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Oregon Sunstone Adventure

When your state has one of the most beautiful gemstones in the world and you’re in the rock business, of course you’d want to go check out the area where they are mined. After 28 years of being in the biz, I finally got a chance. Our teenage kids had just got out of school for the summer and we decided to take a road trip to the Oregon Sunstone mines.

The mines are 7 hours from Portland in south-central Oregon, so we broke up the drive by stopping to see Oma and Grandpa in Bend. From Bend, we headed straight down to the Spectrum Sunstone mine. Most of the terrain in the area is pretty monotonous, but every once-in-a-while, you come across some interesting rock formations and vegetation. The last hour of the drive is along a gravel road and all we saw was miles and miles of low sagebrush, with the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in the background.

When we arrived at the Spectrum Sunstone mine, we were first greeted with funny signs (“All adults must be accompanied by a miner”) and second, by a large snake in front of the office door! As soon as we got to our camp spot, while the rest of the family was setting up the tent, I started filling my pockets with sunstones. I spotted them all over the ground. They were literally everywhere! These are the low grade sunstones, but still a pretty, translucent pale yellow.

The next day we started out early while it was cool. We chose to pay $200 to sort through a load of mined rubble that hopefully contained some of the nicer sunstones. We were looking for stones with “schiller,” which is the pinkish sheen the copper inclusions make, as well as red and green sunstones, which are much more rare.  It took the four of us about 4 hours to go through the pile. We found a dozen pieces with schiller and a bunch more nice-sized lower-grade pale yellow stones.

While sorting, we had another visit from an unusual creature popping out of the rubble — a very large cartoonish bug unlike anything we had ever seen before. (Check out the picture!) With the internet’s help, I’ve been able to identify it as a Jerusalem Cricket. Even though it was only the middle of June, it was extremely hot down there with absolutely no shade. The second time I applied sunblock, I forgot to ask someone to apply it to the back of my shoulders and got sunburned! So if possible you may want to consider going there in May or October.

The evenings were magical, as we were able to see the night sky without any light pollution and with a horizon that stretched for miles. It was also great physical therapy to bend our heads up to look at the stars after bending our heads down all day to look for sunstones!

Camping at the Spectrum mine is free, and they even have flush toilets and showers. They also have a couple of tee pees and some cabins for rent, and they waive the fee to stay in these if you pay to dig. You can also camp and gather sunstones in the public collection area right next door. The various private mining claims comprise 20 acres within the 2 square miles of public collection area on BLM land.  The public collection area, however, has no water and pit toilets.

If you’re a rockhound or a parent looking for a fun road trip/activity to share with your kids, I highly recommend this trip! Just remember to take sunblock (and apply it liberally!), work gloves, some form of shade and a bucket to put your finds.

Crystals and stones can be so healing. I get an uplifting feeling from the sunstones. Many people believe that the crystal healing properties of Oregon sunstone include, leadership, optimism, good will and good luck.



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Rock Story Contest 2017

All of us at The Fossil Cartel love a great story. We could tell you stories for days about all the rocks and goodies we have in our store. That got us thinking, we bet you have great stories about your own collection of fossils, minerals, crystals, and other rock specimens. Choose just one story to tell us and you could win The Fossil Cartel Storytellers Contest.

We’re giving away a thunder egg, the book, “Gem Trails of Oregon” by Garret Romaine, and a $50 gift card to The Fossil Cartel for the 1st prizewinner! The first and second runner up will each get a $10 gift card.

Do you have a story about a stone or fossil in your collection that is funny, spiritual, unique, or just awesome? It is your time to be a storyteller and share your story with all of us at The Fossil Cartel, our fans and social media followers!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Tell us a story about a stone or fossil in your own collection.
  2. You can either write your story in less than 300 words in a Word document or PDF, OR you can record a video telling your story in less than 3 minutes, upload it to YouTube and email us the link. Make sure to send a picture of the stone or fossil in your story. If you’re submitting a YouTube video link, make sure to show your stone or fossil.
  3. Our team at The Fossil Cartel will pick a winner based off how unique and interesting your story is.
  4. Please submit your Word document, PDF, or YouTube link May 1 – June 1, 2017 to
  5. We will notify the winners on June 7, 2017.

When you submit your document or YouTube link you give The Fossil Cartel permission to showcase your submission on our blog and social media pages including Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Also by entering this contest you opt-in to our email list.

No purchase is necessary and the 1st prize is valued at $79, and the first and second runners up prizes are valued at $10 each.

Contest presented by:

The Fossil Cartel
333 SW Taylor Street

Portland, OR 97204

Again, please submit your Word document, PDF, or YouTube link May 1 – June 1, 2017 to


Here’s an example of a written story submission:

“Back when I was in high school I was part of the most rewarding and amazing team in an organization called DECA (an association of marketing students).  There were 18 of us on the state officer team and we were all in our junior or senior year of high school. All of us were from different cities and towns throughout the state of Washington. We became a family after spending a year traveling around the state together. When the year was over one of my fellow state officers gave each of us a carved heart stone from The Fossil Cartel. He did this because we would consistently refer to our experiences as DECA love and would make a heart shape with our hands.

17 years have gone by and I still have the picture jasper heart from The Fossil Cartel. It has traveled with me to different corners of the US and has had many homes starting with my college dorm room. It now is next to my bed in my side table in the first home my husband and I purchased this year. I cherish this picture jasper heart stone as it carries a bit of nostalgia and memories I never want to forget.”

-Meagan H.

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Denver Gem and Mineral Show 2016




All August I was dreaming of being at the Denver Gem and Mineral show in September and finding beautiful treasures to bring back. It’s a highlight of my year and now that time has come and passed. It was wonderful as usual. There was only one year it wasn’t so great: when the area experienced heavy flooding and many of the vendors’ booths were under water!

Now we’re tasked with unpacking everything, getting it out on the floor and on our website. It’s like Christmas for us – unwrapping all the goodies! See below for a list of some of the new booty.

Besides the beautiful weather in Denver, the only other thing that stood out for me this year was an experience one of the vendors shared with us. The Schlanskers have been around a long time and are a large wholesale business. It’s a family business started by Mr. Schlansker, who was later joined by his retired school principal wife, her sister, and now the grown children. Speaking of children, I remember one year at the Denver Show when Mrs. Schlansker held my infant daughter so I could have my hands free while I selected merchandise. 14 years later, she shares pictures of her grandchildren with us and we get to know her children who will probably eventually take over the business.

The Schlanskers have been very successful and have grown their business into a big operation. They also run a tight ship; they cross their t’s and dot their I’s. They are hard-working, honest, tax-paying people. Mr. Schlansker travels a lot to buy minerals and fossils from all over the world. In many countries, using cash is more effective and practical than credit cards and money orders. A week before the show, the Schlanskers got notice that the main bank they do business with (one of the biggest banks in the country) had closed all their accounts with no given reason. They could only speculate it had something to do with the Patriot Act due to their seemingly suspicious dealings with cash and all the traveling. Apparently the banks are not able to differentiate between diamonds and semi-precious minerals like we sell, and are afraid anyone dealing with cash and stones of any kind is a potential terrorist and/or money launderer.  Not only was it very disruptive and a great hardship for them to suddenly lose all their bank accounts for no reason, it was also invalidating. When you’re a good person, doing the right thing, you’d expect people and institutions to treat you with respect. This must have felt like a slap in the face. They told us other vendors have had similar experiences, and they suggested we create a Patriot Act compliance policy to post on our website as well.  Hopefully, they will find another bank that wants to do business with them and take their money.

Here’s a little list and some pics of some of the goodies we brought back from Denver. Please be patient with us as it takes weeks to get all unpacked and out on the floor.

  • huge smoky quartz clusters
  • all sizes of great single, unpolished  quartz points including large
  • tumbled larimar
  • hand polished small green kyanite,
  • flat sardonyx small tile-like pieces
  • sardonxyx spheres
  • all sorts of great massage wands
  • shattuckite jewelry
  • super 7 jewelry
  • small kunzite
  • ruby crystals
  • small sapphire eggs and hearts
  • lots of sulfur specimens from two diff. locations
  • great ruby earrings
  • lots of obsidian-sm. sheen obsidian spheres and palm stones, rainbow obsidian spheres and hearts
  • fossil starfish
  • different ammonites from Madagascar
  • bright light green serpentine marbles
  • aqua aura points and a few clusters
  • aurora quartz points and clusters
  • small meteorites from a different location
  • many diff. size fluorite slabs
  • lots of great soothing stones
  • gemmy chrysoprase, rhodochrosite and larimar  beaded necklaces
  • cut and polished coprolites
  • mini selenite lamps with LEDs
  • quartz, amethyst and rose quartz wands
  • shungite pyramids
  • kunzite pendants
  • large polished garnet crystals
  • labradorite bookends
  • men’s rings
  • blue kyanite in quartz
  •  large and medium rough rose quartz
  • Fluorite, sodalite, rose quartz and carnelian bowls
  • A grade tumbled ruby in zoisite,
  • , etc., etc…….


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Finding Dendrites in Germany

Rockhounding is great for many reasons. One is that it takes you places you wouldn’t normally go. Whenever I travel, I try and recall if I know about any cool stones that come from the area. In May I went to Southern California for a wedding and remembered there is a famous tourmaline mine in San Diego County! We had a great time driving into the remote mountains and digging for tourmaline the morning of the wedding.


Our most recent incidental rockhounding trip was a dream come true. We got to dig for one of my all-time favorite rocks, manganese dendrites in limestone in Germany. I’ve been selling these unique rocks for 27 years and always yearned to see what it was like there. The main purpose of our trip to Europe was to attend a family reunion outside Munich. The dendrites are found in a region of northern Bavaria which was a couple hours out of the way from the rest of our itinerary. The dendrite location is usually listed as Solnhofen, a small town, so we headed there from southern Bavaria on a warm sunny day. On the way we stopped for lunch at the nearest small city, Eichstaett, and discovered there is a quarry just outside the city where you can dig for Jurassic fossils, and also find dendrites. All the people digging there were only interested in fossils, so we looked through the giant pile of castoff rocks. We had a blast finding rough dendrites in various sizes, and even found some water bug fossils (Saccocoma). Follow this link if you’d like to learn more about the region, where they’ve been mining limestone since Roman times for building purposes — and where they found the first Archaeopteryx fossil!


We then headed to the nearby town of Solnhofen, where most of the limestone tile businesses are located, and found a rock shop next to the train station selling prepared cut dendrites. They look a lot better when they are cut into squares or rectangles. It makes them look more like a scene in a framed picture. The store owner, Guenter, was very friendly and made us a wholesale deal for cut dendrites, so now we have our largest selection ever of cut and rough dendrites in our store. Guenter noticed my husband’s pyritized German ammonite pendant and asked if we had more like it to trade him for dendrites. Even in Germany where they come from, people seek out these particular ammonites because they’re so awesome and rare. We still have a good stock of those at the store, so get some while you can! Click here to see some on our website.


Our journey next brought us to the picturesque small medieval city of Noerdlingen on the “Romantic Road” through Bavaria.  The walled city center was the backdrop for the movie “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” when Charlie and Willy Wonka fly out of the factory in the glass elevator. Our hotel in the city center had ammonite fossils in the floor tiles. After that, we kept seeing ammonites in the floors in other places we visited, including Verona, Italy — right in the sidewalks! Verona’s Roman amphitheater was built of pinkish marble containing ammonites, too. It’s interesting what you see when you keep your eyes open.


To learn more about dendrites, click here to read one of our older blog posts. Find out how they trick people and how they’re formed. Our dendrite search brought us not only fine dendrite specimens, but a fun adventure off the tourist track. Do a little research before your next trip and you might have some different, unexpected adventures!

  • Entrance to fossil dig. Look how big the it area is!

Kent's find

On the road near the dig, we noticed this house that was covered in dendritic limestone.
On the road near the dig, we noticed this house that was covered in dendritic limestone.
Top of the heap
Top of the heap
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The Traveling Gemstone

That Gemstone Came From Far Away

Working at a store that sells gemstones and minerals, I have come to realize something: those rocks sure do like to travel! It would be very interesting to know to what extent, much like the “Where’s George” dollar bill tracking system, however with stones one can only imagine.

Here’s what I’ve observed: many minerals are mined from well-known sources like Hunan Province in China, or Minas Gerais, Brazil. After being recovered from the ground a stone may follow many different paths, depending on whether it will be sold as a mineral specimen, or made into jewelry.

Specimens can be sold in their country of origin, but more often travel to gem and mineral trade shows far from home. Their first stop may include Tucson, Denver, or Las Vegas. From the shows they are sold to wholesalers or retailers who usually live elsewhere in the country, or the world. A stone in The Fossil Cartel could have traveled a great distance to find it’s human companion, but the adventure doesn’t always stop there! Rock shop enthusiasts from out of town frequently buy gemstones on vacation or business trips, then take them to another city or country altogether. This is especially entertaining if someone is taking the rock back to its source. I once sold a piece of rainbow fluorite from China to a customer that was sending it to China as a gift. If no other detours were involved, that fluorite went from China to Tucson, From Tucson to Portland, and then back to China!

Where Do the Gemstones Go?

A gemstone in a piece of Jewelry usually has more stops on the world tour. A facet-grade clear topaz from Brazil may go to Thailand for heat treatment as well as cutting and polishing. From there, the gemstone could travel to another country to be put into a ring or pendant setting. Likewise, a ruby from Mogok, Myanmar may make its way to a Swiss auction by way of Germany. By the time the gemstone makes it to a retail store, they have often traveled thousands of miles.

Sometimes you come across a gemstone that is obviously from somewhere else, but you found it far from its source with no idea how it got there. For example, I was agate hunting on a beach in California a few years ago and found a star sapphire cabochon. Needless to say I was delighted! Being harder than the other rocks on the beach, it had only a few minor abrasions. I still wonder how long it sat there, covered by sand and pebbles, before I picked it up. I could venture a guess that it was mined in Sri Lanka and had been lost by its previous owner, but the rest is a mystery.

I also think about all of the stones native to Oregon that are taken home by tourists visiting Portland. I get to see sunstones, opal, thundereggs, and petrified wood start their own journey from The Fossil Cartel…perhaps around the world!

Gemstones and where they come from