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Rockhounding in Desert: How to Find + 5 Best Places in the USA

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Rockhounding in the desert might not seem rewarding at first. However, there are many rocks, minerals, and gemstones that you can find if you know where to look for. There are several things that you need to consider.

First, it’s essential to know the geologic history of the desert and its surrounding areas. Second, you have to research the site and see if there are any rockhounding locations, such as mines, and what you can find there if access is permitted. Volcanic activity in the past may indicate the presence of certain rocks or gemstones worth collecting.

Of course, studying the law regarding collecting in the desert is always good to avoid trouble with the authorities. Let’s see exactly what you can find in the desert, where, and if you are allowed to take them!

Rockhounding in Desert
Rockhounding in Desert

If you are interested in checking out the best books about rock and minerals identification you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).

Are There Rocks in the Desert?

In the U.S., many deserts host a large variety of rocks, and this includes sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous rocks. For example, you can find apache tears, geodes, agates, or even gemstones such as amethyst or turquoise in the Arizona desert.

Various types of rocks can be found in the desert, depending on the desert’s past geologic activity. For example, large volcanic eruptions occurred 2.5 million years ago in the Black Rock Desert in Utah. Today, you can find in this desert obsidian and other volcanic rocks such as rhyolite or pumice. 

Agate rocks also form due to volcanic activity when gas is trapped in solidifying lava. There are many other examples of rocks that you can find in the desert. It all depends on the area you are searching in and its past volcanic activity.

Can You Take Rocks from the Desert?

Since there are so many types of rocks, you can find in the desert, various collectors have undergone some fantastic trips in the hopes of finding and collecting them. But can you take rocks from the desert? Is it legal?

In most cases, you can take rocks, minerals, and even fossils from the deserts. However, you are generally allowed only a reasonable amount. Collecting is only permitted in non-restricted areas and without the use of power equipment. Regulations and restrictions depend on the administrate state or federal agency. 

The best thing to do is to consult with authorities before collecting. In many situations, you may need a special permit for collecting. In other cases, you have to pay a small fee or get permission if the land isn’t public.

What Kind of Rocks Are in the Deserts?

There are various rocks you can find in the desert. There are even rare specimens that you can find, but you will have to work harder than normal as you will have to deal with the scorching sun and all that sand. In some cases, some of the best specimens of certain types of stones can be found in the desert.

Some of the rocks you can find in the U.S. deserts include obsidian, even high-quality apache tears, agate, geodes, serpentine, common opal, mica, magnetite, rhyolite, halite, scheelite, granite, sandstones, limestone, and many others. The content of rocks present in a desert depends on where it is located and its general geologic history.

Some deserts are more prosperous than others. Others are more prominent in fossils rather than rocks or even minerals.

TIP: Mahogany red-and-black obsidians are extremely popular for jewelry and beads. Find out how valuable obsidian can be in the article below:
5 Crucial Factors of Obsidian Value: What’s Obsidian Worth?

Where to Find Desert Rose Rocks?

Desert rose rocks are intricate formations of crystal clusters of gypsum or baryte that resemble a rose and are also abundant in sand grains. Many collectors love to find or have this type of rock, and it can generally only be found in just one state in the U.S, Arizona.

In Arizona, you can find the fabled desert rose rock in places such as St. David, at the lake bed deposits near Apache Powder plant, the Verde Valley Region, at Camp Verde, Lake Havasu City, the general area, or at the old Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman. Yuma and La Paz Counties are also great places to find desert rose rock.

When you go to these counties, head to Wellton, around 30 miles east of Yuma. Follow I-8. About 130 miles west of Phoenix, you can go to Quartzsite, along I-10.

Along the Colorado Road, search the foothills north of Yuma. You can also try your luck in finding desert rose rocks around Cibola, just 20 miles south of Quartzsite. 

What Minerals Are Found in the Desert?

Rocks aren’t the only exciting specimens you can find in the many deserts of the U.S. Some fantastic minerals can also be unearthed. The trip is more than worth it depending on where you are located or where you wish to go.

In the U.S. deserts, you can find minerals such as calcite, chalcedony, gold, copper, diamonds, fluorite, halite, jade, kyanite, malachite, opals, quartz, silver, spodumene, topaz, tourmaline, turquoise, and many others. Just be sure to have the proper equipment with you, and don’t give up easily.

TIP: Can you imagine 300 kg of rock moving in a desert and leaving tracks behind without any help? Sounds ridiculous.  But it has a rational explanation. Find out more in the article below:
Sailing Stones Explained: Why & How Do They Move? (7 Facts)

Best Desert Rockhounding Locations in the USA

Best Desert Rockhounding Locations in the USA
Best Desert Rockhounding Locations in the USA

To make your trip more accessible, it’s essential to know precisely which deserts in the U.S. you should visit and what you can find there. 

The best deserts to rockhound in the U.S. are Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, especially around Lake Havasu City, the Black Rock Desert in Nevada or Smoke Creek Desert, Desert Mountain Utah, Mojave Desert California, Chihuahuan Desert, or the Great Basin Desert, among others. There are many exciting rocks, minerals, and fossils that you can find here.

ArizonaSonoran Desert
CaliforniaMojave Desert
NevadaBlack Rock Desert
Best Desert Locations in the USA

Let’s explore some of these locations and see exactly what you can find here!

Arizona’s the Sonoran Desert

Arizona’s lands are mostly desert, similar to New Mexico. The Sonoran Desert is one of the largest in the United States. It covers over 86,100 square miles, captures large parts of the southwestern states, including California, and goes towards the northwestern Mexican states.

With such a vast area covered by this desert, there are various things that rockhounds can find and collect. For example, the Lake Havasu City area, Arizona, is particularly rich in various specimens. 

Here you can find agates, jasper, chalcedony, pink chalcedony, and various types of quartz, such as rose quartz, amethyst, smoky quartz, milky quartz, drusy quartz, or citrine quartz. Geodes are also common, and so are fossils, gneiss, copper, chrysocolla, or gold. 

If you want to find out more places to rockhound in Arizona’s deserts, the best thing to do is join a rockhounding club. In particular, the Lake Havasu Gem & Mineral Society is very active in this region.

Joining a club means that you will get to make some friends with the same interest, making your hobby even more worthwhile. Clubs know the best locations to find various items and even have their own well-kept secrets.

TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Arizona, check out this article.

Black Rock Desert, Nevada

In Nevada, the beautiful Black Rock Desert is one of the best rock-hounding locations in the state. In a semi-arid region of lava beds and playa, numerous interesting specimens can be found here, thanks to the desert’s geologic rich geologic history.

On the area surfaces of the Black Rock Desert, you can find opalized wood, petrified wood, agate, fire opals, geodes, gypsum, tourmaline, malachite, epidote, barite, azurite, jasper, and various other rocks and minerals.

Almost all the area that makes up the Black Rock Desert may yield fire opals and opalized wood. If you are in Nevada and want to search for some gold, you can also try your luck at the Desert Queen and other nearby mines. The mines around the Black Rock Desert are also worth checking out for other specimens. 

TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Nevada, check out this article.

Desert Mountain Utah

The Desert Mountain in Utah is also an excellent location for rockhounding. The area mines have a lot of potentials, and explorers can find beautiful and rare specimens in most of them. 

Some of the things you can find here include fluorite, bornite, antlerite, hematite, limonite, magnetite, pyrite, cerussite, galena, various types of quartz, barite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, or malachite.

You can opt to join a rockhounding club in Utah to find out more about the best desert locations. Deserts are usually dangerous, so having a friend by your side is a welcomed sight!

TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Utah, check out this article.

Mojave Desert California

Though it is the smallest out of the four major American Deserts, the Mojave Desert is still massive at over 31,250 square miles. It comprises areas from California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It is a mineralogically rich area where various specimens can be found. 

For example, you can find agate, cabochons, silver, onyx, celestite, calcite concretions, quartz, crystal clusters, geodes, garnet, siderite, nickel quartz, gypsum, selenite, jasper, or chalcedony roses among many other things. The beautiful part about this dessert is its numerous rock-hounding locations across the states.

TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in California, check out this article.

Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan is the largest desert in North America, covering some parts of the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, among others. It spans over 193,783 square miles, meaning hundreds of places for rockhounds to find rare and beautiful specimens.

If you want to experience the Chihuahuan Desert’s best locations, you may need to join a rockhounding club in Texas or the other states. The Chihuahuan Desert Gem & Mineral Club is among the oldest in the region and well versed in rockhounding locations.

This desert is home to various types of terrain worth exploring, and some of the best locations to search for items are usually mines. The Chihuahuan Desert is famous for its beautiful agates, especially the rare fire agates.

Agave and other rare metamorphic or igneous rocks can also be found here. Olivine is also present, particularly in the mines. There are even some canyons situated in this desert that hide many interesting rocks.

TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Texas and New Mexico, check out this article and this article.

Safety Tips on Rockhounding in Desert

Rockhounding in the desert is extremely rewarding, but it isn’t as easy as in other locations. It is advised to bring a friend along, or at least let someone know when you plan on returning.

If you find many things to collect, your friend can help you on your way back. Be sure to carry a stronger backpack just in case. Water is a precious resource due to the desert’s heat; you should take it even when it isn’t so hot.

When hunting for rocks, minerals, and gemstones in the desert, you should have an extra cell phone, compass, whistle, and a small mirror or reflector for emergencies. Another particular danger when it comes to deserts is rattlesnakes.

Many rockhounds dig near large rocks to find their specimens, but these creatures also prefer these places. You should avoid reaching into holes or crevices if you don’t have enough visibility. 

Finally, it would be best to study the local rules and regulations before rockhounding in the desert. It’s best to avoid having issues with the law.

TIP: If you are a beginner but also an advanced one in rockhounding, it will definitely come in handy to know various safety tips. Check them out in the article below:
PRO Tips for Beginner & Experienced Rockhounds + Safety Tips

FAQs About Rockhounding in Desert

Still did not find the answer to your questions about finding rocks in desert? Find frequently asked questions in the section below:

Is It Illegal to Take Rocks from the Arizona Desert?

Generally, you are allowed to take rocks from the Arizona Desert. However, some areas may have restrictions. It’s best to reach out to authorities beforehand or join a rockhounding club in the area as they know the rules and regulations.

What Are the Big Rocks in the Desert Called?

In many areas across the U.S., the big rocks you see in the desert are called hoodoos. They are formed by erosion and consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder stones. Sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations are predisposed to developing hoodoos.

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):


The many deserts of the U.S. possess some of the best rock-hounding spots. Adventurers should generally avoid rockhounding in the desert alone due to its many dangers. They should also research the local and federal laws regarding collection.

Even though rockhounding in the desert can be harder than in other regions, you can find some of the most beautiful, high-quality, and rare specimens possible. All you need is the proper equipment, strong will, and determination!

TIP: There is specific equipment that is necessary to have on you at all times when rockhounding to prevent an injury or fix a problem if one arises. Check it out in the article below:
Recommended Safety Equipment for Rockhounding: Stay Safe!