Rockhounding In Arizona's Sonoran Desert: Lake Havasu City
Rockhounding in Arizona's Sonoran desert, encompassing both Lake Havasu and the lower Colorado River, provides a wealth of hidden treasures for those who take the time to look. Rockhounding in Arizona can be very rewarding - almost addicting at times - because the treasures you can find in the desert leave you longing to find more.
Rockhounding by definition is amateur geology; the recreational study and hobby of collecting rocks, stones, gems, minerals, and fossils from their natural environment. Rockhounding is a great way to get exercise, enjoy the beautiful scenery Lake Havasu City has to offer, and experience the thrill of finding “gems” that will give you years of enjoyment. For millions of years, the mighty Colorado River has been depositing treasures along its banks and they’re just waiting to be found by those who look.
Top spots to go rockhounding in and near Lake Havasu City
One great resource for rockhounds is the Lake Havasu Gem & Mineral Society (LHGMS). Joining the club is easy, and once you’re a member, you’ll be privy to not only the great find locations, but also have access to expert rockhounders who have been hiking the area for years and are a wealth of knowledge about rockhounding in Arizona.
The LHGMS has regular field trips; usually every weekend from late fall through early spring. Most field trips are on Saturdays and are one day in duration, although they do have some overnight trips. Participating in the field trips is the best way to learn where to rockhound.
Once you start collecting, what do you do with your finds? Many people place them around their homes as landscaping decorations, but if you want to take your rockhounding further, you can purchase a rock tumbler and tumble your stones to a beautiful, smooth finish.
If you’d like to take it even further than that, the Mohave Community College offers lapidary and silversmith classes. Lapidary is the art of turning raw/rough rocks (material) into pieces of art (stones ready to be set for finished jewelry, belt buckles, wine stoppers, table coasters, etc.) Many of the Lake Havasu Gem & Mineral Society members regularly take lapidary classes through the college.
What can you find in and around Lake Havasu City?
Agates – Very hard rocks with a waxy luster (almost like they’ve been partially polished in a rock tumbler). They polish up to a beautiful shine and make for excellent jewelry. Agates can be found all along the shoreline of Lake Havasu, in the deserts, and especially on the Island (cross the London Bridge from McCulloch Blvd). Agates are all colors, sometimes banded, sometimes speckled. If you’re lucky, you may find a landscape agate, white stones whose inclusions, usually iron-based, resemble a tree or bush growing throughout the stone.
Within the agate family is Jasper, living in the same family as agate; jasper’s only main difference is the color. Jasper is almost always red, yellow, brown, green, and very rarely blue.
Also within the agate family is Chalcedony. Chalcedony is white and sometimes found in rounds called ‘roses’. Like agate and jasper, chalcedony has a waxy luster and may be semitransparent or translucent. Chalcedony assumes a wide array of colors, but those most commonly seen are white to gray, grayish-blue or a shade of brown ranging from pale to nearly black.
Quartz is very common in the area and can be found almost anywhere around the Lake Havasu area. Varieties of quartz include rose quartz, amethyst, smoky quartz, milky quartz, and citrine.
Geodes can be hard to find due to their rough and unattractive exterior, but once you find a geode, usually there are lots more nearby. Geodes are little roundish rock balls that are sometimes hollow inside and reveal beautiful crystal formations with bandings of color when broken in half. Geodes have been found by locals in areas near the airport and at the south end of town heading toward the mountains.
Drusy (or Druzy) Quartz is thin layers of small quartz crystals found on the surface of other rocks. Drusy quartz are mostly found in the desert areas and not along the shoreline.
Gneiss are rounded, smooth rocks with lines going through them and are found in abundance along the lake and surrounding bluffs. Gneiss is a very old, metamorphic rock which once was sandstone heated and pressurized underground and then brought to the surface by erosion. Most gneiss found has little shiny speckles gold or silver in color.
Fossils are found all around the area, but a particularly great location is on the California side of the lake south of the Havasu Landing Casino along the bluffs overlooking the lake. You’ll have to go by boat or off-road vehicle.
Copper is well known throughout the Lake Havasu City area, and Copper Canyon was named for a copper mine at the top of the canyon. Copper mines are abundant in and around the Lake Havasu and Parker areas, although most are no longer active.
Similar in color to turquoise, chrysocolla is a copper mineral that forms on the surface of other rocks near copper mines. As copper turnsbluish/green when it tarnishes, you might think you’ve found copper, when more than likely you’ve found chrysocolla.
Gold can be found around the area as well. There are active gold mines around the Lake Havasu area, but they are privately owned and operated. The Havasu Gold Seekers is an association that owns 3,200 acres in the Lake Havasu area. You must be a member to prospect on their property, as the mines are heavily-protected.
Tips for safe and better rockhounding in Arizona's desert climate
- Try to bring a friend with you, but if you do go alone, inform someone of where you’ll be hiking and when you plan on returning.
- Carry extra water even on “cool” days.
- Carry a cell phone, whistle, compass, and small mirror or reflector in case of emergency.
- Warmer weather brings in rattlesnakes, so be very cautious when hiking in the desert. Be aware of digging near large rocks as they make for a perfect resting place for rattlers and never reach into holes or crevices you can’t see into.
- Bring something to carry your finds back with. If you plan on bringing back larger finds, sometimes a regular backpack may not be strong enough to “carry a bag of rocks”.
- A pick hammer is extremely handy for even the novice rockhounder (fondly coined a “pebble puppy”). Pick hammers can be purchased at almost any hardware store and online.
- Be aware of local rules and regulations, especially if you are planning on rockhounding in Arizona Indian territory. The Lake Havasu Gem & Mineral Society is aware of virtually all restrictions in the area and is a good source to go to ahead of time.
There are limits to how much material you may remove from the desert. For specific details about rockhounding in Arizona, click here to visit the Bureau of Land Management’s website.