In this article, you’ll learn about some great places to visit if you are passionate about rocks!
Rockhounding Near Tucson (A Visitor’s Guide)
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.
The Grand Canyon State is one of the best places for rockhounds.
However, you must remember that in the actual Grand Canyon you are not allowed to take anything.
Leave the rocks for others to admire and enjoy.
Take pictures or rubbings, but please follow the “Leave No Trace” ethic.
This goes for the Petrified Forest National Park as well.
Even if you don’t believe in bad luck curses, these rocks really belong to everyone.
The Saguaro National Park near Tucson is better known for cacti than rock formations. (Don’t take them either.)
Fortunately, there are many places near Tucson that promise a fun day for rockhounds.
If you want something to take home for your own personal collection, there are places around Tucson you can go to.
Let’s look at a few!
Here’s a location just outside Superior, Arizona, a town only a little under two hours drive from Tuscon.
As the story goes, some Apache warriors rather than face capture by the U.S. Cavalry rode their horses off a cliff Thelma and Louise style.
According to legend, the tears of their women and children turned into little black stones.
These small black pebbles are actually obsidian, but are locally known as Apache tears.
San Carlos Indian Reservation
Two and a half miles north of Tucson is a town appropriately called Peridot, due to being home to the world’s biggest peridot mine.
This mine is owned and operated by the local Apache people.
They will allow visitors for a fee ($10 per car, $35 per person, but this may fluctuate.)
You may have to ask very nicely (and perhaps grease a few palms) before you can take your very own peridot home, but it may be worth it.
Round Mountain Rockhound Area
This place is near Safford, just a two-hour roundabout drive from Tuscon using US 191 S.
As the name suggests, this is an ideal spot for rockhounding.
Fire agates can be found anywhere on the surface if you just look around a little.
You may also find some geodes and quartz among the desert rocks if you keep your eyes peeled.
Camping is allowed in this area, but you will be roughing it.
Cal-Portland Rillito Cement Quarry
Located just twenty-one miles to the northwest of Tuscon, off Twin Peaks Road is Cal-Portland Rillito Cement Quarry.
You won’t find any spectacular gems but you may find some calcite, fluorite, and maybe some nice, clear crystals with limonite-goethite inclusions.
You could also expect to find a good example of manganese dendrite specimens or perhaps a dense caliche-cemented breccia.
You may have to call ahead to ask for permission and perhaps a tour guide. Ask for Jared.
The Picacho de Calera Hills
If you’re in the market for fossils, you may want to try tour luck in the Picacho de Calera Hills, northeast of Tucson towards the Silverbell Mountains.
These hills are mostly Abrigo Limestone and calcareous sandstone.
Embedded in these rocks, you are sure to find some ancient treasure such as trilobites and the teeth of various fishes.
You may find the remains of many invertebrates dating back to the Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian eras.
Not even half an hour’s drive south of Tucson is Helmet Peak.
If you don’t mind a little hike and a little altitude (1,168 meters above sea level), you can find many things here.
If you’re looking for fossils, you may find ganoid fish teeth and invertebrates among the Permian Rocks.
If you are looking for other minerals, you will find a plethora of them here.
You’re sure to find some quartz along with pyrite, dolomite, malachite and much more.
Turquoise is the State Gem Stone of Arizona.
There are many places to find it, but one of the best places to find it near Tucson is Bisbee, a little mining town an hour and a half to the southeast, not far from the Mexican border.
The turquoise here will come in many shades of blue with some webbing.
The highest quality turquoise in this area will be a dark blue with chocolate brown or reddish webbing.
It’s a two and a half hour drive to the Vekol Mountains to get to the Martin Formation, but it you want some fossils, this is the place to be.
There are fossils here dating back to the Devonian Period.
You’ll have to pick through some limestone and sandstone here, but it will be well worth it to bring home some fossilized corals, brachiopods and maybe even some quartz geodes.
You may find some fish fossils along with a wonder that this mountain out in the desert was once at the bottom of the sea.
The Old Yuma Mine
The Old Yuma Mine is just a half hour drive to the northwest of Tucson.
If you go down south of the Old Yuma Mine near Skunk Creek, you may find some Willemite crystals and pink chalcedony.
You will almost definitely come across Arizona’s State Mineral, Wulfenite.
Keep your eyes open for quartz crystals, malachite and hematite among many other minerals.
You may even spot a red splash of minium.
This is just a bit south of Tucson, west of the Black Canyon Freeway.
Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. At the Esperanza Mine, you may get your hopes fulfilled.
You might or might not find gold, but you may find some copper, which happens to be the State Metal of Arizona.
You may find silver if you’re lucky.
You’ll also find some pink chalcedony and Molybdenum.
You could also find some quartz and turquoise here.
You may even find a naturally occurring magnet to stick on your fridge.
Some twenty miles south of Tuscon is an old ghost town called Twin Buttes.
It was once a booming mining town when copper was discovered there nearly a hundred years ago.
The copper mill is dried up, though you might find a russet twist here or there.
You’ll be lucky to find enough to make a penny out of these days.
If you go there at night, you might be greeted by the eerie glow of fluorescent minerals.
You may also find azurite, pyrite and malachite.
You’ll find the Neptune Mine just a hour’s drive to the southwest of Tucson, not far at all from Grays spring.
You may find a few veins of fluorite in this area.
They come in white, green and purple. You’re also apt to find some calcite and quartz along with some veins of barite.
The fluorspar shoots her can get anywhere from two to five feet thick.
Some Things to Remember
If you are rockhounding in the Arizona desert, remember to wear a shady hat and keep yourself hydrated.
Tucson summers can be a sweltering 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the mountains, snow is not unheard of.
Dress appropriately for the weather.
You are allowed to keep arrowheads and other Native artifacts if you found them on the surface and were not on federal or reservation land, but it’s always best to double check before you take them with you.
Remember that if you are on reservation land, you are there as a guest and must act accordingly.
Do not take, touch or even photograph anything without permission.
Arizona Rockhounding Resources
If you like to have a physical book in hand (like when there’s no cell service), here’s a few popular options:
Disclosure: These are links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
Tucson, Arizona is located in the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by five minor mountain ranges.
Such geography is ideal for an interesting day of rockhunting.
Just remember to take care of yourself and be responsible.
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