Where To Find Obsidian In California
Obsidian, that attractive volcanic glass, is common in the Western states. With California’s enormous area and high geological diversity, it’s no wonder that you can find obsidian in so many places.
For those looking to find obsidian in California, read on and we’ll go over some of the best spots to get yourself a chunk of volcanic glass!
Warner Mountains/Modoc National Forest
The Warner Mountains are home to four different mines, each home to a unique form of Obsidian. All can be found off of Highway 395 in Northeastern California.
Before you get too excited, you need to keep one thing in mind: Collection in this area isn’t open to everyone. You’ll need to obtain a permit. The permit is easy to obtain, but you should plan on getting it ahead of time if you head out here.
These mines are one of the best places to look for obsidian in the northern part of California, and they have some shockingly beautiful forms of the mineral available for those who are willing to look.
You can find precise directions right here.
1. Pink Lady Mine
Popular for pink obsidian, a rare form of the mineral with a light red to bright pink coloration. While the pink obsidian is tempting, not every vehicle is going to be able to make the attempt.
This location is going to require a vehicle with good clearance, and having a 4×4 comes strongly recommended. It’s one of the two mines that are quite hard to reach, the other being the Middle Fork Davis Creek area.
There are no nearby facilities, and few people venture out this far. Plan appropriately with water, food, and emergency supplies in case something happens. You’re out on your own when you begin a journey like this, so bring a buddy as well.
The adventure is well worth it, however, and finding pink obsidian specimens in the wild can be quite the adventure!
2. Rainbow Mine
The only one of the four mines which can be accessed with most vehicles is the Rainbow Mine. It’s still on a dirt road, but most cars will make it with some care. You should expect some damage to the road and a truck or SUV is still ideal.
At the site, you can find Rainbow Obsidian. This unique variety of volcanic glass has an iridescent shimmer due to inclusions. You may have to break a nodule to find out if it’s the right stuff.
Use gloves when breaking obsidian. The conchoidal fracture leads to a very sharp edge. With a large nodule you can produce cuts that need stitches or even cause permanent injury. It’s not a good idea to break a nodule in your hand without them.
This site is picked over more than the rest due to ease of access. If you have the vehicle for it, you may want to go to the Middle Fork Davis Creek Mine instead.
On the other hand, it’s also right up the road from the Lassen Creek Campground, so it’s a great spot for casual collectors or those who have kids.
3. Needles Mine
One of the more unique specimens of obsidian is the needles which come from the aptly named Needles Mine. These long, thin obsidian formations almost look like crystals, which is no neat trick for cooling magma after an eruption.
The needles range from a couple of inches to a foot or more, and this is one of the very few places in the world that they’ve been found.
The beginning of the road is relatively easy on vehicles, but the last few miles will require something with high clearance. You can hike the last few miles, but you’ll add hours of walking and have to bring your haul back with you.
There are no facilities associated with the Needles Mine, so plan accordingly.
4. Middle Fork Davis Creek
Most people will be able to make the trek to the Middle Fork Davis Creek mine. You’ll have to walk a bit if you don’t have a 4×4, but a ¼ mile trek is a small price to pay for the specimens you can pull from here.
This mine bears rainbow obsidian, alongside more common mahogany and black obsidian. It’s a great spot to go if you’re looking for larger rainbow specimens since it’s a bit harder to reach.
There have been some jaw-dropping specimens pulled from this area, it just requires a little more effort to walk them back to your car!
Deep in Inyo National Forest is a caldera that erupted in the past, leaving enormous amounts of obsidian scattered across a wide area. This area is collectively called Obsidian Dome, and it’s home to enormous boulders of obsidian
The landscape is scattered with boulders of the material. In some places, the landscape is scarred by past commercial mining operations. Many varieties of obsidian are found here, and it’s one of the most famous collecting spots in the world.
Since the Obsidian Dome is located in a National Forest, you’re free to collect small samples of minerals for yourself. It’s an ideal spot for rockhounds with a taste for obsidian.
There is one thing to be aware of: some of the trails in the area have a lot of pumice. That makes them a bit crumbly and soft, so the going will be a bit harder than it looks at first.
Of course, a bit of trouble on the trail shouldn’t be enough to stop you from enjoying this area to its fullest.
For those in the Southern part of California, you’re not out of luck! Obsidian Butte stands far south of San Diego, and it’s another area that is ripe for collectors looking to add a bit of volcanic glass to their specimens.
It’s not to be confused with Glass Butte, despite the fact that some people refer to Obsidian Butte as Glass Butte. It’s a confusing mess, but rest assured that Obsidian Butte is in Southern California, while Glass Butte is a site in Oregon.
The site almost encourages the private collection, even featuring a rockhounding page from the government.
This area contains a wide variety of different obsidian. Mahogany, rainbow, and even fire obsidian are present in the region and available to collect.
This area is unique for another reason: it sits on the shore of the Salton Sea. It makes for a strange atmosphere, volcanic glass jutting out along the shores of a lake dead from insane levels of salt.
The chance for a new adventure and rare specimens of obsidian make this area well worth the trip!