Alabama is a good state for rockhounding.
Rocks, Gemstones, Fossils, & Dinosaurs
Rockhounding Tip: Knowing state rocks, gemstones, minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs often can be very useful information for rockhounders. Ordinarily, states with significant mineral deposits, valuable gemstones, fossils, or unusual or significant rock occurrences will designate an official state mineral, rock/stone, gemstone, or fossil to promote interest in the state’s natural resources, history, tourism, etc. Accordingly, such state symbols often are a good clue as to potential rockhounding opportunities.
State Rock: Marble (1969)
Alabama designated marble, a calcium carbonate formation, as its official state rock in 1969. In Alabama, marble is found in the middle eastern and the southeastern parts of the state.
State Gemstone: Star Blue Quartz (1990)
Alabama designated star blue quartz as its official state gemstone in 1990. Although quartz is a very common mineral (there are many types of quartz), blue quartz is not a common color.
State Mineral: Hematite (1967)
Alabama designated hematite as its official state mineral in 1967. Hematite is known for its red streak and is the chief ore of iron. The name hematite comes from the Greek word haimatites or ‘blood-like’ referring to the vivid red streak exhibited by hematite. Hematite has been mined in central and northern regions of Alabama over the years and aided in the development of the Birmingham area. Hematite is found in the central and northeastern areas of Alabama, especially along Red Mountain.
State Fossil: Basilosaurus cetoides (1984)
Alabama designated the Basilosaurus cetoides as its official state fossil in 1984. This whale-like reptile is known as the king of the lizards. In 1834, a complete skeleton of a basilosaur (king of the lizards) was found in southwestern Alabama. It was a marine animal and is believed to from the Eocene period. Scientists studied the skeleton and said it was not a lizard, but a meat-eating member of the whale family. Because of this they renamed it the zeuglodon (Genus Basilosaurus). Since it was a sea animal they estimated it to be over forty-five million years old (Eocene period). Zeuglodons averaged from fifty-five to seventy feet long and had tails up to forty feet long. Fossil remains of this gigantic whale were first found in Clarke County about 1833; bones were later discovered in Choctaw and Washington Counties. Fossil remains of the Basilosaurus cetoides may not be removed from the state without prior written approval of the governor.
State-specific rockhounding books (including the books listed here as well as other books), regional rockhounding site guides, and other helpful rockhounding resources are identified - by category - in the Books & Gear section of Gator Girl Rocks with a link to the Gator Girl Rocks Amazon Store where you may easily browse selected resources and securely place an order. Your order will benefit Charity Rocks!
Geological Survey of Alabama
Publications include: Rocks and minerals of Alabama, a guidebook for Alabama rockhounds (1966; Reprinted 1999).
The Alabama Paleontological Society is composed of amateur and professional paleontologists specializing in the collection, interpretation, and dissemination of knowledge of fossils and the rich natural history of the state of Alabama.
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 2 - Southeastern Quadrant (1985; reprint in 2000).
- James Martin Monaco & Jeannette Hathway Monaco, Fee Mining & Mineral Adventures in the Eastern U.S. (2d ed. 2010).
- Kathy J. Rygle & Stephen F. Pedersen, Southeast Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide (4th ed. 2008).
Museums of Interest to Rockhounders
University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The AMNH has an immense paleo research collection accumulated over the past 100 years (including what may be the largest mosasaur collection in the world). The museum also exhibits the ‘Hodges Meteorite’ – the first documented meteorite to hit and injure a human being.
Anniston Museum of Natural History
Museum includes the Dynamic Earth exhibition hall with a prehistoric diorama featuring life-size Pteranodon and Albertosaurus models and a realistic construction of an Alabama cave environment. Also featured are rocks and mineral specimens from the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
McWane Science Center
The McWane Center has a spectacular fossil exhibit, with life-size replicas of dinosaurs including several whose remains have been found in Alabama, as well as the actual fossil remains of other fossil creatures that once inhabited the State such as a virtually complete mosasaur (a giant marine Cretaceous lizard related to the Komodo dragon) and a giant ground sloth. In the entire United States, Alabama is the best place east of the Mississippi River to find the remains of dinosaurs. The Alabama Dinosaurs exhibit displays actual dinosaur fossils discovered around the state. Alabama Dinosaurs features rare finds from the Alabama tyrannosaur to the dangerous dromaeosaurs or “raptors.”
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site
Walker County, Alabama - Near Jasper
Formerly the Union Chapel Mine, a coal mine, now recognized as the best Carboniferous tracksite in the world. Includes a treasure trove of vertebrate trackways and other trace fossils. The fossil trackways are preserved in shale that formed from mud on a freshwater tidal flat about 315 million years ago.
Natural Bridge Park – Winston County, Northwest Alabama
The rock arch, called Natural Bridge, is the longest natural bridge in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The sandstone formation, formed about 200 million years ago, reaches a height of about sixty feet and has a span of about 148 feet.
Russell Cave was home to early North American inhabitants dating from 6500 B.C. to 1650 A.D. The cave shelter archaeological site contains the most complete record of prehistoric cultures in the Southeast. With over seven miles of passages it is the third largest known cave in Alabama.
Rickwood Caverns is a recognized member of the National Caves Association, and offers more than a mile of living geology. The caverns themselves were water-formed during the Mississippian period over 260 million years ago. Rickwood Caverns still contains active "living formations," as mineral-laden water droplets build colorful structures and flowstones.
Cathedral Caverns State Park
Cathedral Cavern, originally named Bats Cave, is a Karst cave and has a large stalagmite forest located in northeast Alabama.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Alabama has a good variety of fossils. In Covington County, for example, Eocene shark teeth occur near the Conecuh River. In Russell County, collectors find marine fossils.