Being over 90 percent desert, Utah has no shortage of rock and minerals.
In fact, the state is well known for a wide variety of its minerals being exported on a regular basis, including radioactive rock like uranium.
In the southern part of the state, Utah’s red sandstone is world famous, and that’s also where one can find the town of Moab, an amazing geological location as well as a prime spot for rockhounding minerals, fossils, rare stones and more.
Rockhounding Near Moab, Utah
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.
Moab has a wide assortment of rock collections ranging from petrified wood to opal to fossils to geodes.
In fact, just walking around town, there’s an assortment of rock shops on just about every corner of the Utah destination.
However, the real fun comes in getting out off the main streets and hiking the surrounding areas.
Interestingly, while Moab is surrounded by public land and related territory, personal rock collecting is not a big issue as long as you’re doing so for personal interest versus commercial.
That said, there are still lots of zones that require special permits, so one does have to pay attention to the trail signs and barriers in the given areas.
Even more complicated, the government gives out claims, and collecting in those areas without an owner’s permission can get you in hot water.
Moab has attractive rock sites all over the place, but one does need a rockhounding guidebook to efficiently find locations without spending a lot of time going in circles in the surrounding desert.
Route UT 279 heads out of town towards the Colorado River towards the southwest.
This area saw a lot of mining and ore processing in the 1970s, so there’s plenty of spillage and waste piles to poke around in.
As the road tracks with the Colorado River, folks are going to find lots of opportunities to pull over and hang out near the water.
These locations are also great spots for surveying and walking around for exposed mineral finds.
Some of the most common rocks in this area are going to be chalcedony, chert (orangish variety) and flint.
A lot of the samples found will be dull and void of any color than a typical rock gray, but some choice pieces pop up once in a while with a bit of looking.
There’s also a chance of finding banded agate as well in the same location.
Kane Creek Road
Another location is headed in the direction of the Lockhart Basin away from Moab.
This is not a path or driving area for the typical vehicle though.
It’s a far better choice to be working with a 4×4 or at least a truck or SUV with a lot of clearance underneath the chassis.
Basically, about 12 miles out of Moab one is going to find open field areas, which provide for a great walk and survey opportunity.
This location comes up with similar chalcedony as well as agate versions, but there will also be mixed up chert with flint embedded in it or vice versa.
There are also lots of piles or remnants of flint-knapping, work byproduct from ancient times when indigenous folks chipped rock pieces over to make tools out of them and small cutters.
All the flint-knapping done regularly ended up leaving piles of rock chips which in turn provide lots of chalcedony flakes today for rockhounds to find.
For folks who work the area regularly, Klondike Bluffs is a regular name and location for rockhounding near Moab.
Folks are going to find plenty of the rocks mentioned above as well as a good selection of petrified wood as well.
The given location for the Bluffs sets on the north side outside Moab.
A good drive of about 15 miles on route UT 191 gets one out to the Canyonlands Airport area and Ten Mile Road.
Turning off the route to the west and going a few miles to Ruby Ranch Road, and one will be rewarded with lots of petrified wood samples.
If one keeps going, eventually the road will connect with Interstate 70.
On the other hand, coming back on the Ten Mile Road offers a chance to stop at the Old Dead Hours Point Road and a rockhounding visit to the Dubinky Well.
This location is stuffed with lots of flint, agate, quartz, jasper and some fossils too.
There is so much just sitting on the ground, folks are advised to get a bit picky for the best pieces.
The town of Moab is surrounded by what’s known as the Chinle Formation.
This particular geological form is also home to lots of samples of petrified wood.
Don’t expect to find any beautiful pieces for carving into a large furniture piece.
However, there are plenty of smaller samples easy to find in the area, and they are usually large enough to use as book ends or conversation pieces in the living room.
Another type of stone to look for just outside of town involves quart crystals.
Basically, these are gem-style stone pieces that have been exposed by the elements and show up in the same locations as the petrified wood clusters.
If you’re lucky, you may even find a couple of quart pieces of notable size and crystal formation.
Many of the areas frequented by people today are not the first time humans have been in the Moab region.
In fact, much of the Moab area was frequented hundreds of years ago by ancient indigenous peoples.
That means there are going to be lots of remnants outside of Moab just sitting on the ground as erosion exposed them.
These bits and pieces are leftover material from worksites, and often including flakes, broken pottery, fragments and sometimes even an arrowhead or two.
Rockhounds with a good eye will see these items right away, but watch out for whose property you’re on at the time.
Just going off the road willy-nilly and picking things up could trigger a sudden confrontation from a landowner or a public lands agent who sees it in the distance.
It’s far better to use a guide and find known, allowed rockhounding areas instead of fouling up your trip over a clumsy mistake.
Marbling Formations of Iron
Known as Moqui Marble, rockhounding near Moab is inevitably going to find odd-looking iron formations around Moab.
Originally embedded inside other rock, these marbling formations can come in lots of different sizes ranging from some being as small as a kid’s marble toy to others being cylindrical and big, even the size of the small lemon.
They are dark, often a mixture of iron and sandstone, and appear in different locations.
Many have shown up simply because erosion exposed the formation, or it came loose and fell to a lower area.
They will often be found in clusters and look like someone has been playing an odd game of rock marbles in the area.
Mineralized remains of animals, plants and dinosaurs are common in Utah, and come in all sizes and shapes.
However, word to the wise, the only fossils a rockhound can pocket will be those of petrified wood mentioned above, and common bug fossils, i.e. invertebrates.
Anything that looks like a bigger creature or a dinosaur would be off-limits for any kind of personal collecting.
That said, everything from seeds to building-size dinosaurs have been found in Utah, and oftentimes they are located by accident or when looking for something else in the desert.
Plan to use your mobile device or phone, track the GP location if you can and then hand the info off to the given public agency in charge of the area or university archaeologists.
This helps protect the find as well as prevent it from being looted by folks who don’t like to follow the law.
Trilobites, on the other hand, are fair game.
These common fossils look like oversized roly-poly bugs in stone, and they were extreme in number during their time period of being alive millions of years ago.
As a result, these invertebrates are totally allowable for collecting and make for a neat dinosaur-age fossil to take home.
Tips for Hunting Smart
Just about everyone coming to Moab to do some rockhounding has invested a bit of time and money in a good guide.
The Utah Geological Survey provides lots of online maps that can be downloaded off the Internet, but print books are also a good idea as well, especially for keeping in a backpack for reference.
Watch out for the weather.
Because the area around Moab is predominantly rock, rain and washouts happen with significant strength.
You don’t want to be caught in a bad place in a gully or canyon with heavy rains suddenly channeling lots of water in your direction.
Also, lighting and thunderstorms are common.
Being out in the open with any kind of metal is a high risk of electrocution.
So, pay attention to the weather the day you go out and play it smart.]