The rock formations known as “Desert Rose” occur as two distinct types in Arizona. The first type is formed in damp areas from gypsum or baryte combined with sand. These are a more delicate, flower-like rock formation and are found in only a few locations in the state.
The second type of desert rose is the chalcedony desert rose. This formation may look less like an actual rose to many, but its layered appearance has earned it the nomenclature. These desert roses are found in dryer locations and are more common in the state.
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Where To Find Desert Rose Rock In Arizona
1. St. David
Probably the most cited source of the Arizona Desert Rose is the lake bed deposits near the Apache Powder plant in St. David. The area is located near Benson in Cochise County in the southeastern region of the state. The site is littered with broken gypsum crystals, and clusters of selenite crystals can be found by careful excavation.
These crystalline creations are formed when gypsum is broken down by natural weathering into sand-grain sized particles. Gypsum particles this small are actually pretty rare in any great quantity. In the St. David site, a high water table in the San Pedro River Valley helped to concentrate common lake sediments into mineral gypsum. The delicate crystals grow between clay and sand particles, incorporating the color of the clay/sand mixture into the resulting beautiful and unique desert rose. Color may range from pink to a light reddish-orange.
The rosettes make their way to the surface over long periods of time but are often quickly broken up by weathering when they get there. Collectors will need to dig carefully in the soft sediment or chip away hardened clay to find whole specimens among the thousands of sparkling, broken shards. The results can be unpredictable, but highly rewarding. Most of the rosettes are golfball size or smaller. Specimens can be fragile until they have completely dried out, so you may want to consider ahead of time how to safely transport them.
More detailed directions to the site can be found on several websites and may prove helpful in locating the most productive search areas. Although desert rose rock is found in sites around the world, the sometimes delicately detailed formations found at the St. David site are unique. Tread lightly and don’t take more than you can use.
2. Camp Verde
While St. David is the major collection sight for gypsum, or selenite, desert rose rock in Arizona, formations have also been found in other sites around the state, including in the Verde Valley region.
Camp Verde is a town located just off I-17 in central Arizona. The town is surrounded by national forest land, which does allow some rockhounding, but collectors will need to check out national forest restrictions before hunting there. Verde Valley has been targeted for a variety of fossils, gem, and minerals, including white desert rose formations.
Although I’ve found a few photos of selenite rose specimens from the area, I’ve been unable to find any specific directions to a good hunting spot. However, there are several rock shops in the town and area. So if you’re passing through, you may be able get some good information from one of them.
3. Lake Havasu City
Chalcedony roses form differently than selenite roses. Some appear more like a rounded, geode-shaped “bud”, with layers, or pedals, within. The stone is milky white with a slightly pink tint. Others form more rough-shaped flowers, closer to the more popular selenite desert roses. Chalcedony desert rose is often found nestled in rock cavities or in cave formations. Both types of rocks have been called desert rose and are found in deposits throughout Arizona.
Lake Havasu City is located just inside the western Arizona border next to California’s Lake Havasu. The city has numerous rock and lapidary shops where you should be able to pick up more specific information about where to hunt for desert roses in the area.
The area along the old Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman has a number of areas for recreation and rock hunting for various types of treasures, including chalcedony desert rose rock. The BLM property Thimble Butte pull-off is one popular rockhounding site along the way.
The Cuesta Fire Agate Mine is another possible source for chalcedony desert rose. The mine offers public access for fire agate, but the desert rose is sometimes found there as well. The site is fun and educational but check ahead before going, as daily visitors are being limited since COVID-19.
5. Yuma and La Paz Counties
Yuma and La Paz Counties, in the southwestern corner of Arizona, also have been cited for several possible chalcedony desert rose sources, including the following:
- Around Wellton, about 30 miles east of Yuma on I-8
- Quartzsite, about 130 miles west of Phoenix along I-10
- In the foothills north of Yuma, along Colorado Road
- Around Cibola, about 20 miles south of Quartzsite
You’ll want to verify the boundaries of public lands, including entry into several now-defunct mines in the different areas. Be cautious exploring such places, and be prepared for isolated areas and extreme weather conditions.