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Mountains consist of a combination of igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rock, depending on how they are formed.
- Igneous rock comes from molten lava;
- Sedimentary rock comes from the compaction of sediments carried in water, ice and wind;
- Metamorphic rocks are high-density igneous or sedimentary rocks that have been subjected to high heat and pressure.
Minerals are naturally occurring solids with specific chemical compositions and an ordered internal structure.
Seven types of rocks commonly found in the mountains are gneiss, gabbro, labradorite, diorite, rhyolite, granite, and chert. These rocks contain common minerals such as hornblende, quartz, biotite, calcite, pyroxene, epidote, and apatite. First, identify the rock type, then scrutinize it for the minerals.
Rockhounding in the mountains can be very rewarding, but it helps research the geology of the area before going out, so you know what to expect. You can find this information on government websites covering your planned location or from local information offices.
If you are interested in checking out the best rockhounding tools you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Common Rocks You Can Find In Mountains
Mountains are not great just for hikes but they are quite popular among all rockhounds as a great rockhounding area. You can find a lot of unique and beautiful rocks in mountains. Find the list of the most common rocks you can find in mountains in the sections below:
Gneiss is a high-grade metamorphic rock that originates from granite, an igneous rock, or shale, a sedimentary rock. It is caused by regional metamorphism due to pressure at tectonic plate boundaries.
Mountain ranges occur at these boundaries, where the tectonic plates push up against each other, causing the rock to warp and fold.
Most gneiss has banding of feldspar and quartz. It is often confused with granite. Gneiss is found along the western slope of the northern Cascade Mountains in Washington in the US.
Gabbro is an igneous rock that is black or green and is most abundant in deep oceanic crust. However, when mountains form, gabbro can be uplifted from the ocean. Some ancient mountains consist of gabbro, such as the Cullin Hills in the Isle of Skye off the northwestern coast of Scotland.
In the US, gabbro is found in the San Gabriel Mountains in California and Raggedy Mountain gabbro group in the Witchita Mountains in Oklahoma.
TIP: Gabbro is one of the most common rocks that come from oceans. Do you know what other gemstones come from the ocean? Find out more in the article below:
Labradorite can be found on Black Mountain in the Sierrita and Dos Cabezas Mountains in Arizona. It is part of the feldspar family of rocks and is famous for its blue, green, and yellow iridescence.
It was first discovered in Canada’s Labrador province, where the local Inuit people called it firestone.
Nowadays, it is also found in other parts of the world, such as the Jones Mountains in Antarctica and Mount Karisimbi in Africa. Varieties of Labradorite include Oregon Sunstone, lynx eye, and spectrolite.
Diorite is an igneous rock consisting of the minerals, andesine, biotite, hornblende and pyroxene. It is usually coarse-grained and forms above a convergent plate boundary.
TIP: Diorite is the most often found in California and Arizona. Check out the rockhounding locations in these two states and what other rocks and minerals you can find there in the articles below:
Rhyolite is an igneous rock formed from magma upwellings, rich in silica, deep beneath the Earth. It is light-colored and fine-grained. There is even a ghost town in Nye County in Nevada called rhyolite after the igneous rock found in the Bullfrog Hills near there.
Some of the world’s highest mountain ranges, such as the Rockies, Himalayas, and Andes Mountains, are made of granite. Other mountains in the US, such as the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Mount McKinley and Mount Whitney, are mainly granite.
It forms when magma cools deep in the Earth’s crust and sometimes shows as massive exfoliation domes, huge bald rocky outcrops, such as that in Stone Mountain in Georgia.
Granite is usually a greyish color grey, coarse-grained, and is composed mainly of feldspar, mica, and quartz. It can also be pink, reddish, or even white.
TIP: You can find granite in the Mount McKinley national park. Alaska is full of beautiful rocks and minerals. Find out more about rockhounding in Alaska in the article below:
Chert usually forms on the ocean floor and typically consists of the skeletal remains of microscopic creatures such as diatoms.
Thick chert beds occur in deep marine deposits that, due to geological shifts, are pushed up into mountains such as the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas and Oklahoma. These mountains are famous for their fine quartz as well as novaculite, a form of chert.
Chert has a waxy luster and can be brown, red, white, or black. Large chert beds in the mountains can have a folded appearance that shows the enormous pressure it was subjected to when geological forces displaced it.
Common Minerals You Can Find in Mountains
You can find not only rocks but also interesting minerals in the mountains. Some of the most common minerals that are found in mountains are quite well known but the rest of them may surprise you a little. So let’s take a look at them.
Hornblende is a common black, dark brown, or green mineral occurring in igneous and metamorphic rocks. It is found in gneiss, rhyolite, granite, schist, and diorite and is considered a major rock-forming mineral.
In the US, shiny plates of hornblende occur in the Ramapo Mountains. It is commonly associated with calcite, apatite, fluorite, quartz, and epidote.
Quartz is a widespread group of minerals found in the mountains and can be smoky, pink, white, clear, purple, blue, green, or even black.
It is located in sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks and is best known for its stunning crystal formations. Quartz Mountain is in Greer County in Oklahoma, and smoky quartz can be found in Pikes Peak, Colorado.
TIP: Quartz crystals are one of the most popular rocks among all rockhounds. They are quite abundant in the United States but one of the best places for finding quartz crystals is located in Colorado. Check out the rockhounding locations in Colorado in the article below:
Biotite is found in metamorphic and igneous rocks and is usually black. However, it can be split into very thin sheets or flakes that glint when struck by sunlight because it is actually a dark mica. It has a vitreous, sometimes pearly luster and high iron content, which makes it dark.
Sometimes biotite produces bright bronze reflections in a gold prospector’s pan that the inexperienced have mistaken for gold. Biotite flakes in rocks have caused similar deceptions.
Calcite occurs in many different colors, such as white, yellow, orange, blue, green, and grey. It has a waxy texture and reacts to acids such as vinegar. Varieties of calcite are known by other common descriptive names such as Angel’s Wing, Dog-tooth spar, nailhead spar, and poker chip calcite.
It is frequently found with fluorite, quartz, prehnite, and dolomite. Calcite is located in the Raggedy Mountain gabbro group in southwestern Oklahoma.
TIP: Oklahoma is a great place for rockhounding. I wrote a complete guide about rockhounding in the state, check out the article below:
Pyroxene was named from a combination of the Greek words for “fire” and “stranger”. It is a group of minerals containing crystals such as augite and enstatite.
Augite is an important rock-forming mineral that forms large crystals, described as “dull and uninteresting”. It commonly occurs in gabbro, diorite, and basalt rock, as well as some metamorphic rocks.
Some people equate the words augite and pyroxene interchangeably, but this is inaccurate. Augite is usually black, brown, or green and has even been found in several stone meteorites.
Epidote is the name of a group of minerals as well as the most common mineral in that group. It is commonly found in metamorphic rocks in association with quartz, feldspar, and chlorite. Epidote ranges in color from yellowish-green to pistachio green but can also be brownish-green or black.
The pink and green stone known as Unakite consists of green epidote, pink orthoclase, and quartz and is frequently used in craft jewelry. It is named for the Unaka mountain range in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
Apatite can form beautiful pale green crystals, but large ones are rare and popular with gem collectors. It can also be brown, blue, pink, yellow, purple, or colorless and occurs in igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
Apatite is the commonest phosphate mineral, and phosphorus is extracted from rock rich in apatite. Phosphorous is used in the manufacture of fertilizers and by the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
The state of Maine in the US is famous for its apatite crystals and even has a Mount Apatite Park that holds a network of forest trails linking abandoned quarries, giant boulders, slag piles, and steep ledges. It is a favorite of rockhounds looking for Apatite, Tourmaline, and Quartz crystals.
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)
Tips and For Rockhounding in Mountains
Make sure that you have permission to collect rocks from mountain sites before you go. It can be illegal to take rocks from mountains, especially those that are federally managed and protected unless you have a permit. Don’t take too many because these sites must be preserved for future generations.
Rock collecting may be restricted to certain areas, for example, the Deer Hill and Lord Hill Mineral Collecting Areas in the White Mountains.
Mountain rock hunting is allowed along numerous trails in Utah‘s Mineral Mountains in Beaver County. The Southern Palen Mountains in California are also a popular rockhounding area. Many sites only allow the use of hand tools for digging or may not allow digging at all.
TIP: It’s rockhounding time now! Do you know what tools you need for rockhounding? Check out the list of all needed tools and equipment for rockhounding in the article below: