Finding Sunstones at Oregon’s Sunstone Gem Collection Area

Enjoying our adventures in and around Paisley earlier this year, we headed back to South Central Oregon to experience more of what the high desert region has to offer. Having previously explored Crack in the Ground and Fort Rock State Natural Area, this trip took us due east from Summer Lake Hot Springs in search of the Sunstone Gem Collection Area.

Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Sunstone Gem Collection Area is one of the few places in the world where visitors can find sunstones, or feldspar crystals that formed in lava.

What are Sunstones

Oregon’s state gemstone, sunstones found in the remote Rabbit Basin of the Steens Mountains formed in lava from a volcanic explosion approximately thirteen to fourteen million years ago. The lava flow was covered by a vast lake and remained underwater for thousands of years and as the lake gradually dried up, the lava decomposed and revealed loose sunstones now available for collecting and mining.

Before visiting, we watched this Oregon Public Broadcasting Oregon Field Guide to learn more about what makes Oregon’s sunstones unique, and what to expect when visiting the Sunstone Gem Collection Area.

Before You Go

Before you make your way to the Sunstone Gem Collection Area, heed this information posted on the BLM website: “Due to the isolated location, rock hounds visiting the collection area should be well prepared. The only facilities available at the site are a pit toilet, picnic tables, and a shade structure. You are welcome to camp anywhere within the Oregon Sunstone Gem Collection Area.”

We packed plenty of water and food, layers of clothing, and garden tools for scraping the top layer of soil. We also packed a colander, which came in handy both for collecting the stones and sifting out extra dirt and small pebbles. Once leaving the main road, be prepared  to potentially journey through several miles through mud, ruts, and washboard roads. We would not make this adventure again without a few gallons of emergency fuel and potentially an emergency radio.

Finding Sunstones

Follow the signs leading to the Sunstone Gem Collection Area. Before you go, you may want to be sure the GPS instructions are loaded to your phone and/or you have a detailed map leading to the main entrance. We noticed two different options in and out, finding the route that takes you longer on Hogback Road to be the faster and easier route.

sign to sunstone collection area

Follow the signs to Sunstone Collection Area

Arriving at the main entrance, you’ll see a collection of covered picnic shelters, designated fire pits, and a pit toilet. We visited in November and noticed a few hearty souls camping in their motorhomes. Despite the sun, temps were cold and we were glad to have extra layers and warm gloves (Coincidentally, we packed safety yellow colored jackets, and that helped us spot each other from a distance as we wandered through the sagebrush.). Summer visitors should absolutely bring hats, sunscreen, and more water than you think you need.

picnic shelter at sunstone public collection area

Covered picnic and camping shelters at the Sunstone Collection Area

Read the interpretive sign, and you’ll learn this information:

  • As you walk within the Sunstone Gem Collection Area, keep your eyes to the ground and look for the shiny stones, picking them out of the soil and rocks. Only hand tools may be used for digging. Please fill in any holes you create.
  • The secret to finding larger sunstones is to venture into the far reaches of the collection area. The main road runs diagonally through the area; follow any of the spur roads and well-traveled trails leading to the northwest corner of the collection area.
walking through the sagebrush at sunstone collection area

Bright color clothing is helpful in spotting your rock hound partner in the sagebrush

Not venturing too far from the main road, the sunstones we collected were mostly small and unremarkable. When the sun is shining, it’s easy to see the shimmering gems resting on the top of the soil. We found the best way to locate the stones was to gently pick through the top 1/4 inch of dirt.

sunstones easily spotted in the dirt at sunstone collection area

Just look down to spot sunstones resting in the dirt at the Sunstone Gem Collection Area

In about an hour, we collected a handful of sunstones in our handy colander. Check the BLM website for instructions on limits for the amount of sunstones you can collect from the Sunstone Gem Collection Area during your visit.

use a container for filtering out sand from your sunstones

A colander is helpful for filtering dirt and small pebbles from your sunstones

As you explore, keep an eye out for pronghorn antelope, rabbits, kangaroo rats, mice, snakes, lizards, prairie falcons, and golden eagles. Take a moment to appreciate the vast expanse of desert ending in a spectacular mountainous backdrop.

sagebrush and mountains in Oregon's rabbit basin

Appreciate the wild beauty of the sagebrush and mountains

Book your Stay

While we camped at the Summer Lake Hot Springs, use this map to find lodging in Paisley or one of the nearby communities.

Happy Trails!


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. In March 2018 Julie Henning published the book "100 Things to Do in Eugene Before You Die" (Reedy Press). She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. She has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, Travel Wisconsin, Travel Oregon, Hometown News Group, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine (DNR publication), Experience Michigan Magazine, the Official Oregon Wine Touring Guide, Metro Parent Milwaukee Magazine, Eugene Cascades & Coast Official Visitors Guide, Trivago, Intercom Magazine,,, Eugene Magazine, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio. She has produced episodes for Journey of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. Julie has also produced travel apps with Sutro Media and Bindu Media. She works full time in marketing. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at