Quintessential Epic Oregon Road Trip
Words and Photos by Ryan Flood
After weeks of sheltering-in-place, blanket-forts, neighborhood walks and diligently working our way through the entire Harry Potter series every Friday night, our family was well-overdue for an adventure outside our zip code. We are accustomed to family road trips and camping throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, but for this first trip of the Summer we wanted something a little special. With travel restrictions easing, and the weather warming, we were itching to hit the road but were also a bit wary of heedlessly rolling through rural communities during a pandemic. Fortunately for us, we found Roamerica and their amazing camper-vans which are the perfect fit for our family with seat-belts for five, and a layout where everyone could sleep comfortably. We were able to be completely contained on our three-night road trip. To keep it socially distanced, we decided to head for the wide open spaces of Oregon’s High Desert for some off-grid camping. Our boys have been wanting to go hunting for obsidian (volcanic glass) for quite some time and this seemed like the perfect time to track some down.
With the van full of digging tools, and a great guidebook on the dash (Rockhounding Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites, by Lars Johnson), we headed for Glass Buttes, a geologic feature literally made of obsidian about 90 miles east of Bend. Leaving home in the afternoon, we didn’t plan on going far and spent the first night at Trout Creek on the lower Deschutes River. Although it was only a quick stop-over for us, the Deschutes at Trout Creek is a fly-fishing dream if you’re looking for native trout or steelhead.
Morning of day two brought us to Richardson’s Rock Ranch outside Madras, OR, which served as our portal to all things Oregon rockhounding related. In addition to your standard quirky gem shop and self-guided mineral museum, the place is surrounded with mounds of interesting rocks and 40 peacocks roaming the grounds to greet you.
It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind Oregon experience and worth a stop if you have the time. A few hours’ drive through miles of open sage ranchlands and epic skies of puffy white clouds against dazzling blue brought us to Glass Buttes, the obsidian motherlode. As we turned off the highway and on to the main access road, the ground sparkled with acres of natural glass glinting in the high-desert sun. This really amped up the kids’ excitement and we drove straight to one of the dig sites mentioned in the guidebook to start our excavation. We would worry about finding a campsite later, as there was plenty of open space and all we really needed was a place to park and hopefully a campfire!
Pulling off the rutted-road, we got out the tools, hiked a short distance up the slope, and started digging. Given the plentiful amount of material, it didn’t take long for us to amass more rocks than were probably necessary for our return trip home. It also didn’t take long for our first injury to occur, even though we were geared up with all the proper protective gear. Obsidian is sharp! It didn’t help that our oldest son decided to take it upon himself to “test” the sharpness… “Dad, I’m cut!” I heard from a short distance away through the trees. Yes, it is sharp enough to cut your skin through your gloves if you decide to run your glove over an edge to test the sharpness. Let’s just call it a very hands-on educational experience. Thankfully, after a quick fix with first-aid kit he was right back out there digging. Well, smashing and splitting was more like it. Finding the rock was so easy, the boys quickly switched over to bashing and breaking to determine the quality of their discoveries.
This was the continued theme for the rest of the trip, as we found out that the majority of the fun for them lay not in the finding of rocks but in crushing, smashing, and cracking all that they could in the name of geologic exploration. If you are a parent of young boys, this probably doesn’t come as a big surprise to you.
After bargaining with some of the cows sharing their range land with the obsidian hunters, we settled on a nice flat campsite. Sure, some might call it a pasture, but the views were great and the 360-degree sunset that night was amazing. The next morning after a little more collecting around camp, we decided that we had gathered enough obsidian and were ready to search for something new. Breaking camp, we headed a quick hour’s drive north to Hampton Butte, known for it’s rare green petrified wood as well as a plentiful supply of jasper and agate.
We expected to find more great rockhounding at Hampton Butte, but we were also excited to find the campsites dispersed throughout an ancient juniper forest. It was very unique spot to sling the hammock and enjoy the desert smells, sights and sounds (which was often wonderfully absolute silence).
The petrified-wood hunting wasn’t as plentiful as the obsidian from the day before, but the kids still enjoyed digging through the dirt in their search, and smashing lots of agate that could be found just lying around the camp.
Throughout the trip, our van, Juliet, was the perfect home base for taking breaks from the dust and sun and prepping camp meals. Roamerica has thought of all the essentials you need for a comfortable camp from bedding to cookware, and everything is so well organized setting up and tearing down is a breeze. If you are looking for the perfect camper van for a Pacific Northwest family road trip, you have found the perfect fit!Explore More PNW Trips