At least half of the top-rated turquoise mines in the world are found in the state of Nevada, U.S.A. There are over 100 mines of various sizes located throughout the state, consistently bringing rare and beautiful specimens to the market.
Many of these mines are “hat mines,” which means the strata is so small it could be covered by a hat. These claims are privately owned, some in areas difficult to access most of the year, or they are deep underground. Other sites are owned by companies specializing in mining turquoise and other semiprecious gemstones.
Where To Find Turquoise in Nevada
For rockhounds hoping to add a quality turquoise specimen or two to their collection, there are few existing mines open to the public. In fact, the only advertised site for public touring and collecting in Nevada is owned by the Otteson family in the Royston district of Nevada.
Otteson Family Mines
This family has created a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about the history and process of turquoise mining along with personally collecting specimens. Since this is a rare publicly accessible mine, I’ll include some details about the mine’s history and what to expect from the tour.
Since settling in the area in 1958, the Otteson’s claims have continued to expand. At present, at least 13 family members work active claims in the Royston District. The family has partnered with Tonopah’s historic Mizpah Hotel, and visitors staying overnight there receive a discount on tour fees.
The Tonopah Historic Mining Park is located directly behind the hotel. The park offers a glimpse into mining past and present and includes trails leading to various mining features, such as hoist houses and a powder magazine. There are also viewing areas for now-closed silver and gold mines.
The Visitor Center has parking for easy access, and the many geological displays offer a look at local resources. If this is your first turquoise expedition, this is a good place to see turquoise rough and get an idea of what to look for.
What To Expect
The Royston Turquoise Mine is one of the most prolific in the country, and the Otteson’s conduct Tours Monday through Saturday year-round, except for major holidays. The fees, which could always change before the next season, are currently as follows:
- Half Day, 8 am-1 pm, $150 per person, $250 per couple.
- All Day, 8 am-5:30 pm, $300 per person, $500 per couple
- Kids dig for free.
- Special or private tours available by appointment with 2 weeks notice
Reservations are required for all tours, and digging is limited to 1 bag or bucket per adult. Collection bags are provided at the site. No matter where you choose to stay in town, all dig attendees will meet their guide leader as a group in the grand lobby of the Mizpah and will caravan together to the collection site, which is located about 30 miles outside of town.
What To Take
Nevada is a state comprised mainly of high desert climates. Remember to take sunscreen, wear light, loose-fitting clothing, and a shade-providing hat. You’ll also need lots of drinking water and snacks. Gloves are recommended for handling rough stone along with closed-toed shoes for rocky terrain.
The Otteson’s bring heavy equipment to collection sites to break up tailing for tour participants. Just look for color. These mines produce a great variety of turquoise, from a whole spectrum of blue-greens to baby blue.
On the market today, turquoise is available from white to dark blue or green. The perfect hue is in the eye of the beholder, and you may find several shades of specimens during your visit. You’ll need to bring your own tools, including a rock pick or hammer. A hand sledge might also come in handy for more experienced rockhounds.
When You Get There
Once you’ve arrived on site there will be a short safety briefing. Then you’re free to start digging. After extracting your specimens from the available tailings, the tour will return to the cutting shop, where a few of your best finds will be cut and polished.
If you have questions or need additional information for your trip, you can call directly at (775)482-4832, or visit any of several websites about the facilities and tours.
Collecting Turquoise On Public Lands
For die-hard, off the grid rockhounds, there are a number of areas in Nevada where concentrated turquoise mining takes place. With a bit of research, you can find these areas and the mines located there. The mines themselves are private property, but the Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows limited collecting on public lands for non-commercial specimens. Go to the BLM site for specific rules and limitations.
Where To Go
A few areas to look at are Lander County in central Nevada, the southern slope of the Pilot Mountain Range about 50 miles west of Salt Lake, and Crescent Valley south of I-80 between Battle Mountain and Carlin. There have also been claims around Austin and the Carico Lake area in the central part of the state.
Turquoise mining can be challenging and labor-intensive. Small veins can quickly disappear or require heavy equipment to excavate. That kind of land disturbance is not allowed by the BLM, so don’t expect to come away with a collection of quality pieces on your own without a lot of sweat and manual labor.