spring conditions might make it tougher).

Once you’ve reached the site off the rugged Forest Service road, you’ll find several pits where you can dig. We showed up with only small hand trowels for digging, and kinda wished we’d brought full-sized shovels instead. Even so, we had a blast poking around in the dirt and unearthing small thundereggs.

The more experienced thunderegg hunters we met seemed to have no trouble hauling out a dozen or more larger rocks to take home for cutting. Since the kids were more interested in smashing open small grape-sized geodes to find the crystals inside, we let them go nuts whacking the rocks open using other small rocks (don’t worry, we used eye protection).

Meanwhile, I explored well-treed forest in search of morel mushrooms while my husband snapped photos from the lovely hilltop location. Afterward, we let the kids splash around in nearby Prineville Reservoir.

 

Fischer Canyon for jasper, calcite, petrified wood, and agates (roughly 1 hour from Bend)

Even if you don't find any rocks at all when visiting Fischer Canyon, a springtime outing will give you great views of budding desert flowers.
Even if you don’t find any rocks at all when visiting Fischer Canyon, a springtime outing will give you great views of budding desert flowers.

Another site on the fringes of the Ochoco Wildnerness, Fischer Canyon is further north than White Fir Springs and reachable via several routes you’ll find in the Rockhounding Guide (we opted to take Highway 20 east from Bend and cut north on 27, though there are other routes that take you through Prineville instead).Be prepared for more dirt roads, but again, we made it fine in my little Honda.

This spot is perfect for seeking out red and green jasper, orange-tinted agates, white crystalline calcite, and petrified wood. In contrast to the dense forest of White Fir Springs, this area is more desert-like mesa and plateau, with rock-covered hills the kids found fun to scramble up and poke around for rocks.

Most of what we found was small but colorful, and it’s the perfect place for a kid to add to (or start) a nice rock collection with a lot of colorful variety.

 

Glass Butte for obsidian (roughly 1.5 hours from Bend)

This is a site I haven’t visited personally, but since many guests in our Visitor Center ask about places to pick up obsidian, I wanted to include it.

I sought the advice of Visit Bend volunteer, Vic, who spent an afternoon there hunting for glassy obsidian. Glass Butte is located about 70 miles east of Bend off Obsidian Road (mile post 77). Refer to your Central Oregon Rockhounding Map for more detailed directions.

Visit Bend volunteer Vic and some obsidian he brought back from Glass Butte.
Visit Bend volunteer Vic and some obsidian he brought back from Glass Butte.

Vic described the roads as “decent,” but they’d likely be dicey in adverse weather. He suggested bringing a shovel and a backpack to haul rocks. Visitors can easily find rainbow, black, mahogany, and double-flow obsidian pieces that are quite large. There’s a 200-pound limit, so you can gather quite a bit out here without any trouble.

Bring plenty of water and a lunch, since there’s no place nearby to purchase anything.

 

Other rockhounding resources

Want to just buy rocks and/or gems? Here are a few places to do that:

Want to score some rockhounding equipment? Try The Lifestyle Store off Hwy 20 in Northeast Bend.

Want to buy me a piece of Oregon Sunstone jewelry? Why than you! I’ll take anything they have in the case at Douglas Fine Jewelry Design in Downtown Bend.

Happy rockhounding, everyone!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *