Crystal Hunting in Colorado

2012 November 4
by Pikes Peak Rock Staff

crystal hunting coloradoYou’ve heard about Colorado’s popular ski resorts in Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge, and perhaps you know about the state’s abundance of outdoor adventures.  Whether you come here to ski, snowboard, hike, fish or climb, the focal point for most Colorado tourists is on the jaw-dropping beauty of the Rocky Mountains, but the excitement doesn’t stop there.  Even amateur geologists who prefer rock-hounding to rock climbing will appreciate the ability to seek out earthly treasures in the Colorado Mountains.

What makes rock hounding so popular in Colorado?

In many cases, the desire to “hunt” rocks got started in childhood, when a parent started you out with that first rock collection.  It could have been that first trip to the Grand Canyon or a field trip to one of Colorado’s many beautiful caverns, but something triggered an interest in glimmering crystals, shiny stones or rare fossils.  When this happens, there is no turning back; Colorado’s mountain trails have become a treasure trove of natural beauty to be picked up, scrutinized and pocketed.

For avid hikers and mountain trekkers, Colorado’s forests and mountains add a new dimension to the rock-hounding experience.  Knowing that that pretty little green stone might actually be a piece of amazonite or jade can make the crystal hunter very excited, or that rough-hewn round rock could be geode in disguise.  In addition to crystals, fossils are also abundant in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, recalling a time in the distant past when Colorado was a vast sea.

The difference between rocks and minerals

Colorado is one of the best places in America to look for minerals, crystals, gemstones, fossils and more.  In fact, anyone who is willing to go out and look for them is likely to find something of value.  It all comes down to one thing – paying attention to your surroundings.  Casual collectors may not be quite as motivated as obsessed amateurs to go out on a rock-hounding trip, but anyone can learn to find a variety of collectible crystals in Colorado.

First, it’s important to know the difference between a rock and a mineral.  A rock is described by most geologists as an “aggregate of minerals.”  They can include a combination of sandstone, limestone, granite and shale, and they are also the preservers of fossils.  In other words, they are the “history books” of the ancient world.  Minerals may be the heart of any collector’s rock-hounding expedition, but it isn’t always as interesting from an historical perspective.

A mineral is naturally occurring and unique, having its own crystalline structure that is so attractive to collectors.  Imagine being the first person to open up an otherwise unattractive round stone, only to find it utterly glowing with colorful crystal formations.  Gems are the part of a mineral that have the most “ornamental value” or beauty, as well as some degree of rarity.

Which minerals are most frequently found in Colorado?

Some of the more popular minerals to be found in Colorado are lapis lazuli (blue sapphire), amethyst, turquoise and topaz.  But the best-known gem for rock hounds is usually amazonite.  This brilliant green mineral is often mistaken for jade and can be found in many of Colorado’s forests.

Over the past decade or so, the Colorado landscape has changed quite a bit.  Some public lands are now private and others have staked a claim on roads that once led to mineral treasures.  However, if you know where to find public access there are still some excellent places to find beautiful crystals.  As a rock hound myself, I usually advise people to join the Colorado Mineral Society (CMS) to gain access to more information.  CMS members have access to many areas that would not be available otherwise, and they can help guide amateur crystal hunters on where to go.  Once you join a few guided trips with experienced explorers, it will be easy to identify which rocks are likely to bear gems or crystals.

One thing that makes rock-hounding so attractive is its utter simplicity.  Just the act of walking around, nose to the ground, seeking out that hidden treasure, brings back memories of childhood.  Families who visit Colorado often say that their rock-hounding trips brought them closer together than any other outdoor activity.

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