|History and Information about
Oregon Copper Bearing Sunstone
This a partial copy of a Gemological paper published in The Ore Bin,
written by N. V. Peterson of the Oregon Department of Geology and
I have included at end, the information to the website, where you can
read the entire publication.
This shows that the Oregon Copper Bearing Sunstone deposits
has been mined and or known about since early Man.
Not all the information is correct or up to date, but is quit useful
State of Oregon The ORE BIN
Department of Geology Volume 34,no 12
And Mineral Industries December1972
1069 State Office Build.
Portland Oregon 97201
N. V. Peterson, Geologist
Oregon Dept. Of Geology and Mineral Industries
Within Oregon there is a small but unusual occurrence of semiprecious gems known
as "Sunstone." The locality is in the Rabbit Basin of southeastern Lake County, and
the "Sunstone" occur as phenocrysts (large crystals) of gem-quality feldspar in a
basaltic lava flow.
Specific field information about the Sunstone occurrence was gathered by the author
during three days late in the summer of 1972. Bob Rogers and George Marshall of
Portland, Oregon; Don Sellers of Lakeview, Oregon; Truman Mitchell of Milwaukee,
Oregon; and Mrs. T. Mapes of Klamath Falls, Oregon, were very helpful in providing
information about local geography and about sunstone mining and collecting in
general. They also furnished specimens for study and photographing.
Definition of Sunstones
"Sunstone" is the name given to a certain variety of feldspar that exhibits a brilliant pink
to reddish metallic glitter or shimmer. The metallic glitter result from the reflection of
light from myriad of minute flat scales of hematite or other mineral impurities. The
enclosed scales are so small and thin they appear transparent; however, their reddish
color can be seen plainly by examining a thin piece of the feldspar with a magnifier.
The mineral inclusions are usually arranged parallel to the direction of perfect
cleavage in the feldspar crystal, so the glittering reflection is only seen when looking at
the cleavage surface. The glitter or shimmer is called "aventurescence;" crystals of
feldspars exhibiting aventurescence are called aventurine or more commonly
Sunstones in general occur in both orthoclase and plagioclase feldspars. At the
Oregon locality, however, the sunstones consist of crystals of calcic labradorite (one
type of plagioclase feldspar); the colors range from red to green as well as the coppery
In most gemology references, sunstone is listed with the feldspar group as a
semiprecious gemstone. In the early 1800's, sunstone was considered extremely rare
and was very costly, but with subsequent discoveries in Siberia, Norway, and other
parts of the world, it has become more avail¬able and less expensive. In the United
States sunstone occurs at several locations, a partial list of which is given in Table 1.
Location and Geographic Setting
The Oregon locality is a small area of about 7 square miles in the northern part of the
Rabbit Basin in Warner Valley, about 25 miles north of Plush (Figure 1). The area is in
the northwestern part of the Rabbit Hills NE quadrangle, Oregon (7.5 minute series, U.
S. Geo. Survey topographic map, 1966).
The area can be reached from Lakeview by following State Highway 140 north and
east for 20 miles, then proceeding north on a paved county road to Plush. From Plush,
gravel and dirt roads continue northward to the sunstone area; signs at road junctions
give directions. An alternate route reaches the area via the Hogback Road, which
leaves U.S. Highway 395 near the Hogback Summit about 50 miles north of Lakeview.
About 14 miles east, at a marked junction, a dirt road leads eastward to the sunstone
area. Roads beyond Plush are only periodically maintained, so travel to and from the
area is only practical from late spring to early fall.
In this part of Lake County, extreme seasonal temperature changes and a very low
rainfall limit the vegetation to low-growing sagebrush and clumps of desert grass.
There is no drinking water available in Rabbit Basin, the closest available supply
being at Plush.
Rabbit Basin, at an elevation of 4,600 feet is on area of low relief (Figure 2).
Occasional arcuate beach ridges mark levels of an ancient pluvial lake that once
occupied the basin. The highest shoreline encircles Rabbit Basin at an elevation of
about 4,780 feet. In the northern part of the basin, a low, broad north-trending ridge
known locally as Dudeck Ridge (Figure 3) is formed by the lava flows that contain the
History of the Oregon Occurrence
It has long been known that sunstones, or aventurine feldspar of appreciable size and
goad quality occur in the Warner Valley in lake County, Oregon (Figure 4). Locally the
sunstones are referred to as "Plush Diamonds," and it is reported that the old maps of
lake County show the "Sunstone Mine."
The first collectors of Oregon sunstones may have been the Indians that inhabited or
traveled through Warner Valley. A group of small stones (Figure 5), some of which
show the aventurine glitter, are displayed with the Indian artifacts in the Jacksonville
Museum. These sunstones, which are identical to the Warner Valley specimens, were
found at Table Rock near Medford in Jackson County by an early resident. Some of the
stones appear to have been flaked, and it is probable that the Indians from the Warner
Valley traded them with the Rogue Valley tribes.
The reported occurrence of aventurine labradorite from Modoc County, California,
listed in Table 1, was described by Olaf Andersen in 1917 and was based on a study
of " a number of pebbles and 6 cut stones in the collection of the U.S. National
Museum." The properties of the feldspar he describes are almost identical to those of
the Oregon labradorite. No recent references to a California occurrence in Modoc
County can be found, so it is entirely possible that the material described could have
come from lake County, Oregon.
Aitkens (1931) in his discussion of the gem varieties of feldspar, states, "About 1908,
a report of a discovery of a new deposit of labradorite in southern Oregon was made
by Maynard Bixby of Salt lake City, Utah, who stated that this mineral would yield
handsome gem material. This labradorite ranges from colorless to a dark variety,
showing fine red, salmon, and green tints. "
Dake (1938), in describing the semiprecious gemstones of Oregon, indicates that
"Good specimens of Sunstone suitable for cutting are found in the detrital surface
materials at localities in the central part of lake County.” He further reports:
"The rough gem is sold by the ounce and good material showing the proper amount of
included extraneous material brings a price well worth collecting the gem."
Stewart, Walker, and others (1966) describe in detail the physical properties of the
transparent calcic labradorite from lake County. In their study they discuss the
petrology and petrography of the feldspar-bearing lava flows, chemical composition,
optical properties, unit cell parameters, and thermal expansion characteristics of the
feldspar crystals. They do not, however, mention the red or green colors or the
aventurescence to which some of the feldspars owe much of their appeal.
Numerous other short articles giving brief descriptions of the sunstone and
information about the locality have appeared in the popular mineralogical journals,
lapidary magazines, and rock hound club journals.
Many rock hounds and gemstone collectors have made annual pilgrim¬ages to the
sunstone area to search the surface of the ground for stones or to screen the soil
cover for buried stones. In 1970 a group of avid collectors discovered that in some
places the sunstone-bearing lavas were decomposed beneath the thin veneer of
surface soil. They found that by disintegrating the parent material, larger, better-quality,
and more colorful suns tones could be recovered. This led to the staking of several
mining claims in the area. Subsequently, at the request of organized gem and mineral
groups, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew 4 square miles from mineral entry
so that anyone desiring to look for and collect sunstones could hove access to a part
of the area. The withdrawal boundary and the approximate location of the original
group of mining claims is shown on the geologic map (Plate 1).
Go to this web site for the complete paper and others back to January 1939
Go down the page to 1972 and click on n 12
Oregon Geology (formerly The Ore Bin) is designed to reach a wide spectrum of
readers in the geoscience community who are interested in all aspects of the geology
of Oregon and its applications. Informative papers and notes, particularly research
results, are welcome, as are letters or notes in response to materials published in the
journal. Conclusions and opinions presented in articles are those of the authors and
are not necessarily endorsed by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral
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