Finding Natural Crystals, Rocks and Minerals – Where to start?
Whether you simply like to admire unique looking rocks or if you are an avid collector of rare crystals, you have probably been to a rock and gem shop or a crystal show at some point along the way. You wonder around the shop looking the specimens piled high on tables and in fancy displays and the retail environment leads you to believe that all of the ‘valuable specimens’ come from here – a rock supplier; so, you don’t give it another thought. Well guess what? Minerals and crystals do not actually come from a rock shop – they come from the ground! Yep, look outside… that ground. And you can find amazing specimens of your own by following these steps!
How I Stumbled Into This Epic New Hobby
My name is Tamara and I have been filling my pockets with interesting rocks since I was a toddler. “Tamara! There are rocks in the washing machine again!” or “Tamara! Why are there rocks in the sink!” are things my parents would often yell at me for when I was younger and are things my husband yells at me for currently. My son Owen was about 5 years old when he took an interest in fossils and rocks (just like his mom I suppose). This whole crystal-hunter/rockhound journey of mine took a serious pivotal turn when Owen wanted to go find his own fossils.
We were living in Alberta Canada at the time and Drumheller Alberta is the fossil capitol of the world – so naturally we thought we would start there. We asked a few local people and a staff member at the Drumheller museum where we could go to find fossils. As it turns out, collecting fossils from Drumheller is a federal offence. Everything in that region is evidently protected and the fines for collecting are astronomical! Who knew finding fossils was against the law? We decided to try and find geodes instead. There are no laws about finding geodes!
We walked along riverbeds and along hiking trails and we would always come back empty handed. This was seeming an impossible feat! With no fossils and no geodes, we sadly headed back home to regroup and do some research. After countless days of long internet research and self educating basically discouraged me even more. Apparently, there aren’t any geodes in our area AND the fossils are protected! Most websites were university science articles or geology reports that were not particularly useful (at the time) and were hard to understand.
Then the craziest lifechanging idea came to mind: “What if there are fossils OUTSIDE of the protected area?” As it turned out, within the Drumheller limits everything is off limit, but the dinosaurs didn’t all group together to die within that boarder! So, we packed up and drove just south of the restricted area, parked, and wandered down to a rocky riverbed. Well shit! There were fossils all over this spot! In the rocks and along the bank. We had a great day collecting small fossils and some petrified wood. We had such a great time together that we decided to investigate other places we could go and various other things we might find.
Where To Begin And What To Look For
My stubborn nature and my itch for adventure are what drove me to do the exhaustive research needed to even begin our rockhound journey. I would like to give you a few tips on where to look and what to look for.
- Before you decide what type of crystal or rock you want to look for – first you want to see what is naturally occurring in your area. Trust me I did this backwards initially and it was discouraging and time consuming.
- A quick Google search for “Crystals & Minerals found in ______” should give you a starting point. Start with your town name, if you don’t get results, try your region or district. A province or State search will provide you with information but may not be relevant to your specific area.
- Once you have a list of a few interesting things you might want to try and find, write them down and investigate a little further. Now you want to see what those minerals look like in raw form. When you find natural crystals, they don’t typically look like they do in the Google image search just yet. They will be dirty, they may have host rocks or iron deposits and knowing what the raw version of your mineral looks like will be a huge help when you get out there to explore.
**NOTE: Some minerals are toxic and require special handling instructions or protective gear. Make sure you are familiar with this information before you head out.
- Now that you have a mineral in mind and you know what it looks like raw, you want to research how it forms. This step can be challenging but it is a crucial one. You need to know where to look.
- Find out what the host rock looks like
- Does your mineral form in a cavity? Or within a conglomerate of other minerals? This will tell you if you need to dig, smash or surface collect.
- Other indicators will be helpful as well. Example: Some minerals are produced in iron rich areas; so, my indicator would be orange sand or orange in the host rock. There will be different indicators for every mineral and region.
You do not need to understand all the science involved but knowing what your main indicators are will save you loads of time when you get to exploring.
Now you should have your mineral target, a general idea of where to look, an image of the raw mineral and some basic knowledge on how the mineral is formed.
**Always research local laws and restrictions. Be aware of private property and restricted areas in the area you want to explore. The objective is to become explorers NOT criminals!
Don’t Forget Anything Important! What You Will Need For Your Adventure
Personally, I have an adventure pack and a rock crate ready to go at all times – because you never know when a last-minute adventure might arise. I also do this because I don’t want to forget anything important when I am out there. This packing list is a suggested list based on my years of forgetting at least one thing behind and kicking myself for not having something I need. This is a list you would need for a day trip that is not too far from a town. If you are portaging or heli-dropping or camping, you will obviously need additional gear. But the basic essentials are where we are focusing on here.
Essentials for yourself. Things you need to personally be comfortable and to remain alive.
- Water & Snacks
- First Aid kit
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Dry socks
- Toilet paper
- Survival knife (or kit if you have one)
- Bug Spray & Sunblock
Essentials for rock hounding. Things you will want to properly gather & collect rocks.
- Work Gloves (decent ones with padded fingers)
- Chisels – I usually bring a few different sizes
- Gathering pouch or shoulder bag that is easy to put things into
- Smaller collection bags for small rocks you don’t want to get damaged (those dry socks you packed also work wonders for this)
- Paper towel or newspaper- to wrap awesome specimens
- A rock hammer
- A bucket or crate (to wet or rinse your finds or to keep them safe on the trip home)
- A small folding shovel. Something multi purpose is best because you never know what you might need.
- Depending on what you are looking for you may want a gold pan. Panning the sand in a slow-moving river or creek bed will often give you an indication of what there is in the area. This is also great for garnets, kyanite, gold, agate, etc.
- A toothbrush. For cleaning off rocks to expose what is under the dirt and mud that may be on your specimen.
- A buddy. You should always bring someone with you when you go on a rock adventure. The second person is good if you get hurt, your talking will make noise and keep animals away, they can help you brainstorm, remind you to eat and drink, and of course someone to help load up rocks when you’re done.
This sounds like a lot of gear but if you get the right products, you can pack everything up nicely into a backpack and a shoulder (gathering) bag.
Drop some pins along the way
While you do your research, you might come across forums or groups that mention areas that are more specific or locations where they have had success. Drop a pin on your map so you can find it later. Look at satellite images and see if there might be some promising easily accessible areas that you want to check out. Drop a pin on these areas too. You will see a trend in your pins that will really narrow down your search region.
Once you have been to a site make a note in your pin so you don’t forget what you found (or didn’t find) and you will eventually have a “treasure map” that you can reference anytime.
Pay to Dig Sites or Public Mines
You may find that your region has Pay to Dig mines nearby. These are good to stop in at for several reasons:
- You can physically see the crystals from your region in their natural environment and their host rock.
- You can get a better idea of the land. Is it high up on a mountain or a hill or low in a valley? Is there lots of sand or gravel? Does a river run through the property? Knowing this will make a huge difference compared to online research.
- You can ask questions. The staff may have answers to questions that would be helpful, for example, you can ask about the vein and how far it goes. You can ask what makes the crystals grow in this area. What other crystals could you find in this area?
Think of questions that might help and the staff will likely be a great source of local information.
- They are a fun, legal and guaranteed way to get crystals. It is much less exciting to go through a pile of pre-exposed piles and look where 1000 other people have come before you … but still an experience I always recommend to people just starting out.
Check out some of our finds and crystals :
If you have any questions, we might be able to answer or if you want to share your rock hounding stories (or just show us some pictures of rocks you have found) please share or comment. We are always happy to help when we can, and we obviously want to see pictures of your rocks!
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Be safe and enjoy the adventure!