If you are a rockhound, Colorado should be on your list because of its expansive mountain ranges and complex geology.
The state has thousands and thousands of old mines and prospective rock hounding locations.
One area to consider exploring is Chaffee County.
127 different minerals have been identified and found in the area, and Chaffee County has a plethora of old mining prospects, hills, and stream beds, making it one of the premier destinations for rockhounds to visit.
Rockhounding In Chaffee County, Colorado
The information provided in this article by YesDirt.com is for informational purposes and is subject to change. Laws are updated. Accessibility guidelines and restrictions change. Be sure to confirm the land status and collection rules before you travel to an unfamiliar location or collect any material.
1. Mt. Antero
This mountain range is an hour and 20 minutes away and has the highest known gem locality in the United States.
There is an abundance of aquamarine crystals with colors ranging from sky blue to sea green. These beautiful gems can be found in pockets or bubbles in the granite rock, or what geologists call microbolic cavities.
Other minerals such as well-crystallized specimens of smokey quartz, colorless quartz, different varieties of white feldspar, green, violet, or colorless fluorite, and fine colorless sherry phenacites.
You can also find rare gems from colorless to orange crystals of topaz, beryllium mineral bertrandite, and radioactive brannerite.
Though going up the mountain is always an incredible adventure, it also has its challenges, whether by foot or four-wheel drive.
The “one-way” drive goes on for seven miles and is rocky, bumpy, steep, narrow, and above timberline, so there are some hazards involved in the journey.
One miscue on the shelf road of switchbacks, and you could potentially fall over a thousand feet.
If you decide to make the trip by vehicle, be sure to stay on the established trails.
Do not attempt to cut across the delicate tundra area.
The road can be both a hindrance and a great advantage when doing serious collecting.
As rockhounds continue to collect, there is an issue with depletion, and most of the “easy stuff” has essentially disappeared.
So if you aren’t familiar with the area, you could miss a likely digging zone as most of the surface float has already been picked up.
Mt. Antero is open for exploration from June to November, but the best time of year for rock hounding is in the summertime.
The Salida Ranger District (SRD) operates the site and offers commercial rock climbing, OHV Road Riding, outfitting, and guiding.
If you are planning on doing any of these activities, you will need to acquire special permits.
There are many unpatented mining claims scattered over the peak.
Any surface collection without the claim owner’s permission is illegal and considered “claim jumping”, so be sure to know if you are on a claim!
To learn more about the permits and regulations, contact the SRD at 719-539-3591.
To get to Mt. Antero from Chaffee County, head northeast on Forest Rd 322A toward Forest Rd 322 for 1.7 miles. Then, turn right onto Forest Rd 322 and drive for 3.1 miles.
From there, continue onto Rd 322 for 0.8 miles, then make a sharp right onto Co Rd 321 and drive for 7.8 miles. Then turn right onto Co Rd 162 and drive for 7.8 miles. Finally, turn left onto Rd 277 for 5.2 miles. Parking at Mt. Antero trailhead is located along Co Rd 162.
2. Ruby Mt.
Only an hour away, Ruby Mt. is one of the most striking peaks in all of Colorado.
The mountain is cloaked in intense hues, primarily red, though yellows and oranges and darker colors can also be seen.
Ruby is located above the horseshoe Basin in the state’s Front-Ranger and is linked to the immensely popular Grays Peak by a rugged ridge.
The crowds at Grays Peak are considerably larger than at Ruby. In fact, it’s likely that you won’t bump into any other people because it is a much more challenging journey.
There are no trails, so most visitors are rock climbing, or driving off-road. These rockhounds are true explorers of mining ruins.
Those who decide to brave Ruby Mt. have a variety of routes to choose from, all of which have immaculate views.
When scaling the mountain, you can choose from numerous options for climbing the mountain, ranging from Class 2 on steep talus to Class 4 tight gullies and precarious rock.
When collecting you’ll find gems such as Rhyolite, Perlite, Apache tears (‘black rubies’, Spessartine, topaz (yellow), Feldspar, Quartz crystals.
This lush mountain has gorgeous surroundings, is very peaceful, and is extremely remote. The best time of year to visit Ruby is late spring into fall.
The easiest route to Ruby Mt. from Chaffee County is to take Forest Rd 322 to Co Rd 321 for 5. miles. Then get on Co Rd 162 to Co Rd 301 for 7.9 miles, then drive 3.0 to Co Rd 300. This path will lead you directly to the Ruby Mt. Campground.
3. Chalk Creek Canyon
During the 1870’s and 1880s, Chalk Creek Canyon was home to the Chalk Creek Mining District, one of Colorado’s richest mining districts.
The towns of Hortense, Alpine, St. Elmo, Romley, and Hancock thrived after the discovery of gold and silver-laden ore.
Today, most of the historic mines are located on private property and visitors cannot access these mines without the property owner’s permission.
Permits are required for all commercial activities including outfitting and guiding.
Contact the Salida Ranger District at 719-539-3591.
Camping is restricted to developed campgrounds in the Chalk Creek canyon. However, dispersed camping is permitted above the townsites of St. Elmo and Hancock.
Gold panning is allowed all along the Chalk Creek; the best section for panning is located west of the Cascade campground.
Chalk Creek Canyon is an easy 50 minute commute via Forest Rd 162 and Co Rd 162.
There are several interpretative signs that tell the fascinating story of Chalk Creek canyon and its history and geology, making it a very popular visitor attraction during the summer months.
Almost anywhere you turn in Colorado there will be something worth finding because collectible rocks and minerals are well distributed throughout the entire state.
And one of the most diverse locations for rock hounding is Chaffee County.
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