If you were born, you have a birthstone. And you probably know what it is. You may even own a trinket or two adorned with your designated stone.
But did you know that many of these colorful gems are found in Nevada? Whether you’re an amateur or experienced rockhound, you can mine 8 out of the 12 birthstones, and 10 out of 12 zodiac stones amid the sprawling desert landscape of the Silver State.
With odds like that, it’s likely that one of them is yours.
A Short History of Birthstones
The Western tradition of birthstones dates back to the Book of Exodus with 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, adorning a high priest’s blinged-out breastplate.
In the first century, a historian linked the stones with the months of the year and the zodiac signs. By the 16th century, the wearing of one or more of these stones was all the rage, and the tradition evolved from there.
Then, in the truly American fashion of making a mint out of a molehill, the National Association of Jewelers penned an official list of birthstones in 1912, which is updated from time to time by various gem-related agencies.
The UK has its own standardized list of birthstones dating back to 1932 and a similar group of stones is recognized in Eastern culture.
Rockhounding in Nevada
Long before the concept of birthstones, 500 million years ago or so, Nevada and the Great Basin were a shallow sea.
Geological activity made way for mineral deposits, like gold and silver (hence, the Silver State), as well as gems and crystals such as amethyst, obsidian, opals, turquoise, garnets, geodes and agates. Nevada is, in fact, the nation’s top producer of gold and a top producer of gems.
With so many treasures to choose from–and since 80% of Nevada land is federally managed, and therefore publicly accessible–rockhounders can pull out their hammers and chisels all over the state, whether searching for rocks in a wash, on the side of the road or by trekking into rugged terrain.
“Rockhounding is for anyone who is interested in pretty rocks and adding to their collection,” says Josh Bonde, director of the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. “You get a cool treasure … that just needs to be prettied up a bit.”
Before picking a spot to strike, however, Bonde reminds it’s important to research the land’s status. Some areas look like public land but aren’t, and you don’t want to trespass. Others may require a permit.
Managed lands sometimes charge a fee but often have signage to guide you. The opal mines in Denio, for instance, are open seasonally with a daily fee. Gemfield, located 4 miles outside of Goldfield, asks $1 cash per pound of rocks, all on the honor system.
Here are a few other rockhounding rules to keep in mind:
- Rockhounding is never allowed in national conservation areas, national parks and on land with special protection status
- It’s illegal to take an arrowhead, spearpoint, metate, or any other ancient American Indian artifacts
- Stay away from open mine shafts or adits, which are dangerous and may be full of toxic gas
- Don’t take rocks from ghost towns
Bonde suggests that amateur rockhounders start by acquiring a simple Nevada field guide. He noted that there are many types of Nevada maps available at your local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office.
You will also need some basic tools like a magnifier, rock hammer, rock chisel, trowels, sifter, bucket, spray bottle, brushes, safety goggles and gloves. If you plan to head into remote territory, you may also want to bring a GPS.
Finally, don’t give up if you don’t hit the jackpot right away. Rockhounding is an acquired skill and practice makes perfect.
“You can develop an eye for it like bird watching,” assures Bonde.
Mine your own birthstones in Nevada
Interested in mining your own birthstone? These are just some of the suggested locations where birthstones and zodiac stones can be found in Nevada:
January – Garnet: Garnet is found in the rhyolitic volcanic rock at Garnet Hill, a designated rockhounding area located 6.4 miles east of Ely along the Loneliest Road in America, US Highway 50. Garnet can also be found in the Black Rock Desert and Nightingale Mountain Range.
February – Amethysts: Look for amethysts, which are also the Pisces zodiac stone, in the Silver Peak Mining District, located along State Route 265, 20 miles south of US Route 6 and 30 miles west of Goldfield. It can also be found in the 12-mile-long Las Vegas Wash.
March – Aquamarine: Aquamarine can be found when taking the Otteson Brothers Turquoise Mine tour in Tonopah.
May – Emerald: Also the Cancer zodiac stone, Emerald has been reported at the Oreana Tungsten Mine, located off Interstate 80 and Old Victory Highway, 20 miles northeast of Lovelock.
August – Peridot: Peridot has been reported near the Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark, located off US Highway 6 Between Tonopah And Ely.
October – Opal: The International Gem Society (IGS) names Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine in the Virgin Valley and Bonanza Opal Mine in Denio, as two of the Top Spots for Gem Hunting in the US. Also check out Royal Peacock Opal Mine in Denio and the 25-mile Fish Lake Valley in southwest Nevada.
November – Citrine: Citrine, which is also the Sagittarius zodiac stone, is found near the Tuscarora Mountains, about an hour northeast of Elko.
December – Turquoise, Blue Topaz: The Sagittarius zodiac stone, turquoise is plentiful on the Otteson Brothers Turquoise Mine tour in Tonopah as well as the Crescent Peak and Fox mines near Crescent Valley. It can also be found in Gemfield and the Walker Lake Recreation Area. Blue Topaz is reported near the Tonopah Historic Mining Park in Tonopah.
Natural Nevada turquoise. From the Blackjack turquoise mine!
Some other stones of note
Agate: The zodiac stone of Geminis, Agate is a quartz stone often found in Gemfield as well as in the Black Rock Desert and the Lahontan State Recreation Area.
Onyx: As the Leo zodiac stone, Onyx has been reported south of Las Vegas near the Mccullough Trail in the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.
Carnelian: Carnelian, the Virgo zodiac stone, has been reported in the Bonanza Opal Mines in Virgin Valley.
Chrysolite: The Libra zodiac stone, chrysolite, can be found in the Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark.
Beryl: Scorpio’s zodiac stone, Beryl, can be found in the Santa Cruz Mine in the Virgin Peaks near Mesquite.
Once you collect your birthstone, what you do next is up to you. Rocks can be cut and polished and turned into jewelry, or appreciated in their natural form. To polish them, you can either take them to a local jeweler or museum, or invest in your own rock tumbler.
Oh, and rock on!
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