Remember! It is your responsibility to know the rockhounding laws and regulations for each site you visit. It is also your responsibility to verify and gain permission to visit each collection site that is mentioned on this website. Always respect private property!
Rockhounding In New Mexico
New Mexico is one of the archetypes of the American desert Southwest. The state is full of biological and geological diversity.
It also hosts millions of acres of public lands that are plentiful with a variety of recreational opportunities for all. Including a smorgasbord of rockhounding opportunities. Rare minerals seem to be found at every turn, including the famous turquoise deposits in the state.
Let’s take a deeper look into a tiny snapshot of the rich rockhounding diversity you can find in the “Land of Enchantment”.
New Mexico Rocks, Minerals, and Gemstones
1. Fossils Of New Mexico
One thing to be aware of: it is against the law to collect any “vertebrate-life” fossils in the state. Any vertebrate finds like dinosaurs or bony fish remain property of the state, and there are steep penalties for collecting them.
Invertebrate fossils, on the other hand, are legal to keep in New Mexico.
You’re looking for sedimentary layers of rock such as limestone. You can find these rocks on public land in many cases, and then search them for fossils. Invertebrate fossils are spread across the state, but there are some areas that are more specific.
Area-specific regulations may be different and may restrict the collection of fossils in specific areas. The New Mexico Bureau Of Geology And Mineral Resources is a great resource for making sure your finds stay legal.
Peridot is gem-quality Olivine. It forms beautiful translucent olive green gems that lend themselves well to faceting for jewelry. Worldwide distribution of peridot is fairly limited.
Nearly all of the commercial mining of peridot in the US occurs on one small Reservation in neighboring Arizona. New Mexico, in its plentiful opportunity, offers one of the few locations for collecting gem-quality peridot by the general public.
The gem is most often found in basalt flows in New Mexico. The olivine is brought up from under the earth by volcanic activity. The resulting basalt is cooled magma, but not every flow contains peridot. They’re still the best palace to start for the casual rockhound.
3. Petrified Wood
Petrified wood is created through the replacement of wood in ancient layers of stone. The cavity created is usually filled with a silica-based mineral. The most highly sought-after specimens are usually replaced with agate or opal.
The end result is usually a limb-cast, where the exterior of the stone looks much like the wood it replaces. Some of these are bright and colorful, such as the agatized conifer wood of Arizona, but common petrified wood is usually still a wooden color.
In New Mexico, its distribution can be isolated and patchy but it’s present in many corners of the state. There’s definitely enough for collectors hiding in the hills and creek beds of New Mexico, there’s just no large centralized location like the Petrified Forest of Arizona.
Since it’s such a huge collector’s item, many people want to know more. We’ve got you covered right here.
Azurite is best known for its namesake deep blue “azure” color, which seems to reflect the deep blue dusk hour skies of the desert southwest.
Azurite is a secondary formation, created when mineral-laden waters seep into copper ore deposits. The reaction creates the beautiful and variable shapes and colors of azurite. It’s usually found alongside copper ore in small quantities.
Azurite is reactive and a little bit unstable, at least compared to most collectible minerals.
When exposed to heat or humidity, the surfaces can weather away, leaving “plain” malachite. Highly valuable specimens are stored away in humidity and light-controlled areas free of fluctuations, and not on the mantle shelf.
5. Pecos Diamonds
Pecos Diamonds, like Herkimer Diamonds, are double-terminated quartz crystals. Not diamonds, in an unfortunate turn of events.
They differ from Herkimer Diamonds in their color. They’re generally opaque, ranging from off-white through to a rusty red. Some specimens even have hues of purple contained within them, but not quite on the level of amethyst.
These formations are unique to the Pecos Valley Region in southwest New Mexico. They form in old gypsum deposits. Once the fragile gypsum erodes it leaves scattered outcrops of “Pecos Diamonds” throughout the Pecos River Valley.
These unique and collectible specimens are only found in this region of New Mexico, making them a favorite among crystal collectors.
Fluorite, now known as a beautiful gemstone, was actually mined early on due to its ore compound, Fluorspar, being a highly used industrial manufacturing component.
New Mexico used to be home to industrial-scale mines dedicated to pulling Fluorspar from the Earth. Now there are many abandoned mines in western New Mexico, and a lot of them are located on public lands.
That’s good news for collectors!
Fluorite is quite easy to identify due to its unique geometric structure. It is the only common mineral that forms four directions of perfect cleavage, creating an eight-sided crystal.
The color of fluorite runs across a wide range. Most commonly, the primary colors are purples, greens, and aquamarine. That’s only the beginning, variable colors run deep in this particular mineral.
The term “fluorescence”, was derived from this gemstone. It was discovered early on, that fluorite exposed to UV glows with a blue-violet color. A good shortwave light is a valuable companion when you’re searching for fluorite, readily allowing you to make a field identification.
Where To Go Rockhounding In New Mexico
1. Rockhound State Park – Deming, NM
A guide to New Mexico rockhounding is hardly complete without mentioning the eponymous state park of the hobby.
Rockhound State Park is in southwestern New Mexico near the town of Deming.
It’s is one of only two state parks in the U.S. that allows and even encourages visitors to keep something from the park. The primary specimens remaining here are general jasper and small thundereggs.
Most of the obvious mineral veins have been picked clean along with much of the surface specimens since the area is designated for rockhounds. We do tend to strip the surface in popular collecting areas, and Rockhound State Park meets that classification.
While some parts are friendly to the beginner,, there are more remote sites that offer more plentiful collection opportunities. Of course, along with that comes challenges. These spots aren’t as picked over because they’re hard to get to.
Agates, quartz crystals, and opals have even been collected from here in the past. For the most part, it’s just a glorious myriad of silica-based minerals!
The state park amenities for campers and travelers make it a great camping spot or road-tripping stopover point as well.
2. Kilbourne Hole
In one of the more “rock-collecting-limited” areas of the state, the vast deserts of southeast New Mexico, you can actually find peridot.
Kilbourne Hole isn’t far from El Paso, Texas, or Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The chance to find peridot is a unique opportunity only found in this area of the state.
This is a trip best reserved for an AWD vehicle with decent clearance at a minimum, or better yet, a 4×4. Sandy desert roads can easily get a 2-wheel-drive vehicle stuck in dry or extremely wet conditions.
The wide volcanic crater is mainly composed of basalt. The igneous stone is what holds the treasures.
A good hammer and pick are definitely recommended. You can break the smaller rocks or dig deeper depending on what you want to do.
The Kilbourne Hole is easily found on Google Earth.
From Google Earth, the crater is even visible from high in the sky. There are dirt roads that run along the edge of the crater, allowing you easy access to many areas within.
The site is located approximately 40 air miles from both Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX.
3. Gila Fluorspar Mine District
Near the town of Gila, New Mexico near Silver City there are many old abandoned fluorspar mines located on Gila National Forest Public lands.
Many of these old mine sites offer the chance for rockhounds to collect specimens of fluorite. To access these old mines and prospects, travel north out of the town of Gila on Turkey Creek Road.
This road leaves the valley bottom and begins to climb up in the hills past a number of old mines and prospects overlooking the town. Many of them are visible from the road.
These mines are located on Gila National Forest and open for collecting.
Make sure you take some serious precautions, abandoned mines are dangerous. Move slowly,
Consider digging and scouring in old mine tailings or exposed cuts in the hillside. A US Forest Service map or USGS map will show many locations of these old mines and can be a vital tool if you are going to look for fluorite.
4. Shakespeare Ghost Town
South of Lordsburg, New Mexico there’s an old ghost town by the name of Shakspeare.
In its heyday, it was a rich mining town. Old mines exist all over the hills just west of Shakespeare. While little information exists on the specifics of the mines, word has it that you can easily find gems and minerals such as Azurite, Malachite, and Chrysocolla.
Once again, a USGS map will identify the locations of all the old mines! Try to find areas that have had recent digging activity if you are not quite sure where to start.
Note that active private property mining operations are still occurring in the area.
Having a GPS or map to ensure you are on public lands is a must. Careful preparation is necessary, but the location offers you a good shot at some rare specimens!
5. Desert Rose Mine
Located near the town of Bingham new Mexico, the Desert Rose Mine is located on private property and requires a very minimal fee to dig on site.
Fluorite, calcite, galena, smoky quartz, and barite are found in this mine suited for rockhounds of all experience levels.
To access this mine, you’ll want to visit the Blanchard Rock Shop in Bingham, New Mexico. It’s located about two hours south of Albuquerque on Highway 380 at mile marker 30.
At the shop, you can pay to visit the mine site which is behind the shop. They allow people to collect at the surface and dig among tailing piles. It’s another great spot to find a wide variety of different minerals.
You May Also Like…
If you’re looking for a decent guide to New Mexico’s minerals, you can check out Rockhounding New Mexico: A Guide To 140 Of The State’s Best Rockhounding Sites.
This guidebook highlights a large number of the even larger number of potential rockhounding sites across the state. With this guidebook, just about anyone can learn where to find unique minerals, fossils, and other geologic treasures mentioned above. An exceptional reference for experts and novices alike, you can read about 140 of New Mexico’s top sites to visit as a rockhound. Expect detailed site information including the following
- Detailed maps and directions to sites including GPS points
- Rules and regulations regarding land use
- Contact information for local land management agencies
- Suggestions for tools and techniques by site
There are other guides out there, but this is a great one for people of all levels. The best part is that the information is easy to read and displayed well, which is something that not every guide out there offers.
The truth is that your best bet is always to get to know the locals, but this book can make a close second. Give it a thought before you head out, it’s more complete than we can get into with this small article.