Arizona is an extraordinary state for rockhounding. The state is called the Grand Canyon State, in honor of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The state also is nicknamed the copper state. Arizona has minerals, gemstones, fossils, and two National Parks that are premier destinations for rockhounds. In addition, Tucson Arizona hosts the largest rock show in the world.
State Rocks, Gemstones, Minerals, 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, fossil, or dinosaur to promote interest in the state’s natural resources, history, tourism, etc. Accordingly, such state symbols often are a valuable clue as to potential worthwhile rockhounding opportunities.
Gemstone: Turquoise (1974)
Arizona designated turquoise as the official state gemstone in 1974. Turquoise is an opaque mineral, a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum. It is also formed by the percolating action of meteoric waters, usually in arid regions or deserts, on aluminous igneous or sedimentary rocks. In Arizona (as well as other locations around the globe), turquoise often is found near copper deposits. Typically, turquoise is a blue-green stone that has a somewhat waxy surface. The stone commonly was used in Native American jewelry and can be found throughout the state.
State Fossil: Petrified Wood (1988)
Arizona designated petrified wood (Araucarioxylon arizonicum) as the official state fossil in 1988. This petrified wood is what remains of large conifers that grew in the warm, wet, and seasonally dry climate of Arizona during the Triassic (about 250 – 210 million years ago). The conifers grew as tall as 150 to 200 feet. Once fallen, the trees were transported by streams and rivers and buried under layers of sediment in a lowland basin. Then, slowly over time, each cell of the plant was replaced by silica derived from volcanic ash. The vibrant colors are from minerals that mixed with the silica. The most famous petrified wood deposits can be found at Petrified Forest National Park located north of Interstate 40 east of Holbrook, Arizona.
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!
The Arizona Geological Survey has been consolidated with the Arizona Department of Mines & Mineral Resources. Collectively, the office provides a great deal of useful information including its publication ‘Arizona Rockhounding Information’ which details locations, museums, mines, etc.
Bureau of Land Management – Arizona
In Arizona, there are over twelve million surface acres of federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM has several districts in the state. Subject to federal restrictions, recreational rockhounding is allowed on much of the public lands managed by the BLM.
Arizona meteorites information provided by the University of Arizona’s Space Imagery Center.
- Halka Chronic, Roadside Geology of Arizona (2003).
- Lon Abbott & Terri Cook, Geology Underfoot in Northern Arizona (2007).
- James R. Mitchell, Gem Trails of Arizona (Rev. 2010).
- Gary Blair, Rockhounding Arizona (2d ed. 2008).
- Neil R. Bearce, Minerals, Fossils, & Fluorescents of Arizona:A Field Guide for Collectors (2006).
- Neil R. Bearce, Minerals of Arizona:A Field Guide for Collectors (Rev. ed. 2004).
- Bob Lynch & Dan R. Lynch, Arizona Rocks & Minerals:A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon State (2010).
- B.J. Tegowski, Easy Field Guide to Invertebrate Fossils of Arizona (1995).
- Maureen G. Johnson, Placer Gold Deposits of Arizona (2010).
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 4A - Southwestern Quadrant (1987; reprint in 2000).
- James Martin Monaco & Jeannette Hathway Monaco, Fee Mining & Rockhounding Adventures in the West (2d ed. 2007).
- Kathy J. Rygle & Stephen F. Pedersen, Southwest Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide (4th ed. 2008).
Museums of Interest to Rockhounders
Arizona Mineral Museum
University of Arizona – Tucson, Arizona
The museum features minerals of Arizona but includes rock, mineral, gemstone, fossil, and meteorite specimens from around the world.
R.S. Dietz Museum of Geology
Arizona State University – Tempe, Arizona
The R.S. Dietz Museum of Geology exhibits rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils from Arizona and around the world. It also has local fossils including Columbian mammoth remains; real dinosaurs, a giant-extinct fossil shark over 7 feet tall; a rare T-rex brain cavity and cast; and many other rare and extinct fossil mammals including saber-tooth cats. The museum also features several large meteorites from the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies; Ore minerals and crystals from the many Arizona open-pit and underground mines, a gemstone exhibit and a 6-foot tall amethyst geode at the museum entrance. Other exhibits include: Volcanology; Mineralogy, Geology of Arizona; Rocks of the Grand Canyon and Arizona's State Fossil.
Arizona Museum of Natural History
The museum’s exhibits include its Cenozoic Hall with fossil skeletons dating from the Pliocene-Pleistocene Epochs, approximately 3 million years to 10,000 years ago including mammoth, mastodon, American lion, one-toed horse, the armadillo-like Glyptotherium, and four species of fossil turtles. In addition, the museum’s exhibits include a Dinosaur Hall with theropod, sauropod, ceratopsian, iguanadon, and diatryma fossils as well as 8-foot wide megalodon jaws, from Carcharodon megalodon, which lived 23 to 6 million years ago.
The museum’s exhibits include regional rock, mineral, gemstone, and fossils.
Superstition Mountain Museum
Apache Junction, Arizona
The museum’s exhibits focus on the Superstition Mountains including the purported Lost Dutchman Mine as well as mining and geological exhibits.
Museum of Northern Arizona
The museum’s exhibits include regional rock, mineral, gemstone, and fossils. The Geology Gallery features the geologic and volcanic activity pertaining to the Colorado Plateau. The museum exhibits a life-size skeletal model of Dilophosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur found in northern Arizona.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Petrified Forest National Park contains one of the world's most spectacular collections of petrified wood. Remnants of giant trees from ancient forests of the Triassic Period over 200 million years old, these logs turned from wood to rock after the trees were buried under layers of sand and silt. In addition, Petrified Forest National Park has one of the best geologic and fossil records of the Late Triassic in the world.
Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, a vast array of geologic features and rock types, and numerous caves containing extensive and significant geological, paleontological, archeological and biological resources. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
North of Flagstaff, Arizona
Sunset Crater is a cinder cone from a volcanic eruption about 1100 AD within the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
(Barringer Meteorite Crater)
East of Flagstaff, Arizona
Arizona Meteor Crater is the best-preserved, visible meteor crater on Earth. The impact crater, also known as Barringer Meteorite Crater and as Canyon Diablo Crater (meteorite fragments fro the site are referred to as being from the Canyon Diablo Meteorite), is located about 40 miles east of Flagstaff, near Winslow, Arizona. Meteor Crater was the first crater to be identified as an impact crater. Between 50,000 to 20,000 years ago, a small asteroid about 80 feet in diameter impacted the earth and formed the crater. The Meteor produced high enough temperatures and pressures to transform carbon minerals into diamonds and lonsdaleite. Meteor crater is about 4,000 feet in diameter and about 570 feet deep. The highest point on rim is about 5,700 feet above sea level.
Cochise County - Southeastern Arizona
This “live” cave, discovered in 1974, is host to a wide variety of unique minerals and formations. Water percolates from the surface and calcite formations continue to grow, including stalactites dripping down like icicles and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground.
Morenci Copper Mine - Greenlee County, Arizona
The Morenci Copper Mine, located in southeastern Arizona, is a porphyry copper deposit and the mine is one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world.
ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center
South of Tucson – Sahuarita, Arizona
The Mineral Discovery Center displays exhibits on how copper is formed, how it is extracted from the earth, and uses of copper in everyday life. It also offers public tours to a working open pit copper mine.
Slide Rock State Park
North of Sedona, Arizona
Slide Rock State Park is named after the locally famous Slide Rock – a stretch of slippery creek bottom (Oak Creek) that creates a natural water slide
Tucson Gem &
Enormous, world famous, rock show. Rock dealers and exhibitors - from all over the world - literally take over town of Tucson for three weeks beginning the last week of January.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Burro Creek Recreation Site – Northwest of Wickenburg, Arizona
Burro Creek is an area of federal public lands managed by the BLM located about sixty miles northwest of Wickenburg, Arizona. This area is one of Arizona’s best rockhounding areas. Recreational rockhounders can find agate, opalite, pastelite, jasper, apache tears (obsidian), and other specimens.
Black Hills Rockhound Area - Safford District Bureau of Land Management Graham County, Arizona
The Black Hills Rockhound Area is an area of federal public lands managed by the BLM. The site is located about 20 miles east of Safford, Arizona in the southeast portion of the state near the New Mexico border. This site is at an elevation of approximately 4,200 above sea level. Nonetheless, summers are extremely hot and shade and water are not available. Most agate is found within the first two feet of the surface. Agates can be discovered on the surface near the washes.
Round Mountain Rockhound Area - Safford District Bureau of Land Management Greenlee County, Arizona
The Round Mountain Rockhound Area is an area of federal public lands managed by the BLM. The site is located south of Duncan, Arizona near the New Mexico border. This site is at an elevation of approximately 4,200 above sea level. Nonetheless, summers are extremely hot and shade and water are not available. Most agate is found within the first two feet of the surface. Agates can be discovered on the surface near the washes.
Franconia Strewn Field – Mohave County, Arizona
The Franconia Strewn Field, located east of Topic in Western Arizona, is a well-known meteorite collecting area.
Gold Basin Strewn Field – Mohave County, Arizona
The Gold Basin Strewn Field, located in the Mojave Desert in Western Arizona, is a well-known chondrite meteorite collecting area.
Holbrook Strewn Field – Navajo Arizona
The Holbrook Strewn Field, located near Holbrook, Arizona, is a well-known chondrite meteorite collecting area.
DoBell Ranch– West of Petrified Forest National Park
Stealing specimens from any National Park is illegal. In northeastern Arizona, however, petrified wood like the specimens that are protected in Petrified Forest National Park also is available outside of the Park boundaries. The DoBell ranch is a well known commercial site and is located about a mile west of the south entrance to the National Park. The site also includes a rock shop and small museum.