After a long summer of barbecues, boating and baseball games, you might be ready to shake up your recreational routine. Why not try a little rockhounding in Nevada? Using Reno as a home base, you can get outdoors to a variety of locations and experience some the geological wonders the desert has to offer.
Here's some day trip ideas:
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, CA
The Crystal Peak Mine is located west of Reno in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. It's a short drive and an excellent place for beginner rockhounds to start. The U.S. Forest Service maintains a webpage with directions to the site and a brief history of the mine, which was an important source of quartz crystal used in radios during World War II. When Crystal Peak was an active mine, the hillside was blasted with dynamite to break up the crystal bearing veins in the rock. Visitors can plan on digging in the piles of rock left over from the blasting or just keeping an eye out for the telltale glint of crystals lying on the ground's surface. Though the site has long been popular with rockhounds, it is still possible to find beautiful whole crystals there.
The Garnet Hill Recreation area is located just a few miles northwest of Ely in the Eagan Mountain range. It's a five-hour drive from Reno, but well worth it to explore the 2-square miles of public land that comprise this rockhounding destination where you'll find lovely garnets that vary in color from dark red to black. Don't let the long drive dissuade you. With plenty of other things to see and do near Ely, including the century-old steam engines at the historic Nevada Northern Railway, this trip merits an overnight stay, perhaps at the historic Hotel Nevada. The White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board website will provide you with directions to Garnet Hill and information and links to help you come prepared for a successful garnet hunting experience.
Virgin Valley, Nevada
The Virgin Valley opal district is located about 35 miles southwest of the tiny community of Denio in the northwest corner of Nevada. It's a four and a half-hour drive from Reno, but the opportunity to hunt for rare and potentially valuable opal, including black fire opal, makes the trip worthwhile. Private mining claims make it necessary to visit one—or more—of three pay-to-dig mining operations. Prices for adults and children are different at each of the mines, all of which are open to the public only during the warmer months. The Royal Peacock Opal Mine is open the longest; their 2015 digging season closes on October 15. A quick look at the mines' websites will tell you more about prices, getting to Virgin Valley, and the accommodations that are available in that very remote part of the state.
The Royston Turquoise Mine is located near Tonopah, a little less than four hours from Reno. On Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to October, you can visit the mine and hunt through its tailings for turquoise. This is another trip that may warrant an overnighter. In addition to its historic mining district, Tonopah is known as one of the best star gazing locations in the United States. Visit the Royston Mine website to learn more about tour reservations, arranging special group or individual tours, and the characteristics of Royston turquoise, which ranges in color from deep green to light blue with a brown or golden brown matrix, or the rare blue to green fade.
Choose your own adventure
If you catch the rockhounding bug, and there's a good chance you will, you'll probably find yourself searching for new minerals and gems to hunt. Dr. Jonathan Price, state geologist emeritus, recommends looking on the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology website. The NBMG website features a "Science Education" tab with links to EarthCache trips you can take using your GPS unit and detailed directions to follow the routes of previous years' Earth Science Week fieldtrips, many of which include stops with great rockhounding prospects.