I often get asked “How do you find crystals you have posted?”. Which techniques to use is a very subjective question, but certainly there are standard ways of prospecting for pegmatite crystals here in Colorado. I will try to cover some of the techniques I use in this article.
UPDATE: I have posted another article showing examples of these techniques here.
UPDATE: I have posted another article explaining how to create your own prospecting map here.
UPDATE: I have added videos of me picking crystals at the bottom of this article.
It has taken me years of prospecting, tons of reading, and networking with other prospectors and rock clubs to figure out what I’ve learned to find crystals so far, so I’m hoping that if you are new to this hobby this article can help expedite the learning curve and take away some frustration…i.e. not coming home empty handed as often! Note that I sometimes STILL come home with nothing to show (and I keep even the littlest crystals)…I think of it like fishing, sometimes the fish simply aren’t biting. My other hope is that folks having successful techniques can share their wisdom so I and others can continue to learn (the comments on this article is a great place, hint hint !!!).
Note I am self-taught and have no formal geology schooling or experience, so my descriptions in this article may be scientifically inaccurate; the goal of this article is not to explain the science as much as for tips to helping you learn to find crystals! Of course the science is helpful and very interesting, if you have anything to share or correct (or have further questions), please leave comments, I would love to hear your techniques, opinions and knowledge on the subject!
How to Find Crystals
There are three standard ways I prospect when searching for crystals; I may use only one way on any given day, or may use all three:
- Searching the tailing piles of other digs
- Finding float and following it
- Digging in the source pegmatite
Prospecting Tailing Piles
When I’m prospecting I always check out old and new digs. There are several reasons for this–to learn what the other prospector was into when (presumably) they find crystals themselves, to perhaps continue where the previous prospector didn’t go, and to search through their tailings to ensure the weather didn’t reveal something that was missed or discarded!
If the prospector was into a pocket or seam of crystals, they may have had mud or iron coatings on the crystals so the prospector tossed aside because they couldn’t see the sides or simply missed it…it happens, I’ve gone back to my digs before and found incredible crystals that I somehow missed! After a good rain or season of snow Mother Nature may help to reveal crystals that were left behind! This is the easiest form of prospecting. I also find that some prospectors are not interested in “boring” or imperfect crystals; another person’s trash may be my treasure! I have found many great crystals by searching the tailings of previous digs!
- to find crystals it helps moving around the pile to get a reflection of sunlight from a flat shiny surface of a crystal…you should train your eyes to focus on any flat sided rock
- getting down closer to the ground for a different perspective; I find many crystals this way that I missed standing up
- look for color, some crystals are coated with iron-based minerals and may look rusty
- poking around the sides of the hole to see if the prior prospector left part of the pocket
- looking for float from the pocket (talked about further below)
- dig through the tailings to see if other crystals are slightly buried
Finally there is a lot to learn from studying what others were into. This is how I’ve done much of my learning. What did the rocks they were pulling out look like (note to self, keep an eye out for these signs in my holes)? Are there other digs along the hillside along the same “zone” that I should also check out? What did the other person see that kept them digging? The bigger the prospector’s hole the more likely they found something good (otherwise that is a lot of effort for nothing), so explore those big holes/trenches for sure!
First of all, what is float? It took me a while to get my head around this concept. My definition of float is simply any rocks or crystals that have weathered out of their original location — in other words Mother Nature has moved them via some process over time.
What could have moved the crystals? Glaciers, wind, rain, etc. Glacial movement is pretty easy to spot on the crystals, because they are broken, cleaved and/or have rounded corners like they’ve been in a rock tumbler. These crystals have been potentially moved long distances and there may be no correlation in where the crystals are located to where they originated from–in other words they may be randomly displaced and you may not find other related crystals around them. However I have found several times that pockets were moved (relatively) together by glaciers and there are concentrations of crystals that are completely worn in a somewhat small of an area.
Wind and water (and ancient glaciers too) are common forces that move crystals from their original location in the seams/pockets they were grown in. Over the hundreds of millions of years (or perhaps just thousands, or even last month’s torrential rains?) the land has been eroded and the original locations of the crystals may have been partially or completely eroded away. If on a hill, the crystals are likely displaced downhill as they are eroded out of their original pocket. If on a flat area, crystals can disperse radially away from the pocket (which may at one time long ago been above you).
One misconception that I originally had about float was that the crystals would be laying atop the ground easy for the prospector to see. It took me a while to realize that float can be (and often is) buried. The layer of topsoil / organic matter is a recent addition to the ground (decomposed plants, trees, etc) in the perspective of geologic time. Most often I’ve discovered float that is buried in the boundary between the top soil and the granite gravel layers which can be visible or buried many feet deep. Note that with the hundred plus years of prospecting occurring in popular areas, it is very unlikely you’ll find crystals on the surface; but there is still plenty of float to be discovered!
Now that we’ve reviewed what float is in theory, how does one utilize this float concept to actually find crystals? When I find good signs on the ground I dig test holes (more about what are good signs in a minute). I try to dig deep enough so I’m at (or below) the boundary layer between the topsoil/organic matter and the gravel–the steeper the hills the likely this layer will be more shallow. I will also dig about a foot or sometimes two deeper to see if what I’m seeing at the surface continues in situ underground–signs of a pegmatite outcropping.
As I continue to explore the source of the float, I will dig an area of several feet in diameter, left and right, up and downhill. If I continue to find signs, then I will follow those signs in whatever direction they lead me, which typically trends uphill. The hope is that this investigation leads you to the originating crystal pocket or seam still in the pegmatite rock!
If there are no signs on the surface but the area in general looks or “feels” good, or if I’m feeling lucky, I dig test holes in best-guess locations and if I find nothing interesting within a 2-3 foot diameter, I move on to another spot.
I have also seen videos of folks using dowsing rods–the concept is they loosely hold L shaped rods in each hand and as they walk over an area with a crystal the rods will move. I keep thinking I should try this but I have no experience nor have done any research on this technique yet. Chime up in the comments if you’ve had success with this method!
What are good signs to follow? What do you look for on the surface to start digging there? How long do you follow the trail of good signs when they are not panning out? Well, that IS the trick, these are all the million dollar questions of prospecting! I’m still perfecting this myself and likely will be forever, but for now my answer is many things. Here is where joining up with a Crystal Club or digging with other prospectors is very helpful. I have found that even though I’ve read a ton on the topic and talked to many experienced prospectors, I didn’t really “get it” until I’ve gone and and moved some rock and dirt–experienced it; sometimes it even takes many times before what I’ve read or been told clicks. That said, however, I’ll try to give you some tips and rules of thumb based on what I look for.
You are looking for the following, above and/or below the surface as float or in situ:
- Anything with flat sides. Train your eyes to see flat surfaces; having flat surfaces means there was enough room for the rocks to start to crystalize which is evidence of a crack, seam or pocket in the host rock. Finding flat sided rocks is integral in the hunt for crystals.
- Quartz. Pegmatites are partially composed of quartz, so you are looking for chunks of quartz either by themselves or mixed with Microcline / Feldspar.
- Microcline. Like quartz above, microcline or amazonite is a good sign.
- Graphic Granite. Granite by definition is composed of small crystals of quartz and feldspar. Pegmatite is when the crystal sizes get to a certain size. Graphic granite / pegmatite is where these crystals get bigger TOGETHER. Often in just one rock sample you’ll see the crystal size increase from one side to the other! (see image below). This sometimes means you are getting closer to where the crystals can grow better (i.e. a pocket).
- Combinations of above. This means that all the right ingredients of a pegmatite seam are floating out of somewhere.
- Crystals. If you’re finding whole crystals or multiple sides, well, you’re there! Congratulations!
One other technique I use digging float uphill is when pulling out quartz or microcline chunks I leave them on top of my tailings pile close to the spot I found them. If I’m not finding the source of the float or lose track of the good signs (or when I take a water break), then I’ll often step back, take a break and review what I’m finding from a distance (which is possible because I left my findings consistently in sight on top of the tailings). This technique will let me analyze my current prospecting situation from a different perspective. While analyzing the rocks as I have dug up the hill, I will also analyze the surrounding hillside for clues like other digs, surface rock, contour, etc. Sometimes I get overzealous in my digging and forget this simple step-back-and-analyze step which can be really helpful in minimizing the search for the source of the float!
Another way to find crystals using the “float technique” is to start at someone else’s dig and start to explore around (if a flat area) and downhill of that prospect/hole. It’s likely that there is float around or below that pocket that someone else has done all the hard work and located for you! Many times the crystals are really nice and have just rolled down the hill a little bit!!! The original prospector was only interested in the pocket material and left all the easy float finding to someone else! I’ve found some really nice crystals using this technique!
Of course, the best place to dig is in crystal pockets. This is where the crystals will likely be the best quality and most plentiful (but not always, ask any experienced prospector and they will tell you stories of hours/days of work in fabulous looking pockets with junk, crushed or no crystals). Whether you happen upon a seam or pocket in the pegmatite using float prospecting techniques, or you find the peg right away and dive in, this is the goal of prospecting–to hit the mother lode!
First, a little bit of theory from what I have discovered in the field and also from reading and talking to other prospectors. I think of pegmatites as basically a lava flow of harder rock that when forming had the right (and larger) concentrations of minerals we are searching for. Because it is a flow, it often will be long and extend across or into the hillside and will often be somewhat straight. This is helpful to know as you often can follow the pegmatite as it trends in a somewhat straight direction across the hillside.
If the conditions were right at that instant of time millions and millions of years ago, you have highly mineralized fluid that was flowing through the cracks in the rocks. If there was room in the host rock’s cracks then it would give the fluid a chance to crystalize in that “open space” in the rocks. Because we’re talking about an extended “flow”, the pegmatite can open up (i.e. crystals!), then pinch out, and follow that pattern again and again along faults or cracks over its length. You sometimes see this play out when following the pegmatite getting pocket after pocket along the length of the peg! This is something to remember as a previous prospector may have found a great pocket but didn’t finish it or follow it as it opened up into even a larger pocket along the length of the original flow!
The great Blue Cap Productions video on Rhodochrosite at the Sweet Home Mine in Alma Colorado details that pockets were often found at the intersection of faults. I have found this to be true in some cases with pegmatites pockets I’ve found, as two pegmatites intersected there was a pocket. Additionally, Joe Dorris of Glacial Peak Mining has documented that when the pegs bend they often form pockets (which were eddies during the liquid phase?). This is also something I’ve experienced and definitely keep an eye out for.
Pegmatite is currently often surrounded by gravel or dirt. Over geologic time, the surrounding rock may have decomposed into gravel while the harder, more mineralized material is still in place. So once you are upon the pegmatite you’ll likely know its boundaries by gravel. Knowing this, I don’t spend much time when digging test holes if there is just gravel, but if there are chunks of peg, quartz or microcline then I continue as I may be digging into a pegmatite; and if I was into the peg and then enter into just gravel, I change my direction as I likely have found a border of the peg. When finding bigger chunks of rock, ensure they are pegmatite and not just solid granite. You won’t find many crystals if you are not in the pegmatite!
Note that have seen instances where all the surrounding rock is completely gone leaving just a trail of crystals in the gravel or dirt! So again none of these techniques is absolute each and every time!
I categorize the peg in a couple of ways, as described above (chunks) and also as solid masses (this digging takes the most effort). Sometimes I get into a peg that is still holding together as more massive rock and there is a seam sandwiched between top and bottom plates of granite. In that seam, especially when it has the opportunity to widen, I sometimes find small pockets of crystals. Following these openings the trail of crystals sometimes dives deeper; and that is where things can get interesting as you may be into a pocket. Note that these chunks of pegmatite can be quite large and heavy, requiring pry bars and even chisels and hand sledge hammers to extract, so ensure you are employing safe leverage and lifting techniques (a hurt back doesn’t allow one to dig for many crystals) and always wear eye protection! In these cases I follow the peg in all directions as the crack/seam may be rather long and wide but not very thick, but eventually it could widen and form a pocket. Here is a video example of this (these are HD video, so change the resolution if you have the bandwidth!).
So these are the techniques that I am currently using to find crystals. I am fairly successful in finding some crystals, but finding the great crystals or pockets is still somewhat elusive to me! My thought is it’s all about moving dirt and rock to maximize the chance of getting lucky. Comparing it to the lottery, you have to play to win! Regardless, employing these techniques has brought me success and hopefully will aid in your success too! As stated before, I would love to hear your techniques and ideas in the comments or by emailing me; I’m looking for any ways to improve!
Here are some videos showing me finding crystals out of a pegmatite pockets or seams. Pay attention to what is surrounding the areas with crystals as that is what you will be targeting when you dig! Additionally, I have accumulated a playlist of people extracting crystals from around the world, you’ll want to check it out!
For more articles on my prospecting adventures click here.
You should also check out the other blogs I follow with great information about prospecting in Colorado:
- Rockhounding the Rockies
- Conifer Environmental’s Blog
- Peak to Peak
- Mike Nelson’s CSMS Geology Blog
- Steve Veatch’s Colorado Earth Science
Wish you good fortune as you find crystals!
Just wanted to thank you for the great rockhounding info you provide. My wife and I have made the Jackson creek road trip several times this last summer/fall from Pueblo and enjoyed many great finds down the log jump trail. All inspired by following your adventures. Used to live in Golden and knock around behind Blackhawk, but after retiring to Pueblo we found The “Pike Peak Batholith” and fell in love with many localities we visited.
In on season, we have pulled pink Topaz out of Topaz mountain, Utah. Hiked the Tarrall digs,found Amazonite behind Lake George and many fine crystals at Devil’s Head. Hope to run into you in the field one day.
Your reply made my day; I appreciate knowing that there is interest in what I’m writing and it is assisting with folks having fun! That is my goal and it is nice to know it is working! I have been wanting to visit Utah for the Topaz and also the Trilobites, but there are so many cool places with a shorter distance I always get distracted! I hear there are some cool fossil finding locations down near Pueblo; if you come across some of these I’d love to get more information! I’m really excited for 2016 digging and hopefully meeting others! Happy new year, and happy prospecting to you and your wife!
Hello Mr. Dave,
My name is Walter. I have recently retired from the Army due to medical reasons. So I always wanted to dig for gems, crystals ect. But I never knew where to start or how to start . After reading about your techniques. I feel so much better about going out and knowing what to look for to possibly find a crystal. I really Don’t know where to go, I was looking at St. Peter’s Dome for my first try out. If you have any suggestions that would be great .
Thanks for the Great info
Hi Walter. Congrats on the retirement, that should bring you plenty of time you’ll need for finding gems! I am not experienced on the St. Peter’s Dome area, although I keep saying I will scout out those areas each year! I’d recommend to grab some information from books, like Voynick, Pearl, Mitchell, Kapelle, etc, which you can find at the library. Be aware of claims and private property as well. If you go up to Devils Head, which is where I’m more familiar, I’d recommend around the Topaz Point picnic area or down the 677 Log Jumper off of Rampart Range Road to get started. Good luck, would love to hear about what you’ve found; and feel free to ask any questions as you start to prospect!
It’s mike Rose again.
I noticed you mentioned cooking the smokey quartz. I use oxcilic acid for amazonite. Will it clean smokeys if I leave it for a long time? Usually about two, three days is good for the blue stuff. Seeme I read somewhere you cooked some for weeks?
Thanks for your time
I have had various success with cleaning crystals with various chemicals. Here is what I typically do:
1) Start off with Super Iron Out. This is the least nasty of the chemicals and will clean some stones completely. I just put in enough water to cover the crystals in a tub and then put in several tablespoons of SIO. Typically I get results in several days; I also typically use a needle water gun and/or a toothbrush periodically throughout the process. I’ve read that having a water pump (like a aquarium or fountain one) in the solution works well as it constantly moves the solution around; I’m going to try this soon…
2) Crockpot and Acids. Once the easy stuff has been cleaned off, I will move the stones to a crockpot with acid. What I’ve found over time is that a slow simmer is okay; but a warm/hot simmer is quicker. Don’t want to boil anything off–I’m still playing with this as I am nervous about getting the stones too hot. I use Oxalic for the typical stuff, and Phosphoric for the hard to clean items. This is for just quartz and amazonite/microclines. Periodically I soak in water and then use the needle gun; then repeat the acid bath.
3) After any chemical soak, I soak the stones in water for at least a day; or many days if they have been soaking for a while. After long chemical soaks, I soak in a heated WATER bath for a couple of days to ensure I have all the chemicals out of the stones.
When I mentioned I used acid for several weeks on Amazonite; I was using diluted acid at a very low temperature; after that, I discovered upping the temp in the crock pot makes things go faster; but also hot acid is dangerous; so only go with what you are comfortable with and what you have the ability to work with. I use gloves, apron and facemask whenever dealing with acid. I have used muratic before, but that stuff is just nasty and don’t like using it…I’ve used it for pyrite and that cleaned up nice and quick.
Also note, I use pretty diluted acids as I have kids and pets around the area; and I _always_ do acids outside. I’m sure I can use more concentrated solutions for quicker results too, but I choose the weaker solutions for safety.
Its Walter here. I went up to ST. Peter’s Dome this past weekend and found some fluorite not gemmy at all just deep purple color. I would show a picture of them. But don’t know how to add a picture. One question when I was out I saw hundreds graphic granite chunks but the granite look like a counter top nothing special nothing no bigger than that it looked cores , but anyways I found something
I saw you were up to St Peters Dome yesterday. Wondering how the road up is. I drive a Honda van and would like to take advantage of this warm weather if the road is not too muddy.
Thanks for any input.
(Make sure you get to Devil’s Head this summer fantastic place to rockhound.)
Great that you got up there. Awesome you’re finding colored stones. I didn’t think about it, but I don’t think comments in WP allows images; so if you want you can email me (dave @).
The graphic granite I think you are seeing (without seeing it) is probably just normal granite; not sure…but you should look for the peg where those chunks get larger.
Supposed to be a wonderful week weatherwise; hopefully we can all get up to the hills before the next snow!
The road is in great shape there is one area that is a little bumpy but nothing to worry about. When I was up at the parking area for the dome .I saw a Honda civic. So your good anything past that I couldn’t tell you .
I just wanted to stop and drop a line or two. Well I went up to St. Peters Dome today. I hiked oh I don’t know a few hours and came across a seam for quartz just sticking up out of granite. So the Quartz was getting bigger as I went down the seam. Then all your techniques you talked about played out and I found some small crystals. I pulled out about ten really good ones about a half an inch to a inch and a half in size. Thank you for helping me out. I mean I didn’t find really big ones but hey its a great start. I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t figure your email out. So my email is email@example.com. I would to share my findings with you .
Again thank you for the blog
As you are in the area, do you know the road conditions going up to Devils Head? Can’t seem to find much info online. May be looking in the wrong place.
Wondering when I can get up there. I read somewhere that Jackson was closed for repairs. Any infp would be appreciated.
I usually hit the Pike National Forest Alerts website.
I also call the Ranger Station too, usually their rangers can tell me what I need to know quickly; sometimes much easier than scanning their sites.
They currently have the roads closed due to muddy conditions. Typically if Jackson Creek is closed, they have a illuminated sign at the CR 105 intersection; I drive by there maybe a couple of times a month and I haven’t seen anything posted about JCR being closed or damaged, but again a phone call will clear that up within a couple minutes.
Great info! Thanks man! I’m a rockhound from down in Taos. I mine staurolites mostly but I’ve been trying to find smoky quartz in a location I know around here that’s produced some good specimens. I’m also planning a trip to Lake George soon. Any tips on where to start looking there?
Thanks again man!
Those staurolites look cool; I don’t know any localities around here for that mineral. I don’t get up to Lake George all that much anymore as the area is really claimed up, I found that without visiting the BLM and making a map, I was walking around all day in search for a non-claimed area which was not all that fun. I tend to go on club field trips and occasionally am guest of someone else’s claim in that area; and that is what I’d recommend. The popularity of the Prospectors show really changed the landscape (literally) in that area.
Yo Shann,my name is mark I am from Taos as well, l have rockhounded around the area for 20plus years and the better smoky I have found near hopewell. Also I have some good digs up hondo can.maybe we could be allies rather than competition?
Thanks for the awesome info. Me and my husband are going out today to do some digging. We are headed to Tarryall Reservoir. We’ve heard that their is good findings out there.
Hey man, you website really helped me learn a lot! I’ve got a website with a bunch of my finds… and I have to give your site credit to a lot of what i know. Check it out if you have some time, http://www.vailsrocksandcrystals.com
Thanks Vail. Looks like you are finding some cool crystals, and very cool site! Happy digging!
Searching for mushrooms, I saw some quartz pieces, so it got my attention to this one area. I then looked closely and found a piece of hematite mass (hematite crystal). That’s when I came back to the area with a shovel! Found over 50 crystals, one of them is a Smokey that weighs ten pounds, and 26 chunks of hematite mass. Just paid attention to the ground is all that time. My friend found an incredible piece of Fluorite in a boulder, because he noticed small bugs coming out of the boulder (broke it open).
Regarding someone tossing “trash”, that is actually an amazing creation: I found a pile of microcline feldspar and Amazonite. Three brain looking pieces (about the same size and shape of human brain too), a four pound piece of good color amazonite, and hundreds of smaller pieces. Some of them, extremely good amazonite samples, such as non-terminated prism still on the host rock, with some quartz crystals. So indeed, like you said – what the heck made all of this trash in comparison!!?? I will never know…
Hi, I just found this site today (9/26/17) and found your tips to be most helpful! I was wondering though if you’d care to take a look at some specimens I’ve found and tell me whether it is something I should investigate further (should I prospect this area?). Note: I found these crystals on the surface and there were other specimens that were part of bigger rocks that I did not take. These specimens were found on the side of a hill, but it’s a hill with a discrete climax that I could follow the float to! So my main question is, are these valuable specimens?
Looks like quartz points. I would definitely look around and uphill too. See if these are just float from long ago, or if they lead you somewhere.
Thanks, gonna go back and poke around. I’ll let you know what I find.
I had something else to add here: dowsing rods do not work: if you want to try a scientific approach, you must use a metal detector; and then you’re only going to detect, you got it, metal. I could elaborate and go into the magnetic field that is generated by the induction of an electric current in a target piece of metal by the projected magnetic field originating from the metal detector, but I would be digressing. I CAN elaborate more, if you wish, but this forum is about crystals.
Another thought I had is to use a classifier, something that is useful for gold prospecting. A classifier is a screen that sifts out material below a certain diameter. So if you’re into an area with lots of float and there is much dirt/gravel burying the float, it might be helpful to shovel dirt/gravel that you suspect contains quartz of the size you are targeting into the classifier and shake the classifier to “classify” the material. A YouTube search of “how to use a classifier for gold” should yield a video on how this is done; you may have to break up the dirt a little bit with your hands if it’s clumped.
Thanks Tyler. I’ve **seen** dowsing rods work for dead bodies and water; I don’t know the science though. I’ve seen examples of it for crystals on YouTube, I’m skeptical but curious. Otherwise, the only way I know to find buried crystals without digging could be ground-penetrating radar (to find peg). Interesting…
As far as your classifier point, I have a gold classifier and have used it before, especially when in a pocket with lots of little crystals. I have different screens; but I find I barely use them. In the field, I’ve seen folks use just a larger loose screen in a hole. Toss the dirt into the screen and the smaller stuff goes through (and buries the hole) and the bigger stuff rolls to the base of the screen where you can easily see shapes/sides. That seems like an easier way to classify as you can move through more dirt. I’ve seen this mainly used for topaz.
Good luck with your spot; hopefully you find a lot of other crystals!!!
Hi Dave, my wife and I went on a trip around the world a last year and discovered that she had a latent passion for rockhounding. Whether it was in New Zealand, Iceland, or Vietnam, one of her favorite things to do was spend hours combing beaches or mountains for minerals. Now her birthday is coming up (February 25th) and I was thinking of getting her some beginning rockhounding “tools” (picks/shovels and the like, I think?) and taking her for a day of digging and searching somewhere within a couple of hours of Denver for the day. I was hoping you might give me some suggestions on what tools she might need to start off and a good spot for some beginners. I love your blog, it’s one of the most informative resources I’ve seen on a topic that I’ve found difficult to research! Thank you!
Hi. For beginners, I’d highly recommend joining a club. I’m in the Lake George club and they are still open for joining (they close down in March) and although that is a bit of a drive from Denver they a very active club and go on a ton of field trips. There are many clubs in the Denver metro area too. Here is a great list. I think you’ll have the most fun and luck joining a club (its a great gift; they usually have family memberships).
As far as gear. I have an old day pack (or a 5 gallon hardware store bucket) that I carry the following everywhere I go:
Sunscreen, Water bottles, Eye protection, Gloves, Gum, Power bars in addition to lunch, Rain poncho (light and effective), Toilet paper (just in case nature calls), Plastic ziplock style bags and smaller hard plastic food storage containers (for the treasures), Newspaper (in case you find something cool always wrap it and then put in your container to protect the points), Bear Spray (just in case), An old long flat-blade screwdriver for prying (but be careful using metal in pockets), A military/camping folding shovel (this is my second favorite tool, I use it mostly to muck, but also to reclaim), Wooden paintbrush (for digging in pockets, wood is softer than any rock and won’t scratch, and the brush is great to see what you’re into), Garden pick (my #1 favorite tool; point on one end and flat spade on the other…the bigger the spade the more dirt you can move!), Topo Map & Compass (rarely use these as I have Backcountry Navigator on my phone, but just in case).
Thanks for the kind words, I’m happy to know that the information on my blog/diary is informative and enjoyed by folks other than myself!
Thank you so much for the information! I contacted the Lake George Club and I certainly might get Annie (or both of us) a membership there as a present but one issues was that they don’t have any field trips until April. Do you by any chance know of any groups that might be going out somewhere within the next few weeks? If not, is there an area that this is a reasonable time of year to go prospecting in solo?
My ten year old daughter and I are just starting in rock hunting, but we’ve been obsessed with crystals a long time. We live in the Whitewater canyon in Ca and the milky quartz is everywhere. When my brother was here he went out and found a huge chunk of selenite his first day ( but he didn’t get to show me where before he left). There is also quite a bit of rose quartz and marble. I haven’t been able to find any distinct points yet but we are going to head out today up an old creek ( it only has water in it when snow melts and comes down from the San Bernardino mountains, as we are in the Mojave desert) and head towards the face of the mountain to see what we can find using the techniques you’ve shared. I’m very glad to have found your posts! I want so badly for my daughter to pull out her first crystal, I know how elated she will be. She’s already written a whole research paper on “Hunting for crystals in the Mojave”, so it will be fun to see the techniques used in action. I hope we’re successful. I will check back in if we find anything to show you?
I wish you the best of luck! I hope you and your daughter have a great time, regardless if you find any points. You will find them, however, if you keep it up. Sounds like you are sniffing out the trail. Looking in the creek is a good idea as some crystals (assuming they are there) will have made their way down to the creek. Even if you find one flat side, that is a good sign. If the crystals are worn, they have moved far over time; but there is likely more when they came from so make sure and look uphill even if not in the creek. Persistence is fun, and should pay off! Let me know if you find anything or have questions. –dave
here is my very-very-long comment–apologies!!
Thank you so very much Davealex for the posts and the videos. I have been a pebble pup for a good decade now….never really doing more that buying the local field guides to locales in areas where I was travel nursing for years. I do have a previous life of a degree in Biology with a concentration in Env Sci and a lot of geology classes that came with which now is very helpful. I’ve always been self-taught. And as I got my pebble-pup-fever back more recently this summer (of course now relocated to RI –to help my aging parents–which is not at all barren as most references/sources/guides will have one think–but very hard to work–especially as a pup!) I decided to really do my proverbial homework. I have read all of the John Sinkankas books which I find to be amazing for an level reader/rockhound. I have found interesting and complex pegmatite literally every outing I have been on and have all the big chunks/garden rocks to prove it. I have mutilated more massive quartz, lots of massive smoky vein quartz in RI interestingly, and have garden-rock-sized chunks of that as well. Frustratingly, the closest I have ever gotten to a true, euhedral quartz crystal (which is my main goal/dream right now–probably very pebble pup-cliche-ish, but so very true) are some almost formed points in massive veins in either massive granite pegmatire or a granite or gabbro/diorite host rock which are too hard to extract without feeling badly about defacing a beautiful feature) and and smaller intergrown crystals with one definitive face–this stuff is usually at the periphery of the massive quarts lens or vein before the microcline layer starts. I can pull some of these “crystals” apart as they are not quite massive, but still locked together with an aplite-like sugary coating that one can break up sometimes by hand, sometimes with a gentle to not so gentle tap and then by hand. This never ever results in a true euhedral crystal…positive flipside…..i am an avid gardener (well–i was before neglecting said gardens for back-to-back days of rockhounding) and I have brought home and washed a lot of great garden rock material. (would be happy to provide pictures, but I am pretty positive you have seen enough of this stuff) I was so positive in the beginning, after immediately finding pegmatite on every outing (usually by cross referencing areas of known occurrences which if in a book form for Rhode Island is only ever a volume about the size of a user guide for a coffee maker.–with USGS maps–online forums–and finally using google earth/maps/satellite view to hone in one white looking outcrops. Yesterdays trip out to a beach area with giant veins of pegmatite making up the beach bedrock outcrops with zillions of quartz veins and stringers, unable to really figure a way to dig down to anything. Got soaked in the rain with 40+ pound of gear on my back, lost my phone/wallet, came home cold and soaked to cancel all my cards and feeling dejected. Of course woke today ready to try again but with a bit of a black cloud feeling. Anyway, much of this and more made it as the edited version of this message/comment under your post. I failed to locate you email or a link to it. I fear I am just internet savvy enough to get around–but not enough to do many of the basics it seems. Apologies again for the length. Just, as you can imagine, so many questions, and so few people (for me) to ask. And I have investigated joining our one and only club in Rhode Island, they meet every other week nearby–EXCEPT–for August. Which has left me in the midst of the peak of my need for information without access to them. I am sure they will be able to help, just need to actually catch up with them which looks to be mid-September.
Anyway, many, many, many thanks for your sharing to all of us.I see many people replying to your posts that all seem to be more experinced rockhounds commenting–and few of us who really need more material like this out there. So on behalf of us, the pebble pups, the crystal pocket challenged, so much gratitude.Respectfully,
dave@ this domain will get to me. or @ObliqRecordings on instagram.
Great presentation at the Littleton Gem and Mineral Meeting. Was very educational. Hope this can help when I go out rock hounding. Was nice meeting you also. See you Saturday at The Wigwam Claim. I can’t wait !!!!!
Thanks for these awesome pointers and knowledge about gem hounding! I have been prospecting around red feather a little bit, not much, trying to find what looks like quartz veins and following them to where the crystals are. Not much luck yet though. Are you familiar with the area enough to at least send me down the right road? I also want to know if those big quartz chunks (not terminated) are good indicators? Its so common that I wonder if its red herrings or good signs that I just have to dig around enough yet.
Hi HA. I’d recommend joining a club; that is the quickest way to get aligned to the right places and get pointers and tips. When I lead trips with the Lake George club I spent time with all folks answering questions and giving pointers. I know other field trip leaders of our club and other clubs will do the same! Sometimes big chunky quartz is an indicator; but you’re looking for pegmatite because that is what crystals in the Pikes Peak Batholith form in. In different areas the crystals form differently and you’d look for other indicators. –dave
Thanks much for the great information! My wife and I are just starting out in rockhounding, we live near Florissant CO and have found other peoples digs. So far all we have done is search tailings with a bit of digging in the pits left. I have zero knowledge of what to look for to begin a fresh dig and so I was searching the ol www for a “How to find Crystals for Dummies” guide. The information you give is perfect to the new crystal hunter!! Well done Sir, well done.
I’ve done a ton of searching, and haven’t found anything half as informative as this, thanks. Do you think any luck would come from the Taryall area?
Hi James. Yes, I think there is definitely great things to be found in the Taryall area. Note that this area produces Topaz and there are many claims in the area. I’d definitely do your research on mining claims in the area you plan to prospect! Thank you for the feedback too; obviously nothing takes the place of moving dirt, but hopefully it will help find crystals quicker! If it were easy, all the crystals would be gone! –dave
So I have been on and off hunting crystals my whole life. But recently I have moved to the south of Mexico where NOBODY cares about crystals. So there is literally no information or help to turn to. I’ve tried my best to learn to read geological maps and we’ve done alright. We really haven’t done much digging, because I can’t convince myself an area is good enough to spend that much time without really knowing anything. Really what are the best types of rock formations to find big crystals and how do I find completely virgin areas without any information from previous hunters?
I don’t know if you will find completely virgin areas; if you think of all the history of the area over the centuries and the prospectors looking for valuables; but there is always hope! Different minerals have different ways they form and so its really difficult to pinpoint one type of rock or formation or area. I’m sure there are books to help guide you, and mining blogs and groups on social media? If nothing else meet a rock dealer and ask if they know any miners or places you can visit and start there. That is why I joined a rock club to meet new people and learn about geology, which is not what my education was in. I enjoy just going out in nature and searching for rocks, so if nothing else that’s a win in my book! Good luck with your adventures! –dave
Awesome tips! I’ve been having great luck finding float crystals along the South Platte sandbars. It’s encouraging to see what beauties are up in the mountains. I’d love to try that some day.
Also couldn’t help but notice we have a lot of similar hobbies… photography and electronic music. I’m just starting out learning music production myself. I also used to DJ and was the goth/industrial/experimental music buyer at the shop I worked at for 15 years.
Ever want to chat about rocks, photography, or music, drop me a line. 🙂
Hi Dave, let me tag along with you to find crystals and I will happily teach you dowsing. I have been using dowsing and rock hounding together with amazing results for 2 yrs now. Self taught in both areas, I am so ready to further my education in crystal and rock hounding. My soul calls to the stones for sure! My offer is true, I am happy to teach what I have learned…happy hounding
Dave, is the small crystal flurite from SmokeyHawk still available?
Hi Chris. I believe I do still have that crystal. Feel free to reach out to me at my email dave@
if you’d like to chat about it more. Thanks! –dave
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