- Education and Science»
- Geology & Atmospheric Science
How to Hunt for Rare and Beautiful Rocks and Minerals
Being a successful rock and gemstone hunter requires a knowledge of of the specific rock or gemstones and the type of environment they are found in.
Just saying that you're going to go out and find some turquoise today and then looking everywhere for it will not make you successful at finding turquoise.
If you really wanted to find turquoise, you would first need to learn all you could about turquoise and where it can be found. If you are from the United States, you may want to start in Arizona or Nevada.
Next you would want to find a location that has heavy copper deposits because copper is one of the minerals that are required to make turquoise.
You may wish to find your own deposits, however you will be much more successful if you look at locations where turquoise has already been found.
Many of these locations are off limits but are sometimes open to the public for special occasions. For example, once a year rock hounds are given the opportunity to hunt for rare, highly prized Bisbee turquoise at the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee. For a small fee rock hounds are given 2 hours to search for this rare and beautiful turquoise by searching through freshly turned tailings from the mine.
Best Place to Find Local Rockhounding Sites
How do you find out about these great events and wonderful locations? The best place to start is your local gem or mineral club.
Your local gem or mineral club can be a valuable resource for finding rocks and gems in your area.
These clubs have "old timers" that are happy to pass on their knowledge and experience to members of the club.
Rock and mineral clubs can also make special arrangements to get into areas that are normally closed to the public, providing once in a lifetime opportunity.
One of my favorite places I was able to visit was the Johnson Mine located 65 miles east of Tucson, Arizona.
This mine is usually closed to visitors however at the time I was a member of the Old Pueblo Lapidary Club. They had made special arrangements to let us visit and collect mineral specimens at the mine.
I was able to find some wonderful Chrysocolla in quartz with veins of copper running through it.
In one section of the mine I was picking up pieces of what appeared to be limestone and found a piece that was very heavy for it's size. Taking my rock hammer I broke the rock in half exposing some beautiful clusters of Pyrite with crystals approximately 1/4" in size.
There were quartz crystals specimens in beautiful clusters specimens also found at the mine.
Not only did we get the opportunity to collect some amazing mineral specimens we also were able to learn about the mine from one and it's history from the workers at the mine.
Don't forget to check the internet to look for information about local rockhounding sites.
An online list of over 900 U.S. Gem, Mineral, Lapidary, Fossil, rock clubs, guilds, associations, and societies has been compiled and maintained by rockhound Karen Williams and can be found at rockhounds.com.
The Greatest Chance for Success
Taking advantage of the work others have already done is one of the easiest ways to be successful at collecting rocks and gemstones.
Here are just a handful of places you can pay to collect your favorite rock or gemstone:
Herkimer Diamonds in New York
Herkimer Diamonds aren't really diamonds at all but beautiful clear quartz crystals that look like diamonds to the untrained eye.
You can collect Herkimer Diamonds at the Ace of Diamonds Mine and Campground.
The season opens April 1st and ends October 31st.
Mining fees per day:
$4.50 age 7 and under
$9.50 age 8 and up
$15 per campsite for 2 people
Plus $1 for each additional person
Plus $4 for a site with electricity
Spectrum Sunstone Mine, located near Plush, Oregon offers the opportunity to find some fantastic Oregon Sunstone.
The mine offers a pile of unprocessed ore that you may collect from for free all day. If you wish to collect a second day, adults are charged $50 per day and children are free.
There are special areas that are provided for those who wish to do some serious collecting and are willing to pay the additional fees.
Cabin and tipi accommodations are available if you wish to pay to stay overnight.
Woodward Ranch Plume Agate in Texas
One of the most famous agates in the United States is the Woodward Ranch Red Plume Agate. This is simply amazing material and it's no wonder it's one of the favorites among collectors.
For those who don't want to go out collecting for themselves, there is a gift shop and special specimen area where you can purchase the rocks that are found on the ranch.
The Woodward Ranch is one of the few Texas ranches open to the public. This is a fully operational cattle ranch!
There is a $5.00 fee to go rock hunting on the ranch.
Diamond Collecting in Arkansas
Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in the United States that you can collect diamonds. Unlike some gemstone collecting locations there is no fee to keep what you find. If you find it, it's yours!
Fees are very affordable and are good for the entire day!
Currently the fees are:
Children ages 6 through 12: $4
Children under 6 are FREE
Organized groups of 15 or more get a special half off discount if they notify the park in advance.
Precious Opal in Northern Nevada
Virgin Valley in northern Nevada is the home of some of the most beautiful fire opal available in the United States.
The Bonanza Opal Mines offers rock collectors the opportunity to collect some of these outstanding opals.
The fee is $60.00 per person per day. Children 12 and under are FREE with paid adult.
Public Rock Collecting Locations
Many of the prime rock and gem collecting areas in the Western Untied States have been closed to collecting due to recent legislation declaring many of these areas national parks and monuments.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages many areas that are ideal for rock and gem collecting. Some of these areas are set aside specifically for rock collecting.
Be aware that many of these locations require a fee and that there are usually specific regulations regarding the collecting of rocks and gems.
Along with specific regulations imposed by the BLM, there are also regulations that are imposed by states such as how much material may be removed.
The following are a few areas that may still be open for collecting. Be sure to check the latest regulations to make sure collecting is still allowed in these areas.
Topaz and Other Gems at Topaz Mountain in Utah
Topaz Mountain in Utah is a great place to find the Utah State Gemstone, Topaz. There are also quite a number of other gemstones available for collecting including amethyst, beryl, bixbyite, garnet, hematite, opal, and pseudobrookite.
Do not collect on marked claims.
Editors Note: I recently moved near Topaz Mountain. I can't wait to start exploring!
Topaz Mountain, Utah
A View of Topaz Mountain
Fire Agate in Arizona
The Black Hills Rockhound Area has been set aside by the BLM for collecting of Fire Agate.
Fire Agate has exhibits flashes of light very similar to opal however it is much harder and more durable than precious opal.
Easiest and Least Expensive Method for Collecting Rocks and Gems
There is nothing like the thrill of travelling with your friends to remote locations and finding wonderful rocks and gems. Unfortunately these trips can be quite costly with no guarantee that you will ever find anything.
For those who are unable to travel, by far the easiest and least expensive method for collecting rocks and gems is to do it online. Online rock collecting can be fun and exciting and costs much less than the travel costs associated with going on site to collect.
One of the best places to get your rocks and gems is on eBay. If you would like to browse the entire category it is easiest to get to it by clicking on "Browse by category" from the home page of eBay.
Next click on "See all categories". At this point you will be given a huge number of categories to choose from. Scroll down until you see "Collectibles" and then select "More" under that category.
Now scroll down until you find Rocks, Fossils & Minerals.
From here you will be able to see the listing for that category or you can continue down to the following subcategories.
- Crystals & Mineral Specimens
- Lapidary Materials
- Meteorites & Tektites
- Stone Carvings
- Merchandise & Memorabilia
Now that you have found your area of interest it's time to start hunting!
Finding Locations on Your Own
If your not looking for anything in particular and just want the opportunity to find something new here are some great places to look:
Road Cuts: These are prime locations to look for rocks, gems and fossils. Be sure to obey all traffic laws and check your local regulations before collecting in these areas.
Steep Slopes and Washes: Look for newly exposed soil and rock.
Rest Areas: Look for rocks in the surrounding area as you stretch your feet. You may be surprised what's waiting for you!
Landscape Companies: Local landscape companies often have some amazing rocks that come from the local area to collect. Many companies will let you collect by the five gallon bucket for very reasonable rates. I have found some wonderful deals this way, sold part on eBay and kept the best for myself!
Local Rockhounding Surprises: Sometimes You Just Get Lucky
For consistent results finding rocks and gems it takes a good knowledge of the type of rock you are looking for and the local geography.
Fortunately there are times you just get lucky. I live less than a mile where luck struck a local optometrist. Note: I've moved since the writing of this article.
In February 2000, Dr. Sheldon Johnson was leveling a hill on his property in St. George, Utah.
As he was working an object appeared that looked like a dinosaur track. Fortunately he stopped to investigate.
It was later relieved that Dr. Sheldon had uncovered a location where thousands of tracks were made by dinosaurs as well as other animals.
This discovery contained some of the oldest and best-preserved tracks in the world. The discovery contains one of only 5 sitting dinosaur impressions in the world. The discovery also shows signs of the dinosaurs swimming.
The Latest Track Discovery
In 2012 the road outside the museum was widened to make room for increased traffic. The cut on the far side of the road contained additional discoveries that have yet to be investigated.
As you can see from the map, The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is located close to a large number of homes (including mine!).
What is Chert?
Chert is just another name for a fine-grained microcrystalline or Chalcedony. These crystals are so small that they can only be truly identified using a microscope.
Other names for Chert are Jasper, Agate, Chrysoprase, Flint, Silica and Sard.
While all the names represent similar materials, the names Agate, Chrysoprase, Sard and Silica are generally used to describe specimens that are translucent or show light through them. Somethimes these minerals are nearly clear.
Jasper, Flint and Chert generally refer to specimens that have impurities that make them opaque with little to no light traveling through the stone.
Each of these minerals have high amounts of silicon dioxide (pure quartz) and are very similar in composition.
Other forms of chalcedony are Petrified Wood, Dinosaur Bone and Agatized Coral.
Note: The "Chert" noted in this article would be classified by most rockhounds as Jasper due to it's color and clarity.
A Local Find of Jasper, Agate, Chert
Recently I saw a protrusion of rock that extended past the sandy / muddy soil of a road cut that was within walking distance of my home. The soil surrounding the rock looked like it was ancient volcanic ash nearly void of rocks of any kind.
After close inspection I found it to be a nice vein of what appears to be Chert that extended for about 20 feet along the road cut.
Chert is not that common in this area because most of the rock in the city is red or orange sandstone from the Jurassic period.
In fact most of Saint George City is build on Jurassic, Triassic, and Permian period sedimentary bedrock.
Although most of the rock in the area is red sandstone or lava rock, this red rock was extending out of what looked like old grey volcanic ash and did not not look like sandstone at all.
The red rock ended up being some very nice Chert indeed! The was highly silicated making it almost like glass when you break it. Extreme care had to be taken when handling the material because it could cut you very easily.
This beautiful red Chert had streaks of clear agate as well as lines of black, yellow and some green but most of it was a bright rusty red color indicating it was probably high in iron.
This nice solid Chert that looks like it would be wonderful material for making arrowheads (knapping) and of course cabochons. I can't wait to make some cabs out of it.
The natural cracks that had formed in the Chert were covered in druzy, tiny crystals that sparkle in the sunlight.
It makes me wonder what forces came together to create such a unique pocket of material in such a small area.
I was able to collect all I will ever want and there's still plenty for whoever wants to get some. In fact, you can't even tell that I removed any stone at all because the deposit is so large.
Here are some pictures of some of the Chert I collected: