Smoky Quartz and Amazonite Picking

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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


  1. You seem to be doing pretty well with the digging. They are not kidding about digging deeper. I was visiting a claim near mine in the Crystal Peak area where I got to help pull out crystals from a large pocket. The amazonite crystals were rather large with pale color but were well formed although many had a lot of etching eating away at the faces. The smoky quartz crystals were pretty fair although there were some excellent crystals found.

    The pocket was found by digging through some peg size gravel with white quartz with no faces. After about two feet a tight compact pocket was found with about 30 excellent smoky quartz crystals with the largest being about 4 or 5 inches. It was decided on the spot that it was worth trying digging deeper to see if a larger pocket could be found. The smoky quartz pocket was in a shallow peg seam about 1 to 2 feet thick. Gravel was hit after that. At about 4 feet he hit some bedrock with some peg size material. After making a guess on which direction to go he chopped away at about 2 to 3 feet of hard rock going mostly down. He knew he hit a pocket when the tool just met far less resistance. The pocket just kept opening up with a fine tan colored sandy material. It was about 1 1/2 to 2 days of digging to get to the point of finding that large pocket. The pocket probably was about 5 feet long and about 3 feet high. I saw many flats of material that was taken from there including some combo plates. I was able to pull out some material near the end and still found a huge double terminated amazonite crystal that I didn’t keep as I felt that it was worth too much as a guest digger. At the far end of the pocket I did run into that red pocket clay but for the most part the pocket matrix was that fine tan colored sand.

    I was’t as lucky with my nearby claim although I did find a shallow near surface peg with some very gemmy but damaged smoky quartz plates. Still have not gotten deeper than about 3 feet for any of the places I found promising material. I have not yet gone to my topaz claim but plan to do that later this month.


  2. Holy cow James, that sounds awesome! I plan to revisit some of my older spots and see if there are signs going further down too. I needed other tools during this dig to go any deeper in the spot that had peg still below…what I want to know is how do you know when it is worthwhile to dig further down? Whenever there is crystals found keep going? Heading up to a field trip to get topaz this weekend; hopefully find some. 1/2 the summer is gone and I’ve only gone out once in the last several months! Good luck at your topaz claim later this month!

  3. WOndering if you’d be willing to share a location that my family can try. We always luck out and have found nothing yet except the stuff that’s easy pickings (the fluorite pile on Pikes Peak and quartz hill in Lake George).
    I’d love it if you’d email me some info on places we might be able to try. My kids get so bummed out when we don’t find anything.
    P.S. Not looking to steal your areas, just trying to let my kids feel the thrill of finding somehting.

    1. Hi Becca. Getting into the quartz crystals is easier said than done. I am still trying to perfect the art of prospecting; which I think is always an element of luck, hard work, and some knowledge. The luck and hard-work part I can’t help you with, but knowledge I may be able to give you some hints. I’m putting together a blog post that may help with understanding what to look for and how to go about digging, but here is a summary of a post I did on Facebook this last week–in that post I’m speaking specifically of Devils Head:

      I dig test holes…about one foot diameter until you get past the organics and into the gravel. Looking for anything with faceted sides or graphics peg. If I find something I assume it comes from uphill and start my way that direction doing the same thing. If you find larger rocks especially with quartz in it I dig down further and around looking for the pegmatite and then follow that. In the Virgin Bath area it has been so heavily prospected ground indicators like actual crystals are long gone since this area has been prospected for well over 100 years and likely a lot longer by the Natives. It is one of the more successful areas up there though that I have seen.

      Know that granite is made from quartz and feldspar, graphic granite is where the quartz and feldspar form larger crystals together. Pegmatite is where that graphic granite occurs. If you search the old digs tailings you’ll know what I’m talking about…matter of fact I always study EVERY dig I see, especially big digs (folks won’t dig huge holes unless there is a reason).

      I have been most successful when I see graphic granite on the surface, although this is somewhat rare. I always turn over rocks to see what is on the other side. Many times I see actual crystal forms on the rock and I dig right away! You are looking for graphic granite to lead you to a pegmatite dike or vein in the decomposed granite gravel. As you dig out that rock you’ll sometimes get more euhedral rocks (ones with crystal/flat sides) and you are close when this occurs. Other times I’ll just get down on my knees and dig a test hole like I state above; and if I see anything interesting I’ll dig uphill.

      I think of it this way; over the 10’s or 100’s of millions of years natural erosion has eaten through these pegs and pulled its contents downhill. If there are crystal pockets, water and gravity will have pulled some of those pockets downhill. Then, over the last 1,000s of years trees and other organic matter has formed the topsoil and covered the contents of that erosion. Your job as a rockhound is to get past that layer of topsoil and find those eroded crystal pocket contents, then head uphill to the pocket itself.

      One thing I do with my kids is find a spot that is pretty dug up; there is always bullet casings and glass and cans and other stuff to find that kids love (they have found knives, binoculars, money, and other stuff); so while I’m desperately trying to find signs of crystals at least the kids are finding other specimens! LOL. You have to keep their interest in some way!

      Hope that helps, check out the 677 Log Jumper trail at Devils Head and explore the hundreds of digs; you may find leftovers and definitely will learn from what others were finding. The best bet is to join a rock club (family memberships are about $35/year) and go on their field trips; there are experts there that will love to help others (especially kids!) find crystals! Again, if you want to get crystals quick, this is the best way to go about it. The other thing is to visit your local library and check out the Rockhounding Colorado books. They will tell you exactly where to go, what you’ll find, and how to go about it. A little reading will go a long way!

      Good luck, and I hope for you to have good luck, and the harder you work the more you will be rewarded!

  4. Thanks so much for the valuable info! And no, your email is the only one I got. I

  5. As far as deciding on how long to keep digging, I think a lot has to do with how familiar you are with the immediate area. In this case the claim owner either had opened up large pockets fairly nearby or knew of some older large scale diggings. A lot of luck is still needed as he said that the last pocket of similar size was three years ago.

    But basically if you find even a small pocket the chances of finding other pockets in the immediate area are much greater and one should spend some time digging both down and a radius from the center of that pocket. In a similar way, finding a peg seam can mean that other seams may not be far off.

    I was only there for the last day of digging out that pocket but to get an idea of how he found that pocket I dug a trench about 3 feet away and downslope from where he had started digging. The material at the surface wasn’t anything that really stood out. Mostly organic stuff mixed with pea size gravel mixture of crumbly medium grained granite with occasional chunks of larger sized feldspar and white quartz. No amazonite fragments on the surface. Within a foot or two of digging I started coming across some fragments with crystal faces. A stray smoky quartz crystal was found here and there which did not seem to be located to any specific pocket. A hand sized dirty grey milky quartz crystal with lots of rehealed faces was found a little farther down the slope what seemed to be out of place. Perhaps something from an older surface pocket long since eroded away?

    After about three feet of digging, some amazonite color shards started appearing along with some pretty well formed loose plain microcline crystals. Larger rock fragments of both medium grained granite and peg sized material started appearing. This was the first peg seam which was rather broken up for the most part. It was just a matter of digging around the larger boulder masses and prying them loose. I found one crude amazonite crystal in a mass of peg face material. After this was mostly a mixture of boulders and pea sized gravel. About one foot before I hit the bedrock I came across more sandy appearing material which was a small pocket which had about 6 to 8 small but gemmy smokies. Most of the sandy stuff stopped right at the bedrock and I would find an occasional quartz crystal right on the bedrock surface. Some of the bedrock showed peg signs and I moved some of it before I ran out of time.

    Would I have found a large pocket if I had been able to dig more? Probably not since there is a lot of luck in finding a big pocket but I did find that small smoky quartz pocket higher up. I am pretty certain I would have found more small pockets moving outwards along that bedrock surface just under that decomposing first peg seam.


  6. James. I believe I know of the bedrock you speak of; I often find a bit of pocket clay at that level where it was sand/gravel type material above it. Only once have I found a pocket that is completely full of clay, and that one was the best pocket I ever hit and was difficult to excavate due to the gooey thick clay.

    Very well explained in your comment, too. I almost felt like I was digging while reading your comments! I do see what you talk about in one area I’ve been to where there are multiple seams near each other, this last small seam/pocket I found was that way. I suspect there are several more small crystal seams in this area I’m at now; but I’m hoping to uncover the likely (?) bigger pocket of that area someday?

    In reading the “Collector’s Guide to Granite Pegmatites” by Vandall T. King he explains about various zones of pegmatite, which I have found interesting but have yet to witness in the wild. He says that pockets often form in kinks or rolls in the pegmatite dikes, and when in pocket zones pockets are numerous within the zone. Of course, he’s writing more about California and beryl so there could be some similarities and differences.

    Regardless, would be great to see of the stones that you pulled out.

    I was on a club field trip near your claim last weekend and there were 40 of us digging for topaz, only one (nice!) piece was plucked from the ground. I found some smokies isolated in the clay layer under a rock, but nothing else well formed. Going to do a club trip to Devils Head next weekend, so it will be interesting to pick the minds of the old pros in ground I’m familiar with! Meanwhile, I have some of the crystals from this posting still soaking and will get pictures up as soon as I can!

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences in such vivid detail!

  7. Hey Dave,
    Thanks for all the info above! It was tremendous to read through the details! I am a total novice, but have read some rockhounding books and I want to dig a little up Devi’s Head this weekend. Is there a map that shows people’s claims? I do not want to intrude on anyone’s claims, just get my hands dirty and maybe take some pictures. Any info would be appreciated, along with any advice for a beginner looking to find something cool! Thanks again!


    1. Hi Brynden. Check out my post on claims… Once you get the CMC #s you can go to either the BLM office or local County Clerk and get the Certificate of Locations which has the exact location of the claims. I have yet to find anything online. I have heard that “BLM Maps” have these, but I can’t see how they keep them up to date…

      Read through my Rockhound posts for tips, also read the comments. There is a LOT of information there. Also you can read another local person’s blog that is very informative too,

      Good luck this weekend, let me know what you find!

  8. I have the granite pegmatite book as well but I think that the prospecting books by Sinkankas are much better for visualizing and locating pegs. There are different editions that come up for sale and even the older versions are perfectly fine. The one I have is called Prospecting for Gemstones and Minerals. Field Collecting Gems and Minerals is a newer version but seems to be a bit more expensive. The first one was called Gemstones and Minerals: How and Where to Find Them. The one I have has good tips on locating pegs and what tools to use and so on.

    I am drying out the stuff I got from the huge pocket so expect some photos in the mail in a day or two. This was basically what I got from that pocket just using my bare hands pulling out stuff from the tan sandy material. I only spent about an half hour in the pocket at the most. Some of the etching patterns are really cool.


  9. Next time someone asks me about finding crystals in pegmatite I think I’ll cut and paste your comments to Becca Butler. Tried Devil’s Head last week and worked an old pocket mostly deeper. Bob found a number of 5+” smokys but most were either broken or had a lot of secondary white quartz overgrowth. There’s always next week!

  10. Kevin.

    I’ve been taking your advice and digging deeper, so far have not scored the big pocket but I think I am now understanding what you would see to continue following the peg. I plan to hit up some old digs this fall where I was hitting crystals fairly shallow and try this technique!

    Wow, 5+ inch smokys is great. I have found the white overgrowth mostly around the Topaz Point Picnic Area. Otherwise I don’t find too much overgrowth around the Virgin’s Bath area!

    Good luck with your next trip(s) up; I probably won’t be able to head up again until later in the month. If I find anything I’ll post about it.


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