Rivers of Glass – Glass Butte, Oregon

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Obsidian “Flow”

Rivers of black glass, gleaming in the sun. Chunks of obsidian, shining like beacons saying, “I’m right here, come and get me!”

Glass Butte in Central Oregon is one of the best rockhounding areas in the northwest. It’s on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, set aside for rockhounds to access for free. Obsidian is formed from lava that cools very quickly. This area had a huge lava flow millions of years ago so there is a LOT of obsidian. Obsidian has also been called “volcanic glass” and has been used over the years for arrowheads and knives. Today it is mostly used for jewelry, garden features, and other decorations. That’s part of the fun of obsidian, that it has such a variety of uses.

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Glass Butte – the middle of nowhere!

Located 77 miles east of Bend on Highway 20, you’ll see a plain brown sign on the south side of the road showing you where to turn. You’ll really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing to see for miles and only a couple of small trees. But this is where there truly are hidden gems.

Slow down before mile post 77 because it’s easy to zoom right past. There will be a dirt road. Go slowly and carefully. It can have deep ruts from heavy rainfall and chunks of obsidian may have washed down onto the roadway or exposed by the rain. Obsidian can be very sharp. While we have never had our tire punctured by it, we did hit a piece hard enough to poke a hole in our oil plan. So just be cautious.

Then head on into the property. There are several roads to follow. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t be able to get off BLM land and onto private land because it is all fenced. Also, don’t be surprised if you see tents because people are allowed to camp there.

There are two books that are really helpful in this particular rockhounding area: Gems Trails of Oregon by James R. Mitchell, and The GPS Guide to Western Gem Trails by David A. Kelty. This is where the treasure hunt begins. There are many different colors of obsidian – black, snowflake, mahogany, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, and fire. And most of these colors are here in one place! You can stop in one spot and only find black or stop in another and find mostly mahogany. They can also be mixed. Rocks come in different sizes and shapes, small shards to HUGE pieces! Again, be careful – it is sharp and can cut you. It also gets very hot sitting in that Central Oregon sun.


Black and Mahogany Mix


Silver Sheen (see the silver streaks?)

The rainbow and fire, in my opinion, are the most elusive. You have to hold the pieces up to the sun to see the fire or rainbow properties. The color glistens like a rainbow dancing on the edges of the rock. The fire obsidian shows like a flame in the center when the sunlight hits it just right.

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HUGE Piece of Obsidian

Sometimes you have to break open a rock to see the lace/snowflake which are white lacy or snowflake looking shapes inside. Again, it’s sharp so use eye protection when breaking obsidian. You will also want to take gloves in case the rocks are really hot.

Remember, this is the desert. Take plenty of water (and a picnic. We believe in picnicking every chance we get.) Then make sure you stop picking up rocks before you are too hot or too tired. That 77 miles is a long way back when you’ve worn yourself out. And it’s easy to do. The first time we were there we were so excited but what we were seeing and how easy it was to find, we just simply didn’t want to leave. But by 3:00 it was dangerously hot.

Please remember that collecting rocks on BLM land is for personal use only. You can collect up to 25 pounds per day or 250 pounds per year. So please be respectful and don’t take more than your share.

Other than that just be careful of the heat and the sharpness of the obsidian, and have fun in one of the best rockhounding places in the country!

Categories: Keatons Out and About, Oregon, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Rivers of Glass – Glass Butte, Oregon

  1. Heather

    Thank you for this information, we went out there and had so much fun!

  2. barbara howell

    I read the review. We decided to try this excursion. we followed googles directions which were flawless to the top of glass butte.
    for others reading this you do not have to go to the top to find obsidian.(we did not find any obsidian there) stop and search whenever you start seeing it on the road. we never found the river of glass, can you give more precise location directions we want to go back..oh yes last tip you can get to within a half mile of the top in a regular car ( your driver has a lot of off road experience. he scared the crap out if me in a couple of places. I would recommend a high clearance or off road vehicle to get to top. But to find obsidian you start seeing small peces in the roadway 40 feet off highway 20 where we turned in. If you come to the cattle guard turn around (unless your my husband)by the time you reach the cattle guard you have passed 3 or 4 excellant spots to search and find. I do not know how we made it to the top and back with our oil pan and tires intact.

    • I’m glad you had fun! You’re right, you do have to be careful driving around there, the obsidian is quite sharp! But it’s worth it 🙂

    • Nikki

      Just finished reading your experience, guess I’ll do alright in my little car after all. I am going out there this weekend for the Northwest Rockhounds meet, super stoked!

      • How fun! You’ll have a great time, just take it slow and easy on the drive. Happy collecting!

  3. Nikki

    I’m assuming my new Elantra isn’t quite the vehicle I should be trying to drive up Glass Butte? LOL

  4. Liz

    This place is truly amazing. No where else like it. “Rivers” of Obsidian, “Pools” of Obsidian… so much there. Do heed the warnings of the heat and the sharpness though. Both can get you when you aren’t paying attention. Be well prepared for both.

    • Michael

      Also remember that there are claims there too, watch out for them….Other than that,have fun..

      • Are there claims within the BLM boundaries, or just around it?

      • Michael

        I know of four claims within the boundaries of BLM…Emory Coons, has most of them.. The Mahogany Obsidian (Gold Sheen) is on his claim, Fire Obsidian is his claim and a few others..

  5. Michael

    With permission you can access the Gold sheen claim…. Fire Obsidian is off limits…

  6. Good to know, I had no idea.

  7. We were out there this summer – didn’t go on any claims and found really awesome obsidian. We camped and had a great time

  8. Michael

    You all need to buy the Oregon Rockhounding book….Glass Buttes isn’t the only area to find Obsidian in Oregon.. It gives great directions and maps.. Ask the locals in Burns,like the old rock shop there… Nice old guy that runs the place!

  9. John

    Glass Buttes is an awesome place to visit, If you stay ON the main road, you shouldn’t get a flat on your car, BUT, if you take some of the side roads that go up, you’ll absolutely need 4wd… You can access great spots right off the main road.
    Just be careful and wear gloves and protective eyewear when handling the obsidian. if you drop it I guarantee that pieces will fracture off and could end up in your eyes. there is NO medical help anywhere close and if you get a piece in your eye, you’ll be in serious trouble.
    If you are just looking for pieces to knap arrow heads from, there are lots of small pieces everywhere.
    I’ve been out there twice and didn’t want to leave…

    • Michael

      We drive out there with a Subaru Outback..
      We go everywhere, no problem..
      Also just a mile way from Glass Buttes in an old mine with opalite tailings.
      Worth checking out too…
      Take home as much as you want…

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