BY ANITA STONE
If rocks and colorful stones fascinate you, you’re in luck. North Carolina is blessed with a highly mineralized soil composition containing an abundance of colorful minerals, semiprecious stones and precious gems waiting to be found—sometimes in your own backyard. North Carolina is among the best rockhounding states in the country, where quality minerals aren’t hard to find—if you know where to look and what to look for.
Rockhounding is the recreational study and collection of rocks, gems, minerals and fossils from their natural environment. Crystals, gemstones, fossils and artifacts are there for anyone who wants to search for them. They can be found lying in plain sight along roadsides, lurking in gravel pits and piles, resting in creeks or stream beds, and possibly in your backyard garden dirt. You need only take the time to explore.
THE MANY COLORS OF QUARTZ
Sometimes referred to as the most common mineral on earth, quartz is a plentiful backyard crystal that appears in many shapes and forms. Semiprecious varieties of quartz are used in lapidary projects, or simply put on shelves for display.
Quartz can appear as a beautiful clear transparent crystal or include other minerals, which produces white, grey, milky or pink coloring (pink quartz crystals are referred to as rose quartz). Quartz can also take the form of the beautiful purple crystal known as amethyst, which can also be found across the state.
Quartz compacted in soil is referred to as chalcedony, a term that encompasses flint, onyx, jasper, agate and chert. All of these chalcedony quartz crystals can be of gemstone quality and feature multiple colors and astounding beauty.
Agate can appear black, brown, yellow, red, green or white, depending on its mineral inclusions. Jasper, an equally colorful and prized quartz material, will not allow light to penetrate its surface. These stones vary in color, are sometimes striped and are considered semiprecious gems.
Uncertain as to the validity of your quartz? Test its hardiness. If you’re unable to scratch your rock with a knife blade, it’s most likely some form of quartz. The value of any rock depends on its rarity, as well as current social demand. Value generally depends on the stone’s hardness, desirability and beauty.
Aside from quartz, North Carolina is home to many other fascinating rocks valued for their uniqueness, rarity, gem quality or history. Some, such as opals, pearls or fossils, are organic in origin, while others are composed of mineral combinations separate from quartz, such as rhyolite, staurolite, obsidian, garnets and mica.
You can even find precious gems like emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Various mineral combinations within one rock can create beautiful stones, forming stunning additions to any rock collection.
To start your search, travel no farther than your own backyard. Just ask Daniel Coleman, a rockhound veteran who is head of Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite and digs in the dirt daily. “Rocks speak to me,” says Coleman, whose touring group, Digging with Daniel, helps rockhounds learn where and how to find crystals and gems in their backyards. “There might be treasure right under your feet. You have to know where to look.”
Coleman posts news about his group on Facebook (search for “Digging With Daniel”), as well as videos about how to recognize and hunt for gems and minerals. “It’s never-ending,” Coleman says. “Over the years I have found the equivalent of 30 tons of gems.”
Coleman suggests clues rockhounds can look for to spot where to dig for gems and minerals. “If you find mica, then it’s a good indication of the presence of quartz and gemstones,” he says. “Just keep digging.” But, he adds, if you rockhound on private property, be sure to “get permission from the owner before you bring your spade or shovel.”
Additional tips from Coleman and other local rockhounds include:
• Look for gems in nearby creeks and streams. Check the bottom silt and watch for flashes of color or light.
• Check road cuts and crumbling embankments where erosion is occurring.
• If you are safely—and legally—able to roam a construction site, they can also be good gem hunting locations.
• Invest in a good rockhounding book. Rockhounding often begins at home, whether in a backyard, hidden stream or eroding embankment. The excitement of finding your first gem or mineral ensures that once you begin the hunt, you will continue for many years to come.
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Gem Hunting Sites
These local and statewide mining sites and businesses offer guidance and a pretty good chance of discovering treasure.
• Treasure Quest Mining, Apex
• Spring Haven Farm, Chapel Hill
• Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning, Cary
• Xtreme Park Adventures, Durham
• Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite
• Reed Gold Mine, Midland
• Gem Mountain, Spruce Pine