Creating a prospecting map

I try to keep a pulse on the mining claims in the areas I dig and I keep a prospecting map with me to help understand where I can and cannot look for crystals.  I’ve met folks that are really fair when they find someone digging on their claim; and I’ve also met folks that were really angry.  Note that taking crystals off of someone else’s claim without prior written permission is theft, and you can be arrested and prosecuted by the County Sheriff. 

Although claims are supposed to be well marked–here in Colorado with 6 posts–you may not see the posts easily or the posts may be down or missing.  It’s not very fun wandering around all day looking for corner posts to know if you can dig in the spot you found; so save yourself the time and energy and build yourself a prospecting map!

I recently updated and created a couple prospecting maps of areas I frequent and thought I’d share some map creation tips as it is a fairly simple process and all the work can be done from the privacy of your own home.  As an example of the level of effort required, one area I mapped had about 25 claims and it took about 4 hours total to produce a prospecting map; and now that I’ve created a streamlined process (which I’m sharing with you), it will take considerably less effort next time!

The process I use consists of a few steps, all which can be done in the comfort of your home:

  1. Go to the BLM website and use their interactive 100K map to identify the claims in the area you are interested in
  2. Take notes on the relevant claim information in your prospecting area
  3. Email the BLM office with the claims you need further detail on and pay for scanned copies
  4. Go through the Location Certificates and transfer the claims’ boundaries to your prospecting map

Using the BLM website’s Interactive Map to find Mining Claims

NOTE:  You can click on any image to view it enlarged.

Here is the link for the BLM Colorado Interactive Map ( that you will be using. For other states, search the BLM website at  The first thing I do is turn on the layers helpful in displaying mining claims (these will overlay on top of the existing map).  You may find yourself turning these on and off as you interact with the map and application; play with it and use the application as it is most ergonomic for you.

Use the “Stacked Papers” icon (located in the upper right corner of the map) to bring up the Layer List controls and choose these two options:  Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and the Active Mining Claims (you’ll need to scroll down through the list).  When done choosing your layers you can click the “Stacked Papers” icon again to close the Layer List.  Toggle as necessary.

BLM Interactive Map

I always turn on the PLSS and Active Mining Claims  layers as these will help me quickly find claims in the area I’m mapping.

The next step is to drill into the area you want to investigate.  I found that this workflow worked the best for me:  1) Turn on Active Mining Claims layer, 2) drill into the map to the area of interest then 3) Turn on the PLSS layer and finally 4) Hide the Layer List. This is just what I preferred, choose whatever works best for you!

Let’s look at Devils Head as it is a popular spot due to its proximity to Denver and Colorado Springs.  Devils Head is just west of Larkspur in the center of the state, so I found Larkspur on the map and started to click that area to zoom in.  Assuming you have Active Mining Claims layer active, as you drill in you will start to see a pink boxed area surrounded by green on the overlays.  The pink area is the Active Mining Claims layer.  Let’s drill into the Virgin’s Bath locality.  You may want to remove the Active Mining Claims layer while you drill in and then turn it back on so you can use the switchback in the road as a reference point that is obscured by the pink layer.

Virgin's Bath Map

I’ve drilled into the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality and turned on the PLSS (black & purple gridlines) and Active Mining Claims (pink) layers

Understanding the Public Land Survey System as it relates to Mining Claims

Before moving forward, it is important to understand in general the implementation of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).  At the foundation of this survey framework there is a single initiation point for the survey; the east/west line going through this point is termed the Baseline, the north/south line is the Principle Meridian.  The entire survey “coordinates” are relative to this initial survey point and two lines.

A Township is a 36 square mile area (6 x 6 mile) box of land on the map and is referenced North or South of the Baseline.  A Range is a vertical column of Townships that is referenced East or West of the Principle Meridian line.  So in our forthcoming example of Devils Head, the Township/Range is T9S R70W, meaning 9 Townships south of the established Baseline, and 70 Townships west of the established Principle Meridian line.

Townships are further divided into 36 Sections (each a mile square).  A combination of Township, Range and Section will take you to any square mile of land that has been surveyed using the PLSS framework.  Finally, to get to the scale that Mining Claims are relevant within, a Section is subdivided into four quarter-Sections, each 1/4 mile, or 160 acres; these are referred to Section # and NE, NW, SE or SW.

Claims are documented at the quarter-Section scale and everything you will be doing with your prospecting map should be consistent with this scale.  Each claim’s Certificate of Location (COL) documentation will be referencing the quarter-section(s) they reside within.  So for our example, the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality, we’re interested in mining claims within the Township 9S, Range 70W and Sections 16, 20, 21, and 28 and the associated quarter-Sections.  Refer to the screen capture below to see all these coordinates on the map.  This PLSS layer on the BLM Interactive Map, if you zoom in far enough, breaks quarter sections into another 4 quarters; but claims do not go to that level of detail (thankfully, its already complex enough!).


This scale of the BLM Colorado Interactive Map shows the quarter-Sections, further divided into quarters but we will focus on the Quarter Sections.  The boxed quarter section in this map is Township 9S, Range 70W, Section 16, quarter-Section 16SW.

Researching which claims are in a quarter-Section

To get information for all the claims in the this locality, we’ll need to examine all the quarter-Sections in pink; in this case 10 total quarter-Sections.  For this example, we’ll use the quarter section 16SW and for each of the other nine quarter-Sections you will follow the same process.

Active Claims Header

Here is the pop-up box detailing the layer information, in this case Active Mining Claims.  Note that although it says there are 7 documents to display, only 3 claims are in this quarter section

As shown above, clicking anywhere in the quarter-Section will trigger a pop-up box detailing all the layer information (in this case Active Mining Claims) you’ve selected.  You’ll use the back and forth triangle controls in this box to advance through all the information on the Active Mining Claims within this quarter-Section.  I write down the CMC Case Number and Claim Name for each of the claims I require further detail for.

BLM Information

Here is the important information you will need for the BLM office, record the CMC # and the Claim Name.  Click this picture to enlarge as there is a lot of information displayed.

It is important at this point to note that we are looking at 160 acre quarter-Sections.  Lode claims are typically 20 acres or less, so you cannot find the exact location of the claim using this interactive map!  There is only one way to find the exact boundaries of claims, which is through the Certificate of Location (COL) document, detailed below.

Continue with this process throughout all the quarter-Sections in your prospecting area and write down all the CMC#s and associated Claim Names.  This will give you all the information you need to request the Certificate of Location documentation from the BLM or County Recorder’s offices.

Knowing a little bit about the filing process of a claim may help at this point.  The process of filing a claim says to file with the County Recorder’s Office first, then file with the BLM Office.  The BLM Office is what assigns the claim case number (CMC#), and often the COL document at the county lacks the CMC#, but does have the required claim name and the quarter-Section survey information.  I have another blog post that describes getting information from the County Recorder’s Office.  The official COL document is stored at the BLM office, so read on for the simple process of gathering this information from the BLM.

Acquiring the Certificates of Location from the BLM Office

You can get the claim’s Location Certificate from the BLM office by either visiting the office or by email.  If you visit the office they can make paper photocopies of the COL (Certificate of Location) which is cheaper than scanning (both will cost you an nominal amount, photocopies were $0.15 per page, scans $0.30 per page–January 2018 prices).  You could also take pictures with your phone or camera of these documents for free, assuming you are physically at the BLM office.  If you do the email route your only choice is obtaining the COL in electronic PDF format.

Here is what you do…

Send an email to CODOCKET@BLM.GOV, note that this is the email address specifically for the Colorado Office; inquire with the BLM by phone if you are researching somewhere else.  In the subject say you are requesting Mining Claim COL information.  In the email be sure to include your phone number so they can call you for credit card information–best practice is to not email your payment information.  Then include all the CMC#s and Claim Name information you are looking for and ask for the Certificate of Location document.

I found it was helpful to tell them I was creating a prospecting map so they know exactly what I was doing and they can ensure I got all the proper information.  Some of the maps I discovered in the COL document are beyond confusing–how people can file this way I don’t know–but the staff at the BLM office helped me by providing additional information for these couple of confusing cases because I told them my purpose.

I submitted my email inquiry on a Friday morning and I received my email of COL PDF attachments the following Monday, so super-quick turn-around in my opinion!  I don’t know if they have a standard turnaround time guarantee, I suppose it depends on how busy they are, vacation schedules, etc; you may ask them expected turnaround time in your email if you are in a hurry.

Creating your Prospecting Map

When you receive the scans from the BLM Office (or from the County Recorder’s office), you then can transpose the claim boundaries from the Certificate of Location (COL) document into your prospecting map.  This takes a little time as each person filing the claim may have surveyed their claim and submitted their map a little differently.  They key to make this an easy process is to ensure your destination map has PLSS survey points on it.

Preparing your Maps

If you are using Google Earth as your prospecting map, there is a PLSS overlay available and you may find that helpful; here are the BLM’s instructions for using it.  I use both Google Maps and paper topo maps to generate my prospecting maps, and neither has PLSS coordinate systems.  So to simplify this process I had to add PLSS coordinates onto my maps before I started.  Here is how i did it.

I opened up the BLM Colorado Interactive Map with only the PLSS layer turned on and found a point where a road (could be a stream, a valley, etc) intersected with the PLSS quarter-Section corner.  I then found and marked that quarter-Section point on my maps–my paper topo map with a pen “dot” and my Google Maps with a marker.  Knowing that a section is a mile on each side, and thus a quarter-Section is a 1/4-mile, I used a ruler on the paper map to create coordinate “dots” at 1/4-mile increments North/South and East/West of my original point.  I now had a quarter-Section PLSS coordinate system on my paper map.  On Google Maps, I did the same, except using their distance tool and markers.  It took me a while to figure this out but it sped up the process significantly having PLSS on all maps!

Another tip, I felt I needed to make some decisions on the accuracy required for my prospecting map. This is a personal preference decision.  I figured I need to know a general claim boundary on my prospecting map, not the exact corner post spots.  In the field, if I’m close to a claim on my map and I want to prospect, then I’ll search for the corner posts to ensure I’m not trespassing.  The purpose of my map is to generally plan where I intend to prospect.

Transposing the COL claim boundaries to your prospecting maps

I learned this from experience, so here’s another tip to think about before you start.  At first I added claim boundaries in the CMC# order; which is how they defaulted when I saved them in my folder.  I was bouncing all over my map which I found slow and tedious.  I found it much quicker and more accurate to pull up the trusty BLM Interactive Map again and loop through each claim a quarter-Section at a time.  I’d open and plot the COL’s by location rather than its number.  This let me get familiar with each quarter-Section of the map and plotted all claim boundaries for that area of the map before moving to the next quarter-Section.  It also helped when claims spanned quarter-Sections.

The standard way claims are surveyed is to first start with a known “tie point”, which by convention should always be something of the known PLSS survey framework, i.e. a corner point of a quarter-Section.  Then you use a measurement of degrees and distance from that tie point to one of the claim corners which is known as the claim’s corner point #1.   Then you further describe the outline of your claim in words, and also on a quarter-Section map.  Typically lode claims are 20 acres with dimensions of a 1500 feet by 600 feet in a parallelogram (typically rectangle); but the claim’s area can be smaller or it can be diagonal so ensure you read the description and look at their map.


This map on the Claim’s Certificate of Location shows the claim’s borders, in this case it spans 4 quarter sections (16 SE and SW, 21 NE and NW). Remember you are looking at the quarter section scale!  It also shows the tie-point (stated as the shared corner of Sections 16,15,21,22) which is part of the PLSS survey framework.

Claim COL wording

The survey wording will tell you the tie point, how to get from that tie point on the PLSS survey framework to the claim’s corner #1, and then describes how to navigate the perimeter of the claim.

Using your Prospecting Map

Now you have a map you can take with you and help guide you in the field.  Note that the claimant is required to plant 6 corner/side posts securely in the ground to clearly mark the boundaries of their claim.  Sometimes the claim owner will neglect to do this, or vandals remove the posts, or the posts simply fall down for whatever reasons.  Regardless, it is the rock hound’s responsibility to know the claims in the area they are prospecting and to not mineral trespass on those claims. But no worries because you have a prospecting map!

One other consideration is that new claims are filed all the time, there is processing time at the BLM, and claims are periodically closed.  Unfortunately, as soon as you have created a prospecting map is it is likely outdated. How I deal with this is the night before I head out prospecting, I dive into the BLM’s Interactive Map and verify the claims filed are the ones I have on my map–if there are changes I note this on my map.  When I’m prospecting I also keep an keen eye on the landscape looking for posts; even if it is a place I recently have been, things could have changed since the last time I was there.  Finally, I update my prospecting maps several times a year and grab the new COLs using the outlined process above.

Good luck out there!

The 2016 Summer Crush Pocket

This summer was great, but different than previous, for picking and rockhounding.  My club field trip availability was limited–I led two trips and was able to make only one other.  I went to Gem-o-rama in California with a rockhound buddy (see other blog post for that adventure). The remainder of my rockhounding trips this summer revolved around a pocket I uncovered during one of the club field trips I went on.  I didn’t get out nearly as many times as I have in previous years; but the times I did get out were all high quality, extremely fun and productive!  2016 I would say it was a very successful season!

NOTE:  As always, click on the pictures for a HD version.  Trust me, it’s worth it!  The videos are all available in HD as well.

On my third club field trip of the year I hit into a pocket that consumed 5 days of hard and thrilling work in the following month.  It was the biggest crystal pocket I’ve ever found and had some really interesting and amazing crystals.  It took me until the very last day of digging to think of the proper name for this pocket…over the month I continually thought about the pocket and realized I had a crush on it…and most of the crystals were damaged due to ancient violence, so I figured the name “Crush” described the experience perfectly!

Quartz Pocket Schematic

Here is a _very_ rough drawing of the pocket.  Note I have little artistic skills, lol!  You can see where I entered in the upper right. The crystal pocket measured about 4 meters long, 0.6 meter  diameter and the bottom was 1.5 meters underground.  

It all started with a test hole about a meter from the pocket.  From others’ experience in this area I knew that crystal pockets tended to be rather deep, so all my test holes need to go at least 1/2 meter deep.  When the hole was about a meter diameter, I started to see a shift in color of the soil to a darker brown so I followed it–it was a subtle sign, but something “different” is often what leads you on the crystal trail!  Not too much further I started to get into small chips of quartz which quickly turned into a layer of small quartz chips.  These chips had no faces or flat sides.  Breaking through that layer I entered a zone of darker material and started finding crystal faces.  I was in the top of the pocket!  

Quartz Cluster

The first crystal plate/cluster I pulled out of the top of the pocket.  I’d say that is a good sign of things to come!  

This whole top and side of the pocket (along most of its length, except the ends) was softer clevlandite/feldspar material with large chunks of quartz buried here and there within; these quartz plates had beautiful secondary growth clear quartz all over one side, but in this layer nothing was fully euhedral.  This layer of the pocket was about 10-25 centimeters thick and produced some nice plates of parallel growth clear quartz.  

I continued to follow this trend horizontally (to bottom and right in the above diagram) until I reached the end of the pocket material — I was back into normal top soil-dirt and gravel underneath. That is when I started to excavate straight down.  It was just a few minutes and then I hit extremely red pocket dirt/mud material which is the tell-tale sign of a crystal pocket!  For the rest of the day I continued to pull out more of the same type of secondary growth plates and individual crystals with secondary overgrowth.  Some really neat and unique crystals!

Quartz Cluster

This was the largest plate I pulled out on the first day. The flow of the crystals is evident, this is about 30 cm wide.  Note that the crystals change direction in the middle of the plate so they are pointing toward each other.  I’m sure there is a reason for this, hit me up in the comments if you know why that would be!  You’ll want to click on this image for a close up!

Quartz Cluster

This is a really interesting crystal, I love the large terminated crystal surrounded with the smaller parallel growth, and then the different type of cluster growth at the bottom, first small then larger–all of this on the same plate!  Also, the crystals at the very top are pointing down and immediately they reverse.  

Dave Digging

Thanks to Matt who was also on the field trip for taking this shot; I was back filling the hole as I progressed down.  I was still only about 1/2 way through the depth of the pocket here.  What an awesome day!

I thought I was nearing the end of the pocket at this time, so I buried the hole and packed up for the day knowing I’d come back in a few days, excavate the hole, and finish it off.  It turned out not going the way that I planned…

Given the pocket was trending downwards, my plan for the second day was to remove the overburden over the deepest part of the hole and also widen the hole so I could continue picking crystals starting with a large crystal I already partially uncovered.  Its good to have a plan, but its also good to be flexible!  As I was mucking, I noticed that there was more of the pocket heading the other way (i.e. in the direction of the picture taker in the above shot).  I ended up focusing on that direction for the entire day as the pocket continued, and got better (!!), in the opposite direction than I originally planned!

The pocket continued as described with the crystal plates at the top and side; but as I progressed I noticed that the floor of the pocket had a layer of larger more well formed crystals and finally microcline at the bottom before it ended up gravel.  So I was now seeing the entire dimension of the pocket, about 2/3 meter tall and 1/2 meter wide.  

An hour or so later, in the center of the pocket, the red mud/clay turned to purple in a couple of spots; that is when I started to find some small fluorite crystals.  These fluorites were a truncated octahedron shape, kinda like a soccer ball.  They started out really small (~1 cm) in single crystals but then out came out in small plates.  A 1/4 meter further, along the side wall of the pocket, the fluorites started to get rather large, up to 8 cm.  At the same time the bottom of the pocket had a couple of large quartz crystals.  


This is one of the larger fluorite crystals I pulled out, definitely the largest on the second day. Note that the square sides do not have any coatings; but the other sides have a purple coating. Really interesting!

truncated octahedron

This is an example of a truncated octahedron.  The fluorite crystals I found were very close to this, however only a few of the smaller ones were completely euhedral.  The larger ones were about 1/2 of what is shown here.

Large Quartz Crystal

This is the large quartz that was sitting on the bottom of the pocket. Three of the sides were covered in the secondary growth terminating with larger crystals at the top.  It had a small cluster of fluorite on the right side, which was the direction where I was pulling out the fluorite mini-soccer balls.  This was the largest crystal that came out of the pocket although it wasn’t euhedral!  

The pocket didn’t show any signs of stopping, and all of a sudden it was dark.  The nearly full moon was illuminating the ground through the trees.  I was exhausted but needed to fill in the hole.  So I started that tedious process and a little while later realized I was surrounded by coyotes…they must have killed something because they were screeching and barking in all directions!  The whole experience made me think Edgar Allen Poe…the evening ended with the soundtrack of me filling in a large hole by the moonlight…what is going on in them woods after dark?  

So as many of you that pick crystals know; when your into the crystals and have to leave a pocket, you continuously think about the pocket while waiting for your next trip!  I’m no different and since I knew it was going to be a week before I could head back up, I couldn’t help but go through the fantasy scenarios and put together a plan of attack for that next trip.  My plan was to excavate the far end of the pocket I was in day 1, taking out the overburden, widening the hole and pulling out the large crystal that was “stuck” and generally seeing how long that side of the pocket continued.  Then, if I extinguished that side of the pocket, I would dig a new hole on the left side (again see diagram above) and meet up with where I left off after day 2.  This would be less work by minimizing the mucking and centering the next portal along a new section of the pocket!   

I had my plan and was able to take a day off of work a little over a week later.  I decided I’d head up after work and set up camp, do the mucking of the hole and then go to sleep; waking up at the crack of dawn and start plucking crystals on my day off.  Ended up getting a later start then I planned and it was dark by the time I arrived.  I lit the lantern, set up camp, and then started the mucking which took a while.  Of course, my plan was flawed because there is no way I can expose a crystal and not try to remove it!  So I ended up working on the pocket until 2 am when my headlamp batteries started to dim!  I then watched a meteorite shower and hit the sack.

The next morning I went down and continued with that side of the pocket until it pinched out.  I was able to remove several large crystals (seen in the video) and behind these crystals the pocket pinched out.  I hit nothing for the next 1/2 meter so I felt I reached that end of the pocket.  After taking a break I started with phase two of my plan.  I hit the end of my day 2 digs a couple of hours later and was back into the crystals.  Once back into the pocket I was able to pull out a large chunk of fluorite along the side of the pocket (top side in the diagram).  The fluorite came out in many pieces (totaling ~30 cm long, 5 cm tall and 5 cm wide).  This was exciting because the fluorites were continuing to getting bigger the more I went in this direction!  However, that was the last fluorite I found in the pocket.  This large chunk was EXTREMELY brittle and broken up and much of it ended up disintegrating when I tried to rinse it off with water.  


This was part of the large chunk of fluorite–the part that didn’t fully disintegrate when I was washing off the pocket mud!

Quartz Points

These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out on the right side.  The crystal in the center is about 18 cm in diameter, has a lot of healed terminations, and fits perfectly with the other crystal that was found nearby in the pocket (see video)!  These crystals do have damage–as most crystals did in this pocket (hence the pocket’s name)–but still was a thrill to find!

Prospecting hole

The hole after day 3, again back filling (on the right) to minimize the mucking efforts.

As you can see in the picture, it was awkward and difficult to go to the bottom of the pocket with that overburden there, so on day 4 I removed it.  I then spent the remainder of that day taking out the bottom of the pocket and following it further.  This section of the pocket started to change from the consistent topography I was getting used to.  The top of the pocket had less of the softer clevlandite/feldspar than before and was more interlocked quartz and pegmatite.  The number of crystals on the top was significantly less than before; the ones that I found were more euhedral and still coated with secondary growth.  This side seemed to be where the most violence had occurred because there was a lot of damage to most of the crystals.  The clay was also harder and pulling the crystals out without damaging them further made progress considerably slower.  There was no more fluorite found on this side of the pocket. 


After day #4, I added the wooden dam so I didn’t have to worry about the other side of the hole continuously filling in while I was mucking and working the pocket.  I had started filling the hole before I took this picture, the bottom is another 1/3 meter buried.  

The fifth day ended up being the final day.  I was able to pull out a couple more really nice crystals as the pocket started to dive under a pegmatite rhine.  The crystals below this point were no longer coated with secondary growth and all were intergrown and not fully euhedral.  Many were still large.  Once the pocket started to dive downward, the sides of the pocket were difficult digging and the crystals weren’t the quality to pursue further.  The pocket had finally pinched out!  I decided to throw in the towel and celebrate the amazing crystal pocket I had unearthed!


Here are the last crystals I pulled out before it got too uncomfortable to dig and the quality wasn’t worth pursuing any longer. The end of an amazing pocket!

Cleaning these crystals has been a chore.  They had many phases of growth, first the smoky quartz, then a layer of albite, then a layer of iron oxide, then a layer of clear secondary growth quartz, then another layer of iron oxide and clay.  Cleaning these requires a chemical bath and then mechanical cleaning, repeating over and over due to the tremendous amounts of facets that each crystal has.  Because there is a layer of iron oxide under the clear quartz, the crystals are somewhat “spotted” with red and white that can’t be removed from under the clear quartz.  In some instances they beg to be cleaned more, but then you realize that the staining is all under the clear quartz.

The amount of facets are amazing and each piece, regardless of how little or large–they are all unique!  I will probably leave some pieces uncleaned as they will look better that way; while others I’ll spend the winter cleaning.  It takes about 2-3 weeks per batch of crystals to get them clean enough for my liking (several iterations of chemical then mechanical cleaning), so it is a slow and labor intensive process.  But a day playing with crystals is better than a day at work, that’s for sure!  This will add some fun throughout the entire winter!


Here is a gallery of some of the crystals and plates that I found.  

Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point

Quartz Points

These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out.

Quartz Points Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Microcline Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point

Prospecting Tips and Hints

Last year I published an article How to Find Crystals that detailed some of the techniques I use and general prospecting tips, hoping to give several tips and hints to aid in expediting the learning curve of digging crystals.  I’ve gotten some great feedback from that article and appreciate all the comments.


One of the things I tried to cover in that blog posting was what to look for on the surface and how to know if you are in a good spot and should continue digging, or bury the hole and continue the prospecting elsewhere.  I knew it would be difficult to share that experience, as I’m still learning myself and it’s one of those things you can read about all day long but you don’t “get it” until you actually can see and experience how it is done.  The pictures and text in that article were helpful I feel; but it still left me with questions after reading it–knowing that I had a plan for this year’s prospecting trips…

That blog posting was just the first of many postings I plan to do sharing what I’ve figured out on finding pegmatite crystals.  I was able to get out digging late this spring and my goal was to take some video while I was on the hunt, hopefully showing what I look for on the surface and what I look for as I follow the pegmatite trail to the crystals (assuming I find crystals, which many times I don’t)!  This video hopefully will provide some tips and hints of what works for me in the toughest part of the process, the initial prospecting and test holes.

Unfortunately due to leaving the camera in the sun too long, the pocket extraction video was corrupt, but the good stuff from a prospecting perspective was saved showing progress as I was hunting for the pocket.  You’ll see that demonstrated in the video below.

I would love your feedback, questions and suggestions.  I plan to do other videos showing different techniques.

The small crystal pocket I eventually hit I’m calling the OneTwo.  It was mainly Microcline crystals, most were Carlsbad twinned!  On these, once cleaned up, opposite faces had a blue tint of Amazonite to them; not as deep of green color as you find elsewhere in the region, but still really nice and a lot of fun.  The smokey quartz I found all had secondary coatings of a darker colored quartz which will be very difficult to remove.


Interesting cluster of Amazonite / Microcline joined at a ~45 degree angle.

Amazonite Carsbad Twin

Carlsbad twinned Amazonite (light blue) with a small amount of cleavelandite sprays.

Carlsbad Amazonite

Nice little pair of Carlsbad twinned Amazonite with a bit of cleavelandite.


These are the largest crystals from the pocket, each about 3.5 inches tall. They had to be repaired as they came out in 3 pieces, the cap to the larger crystal was cleaved off and the two crystals had been separated and were found about a foot from each other in the pocket.

smokey quartz

Smoky Quartz showing the secondary quartz growth. These have been soaked in a heated chemical bath for several weeks and look at lot better than they originally did; but this is as far as I will clean them as the quartz underneath is not worth the effort.


Some of the nicer twinned amazonites from the OneTwo pocket.

Smoky Quartz

Examples of the coated smoky quartz from the OneTwo. The larger crystals are nearly 3 inches long.  There were mostly microcline crystals in the pocket; which is opposite of what I typically find in the region.

How to Find Crystals Using Different Types of Prospecting Techniques

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!

That's how you find crystals!

Hitting a crystal pocket gives you a tremendous high! This was my first crystal pocket!

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:

  1. Searching the tailing piles of other digs
  2. Finding float and following it
  3. 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!

How to find crystals, this time a mt antero phenakite and aquamarine

Mount Antero double terminated Phenakite my son found laying on the surface, would have been great to have more of that aquamarine attached!

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!

Tips include

  • 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!

Milky Quartz and Fluorite, crystals i find in the dumps

This Milky Quartz and Fluorite plate was found discarded by the original miner on the dumps, cleaned up it is awesome, good enough for me!  Just wish I could find the other material which made this trash in comparison!

Fluorite Crystals I find looking through tailings

These Fluorites were covered in pocket mud and then again in dirt. Always examine “dirt balls” !!! Needs some more cleaning, but examples of what you can find in the dumps.  Fluorite and other crystals are heavier than other rocks, so pay attention to the weight of the rocks you are extracting!

Prospecting Float

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.

Float Quartz Crystals

Float coated smoky and milky quartz crystals found in a 10 foot diameter area about 6 inches under the ground.  The left smoky is ~10 cm.

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!

Following Float when prospecting

A float dig. I was following signs up the hill (probably 10 feet here) digging only about 3-7 inches deep.  Notice the pile of dirt on the right, this makes it ultra fast to fill in the hole once I’m done…literally 2 minutes.  I often backfill the hole as I’m following the float.  Notice the rocks on the surface above my digging, these are what you want to see, but in this case they are likely from another dig up the hill as they are not partially buried like Mother Nature would do.

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!
Example of graphic granite

Here are some good examples of graphic granite from one of my digs. Notice the quartz crystals getting bigger in size and consistent through the rocks.  Click the image for a larger picture with more detail.

Good signs when prospecting

These pieces of quartz are great signs with many sides–but none are totally faceted which tells me they came out of massive granite.  Also notice the microcline.  Follow these!

Good signs when prospecting

Example of a good mix of quartz on feldspar, almost (but not quite) starting to look like a plate of quartz crystals. The upper quartz has a several flat sides! This chunk definitely kept me on the hunt!

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!

Prospecting Pegmatites

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:

Wish you good fortune as you find crystals!


Micro Smoky Quartz Pocket

I was able to head up to the hills again, twice in one weekend (albeit a long weekend) for about 4 hours on my way home from a camping trip, decided to prospect a little in a new area.  I found some ground that looked promising, and out came some nice peg.  I dug the peg for a while with no luck at all, but was persistent because it was too late to prospect out new ground for the day.

The smoky quartz crystals I found over about 45 minutes of carefully digging through the pegmatite.

The smoky quartz crystals I found over about 45 minutes of carefully digging through the pegmatite.

Right before I gave up for the day I hit into a half baked clear quartz crystal; with no point and completely fractured; but with the flat sides and about 3 inch length I got renewed interest in this peg.  I have found that clear quartz when digging for smokies sometimes is a sign that smoky quartz is nearby.  I carefully dug for about 10 minutes more and a small gemmy smoky quartz crystal popped out.

Another gemmy smoky quartz

Gemmy smoky quartz that started my renewed interest in this peg

It has been a while since I hit a small pocket, I actually like harvesting small crystals as it presents a challenge of being careful and clean in the hole.  Many prospectors have no interest in anything of this size, but to me a crystal is a crystal regardless of size.  🙂  It is easy for the small crystals to be covered in dirt and swept away, so I had fun for the next 45 minutes or so meticulously pulling out tiny smoky quartz crystals!

I love how this crystal is irradiated only for part of the crystal, the rest is clear!

I love how this crystal is irradiated only for part of the crystal, the rest is clear!

In one section of the peg there was some nice micro plates of quartz with crystals, but it finished as soon as it started and was tough digging as it was surrounded by very hard peg (I had to use a chisel and hammer and attack it around the pocket). I was able to pull out many gemmy smoky quartz before calling it a day.  The peg continued on, so I suspect I can go back another day and continue to collect ultra small crystals.  Some of these crystals were the smallest I’ve ever dug; so I was very happy with the day!

Neat tabby that was totally gemmy!

Neat tabby that was totally gemmy!

This one was odd; neat growth at the bottom of the tiny pocket!

This one was odd; neat growth at the bottom of the tiny pocket!

The smallest plate of smoky quartz I have ever found.  Way smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger.

The smallest plate of smoky quartz I have ever found. Way smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger.

Microcline and Smoky Quartz

A piece of microcline crystal with a small seam of tiny smoky quartz

Digging float quartz crystals

Was able to break away from work so I took a vacation day and went up to Devil’s Head digging this last Friday.  Been rough to get up there this year due to a busy schedule, but it was nice to be back out in the forest again.

I had a plan for this day–which I had been pondering upon over the last month while planning this trip.  First thing I wanted to prospect an area that I remember looking promising a couple of years ago and if that didn’t pan out I wanted to dig some float on a very old dig I found that seemed pretty productive to the original prospector.  If I got skunked with both parts of the plan I had a third option that was within a mile.

I stopped several times during my prospecting and checked out what looked to be good ground in many places.  There was peg showing on the surface–both quartz, feldspar and combos–but the quartz was very striated, fractured and had no flat faces at all.  I found many places along this steep hillside with the same situation, even though there was a lot of “good looking” signs on the surface.  I ended up finding one rough point about the diameter of a nickel in one spot, but nothing otherwise.  The hill was *very* steep and after nearly 4 hours I got tired of all the climbing and precarious hiking so I decided to give up on that area.

Stash of crystals I brought home from today's "float dig"

Stash of crystals I brought home from today’s “float dig”, all rinsed with water, none cleaned in chemical yet.

My second stop was about 1/2 mile away and was a old dig that someone obviously had success with as they had excavated a trench about 50 foot in length as they followed the pegmatite dike across the hillside.  I could tell the dig was really old because the trench had naturally filled in most of the way and was looking pretty filled in.  I believe this is why the Forest Service is okay with leaving holes unreclaimed as over time they naturally fill back in, although I still believe to fill in my holes as it takes a long time for nature to do it; and holes are simply an eyesore in our forest and potentially dangerous to animals!

My goal at this location was to see if I could find float or perpendicular seams coming out of the peg with some nice sized crystals (given the dig was fairly large). In other spots I have found my best crystals not in or under the pegmatite dike but rather coming out perpendicular to it in many spots in smaller peg seams. I also figured as I got into the old diggings I could possible see what the person was into–I always like to analyze others’ digs as this is a primary way I learn!

I started digging about 4-6 feet downhill of the old trench about 2-4 feet wide and a couple of feet deep.  It was hard to tell if I was just digging in tailings or actual virgin ground below the trench, but soon I started finding crystal parts which narrowed my focus.  Quickly I zoned in upon a small seam with microcline and smoky quartz crystals.  Some were nice and I kept them; but most were only partially euhedral which was a sign of a smaller, tighter seam–even though some of the crystal parts were 5-7 inches long!

The crystals were organized to make me think this was not float (i.e. eroded crystals that eroded and rolled downhill from the pocket) as evidence of microcline and crystals next to each other and some red stained dirt.  They definitely were in loose dirt and not harder rock.  I followed this seam at a angle of about 30 degrees from straight downhill (I was on a very steep hill) for about 25-30 feet until it disappeared.  The further downhill I went the smaller the crystals shards were, the less smoky in color and less frequent.  The last 20 feet or so didn’t have anything worth keeping.

A nice euhedral microcline (right), microcline with mica, triple quartz cluster and double terminated smoky quartz

A nice euhedral microcline (right), microcline with mica, triple quartz cluster and double terminated smoky quartz were some of the nicer finds of the day.

As I made my way into the old trench from below I started hitting larger masses of pegmatite (like three feet deep), this was the original peg that the prospector followed across the hillside.  The digger left many crystals along the bottom of that seam and had obviously found a crack in the peg that had crystals, which is where I often also find my crystals.  The unfortunate thing was that the digger obviously used metal tools in this seam and most of the crystals he left attached to the bottom of that seam were damaged on their points.  Obviously the digger was finding nice crystals because they didn’t care about the nice 2-3 inch ones they were damaging all along the bottom of the small pocket/seam.  Moral of that story, don’t use metal tools in your pockets and take your time, unless you don’t care about the “little guys”!

Nice sized crystals with damage due to carelessness of the previous digger using metal tools in the pocket.

Nice sized crystals with damage due to carelessness of the previous digger using metal tools in the pocket.  You can guage the size by the soda can ring on the old table.

I dug until the sun was setting (beautiful sunset) and it started to sprinkle, since I had a heck of a hike (about a mile with some steep hills) back to the car I didn’t want to wait and have it get dark.  As always, had a blast being out in the forest prospecting and was able to prove that–whether it is float or a perpendicular seam–there are sometimes crystals left behind by other prospectors and available if you put in the work from previous digs.  This is definitely easier than prospecting good ground signs and striking into virgin ground, which likely will improve the chances of finding crystals quickly?

Smoky Quartz

Interesting growth pattern on this smoky quartz

Devils Head Picking Field Trip

Went up to Devils Head with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to do some pickin’ today.  Last week the Fire Watch Tower / Campground area was hit with a EF0/EF1 tornado (max wind 90 mph, 500 yards long, 100 yards wide max) and is currently closed due to all the snapped trees.  Luckily we didn’t go to that area and could continue with the field trip.

We went to the area east of the Topaz Picnic Area, near the old topaz mine and claims.  I hadn’t had much luck in this area in the past, but it was good to hang out with like-minded folks and give it another try.  I prospected an area that was level on the hillside with many other digs (this area is heavily dug) about 40 feet away, and about 40 feet or so below a really old dig.  My goal was to either hope to find the pegmatite dike or perhaps find some float.

Immediately I found a clear quartz that was healed.  I had to look carefully because it was amazingly clear and gemmy like topaz, but the growth lines on the crystal faces were perpendicular to the axis through the point and it had a quartz shape, so no go on my first topaz at Devils Head.

Following Float

Dig area, following the float uphill

For those that often ask me what I’m looking for, this is something I didn’t find much online or in the books.  This technique is just what I’ve figured out and there could be much better ways to prospect, but this will at least give you something to try the next time you are up digging if you are looking for things to try…

I scrape off the top soil to see what is at the boundry of the top soil and gravel layers...or "float".

I scrape off the top soil to see what is at the boundry of the top soil and gravel layers…or “float”.


Clear Quartz in the sunlight makes it look like Topaz…

I continued to dig uphill (in the picture above I ended about 10 feet above the trees at the top of the photo) and as I got close to the old dig the quartz started to get larger.  I was finding float, or quartz that is below the organic layer of dirt and above the gravel, or about up to 6 inches below the surface.  Once I hit the clear quartz I started to dig around that, and then when I hit the first double terminated crystal I was able to form a trajectory up the hill and continued in that general direction.  It took a little while to figure out the direction but once I did the area I had to prospect was smaller making the process quicker.

The double terminated smaller quartz was the second I found, and the larger double terminated quartz was the last I found at this location.  Not pictured are all the shaped pieces of quartz (but not fully euhedral) that kept me on the chase up the hill.

Float Quartz

Milky quartz crystals found while digging the float. The large one on the upper right was double terminated and so was the one in the lower left.  The two in the middle show gemmy smoky quartz under the milky coating.

double terminated quartz

Double Terminated crystal shows several periods of growth. Original was likely to the pegmatite ceiling or floor, then it broke off and was healed (you can see this clearly on the other face).

Other folks were also having luck so it was a great day, the folks next to me pulled out a nice 4 inch smoky quartz!  After my hole was filled in I got up to check out the finds of other folks, but most folks had already left, no wonder it had gotten quiet!  I chatted with one other person who was in a small pocket in a very large dig and he had some nice crystals too.

I decided to try another spot and started to dig again after having lunch.  Here I was able to find a small seam in harder pegmatite that produced some nice twin smoky quartz and some light blue amazonite crystal faces.

Overall a fun day pickin’ at Devils Head!

Smoky Quartz

Smoky Quartz found in second location.  The 4 crystals at the right were sidewall type crystals (the backs on a couple are not terminated).  They were all found in a seam of pegmatite, not a pocket with sand, so it took a while to excavate from the small area.

You can see the white overgrowth on the otherwise gemmy smoky quartz

You can see the white overgrowth on the otherwise gemmy smoky quartz

Devils Head Amazonite

Amazonite found in the second location. More bluish than traditional green in color.

One thing about Devils Head crystals is they almost always need a bath as they have iron oxide staining, especially the amazonite/microcline.  These photos above are of the crystals just rinsed of with water, showing exactly how they look when fresh out of the ground!  The photos below are after a week of heated oxalic acid bath.

tn_JulyCrystals-2015-9885 tn_JulyCrystals-2015-9886 tn_JulyCrystals-2015-9887 tn_JulyCrystals-2015-9888 tn_JulyCrystals-2015-9889

Soaked in a chemical bath for a week.  Still some staining, but looking nicer!

Soaked in a chemical bath for a week. Still some staining, but looking nicer!

Twin Smokies

Twin Smoky Quartz with lots of iron staining…needs a bath!  Looks like it could be gemmy!

Nice etched polka dot patterns!

Nice etched polka dot patterns on the point!

Smoky Quartz

Needs a good cleaning, but this Smoky Quartz is gemmy and also has some nice small crystal growth on the point.  The back side is also terminated..really close to being a double terminated crystal!

Love the little gemmy crystal on the termination

Love the little gemmy crystal on the termination

Smoky Quartz and Amazonite Picking

Larger smoky quartz from this small pocket

These were some of the smoky quartz that would fall out of the pocket when I shook the tree roots. Some of the bigger quartz from the pocket

It has been a while since I’ve been up in the hills, but recently I _finally_ had a free day and I was able to hit the hills and prospect for some crystals.  This year has been somewhat slow for me so far, I’ve ventured up to dig for Amazonite and/or Smoky Quartz two times before and I had found just a small crystal or two in those days.  I also was prospecting way away from my normal places too, but you never know until you check it out!

This last outing, however, I went back to a spot I had luck with in years past as I wanted to dig down deeper.  I’ve been told by numerous folks that digging deeper around a seam or small pocket in the pegmatite often yields huge rewards, so I decided this was the day to expend some energy and find out.  I arrived at 6am and it was nice and cool so I started to trench out diagonally from where I had luck before.  I went about 3-4 feet deep working through some very hard rock to find nothing but gravel on the other side of the pegmatite.  I continued elongating the trench and was able to find some peg that was looking okay but it was producing nothing but hard work.  After 5 hours of digging I decided that down was not the source at this point and started to fill in the large hole.

One thing I also wanted to try at this spot was to follow the peg past where it appeared to pinch out when I was onto crystals in years past, so I went about 10-15 feet beyond in the general direction of the seam and started another probe hole.  Immediately I was pulling quartz chunks out but none with euhedral sides; they appeared to be float as they were in the deep organic matter.  I went down about 3 feet and finally started to hit the pegmatite!  It continued and I was happy to see it!  I trenched it for a while perpendicular to the peg and was pulling crystals out in the past, some some graphic peg appeared but nothing at all with facets.  The peg was rather thin at this point and nothing was in the gravel below.  I ended up with my trench into the roots of a tree and since there were no positive signs I decided to give the tree a break and not damage any of the roots.  So I filled in that hole and took a break as that was another 2 hours of hard work!

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

This was the other quartz crystal in the center of the pocket. Neat double terminated crystal that is completely gemmy inside! Love that root beer smoky color!

Heart of the pocket

Heart of the pocket, double terminated crystal all cleaned up.

While eating lunch and taking a break, I noticed a rock that was on the other side of my tree that appeared to be buried pretty deep.  After eating I tried to pull it out but it wouldn’t give.  Interesting that on its side there appeared to be some quartz chunks so I got out the pick and dug it out.  It definitely had better shape than any of the peg I was in before lunch, so I started to dig around it.  The next rock had some green and I knew I was in the right spot.  In just a little while I was in the start of a seam with some nice smaller partially euhedral quartz and amazonite shards.  The peg was definitely different than the one I dug in previously so I continued uphill.

About a foot further down and up hill the peg opened up a little and in that opening I started to get more green shards of microcline and a larger quartz chunks.  One of the first quartz pieces I found was what looked like a tip of a larger crystal.  I see this all the time and I realized that I likely had a really big crystal in store up hill!  It was nearly at the other side of the seam/pocket, so it had fallen downhill several feet in the seam which was very interesting…Upon hitting a stump of an old burnt out tree I then discovered the small pocket.  Unfortunately my phone died and I didn’t have my regular camera so I can’t share any pictures of the digs, but as I dug through the large roots crystals started to appear.  The microcline was light amazonite and some crystals fit into the palm of my hand.  Upon shaking the roots crystals would fall into my hole below!  It was a quite fun pocket but it receded as quickly as it opened up.  Still I was able to get some good sized crystals and amazonite including a couple double terminated (one healed) smoky quartz.  I was dead tired by after 5pm (almost 12 hours digging) so I filled in all the holes completely and headed home.  Who knows, there could be more there (maybe dig down like the experts say?), I’ll have to check it out again some other time.

Colorado Amazonite Crystals

Uncleaned, straight from the Earth, some light colored Amazonite crystals


Soaked for a week in a hot oxalic acid bath, the powder blue color is nice–but no where as nice as the green further south.

Large smoky quartz with broken tip

As in nearly EVERY pocket I dig, I find a broken tip. This time, I was digging up hill and found the tip first. I knew that was a great sign and that I’d find its adjoining large crystal which made an exciting dig!

Smoky Quartz Cluster

Smoky quartz cluster that came out of the center of the pocket. Uncleaned.

Cleaned up cluster

Cleaned up smoky quartz cluster

Crystal TV

Crystal TV

All Action!!! No Drama!!


Here’s your first source for Crystal TV!  All action with none of the drama!

I’m not sure how many of you like to watch excavations of crystals from the ground; but as an avid rockhound / picker I love to see crystals unearthed!!!  I also learn from seeing it done, so I have been seeking out likeminded folks doing likeminded things!

Here is my YouTube playlist of videos of folks digging crystals from the ground including my own videos!  If you have video(s) that should be included make sure you let me know!

Looking forward to a fun Rockhoudning Season!

Dia De Los Muertos Crystal Pocket (Updated with Video)

As always, clicking the image brings up a larger version, and you can review my other rockhounding adventures here.

Dia De Los Muertos Smoky Quartz Pocket

Daphne constructed this 2 .5 foot crystal skull from the smoky quartz of this pocket

Dia De Los Muertos is always a celebration, especially when finding a crystal pocket! On November 2 I ventured up to Devils Head locality with the hopes of finding some crystals.  I was venturing into new areas and often I don’t find much when prospecting but today was a lucky day!  I found some smaller pegmatite chunks on the surface and dug in the area; about 45 minutes into my digging I started to pull out some interesting microcline plates. I definitely was in a seam or pocket but there wasn’t any quartz crystals to be found….yet…

Microcline Smoky Quartz Plate

One of the many interesting smoky quartz/microcline combo plates from the pocket

Smoky Quartz / Microcline plate

One of many Smoky Quartz / Microcline plates from this seam

As I dug parallel to a larger pegmatite I tracked upon a small seam that started producing small smoky quartz crystals along with plates of microcline.  The further I dug the larger and more abundant the crystals became.  The pocket opened up a few times with some nice 5+ inch smoky quartz crystals and then would become smaller just to open up again.  After about 10 feet of excavation no more than 18 inches under ground, I had found well over 200 crystals and clusters, and then the seam quickly pinched out. As with other seams and pockets, when you get into the crystals you tend to get many in a small space!  I figure on average I was pulling out a couple of crystals per inch of excavation work!

Smoky Quartz from pocket

Not yet soaked in acid, smoky quartz with phantoms and healed terminations

Dia De Los Muertos Crystals

Many of the Dia De Los Muertos Crystals all cleaned up

One thing I noted while plucking the crystals from the ground is many were double terminated, probably close to 1/3 of the crystals from the pocket!  Upon getting them cleaned up it became obvious that this crystal pocket had seen several growth periods and also a period of shift where several crystals were crushed and shattered.  One of the largest 5″ crystals was missing its point which I found about a foot away along the seam.  The tip didn’t fit perfectly because of the additional growth period on both the tip and the base crystal; but it was obvious they were once the same crystal though.

El Nariz Quartz Crystal

La Nariz – The gemmy smoky quartz cluster from the center of the pocket; I plan to visit again next year to see if the microcline plate this came off of is still there…I bet it is!


Smoky cluster showing phantom

Smoky quartz cluster showing phantom

The multiple growth periods are evident in several ways.  Firstly, many of the crystals have milky colored phantoms.  This is the first time I found phantoms like this at Devils Head and they are truly spectacular.  Multiple growth periods is additionally evident due to terminated healing where crystals that were once on the floor or ceiling were broken off (likely when the pocket shifted or collapsed) and then the end healed forming beautiful double terminated crystals.  Many of these are healed with phantoms as well!

Phantom Quartz

This quartz was smashed ages ago and shows the phantom crystal up close and personal

Gemmy Smoky with Phantom

Gemmy Smoky with Phantom

Gemmy quartz with phantom

Gemmy quartz with phantom

Gemmy Quartz with Phantom

Gemmy Quartz with Phantom prior to the acid bath

Smoky Quartz with Phantom

Smoky Quartz with Phantom

Quartz with Phantom

Quartz with Phantom, after the Super Iron Out soak but before Phosphoric Acid bath

Cleaning took a while, although they were not heavily coated.  I used Super Iron Out first for a couple of sessions, mechanically cleaned the crystals with my water gun in between, and then soaked them for two weeks (some took about 6 weeks) in a heated phosphoric acid bath.  I did two or sometimes three sessions with the water gun between soaks.

Double Terminated / Healed Quartz

Double Terminated / Healed Quartz

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz with Phantom

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

A wonderful end to the season; I found some great crystals this year at Devils Head and look forward to prospecting some new areas next year!

Virgin Bath Overlook looking south

Devils Head’s Virgin Bath Overlook looking southwest!