Rock Hounding Roundup
Digging in the dirt has never been more fun.
Millions of years of geological activity have made Nevada the perfect place for mining gold and other precious minerals. They have also formed countless rockhounding sites loaded with unimaginable diversity. Getting down—and maybe dirty—in the hills of Nevada is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most rewarding pastimes you’ll ever find.
Just west of Ely on Highway 50, Garnet Hill is an unexpected gem. When prospectors first came to Nevada, they kept turning up red gemstones in the mountains between Ely and Elko. Though originally assumed to be rubies—hence the name of the Ruby Mountains—the stones turned out to be garnets, and pretty sizable ones at that. Garnet Hill is a Bureau of Land Management area replete with an accessible bathroom and four picnic sites. But let’s be honest, you didn’t come here for the picnic—you came for the stones. The hills are full of almandine garnets, which are generally a rich dark color. Flashes of red often burn within the multifaceted stones that can be found lying on the ground. You read that correctly; they can be found lying on the ground as well as in the rocks that populate the hillsides.
BLACK FIRE OPAL
The only place in North America you’ll find this very rare opalized prehistoric wood is in northwestern Nevada. It’s no wonder Virgin Valley black fire opal is the state gemstone. Opals are made when silica-packed solutions settle into cracks and voids, which can occur in rocks, tree branches, you name it. While spotting these gems can be tough at first, the folks at Bonanza, Rainbow Ridge, and Royal Peacock opal mines are all ready to assist you in your hunt. These mines charge a digging fee, but with that you’ll get expert advice, and some offer free camping and other amenities.
Nevada has more turquoise mines than any other state. Rule of thumb: If you’re out and about and happen to find some turquoise-hued stones, chances are it probably is turquoise. There are more than 100 turquoise mines in Nevada, and while many are private, you can book with Otteson Brothers Turquoise in Tonopah and dig to your heart’s content at the famous Royston Mine. This is the very place that inspired the famous shade of blue that Tiffany & Co. uses as its signature hue.
Just east of Fallon at the Grimes Point turnoff, Wonderstone Mountain is easily spotted thanks to its orange hills capped by rhyolitic tuff. Due to the volcanic activity the area has witnessed, the unmistakable bands of red, orange, white, and brown are everywhere. The ground is covered in material of every color and size, so while a rock hammer could be useful, it’s not necessary. Once you have your fill of these multi-hued rocks, look for agate, green rhyolite, and even jasper, which have all been found in the area, too.
Some of the best rockhounding in southern Nevada lies north of Goldfield in a place called Gemfield. There, you can dig for chalcedony, agate, jasper, quartz, and countless other stones. Snag a few pocket-sized baubles or load actual buckets of finds for a small fee. Though the rest of the state is loaded with dig sites presenting this kind of diversity, Gemfield is special because so many types of rocks and minerals are found within