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Gemstones are rare treasures that can be round in natural environments around the world. Alluvial deposits along rivers are brilliant places to go rockhounding.
To find gemstones in creeks and along riverbeds, one should carefully search near eroded stream banks, in shallow, flowing water, and old, dried creek beds. Alluvial gemstones can usually be found a few days after heavy rainfall. At night, use a black light to search for fluorescent gemstones.
This is the ultimate guide to finding precious and semi-precious stones in natural rivers and creeks. We explain how gemstones end up in alluvial deposits in the first place and share our top tips for rockhounding in streams, rivers, and creeks.
If you are interested in checking out the best rockhounding tools you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Can You Find Gemstones in Nature?
There are plenty of natural environments in which you can rockhound. There is no need to stick to quarries, abandoned mines, and tailing piles.
You can pan for minerals or dig through the dirt, but by far, the easiest way to find gemstones is to search in the gravel beds of dried-up rivers. You can pick up a variety of precious and semi-precious gemstones amongst pebbles in streambeds and creeks.
The geology of the region will determine which gemstones you should search for, but there are some gemstones that can be found in a wide range of different environments.
Igneous rocks and alluvial gravel deposits are rich sources of gemstones, but sedimentary and metamorphic rocks also have some gemstones.
Can You Find Gemstones in Rivers?
A wonderful variety of gemstones can be found in rivers. Sediment and rocks which have been transported by rivers are known as alluvial deposits. Alluvial deposits are great places to go rockhounding.
Minerals form over millions of years in veins, cracks, and bubbles within the parent rock. Over time, the rock erodes, exposing the gemstones.
Often water erosion flushes the gemstones out of the parent rock. They accumulate in streams, and the power of the water transports them for hundreds of miles downstream.
Fast-flowing rivers have a high stream power, so they can carry relatively heavy gemstones. In places where the river widens or meanders, the stream power is lower, so heavier gemstones are deposited.
This is why floodplains, deltas, terraces, and alluvial fans are brilliant places to search for gemstones. Floodplain features, like backswamps, channel bars, natural levees, and infilled channels, are hotspots for rockhounding.
Examples of denser gemstones that are deposited in rivers are chrysoberyl, diamond, garnet, sapphire, topaz, peridot, tourmaline, and zircon.
Can You Find Gemstones in Creeks?
Creeks are smaller than rivers and have much less year-round flow, therefore lower stream power. But creeks can still be rich sources of gemstones, especially after heavy rainfall events and during the spring thaw.
When the streamflow in creeks is high, lots more material is transported from further upstream. The high flow also has the power to erode bedrock and creek banks, exposing gemstones. The best time to go rockhounding in creeks is, therefore, during the rainy season.
The best areas to look for gemstones in a creek is where the water is shallowest and at bends in the channel. Search the rest of the creek, too, because gemstones can really be found anywhere!
One can find quartz crystal, chert, agate, amethyst, jasper, petrified wood, and garnets in creeks.
TIP: Do you know what rocks you can find in the rivers and creeks most often? Check out the lists of the common rocks in these environments in the two articles below:
Ten Most Common Type of Rocks You Can Find In Rivers
Seven Most Common Types of Rocks Found in Creeks
8 Tips on How to Find Gemstones in Rivers and Creeks
If you just go hiking in dry riverbeds, near shallow-flowing streams, and in creeks, you will serendipitously find some gemstones. However, your rockhounding expedition will be much more productive if you search more systematically.
By knowing the best places to look, using the right tools, and knowing what to look for, you will be much more productive in finding gemstones.
Here are our 8 tips for rockhounding in rivers and creeks:
1. Take The Right Equipment
As with doing anything in life, having the right tools with you makes a big difference!
You do not really need any equipment for rockhounding in riverbeds, but in a creek, it helps to take along a scoop or small shovel, as well as a strainer or a screen.
A pan is very useful, even if you are not looking for gold.
Certain minerals fluoresce under UV light. If you want to rockhound at night, take a blacklight torch to find rocks that glow!
A good pair of rubber boots are useful for keeping your feet dry and preventing you from slipping on smooth river rocks. They are a key piece of safety equipment.
TIP: If you are just starting with rockhounding I recommend you check out the list of all equipment you could need for your trips to nature. This equipment can help you a lot and can make your rockhounding trips easier too.
The Complete Guide: All Tools You Need for Rockhounding
2. Know Where To Look
If you understand where the best places to search for gemstones in rivers and creeks are, the more luck you will have.
Before you set out on a rockhounding expedition, do some research. Find out if there are any active or even abandoned mines near your area. Even if a mine is no longer operating, there will still be gemstones downstream from it.
Have a look at the area you are interested in visiting on Google Earth. Try to find ancient riverbeds near the main river or creek, as these are excellent places to find gems.
They can usually be identified quite easily from aerial images, or you can look for areas in the landscape that have rounded rocks and alluvial gravel.
Once you are at your rockhounding location, these are the areas you should search in:
- Near eroded river or creek banks
- In dry river or creek beds
- In shallow, flowing water
- In bends of the river, where sediment and gravel are deposited
- In alluvial deposits that are downstream from eroded features
- Levees, channel bars, terraces, and alluvial fans
Your first trip to an area will never be as successful as follow-up trips. Developing a greater knowledge of the area and having more experience means you find more gemstones. Where possible, try to plan return trips.
3. Know What To Look For
Read up on gemstones that can be found in the area. It helps to learn the colors of gems that come from certain rock types. When you find a specimen, you will be able to recognize it in the field.
Research the types of minerals that are found in the area you plan on searching.
Pay particular attention to how the gemstones look in the rough. Often, they are partially or entirely encased in another rock type or mineral.
Depending on the crystal structure of the mineral, gemstones may have a defined shape, or they may look like irregularly shaped translucent lumps.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
TIP: Do you want to know more about rock colors and why different types of rocks have different colors? Find out the answer in the article below:
Rock Colors: What Determines Color & Why Different Colors
4. There Are Methods For Finding Different Gemstones
Of course, you could just walk along a dry riverbed with your eyes scanning the ground. This is called fossicking. But there are certainly other methods for discovering gemstones in alluvial deposits.
Not all the gemstones will be exposed on the surface. You may need to sort through the top layer of alluvial gravel. For this, you need to use a pan or a screen.
Using your scoop, put some promising gravel in the pan, submerge it slightly under the water and shake. Sand and regular quarzitic rocks are generally less dense, and therefore, lighter than most gems.
Because the gemstones are heavier, they will settle at the bottom of the pan as you shake. When you flip the pan over to empty out the gravel, the gemstones will be sitting on top.
Australian sapphires are found in exactly this way. You may even be lucky enough to find a nugget of gold!
5. Keep Track Of Time
Losing track of time when you are deeply absorbed in treasure hunting is so easy. However, it is important to manage your time effectively while rockhounding.
A good strategy is to set your alarm for every hour. Spend an hour looking in a particular area, and when your alarm goes off, stop, and reassess your strategy. Drink some water while you decide what to do next.
If your rockhounding in that spot has been productive, maybe stay for another 30 minutes to an hour before moving on. If it has not been fruitful,
6. Safety First
Safety is paramount when you are out rockhounding. After all, a safe, successful trip means that you can make a return trip!
Rockhounding in creeks and riverbeds after heavy rainfalls can be very rewarding, but you must consider the risk of flash floods. What looks like a trickling creek one moment can turn into a torrential river in no time.
Keep a close eye on the weather. It is advisable to wait for a day or two after a large rainfall event. This is usually enough time for the rising waters to drop again. In some places, you may need to wait a week.
If you are going rockhounding alone, always tell someone exactly where you are going and what time you expect to return. It is generally safer to go with another person.
TIP: Safety is the most important every time you are out rockhounding. Following the common safety tips is really important. Check out the best safety tips for rockhounding in the article below:
PRO Tips for Beginner & Experienced Rockhounds + Safety Tips
7. Follow The Law
In some places, there are some tricky legal issues around gemstone collecting. It has to do with mineral rights versus surface rights. Just because someone owns the title deed for a piece of land, it does not mean they have rights to everything underneath the land.
If you plan to go rockhounding on private property, you always need to seek permission from the landowner. Without permission, you are technically not allowed to keep anything you find because you would be trespassing. You could even be arrested!
You may need to pay a fee to hunt on private land. This will grant you temporary mineral rights, so you may keep anything you find.
If you plan to go rockhounding on federal or state land, the legal issues become even more important. In this case, the government holds the mineral rights. Even though you are on public property, you do not have the right to keep mineral finds.
To be on the safe side, get in touch with the federal or state park’s office to apply for a recreational mining permit. This will allow you to keep anything you find!
If your rockhounding is small-scale and you do not disturb the land surface in the river or creek, you may be able to collect on public land without a permit. Still, it is always safest to call the office of the national or state park to make sure.
8. Learn From More Experienced Rockhounds
Experience is everything in gem collecting. You will find so much more if you go rockhounding with experienced collectors. You will learn so much more from a knowledgeable gem hunter than from books and websites!
If you can, take someone with more experience along with you on your first trip to a new place. You can also try to tag along on their trips!
It is a great idea to visit a local museum and look at their collection of minerals that can be found locally. They should have rough specimens. These will give you a better idea of what to look for in the field.
TIP: I am a member of this Facebook group that is full of experienced and really helpful rockhounds. So if you are looking for a place where to ask about rockhounding, I think this FB group can help you a lot.
Rivers and creeks are brilliant environments to hunt for precious and semi-precious gemstones. Gems are eroded from their parent rock and transported by water, sometimes for vast distances.
If you have the right tools and familiarize yourself with what to look for, where to search, and plan your trips at the right time, you should have great success.
Always remember that safety comes first and enjoy your rockhounding adventures!
TIP: Have you ever thought about why some kinds of rocks have holes in them? The holes can be a result of water erosion. Check out the explanation of this amazing phenomenon in the article below: