In the spirit of the prospectors who first found riches in the Colorado mountains, rock hounding and gold panning are activities the whole family can enjoy.
Cindy Pratt of the Rock Doc, 17897 U.S. 285 in Centerville, tells people the most important thing to do when rockhounding is to keep their eyes open.
“Just because something hasn’t been found doesn’t mean it’s not worth finding,” she tells aspiring rockhounds.
Rocks, mineral and semiprecious gemstones can be collected from Bureau of Land Management land, excluding national monuments, as long as they are collected for personal use and do not exceed 25 pounds per day (not to exceed 250 pounds per year). Motorized and mechanical collection is prohibited.
Pratt suggests making sure the area you plan to collect from is not private property or a claim.
It is possible for someone to have a mineral claim on a piece of public land, so look for claim markers before starting to collect.
In Chaffee County, Pratt said a good collection area, especially for families, is the east side of Ruby Mountain in Nathrop. The west side is private property, but for the time being BLM is still allowing collection on the east side.
Ruby Mountain yields garnets, topaz and small pebbles of obsidian called “Apache tears.”
Pratt said many people ask about Mount Antero since the Weather Channel program “Prospectors” aired. The fourteener is famous for its aquamarines.
Pratt cautions that the road up Antero is only for those who are very experienced in driving steep four-wheel-drive mountain roads with lots of switchbacks.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said, noting that most of the areas where aquamarine is found are above timberline.
There are many claims already on the mountain, so the best bet is to find someone who already has a claim and is willing to give permission, which will usually involve a fee.
For the beginning rockhound Pratt recommends carrying a rock hammer, safety glasses, hiking boots, water gloves, a good “how to get there” book, a rock and mineral identification book and a jeweler’s loupe to see details in the rocks.
Gold panning, another method of prospecting, is a related activity that can be enjoyed for little layout for supplies.
A gold pan, suction bottle, specimen vial and magnet to pick up black sand or magnetite, often found with gold, are the basic equipment needed.
Finding a spot to pan can be problematic since there are many 20-acre claims along the Arkansas River, and it can be a challenge to find the claim markers.
Pratt said she usually sends aspiring gold seekers to the Cache Creek Mining Area west of Granite. The BLM site is open to nonmotorized mining using hand tools, pans and hand sluicing. Pratt said the area has a lot of tailings and a history of gold being found.
The gold will be in flakes, not nuggets, so patience is required.
Panning requires some technique to be successful. Pratt recommends getting some instruction by book or video and asking questions of other panners, most of whom are willing to show how to work the pan.
Rockhounding and gold panning are good family-oriented hobbies, Pratt said.
“It gets kids excited about science. I love the short scientists,” she said.
For those who want to go into more depth, a hobbyist club, such as Columbine Gem and Mineral Society in Chaffee County and Gold Panners of Colorado, is an avenue to explore.
Places for rockhounds to explore:
Ruby Mountain (Nathrop): garnet,topaz, obsidian.
Ute Trail (Salida): epidote, mica, marble, sapphire (rare).
Mount Antero Chalk Creek Canyon): aquamarine, smoky quartz, fluorite.
Cache Creek (Granite): gold.
Mosquito Pass (Leadville): fossils.
Hagerman Pass (Leadville): black tourmaline, white quartz.
Iowa Gulch – Julia Fisk Mine (Leadville): rhodochrosite, galena, siderite, sphalerite.
Texas Creek: tourmaline, feldspar, rose and clear quartz, mica.
Point Barr Public Area (Swissvale): gold.