When we decided to take a weekend to drive to SE Oregon to collect Oregon sunstones it was originally a day trip, possibly one night to shorten the drive. It quickly turned into a 3 day trip with extra stops.
While doing our research we learned that while you can camp at the Sunstone Collection area it is quite windy and dusty. Looking at maps for a better camping alternative we found the Hart Mountain Hot Springs was not only in the area and a nicer place to camp but also on my long list of places I wanted to visit. Let the planning begin.
Our plan, which we stuck to pretty closely, was to leave home (Portland area) early Saturday, make our way to Plush, OR to fuel up at the last available fuel stop, camp at the Hot Springs, collect sunstones on Sunday, then see how far towards home we could make it before camping. I had researched several camp spots along the way as well as a couple places I wanted to stop such as Crack In The Ground and Fort Rock.
I mapped out our trip and stops using Gaia GPS with downloadable maps as we knew there was little to no cell service. We also purchased a couple Plano totes to help organize the rig as well as a 4.5 gallon Fuelpax just for peace of mind.
My wife packed our cooler like a pro. All the gear we would need was loaded. Extra room was made by strapping stuff to the roof. A few hours of sleep Friday night and early Saturday we loaded up our boys and we started on our journey. They weren’t super excited about being away from the video games and wifi but they didn’t really complain about it. We made a quick stop to get ice for the cooler, some snacks/breakfast (which was meal planned), and we were on our way.
We drove a few hours before getting to Bend, Oregon where we did our first fuel up, taking advantage of “normal” priced fuel. We also opted to grab some fast food for the kids so we could keep pushing forward.
From Bend on the area gets pretty empty. We drove south through Lapine, OR then SE on Hwy 31 through Silver Lake, Summer Lake, Paisley, and Valley Falls, Oregon. Just before Lakeview, OR we turned due east on 140 to travel past the Warner Mountain Ski Resort and through the Fremont Winema National Forest. We eventually came to the turn off towards Plush on the Plush Cutoff Road taking us through a very scenic area at almost 6k feet elevation. Eventually we dropped down into Plush, OR (population 63) where it was no problem finding the store.
Hart Mountain Store: https://goo.gl/maps/RtZi4b7fWWJLRWXv9
When planning the trip Google told us it was about 2-3 hours to the hot springs from the store. After talking to the woman at the store she informed us it was about 45 minutes away and that is when I realized Google must figure every gravel road to be 10 MPH. We headed out to our destination for the night and oh man, what a destination it was. We headed into the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge where the road quickly turns to gravel. We passed the Hart Mountain Campground which I had mapped out as a backup/alternate camp location. The road heading up the mountain is a decent gravel road that the suspension of the 4Runner loved. We did about 40mph on most of it. The scenery was incredible and before too long we arrived at the hot springs and campsite.
The mosquitoes were very plentiful. My pro tip to anyone visiting here is to simply prepare for them. Our “all natural” bug sprays worked somewhat but it took deet to really get them away. We ran a Thermacell that also greatly helped keep them away.
When we picked our campsite, which was incredible, the first thing I did was setup our Gazelle 5-sided Gazebo. I had it on the roof and purposely staged it so it could be removed first and fast. Within minutes of pulling into a campsite we had the gazebo up. That gazebo was a lifesaver as we used it to stage material, get bug spray out, start the Thermacell, and general setup.
Once we got camp set up we headed out to checkout the actual hot springs. There are basically two. One is a developed hot spring with concrete around it, a pool ladder, a stone structure built around it, is about 6 feet deep, and benches around. It is very much like a small public pool. There were people in it at the time, one who opted to exercise the clothing optional rule (which we were totally fine with) so we decided to check out the other hot spring.
The second spring is undeveloped. It is essentially a small pool or pond in the ground about 100 yards away. It has no signs or markers pointing to it. Someone has placed a couple stones and bricks to work as a step system to get in. It was empty with no one around so we opted to check this one out. The boys were actually excited to get in and at this moment they didn’t seem to care about video games or wifi.
We enjoyed the undeveloped hot springs for a bit then headed back down to the main one. We stayed for a bit watching the sunset before returning to camp to make some dinner.
Chili dogs for dinner cooked on our Coleman stove. LED strip lights in the Gazebo were incredible. Awesome campfire for warmth. Our campsite bordered a small stream that was incredible to listen to all evening and night.
– Gazelle 5 Sided Hub Gazebo: https://amzn.to/2l8iXVA
– Coleman 2 Burner Propane Stove: https://amzn.to/2jH0GOI
– Thermacell Mosquito Repellent: https://amzn.to/2l8o5ci
– Kohree Portable LED Rope Lights: https://amzn.to/2l6gbQu
– Plano 1719-00 68 Quart Totes: https://amzn.to/2Iv2bb5
– ALPS Mountaineering Camp Table: https://amzn.to/2labl4X
We all got a good nights sleep. I made eggs, bacon, and sausage for breakfast. The wife had fresh fruit, snacks, and drinks to go with it. We ate and the boys went back to the hot springs while we packed up camp and met them there. We all enjoyed the springs some more before heading out to our next destination.
Spent a little time in the hot springs. Met a gentleman from Salt Lake City who had a 4Runner and came over to chat about them.
We got all changed, packed up, cargo secured, and headed down the mountain. The scenery coming down the mountain is simply incredible. Even the kids were enjoying it. We then drove Flagstaff Lake Road towards the Sunstone Mines. Now I wasn’t positive what kind of road Flagstaff Lake Road was. Google didn’t tell my much other than there was a bridge on it that passed it’s last inspection. I had a route mapped out around on Gaia just in case. Turns out the road is gravel but pretty good. Driving by the large lakes was awesome. After many miles on gravel at a decent speed we came to the Sunstone Public Collection Area where we had lunch.
With lunch out of the way we were finally at the whole original purpose of this trip, to get sunstones. Now we did quite a bit of research on collecting sunstones and I’ll give the basics. There is this giant public collection area where you can “mine” them for free. In general they are smaller and clearer but I’ll tell you they are plentiful. You’ll see in the photos below.
Within the public collection area there are a few claims in which they have paid or fee digging. It is generally a couple hundred dollars to dig. The Spectrum Mine seems to be the most popular and for $200 you get a pretty good run of dirt with their equipment. It is always a gamble but you will get a lot more, bigger, and more colorful stones this way. Whether you want to spend $200 to get those or pick them up for free is up to you. We chose to go the free route as we only wanted a few stones as mementos of the trip. We were willing to put in a little work for them.
Reading the sign in the public collection area it suggested driving out away from the parking area and just walking to look for them. Not knowing what we would need I brought small shovels and a sifter. I’ll tell you next time we go, I’m not bringing anything but a container to put the stones in. We drove out to a couple random spots where we just got out and started finding them on the ground. Right on top! We tried digging but it was not turning up anything. In fact, digging made them dusty and harder to spot. The ones on the surface were glistening in the sun and easy to spot. Trust me when I say you will find plenty just walking around.
After a couple hours of stone collecting we were thrilled with what we had. We could have stayed all day and picked them but we had places to be and a long drive to get there. We packed up our goods, got some cold drinks from the cooler, and started the drive out. Again, I had a route mapped out as well as an alternate. At no point did I fear that we wouldn’t get where we wanted to go but having it planned out prior was great peace of mind.
One thing I didn’t get right on the route planning was I thought Hogback Road would be paved as it is a state highway. I should have known better. It was all gravel and fortunately it was a pretty decent road at that. Once again the suspension on the 4Runner paid off. At one point we were cruising at 50mph floating over everything while the wife was doing her nails. I had to point it out at that time as I was constantly impressed with how the 4Runner was handling the terrain all loaded down. I’m pretty sure I was the only one impressed.
Eventually we made it to the end of Hogback Road and back on to Hwy 395 for a little pavement travel. By this time it was a welcome thing. This is where our trip didn’t have a solid plan until now. In prior planning we were not sure how long we’d be at the Sunstone mines and didn’t want to rush. I had several campsites and things to see on the map pending our timeframe. Just so happened to work out that we had enough time to make it to a campsite I was wanting to stay at called Green Mountain Campground outside of Christmas Valley, OR. The campground is just below the Green Mountain Fire Tower and the few reviews I could find for it were pretty epic. We didn’t see a gas station or store until the Cheveron in Christmas Valley. We stopped in for cold drinks and opted to just grab dinner there as they had a nice deli. From there we headed to our campsite.
At one point while setting up camp my wife hiked the scenic trail to the top by the fire tower. She quickly yelled for me to grab the camera and get up there. I knew instantly it was for a sunset shot and I’m sure glad she did. It was incredible.
The next morning we got up early, ate a simple breakfast we had planned, packed up camp, and headed down the trail a bit to check out a spot I’ve always wanted to see. Everyone was pretty tired so we didn’t spend a lot of time there but the boys and I did hike up to it and at least enter to check it out.
One more stop after Crack in the Ground. It is a relatively short drive to Fort Rock, Oregon. I’m not sure anyone else was excited about this other than myself. I simply had just never been before and wanted to see. Everyone rested in the 4Runner while I grabbed a camera and ran up the trail just to experience it. It is close enough to home that we can go back for a day trip any time and honestly, I was wanting to get home as well.
From here we started the journey home. I believe everyone was getting some sleep but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the views. We headed towards LaPine, OR with one more quick stop. A few days prior we passed a tree full of shoes and we wanted to stop at it. Was a quick stop then a long drive home stopping for fuel in Bend, OR again.
This was an awesome trip for all of us and I’m still a little amazed how well everything went. The planning paid off and there were no real hiccups other than forgetting a spatula for the eggs. Everyone did awesome. My wife was a rockstar in preparing the food and around camp. The kids even stepped up to help setup and takedown stuff. I’m pretty sure they had fun even if they won’t admit it.
All the places we visited and routes we took are public so I don’t mind sharing them. I do ask that if you visit any of these places please do your part and keep them pristine. I would also love to know how your trips went and if anything we shared helped you out. Get a hold of us via email or on Instagram. If you have any questions in your planning please ask. I got a lot of good tips from people who visited these locations prior to us and I’m more than happy to pay that help forward.