Obsidian, or volcanic glass, is found in most southwestern states. The gemstone is found in regions known to have an active volcanic past. Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field, located in the north-central part of the state, is one of the country’s major sources of obsidian. This area contains hundreds of extinct volcanic domes. It is in fact, Arizona’s most prominent features after the Grand Canyon.
Arizona can boast many areas where various types of obsidian can be found. I’ll mention just five of the larger areas known for quality deposits. Obsidian has been collected and mined in most of these areas since prehistoric times to make weapons, ornaments, and tools. Native American still collect for trading on reservation lands. Rock hunters should always research what type of collecting is allowed, if any, in any area you decide to explore.
Where To Find Obsidian in Arizona
Here are 5 of the best locations in Arizona to find obsidian. Good luck! I hope you find these helpful!
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1. Government Mountain
Government Mountain is just one of the domes in the San Francisco Volcanic Field. Government Mountain and its neighbors are considered by some to be one of the best obsidian sources in the country. You may need some tools, especially your rock hammer, to collect quality samples. However, there are also many loose specimens lying about if you know what you’re looking for.
Obsidain samples as large as 30 cm in diameter have be found here. Many appear brown or gray from alluvium ash and weathering. An area called the Obsidian Tank is located on the west side of the mountain about 30 miles from Flagstaff, and loose obsidian stones are fairly common there.
2. Superior Obsidian in Pinal County
Near the town of Superior in south-central Arizona are several well-known obsidian sources, especially in the area of Pickpocket Mountain. Here is the site of a legendary massacre of Apache indians that lays claim to the origin of “Apache Tears,” small nodules of obsidian common to the region.
The nodules can be found embedded in the rock or washed downstream and deposited around nearby creekbeds. They are usually smooth and round, formed by weathering by wind and water. There is a popular trail, called the Perlite Road, for collecting these sought-after nuggets. According to legend, whoever possesses one will never cry again!
3. Burro Creek
Burro Creek in western Arizona is another targeted site for Apache Tears. There are also other types of obsidian specimens to be found there. The area is located west of Bagdad Mine, near U.S. 93’s Burrow Creek Bridge.
The material found here contains weathered black glass cortical material. The interior glass may also be cloudy brown or brown-gray and highly opaque. There are specimens here with a high knapping quality.
There is a campground in the area, but it is fairly desolate, so be prepared by taking plenty of water, dressing appropriately, and driving a vehicle that can handle rough roads.
4. Tank and Sand Tank Mountains
The obsidian deposits in the Tank Mountains in east-central Yuma County and the Sand Tank Mountains in southern Maricopa County are considered relatively new finds. Although the specimens may be be up to 35 cm in size and of high quality, it seems the area was not exploited by native peoples because it lies away from common trails of that time period.
The density of nodules found in these areas is unique and of a quality equal to any other more well-known sources in the state. Discovering such a large, unexploited obsidian source site has been a cause for excitment in scientific circles.
There may be a couple of mines in the area, but there is also a great deal of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controlled land where limited collecting is allowed. Check for privately-owned property in the region before venturing in.
5. Sauceda Mountains
Located just south of the Sand Tank Mountains, the Sauceda Mountains were a major source of obsidian for prehistoric tribes. The tailings left by these tribes indicate the areas they preferred and frequented, pausing in their journey to knap new weapons and tools from the highest-quality material.
The area was surveyed in 1986 as part of the Tertiary Sauceda Volcanic Field. It has been found to be a huge source of obsidian. The most common color in the area is translucent green-brown. But opaque, banded brown/black or green/black are also common, along with a smattering of gray/black banded specimens.
There is at least one mine in the Sauceda Mountains, but the area is vast and there are no doubt areas of BLM land to be explored by rockhounds. The southern part of the mountain range seems to contain the most prolific specimens.
The quality of this obsidian material is as high as any in the southwestern U.S. The unique color and strata makes it an appealing location for collectors from near and far. The history of the area runs deep for native tribes, so be considerate of tribal and privately-owned land.