Arizona: One of The Best States For Rockhounding
Arizona, The Grand Canyon State, is obviously no stranger to rocks and gemstones. Arizona is one of the highest caliber rockhounding states and receives visitors from all corners of the world in search of Arizona rocks, gemstones, minerals and fossils which find themselves scattered across this geologic treasure trove.
There's a reason that one of the largest gem and mineral shows in the world is held in Arizona. Every winter in Tucson, Arizona, exhibitors from all over the world come together to show off their collections of rocks, gemstones and minerals at the Tucson Gem And Mineral Show.
This diverse southwestern state even has two national parks dedicated to its rocks: Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park. As you can see, Arizona is the real deal when it comes to rocks, gems, and minerals.
Arizona is a worldwide provider for well known gemstones and minerals even in the commercial industry. Holding some of the largest copper deposits in the world underneath its rocky soils, Arizona has continued to produce vast amounts of copper for the world market for the past century. With a new mine in progress as we speak, the Resolution Copper Mine. Arizona also continues to be a primary supplier of Amethyst, Peridot, and Turquoise to the world gemstone market.
Rockhounding In Arizona
For casual rockhounds visiting or living in Arizona; the vast amounts of public lands, coupled with the rich diversity in rocks, gemstones, and minerals make Arizona a true rockhounds dream.
If you're interested in the rock collecting hobby, are trying to figure out where to go rockhounding in Arizona, or are just interested in learning more, you're in the right place!
Keep reading to gain a little more knowledge on rocks, gemstones, and minerals of Arizona and where you can go find some yourself if you are feeling adventurous.
The Rocks And Minerals Of Arizona
Arizona is home to the Petrified Wood National Park, and if seeing this unique mineral isn’t on your to-do list while in Arizona, it certainly should be.
This National Park offers an unsurpassed viewing opportunity, while the collection of specimens is strictly prohibited. This rule is what makes this rockhound destination the perfect place to see and appreciate the petrified wood, as it has not been tainted by frivolous collectors.
In the park, entire petrified trees can be seen laying across the badlands, decorated by a dizzying array of colors. From root wads to branches, you can see petrified wood in many forms in the National Park.
Petrified wood is formed when ancient logs are buried and then the decomposition process leads to the wood being replaced with silica and trace minerals. This leaves behind an individually unique array of colors throughout these preserved pieces of wood. The beauty of these fossilized gemstones makes them a very popular choice for rock tumbling enthusiasts. You can read more about tumbling petrified wood here!
A unique and cultural rock of the state of Arizona is called the Apache Tear. These are rounded black pebbles that are less than a few inches across. They are a rounded obsidian volcanic black glass core surrounded by a rough black outer surface.
As local Apache legend has it, there was a standoff between Apache warriors and an outfit of the U.S. Cavalry. Rather than face defeat, the Apache warriors took them and their horses leaping over the edge of a cliff to their death below at a location now known as Apache Leap outside of the town of Superior Arizona. The women and children who witnessed the event cried tears that then formed into the stones which we now call Apache Tears.
Arizona is proud to contain the biggest mine of this precious gemstone in the world, peridot. Contained entirely within a single desert mesa on the San Carlos Indian Reservation, near the town of what else but, Peridot, is the primary world supply of the gemstone. It is estimated that the San Carlos Indian Reservation supplies 80%-90% of the world supply that is mined only by San Carlos Tribal members.
This bright yellow-green gemstone has been treasured for ages. It is the birthstone for the month of August and is a common gemstone among other jewelry. It is said to bring wearers of the stone peace, success, and good luck.
The Grand Canyon state is also a primary producer for yet another of precious Arizona gemstones commonly known by the many. The Four Peaks Amethyst Mine produces some of the highest quality of the gemstone and is the only active mine in the United States.
The clear purple gemstone mined from this specific mine is characterized by its unique red flash when observed through light. The mine must have been known to early Native Americans, as amethyst arrowheads have been found.
Amethyst has been mined on and off since the early 1940’s. The mine follows an angular vein of quartz on the side of the rough mountaintops. The mine is contained fully within a National Forest Wilderness area and the only access for miners is by foot or helicopter.
None other than the state gemstone of Arizona, turquoise is an iconic stone and color of southwest folklore. There are several areas across the state that produce coveted specimens of the gemstone. Each mine produces its each unique variant characterized by different shades of color, levels of patterning, and intermixed minerals.
Turquoise is a coveted stone and color for much of the native american jewelry that is continued to be produced through authentic methods to this day. The jewelry is treasured worldwide.
Where Can Turquoise Be Found in Arizona?
The gemstone is often found in areas near large copper deposits, which are also abundant across Arizona. These veins of turquoise often break the surface and can be found by rockhounds in the low desert to mid elevation ranges in several areas across the state.
But be careful when buying turquoise rocks or jewelry from unrepeatable dealers, as some will attempt to pass dyed howlite off as genuine turquoise. For tips on how to tell the difference you can read my post, 3 Tips On How To Tell If Turquoise Is Real Or Fake.
Arizona, being home to a diverse variety of crystals, also contains a wide distribution of geodes. Geodes are rocks which contained hollowed out cavities lined with a spectacular display of fine crystals.
Geodes begin when a hollowed rock forms. This can happen from an air bubble in a volcanic rock, or a mineralized animal burrow or tree root. When mineral laden water leaks into the hollowed cavity, crystals can begin to grow inside this rock and form a geode.
Where Can Geodes Be Found in Arizona?
In Arizona, geodes can be found in many places across the state and contain a large diversity of crystals. Quartz geodes are some of the most common. Though Arizona has produced a dazzling array including brilliant purple amethyst specimens.
Arizona is no stranger to the wild disease referred to as “Gold Fever” that seems to overcome people blinded by the thought of newfound riches. Though Arizona has produced much less of this element than other states, it has killed many who believed they could find it.
As the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine has it, somewhere deep in the rugged Superstition Mountains of the hostile Sonoran Desert lies a literal Gold Mine. Many have tried, failed, and even perished in pursuit of this supposed treasure. The quest continues to this day despite no proof of gold ever being found within the Superstition Mountains.
An astounding type of chalcedony, fire agate is a semi-precious gemstone found only in northern Mexico and the southwest United States. Arizona is one of the places that offers world class opportunity to see and collect this brilliant gemstone.
The gemstone was formed by fairly recent volcanic activity. It is characterized by dazzling arrays of colors in various patterns of depth into the stone. The most representative specimens contain deep iridescence of reds and browns, hence its fiery name.
Where To Go Rockhounding In Arizona (5 Best Rock Collecting Sites)
Safford, AZ – Fire Agate
Near the town of Safford, Arizona lies your ticket to finding fire agate, a brilliant gemstone found only in the southwest. Though fire agate can be found at a few locations across the state, the Round Montain Rockhound Area on BLM land near the towns of Safford and Duncan is your best avenue for collection.
At this BLM site, camping is allowed, though four wheel drive is recommended and no real amenities exist. The gemstone can be found laying on the surface, scattered amongst the array of desert rock. To the observant and slow walker among this Sonoran desert landscape, a fire agate or two can be found.
In addition to fire agate, geodes and quartz can also be found scattered amongst the desert at this site.
Payson, AZ – Crystals at Diamond Point
Some of the quartz crystals found at the Diamond Point outside of Payson, Arizona are so clear that they have been compared to herkimer diamonds. This site is open to collection from October 1 through February 18.
The nearly perfect shape and clarity quartz crystals at this site can be found sitting on the surface at times, but can also be found by digging via handtools. Small fossils can be found among the crystals as well.
The site can be accessed via highway 260 east out of the town of Payson, AZ. Turn north on forest road 64, which is approximately 12-13 miles east of town and just before the development of Kohl’s ranch.
Woodruff, AZ – Petrified Wood
The state mineral of Arizona, petrified wood, is mostly contained and protected within Petrified National Forest near the town of Holbrook, Arizona. Having been ravaged by collectors through the years, it is sparse on lands where collection is open. It can still be seen an collected south of the town of Woodruff, Arizona. An Arizona State Land permit is required to be on much of the land in this area, though is open to collection.
Small pieces of the wood are best found on the mesas surrounding the river valley which then runs into the town of Woodruff. The wood can be found scattered amongst other rocks along the surface and a large variety of colors are present.
Wickenburg, AZ – Burro Creek Rockhounding site
Looking to do it all in one location? Show up here and there is a large variety of rocks you could pick up on one single hike. Look no further than the Burro Creek Rockhounding site on BLM land about 60 miles northwest of the town of Wickenburg, AZ.
This is one of the best Arizona rockhounding sites for diversity and has a plethora of high quality Arizona rocks, gem, and minerals. Rockhounders visiting this site can stumble upon opalite, agates, pastelite, patterned jasper, apache tears, and other specimens of interest.
Payson, AZ – Fossils at Indian Gardens Paleo Site
The Indian Gardens Paleo Site contains a large variety and density of small invertebrate shelled organisms in the limestone and sandstone layers. Remnants of the ancient past when the limestone was deposited by warm oceans of previous eras.
This is a well labeled site off of highway 260 approximately 12-13 miles east from the town of Payson, AZ. It is located just before the small development of Kohl’s Ranch on highway 260. It is very near the turn-off to the Diamond Point crystal site, but is on the south side of highway 260 and is labeled with a sign reading “Paleo Site”. The site is open to casual collection of a reasonable number of specimens for personal use.
There is a parking lot and trail to the collection site. There is even a kiosk with a visual guide to many species of fossils that can be found at the site. This can be very informative to collectors of all experience levels.
I really hope you're able to get out and explore the unique natural resource treasures my home state of Arizona possess. It's a geologic melting pot of rock, minerals, gemstones and fossils that is sort of Mecca for any novice or dedicated rock and mineral collector alike.
I highly recommend visiting Arizona to utilize our public lands and engage in some serious rockhounding. Some of my favorite rocks to find are fire agates and crystals. My go to Arizona rockhounding sites for these are the aforementioned locations at Diamond Point and Round Mountain, woops, secrets out! Both sites are located on public lands so camping is allowed at or nearby. Always a plus for myself.
Pick up a copy of Gem Trails Of Arizona, check out some of our information on this site, and do some research of your own to get all the knowledge you need to make the most of a rock hounding trip that could extend to all four corners of this geologically diverse state.