In the captivating world of rock and mineral collecting, few treasures are as indispensable as a top-tier quartz specimen. Quartz often claims its place as one of the inaugural acquisitions in any collector’s treasure trove. It’s not only exceptionally prevalent and budget-friendly but also possesses a remarkable visual allure, securing its perennial status as a collector’s favorite. If you’re eager to commence your own collection of quartz crystals, you might be pondering where and how to uncover these exquisite specimens.
Quartz crystals can be unearthed in diverse locations, including aged mine remnants, mineral veins nestled within both igneous and sedimentary rocks, hidden within pockets of soil, or occasionally scattered on the surface. Abundant reserves can also be uncovered at select pay-to-dig sites or conveniently procured at local rock emporiums.
The allure of quartz rests in its sheer ubiquity, ensuring you’ll likely have a multitude of avenues to explore. Your choice of approach hinges on the kind of adventure you desire and the geological features prevalent in your vicinity. Whether you opt for an exploration of historical mine sites, traverse rugged landscapes, or partake in a visit to a pay-to-dig locale, each method promises the potential for an enriching journey culminating in your very own treasury of exquisite quartz crystals.
Old Mine Tailings
One of the most common places for rockhounds to look for any minerals, including quartz crystals, is old mine tailings. These are the piles of leftover rock and debris from old mines that often still contain crystals that were tossed out with everything else. The operators of the old mine tossed the baby out with the bath water, you might say. These tailings are some of the best places to look because most of the heavy lifting has already been done for you.
Finding quartz crystals in nature can often be hard work because they can be trapped inside mineral veins inside solid rock. The mine tailings have already been broken up by heavy machinery or blasted to bits with dynamite, so the rock is just a pile of rubble instead of solid mass. This makes it relatively easy to sift through the bits of rock to look for your quartz crystals. All you really need to do is pick through the pile and keep an eye out for pieces you’d like to keep.
Even if other rockhounds have searched through the same material you’re working in you can usually still make some good finds. When searching, practice the ‘high-grading’ method. This is considered common courtesy among rockhounds. Don’t take every single piece you find – take the best few pieces that you’d like to keep but leave the rest for others to find. Sometimes this can really work to your advantage because other searchers may leave some finds in a more exposed area, making them easier for you to find.
If you’re going to search these old mine tailings, it is critical to get permission first. This can sometimes be difficult because it’s not always clear who owns the land. If you have heard about the site from other rockhounds they will hopefully also know who to contact for permission. If you don’t get clearance from the owner then you could be charged with trespassing, so be sure not gloss over this step.
Tip: Always get permission from the land owner before searching old mine tailings. Also, please be sure never to enter old mine shafts. The mine tailings are relatively safe to search because they are above ground, but old mine shafts are notoriously unsafe. They are unstable and can collapse on you, and often contain dangerous gasses.
Always be responsible and safe when rockhounding, both for your benefit and so as not to give other rockhounders a bad reputation. Finding these old mine tailings is often the hardest part for aspiring rockhounds. In most cases, joining a local rockhounding group and getting to know your local rock shop owner will be your best bet for finding the best places to look. You can also search online or buy a local rockhounding guide book.
One of the most exciting places to find quartz crystals is in quartz veins. These veins run through various types of rock and can contain large, high quality crystals. You can find them in both igneous and sedimentary rock, which means that you can probably find one fairly close to you regardless of where you live. Most quartz veins form in already existing cracks in rock. These cracks can be in pretty much any type of rock, they just need to be large enough to allow for the formation of crystals.
Water seeps into the cracks carrying dissolved silica, and the silica then forms into quartz crystals. Prospecting and locating these veins is tricky and can take years of experience to perfect, but there are some basic methods you can start with. You’ll want to start by looking for cracks and voids in rock beds.
If you can find an exposed rock face or hill with lots of outcrops then that will be a good place to start looking. If a quartz crystal vein is present in these areas then you should be able to find some evidence of them near the base of the rock outcrops. Over time, these rocks will be weathered and worn, but the quartz crystals will remain intact because they are harder and more resistant to weathering. That means the crystals will fall out of the vein and onto the ground, where they will gradually be moved by natural processes. Since these crystals tend to collect at the base of the outcrops and gradually move downhill, if you do find any amount of quartz on the ground you’ll want to move uphill in search of the vein it came from.
Once you do locate a vein you’ll need to be able to extract the crystals. This isn’t always easy because they can be entirely encased in rock or located in pockets that are nearly impossible to reach into. If the vein is completely encased in rock then you will need some heavy machinery in order to break it up and hopefully find a more exposed pocket, or you’ll need a lot of patience and skill to extract any crystals from the rock matrix.
Your best bet will be to dig around at the base of the vein and look for any crystals that have naturally fallen out of the vein over time. If you find crystals hiding in a pocket then sometimes you can just reach in and grab them. More commonly, you won’t be able to reach your hand in comfortably, and even if you did you’d get pretty scratched up by the crystals inside. Having some specialty pocket tools like extra-long flathead screwdrivers and long needle-nosed pliers will come in very handy in this situation.
Laying on the Ground
Believe it or not, sometimes you can stumble upon quartz crystals lying right on the ground! When you’re out in the wild, exploring and hunting for rocks and minerals, you might just get lucky and spot a quartz crystal glistening at your feet.
Pro Tip: Go rockhounding shortly after a good rain. Rainfall has a knack for unveiling and cleansing crystals, making them considerably easier to spot.
Of course, you won’t find quartz crystals scattered everywhere, but if you focus your search on areas with higher potential, fortune might favor you. Begin by exploring the soil near locations with visible rock outcrops that you suspect could harbor quartz crystals. Position yourself downhill from these outcrops since crystals often erode from the rock and gradually make their way downhill over time.
Creek beds can be a veritable treasure trove for quartz crystal enthusiasts. The flowing water continuously stirs up and transports a variety of materials, occasionally revealing fresh rocks to inspect. If a quartz crystal has weathered out from a pocket or vein, there’s a good chance it will eventually find its way into a creek bed. If you choose this path, focus your attention near tree roots and explore the shallow banks, as these are the spots where crystals tend to accumulate.
Discovering a quartz crystal on the ground is an encouraging sign that there may be more awaiting your discovery in the vicinity. The crystal’s size doesn’t necessarily matter; it can be small or large. What’s significant is that it originated from somewhere nearby, and chances are there are more crystals to be unearthed.
Exercise some critical thinking by considering the crystal’s point of origin. Look uphill from your current location and inspect any nearby outcrops that appear promising. Pay particular attention to the bases of these outcrops and keep a vigilant eye for signs of quartz veins within the rock.
However, if there are no apparent rock outcrops of interest in the area, your next option is to delve into the ground in search of crystal pockets.
Crystal Pockets in the Soil
If you’ve found a quartz crystal on the ground and there are no visible rock outcrops in the area from which it may have come, you should start to do some digging. You can also start to dig some exploratory holes slightly uphill from where you found your crystal. Dig about 2′ deep and see what you find, if anything. Dig a few of them and if you’re lucky you’ll uncover at least one more crystal.
If there is an increasing frequency of these crystals means you’re getting closer to a pocket. It’s sort of like playing a game of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. If you are finding more crystals then you’re getting closer to a good pocket. Below is a good video of this process that ends up paying off big time.
If you haven’t had any luck finding your own quartz crystals out in the wild there is a sure-fire way to make a score instead. There are plenty of places across the U.S. that will allow you to dig for your own crystals on their property for a fee.
If you want a complete list of the best pay-to-dig sites in the U.S., check out my article that I linked above. Each site has a different experience, but in my opinion, the best places to search for quartz crystals are:
- The Wegner Quartz Crystal Mine in Arkansas
- The Crystal Grove Herkimer Diamond Mine in New York
- The Emerald Hollow Mine in North Carolina
Tip: Herkimer Diamonds are relatively rare double-termination quartz crystals with points on both ends.
There are plenty of other great pay-to-dig sites across the country (and the world) that are worth checking out. Their prices and the experience will vary but if you want to find quartz crystals in nature then these types of places will be the easiest way to go about it.
At pay-to-dig sites, you will usually either be allowed to dig through soil and rock that they haul in from their local mine or you will sift through buckets of ore using their sluice. I prefer doing some digging (the experience seems more authentic and rewarding when you make a find) but in either case you are very likely to leave happy with crystals in hand.
The specimens you find at these sites will vary, but in general they will be of a higher quality and larger in size than anything most of us will stumble upon on our own. These sites make their money because they are well known, established localities for crystal finding. Some of them have pretty steep prices but in my opinion they are worth it because you can find a lot of quality material in a single day of searching.
Local Rock Shops
Certainly, you have the straightforward choice of visiting a local rock shop and procuring quartz crystals. This approach undeniably stands as the simplest and most guaranteed method to expand your quartz collection, even though it may not carry the same sense of accomplishment as unearthing them yourself.
My favorite rock stores are located in Virginia City. If you ever go there, they have amazing supply of crystals. The town has a very interesting mining history too.
Purchasing from a shop conveniently sidesteps the necessity of cleaning your quartz crystals. Crystals sourced from nature are often ensconced in layers of dirt and clay, which can be relatively easy to remove. However, they frequently come with iron staining, a more formidable challenge to address. Properly cleansing quartz crystals demands time, a touch of experience, and the handling of acids and other potent chemicals.
Beyond the evident advantages of convenience and saved time, a rock shop may offer superior specimens compared to what you might uncover on your own. You’ll likely encounter an array of pristine, attractively mounted crystals suitable for display, enabling you to select the piece that aligns with your personal style and budget.
For those disinclined to visit a local rock shop, online options abound. eBay, for instance, enjoys popularity among mineral enthusiasts, and there exist specialized online auction sites dedicated solely to mineral specimen sales. If your budget allows for higher-end acquisitions, you can also engage with online mineral dealers to explore a broader range of options.