Rock hounding a fascinating hobby for Southern Nevadans

A rich geological storehouse, Nevada’s diversity of minerals and gemstones creates wonderful opportunities for rock hounds. For Southern Nevadans bitten by the rock hounding bug, neighboring portions of Arizona, California and Utah add to that diversity. Within certain limits, the region promises numerous outings in search of interesting rocks.

Nevada’s mineral wealth enriched the state’s history with mining booms generated by fabulous discoveries of silver, gold and copper and other profitable deposits. The Silver State remains among the world’s leading producers of gold. The state boasts many kinds of gemstones as well, including jewels such as turquoise, garnet, opal, topaz and amethyst. High-quality Nevada turquoise remains a favorite of jewelers and silversmiths. Nevada’s vast landscapes cradle a plethora of fascinating stones that expanded the collections of serious rock collectors, stock the bins of rock shops and enhance museum exhibits.

Rock collectors often start by picking up any stones that catch the eye and packing them home. Before long, they want to be able to identify common specimens in the field. They need then to obtain a good field guide. Local bookstores and stores in state and federal park visitor centers offer a variety of such guidebooks. Look for a well-illustrated guide in color that is small enough to fit in a backpack. Search also for detailed maps aimed at rock hounds. After a few trips, the need for a rock hammer in that backpack becomes evident.

Become familiar with some of Nevada’s bewildering variety of minerals and gemstones by perusing labeled collections in local museums. Visit well-stocked rock shops. Avail yourself of books on the subject in local libraries. Build your own library of informative books.

At the top of this category, an encyclopedic compendium of 840 Nevada mineral specimens resides in the 560-page “Minerals of Nevada,” by Stephen B. Castor and Gregory C. Ferdock, with more than 100 gorgeous color photographs. It was published in 2003 by the University of Nevada Press. Check the price at

Rock hounds learn a great deal from sharing information and participating in organized field trips. Consider attending a meeting of the Boulder City Gem Club, which meets monthly on the third Thursday, or the Southern Nevada Gem and Mineral Society, which meets the first Monday most months. Both groups maintain websites where rock hounds can find out about upcoming field trips and rock and gem shows. Such shows feature specimen displays, lapidary demonstrations and opportunities to buy, sell or trade specimens. You might go a step beyond that by signing up for a beginning geology course at the community college or university level that includes field trips with experts.

Of course you don’t have to rock hound as part of a group. Hobby rock hunters may hunt most places on Nevada’s public lands, except for state or federal parks, recreation areas, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. Tribal lands and military reservations are off-limits, as are private lands and posted mining claims.

Individual collectors taking a few samples need no permits, but those collecting for commercial purposes, especially if they use mechanized equipment, fall under mining regulations that require permits.

Use existing roads to get where you need to go, as our arid landscapes bear the scars of off-road travel for many years. If you must open a gate to continue on your way, close it securely behind you as range courtesy dictates.

Watch out for old diggings when you explore on foot. Unfenced mines and shafts still pose hazards in Nevada’s hinterlands. Never venture inside mines where rotten timbers and loose rock may await you. Take care where you place your hands and feet. Snakes like those rocky places, too.

Be prepared. Let someone know where you are headed and when you expect to return. Don’t go alone. Carry a cell phone, water, snacks, jacket, flashlight and first aid kit. Make sure your vehicle has plenty of gasoline and a good spare tire. Stock it with food, water, blankets, small tools and matches.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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