Deming, New Mexico
Scanning New Mexico's soil is a profitable pastime. Rockhound State Park is a prime spot for hunting thunder eggs aka geodes. Thunder eggs look like muddy rocks and can be popped open to reveal valuable crystals such as amethyst, rose quartz and hematite. To distinguish a geode from a regular rock, look for a spherical external shape, often cauliflower-like in texture. You may need a hammer or chisel to break open the rock. Visitors are allowed to leave the park with 15 lbs. of rock to add to their personal collection.
Denio, Nevada and Lakeview, Oregon
Plan your hunt for fire opals at the Bonanza Opal Mine in Denio, NV. This mine has been in operation since the early 1900s. The mining season runs from May to September, and the weather can get warm and very arid. Water bottles, sun block, a hat and gloves are suggested items to bring with you. Rock hounds should also bring a small rake and buckets for collecting their finds. Many opal mines are located in remote areas, so be prepared to camp and bring all necessary food. Visitors can camp near the mine and hotels are less than 30 miles from Virgin Valley. Also be sure to check out Juniper Ridge Opal Mine in Lakeview, OR, if you're looking hunting for opals in the Pacific Northwest.
Glorietta Mountain in New Mexico and Brenham Township, Kansas
Glorietta Mountain in New Mexico and Brenham, KS, are prime spots if you're hunting for treasure falling from the sky. Deserts and dry lake beds are key places to hunt for meteorites. A metal detector or similar tool will help you discern a meteorite's location because it is partially composed of iron-nickel. Use a rock hammer or shovel to unearth your finds. A magnet duct-taped to the bottom of a walking stick will attract the hidden space rocks so you don't have to bend over to during your search. For more information on meteorite-hunting expeditions, visit Meteorite Adventures.
Big Sur, California
Enjoy the beauty of Big Sur while hunting for jade. Dive in the ocean or comb the beach at Jade Cove to seek one of the most precious gems in the world. Underwater, jade is fairly easy to distinguish from other rocks by its almost luminescent color. The best time to find jade is while diving in the ocean during the calm period after a winter storm. A rough undercurrent usually exposes many hidden gems. You don't have to be a diver to be a jade hunter. You can find many small jade pebbles at low tide between the boulders and in piles of gravel along the shore. Search under large rocks and overhangs. Typical tools for serious jade hunters include scuba gear, a flashlight and a sack to hold your finds.
Hiddenite, North Carolina
Try your luck at Emerald Hollow Mine, located less than an hour from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Hiddenite, NC. This is the only emerald mine in the US open to the public for prospecting. Amateur rock hounds can take educational field trips to learn more about emeralds and other gems found on-site, including sapphires, garnet and tourmaline. Prepaid permits are available for creeking, sluicing and digging. Emerald Hollow is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Hotels, restaurants and other accommodations are available in nearby towns of Statesville and Taylorsville.
Devil Hills, South Dakota
Relic hunters frequently head to the Badlands region in South Dakota to hunt for dinosaur fossils. The Devil Hills area has been a prime spot where rock enthusiasts have uncovered huge pieces of bone dating back to the Jurassic period, 145 million years ago. Common tools to take include a digging knife, X-acto knife, brush and a small pick. After finding a fossil, you must carefully free it without damaging it, using trowels, hammers, whisks and dental tools. A quick-setting glue can be applied to it before removing a crumbling or fragile fossil. Then the fossil can be removed from the surrounding rock. Visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc. for more information about dino fossils.
Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond-producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds. What you find is yours to keep. It's the perfect place for a family vacation and features an on-site water park and camping facilities. A gravel walkway through secluded woodland allows visitors to view and photograph deer, turkey, squirrels, birds and other wildlife. Tools aren't necessary for diamond hunting. It's possible to walk around and look for diamonds lying on top of the soil. Items for rent on site include a wooden box screen, shovel, bucket and knee pads. The professional treasure hunters at the park's visitors' center offer a free service to help determine if your find is a diamond or a dud.
Pine Grove, California
Roaring Camp is an old gold-mining camp on the Mokulmne River. It was a camp for gold prospectors (49ers) during the California Gold Rush from 1848-1855. Visitors can visit the operating gold mine and mine their own gold by panning, sluicing, dredging and dry-washing. Roaring Camp provides fun family activities, including rafting, camping, swimming, fishing and hiking on trails used by the original 49ers. A Saturday cookout, museum tour and lessons on how to pan for gold are also offered. Gold pans, gravel bags, rocker boxes and more are available if you need tools to search for you golden nuggets.
Spruce Pine, North Carolina
Travel to the gemstone-rich Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to dig for aquamarine. Spruce Pine is a prime spot for aquamarine mines and gemologists. Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine provides a covered flume line for treasure hunters to sift through sediment and find all kinds of precious stones. This mine is a one-stop shop for not just aquamarine, but garnet, moonstones, rubies and more. Stones are inspected free of charge. Experienced gem-cutters are also on-site and available to transform your stones into jewelry. Jerry Call, a Spruce Pine gemologist, can help you out if you're looking for a more exotic location to go gem hunting; Jerry owns a home in Brazil and organizes trips to Rio Doce Mine.
Go hunting for the blue-green gem at the Royston Mine in Tonopah, NV. The Otteson family, who owns the mine, is one of the few remaining mining families in Nevada. In addition to the mine, they also own a jewelry store that will transform your turquoise into jewelry. Treasure hunters will need to bring sunscreen, gloves, a good pair of shoes, water, food and digging tools. Visitors are not allowed to go down into the mines, but they are allowed to observe. Rock hounds can also pay to go through tailing piles, which have close to 1,000 lbs. of material. Digging is limited to 3 hours and only one bucketful is allowed per person to ensure there is enough turquoise to go around.