Nevada is an extraordinary state for rockhounding. The state – nicknamed the “Silver State” – is home to one of the greatest mineral discoveries in history, the famous Comstock Lode. Nevada, however, has a very wide variety of rocks, gemstones, minerals, and fossils. In addition, in Las Vegas, anyone can get a glimpse of the world’s largest gold nugget found with a metal detector – named the ‘Hand of Faith’ – which is located, of course, at the Golden Nugget Casino.
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.
Nevada designated sandstone as its official state rock in 1987. Sandstone, in its more traditionally recognized form or as quartzite, is found throughout the state. The sandstone originated when Nevada was under a huge inland sea millions of years ago. In areas such as the Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon Recreational Lands, both near Las Vegas, it provides some of Nevada's most spectacular scenery. The State Capitol, and the former United States Mint, both are built of sandstone.
State Gemstones: Nevada Turquoise [semiprecious] (1987) &
Virgin Valley Black Fire Opal [precious] (1987)
Nevada has designated two official state gemstones. Nevada designated Nevada turquoise as the its official state semi-precious gemstone in 1987. Turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of aluminum and copper. The copper gives it its blue color. Sometimes called the ‘jewel of the desert,’ Nevada turquoise is found in many parts of the state.
In addition, Nevada designated Virgin Valley black fire opal as its official state precious gemstone in 1987. Fire opal is classed as an oxide of silica with a small amount of water. Although the amount of water is less than ten percent, the water helps produce the rainbow colors when light strikes the opal. Opal, especially the fire variety, is highly prized as a gemstone. The Virgin Valley in northern Nevada is the only place in North America where black fire opal is found in any significant quantity. The opals of this region are comparable to those found in Australia. The black opals exhibit bright colors on a black background. Other types of opal are also found in the area. Much of the opal from the Virgin Valley is in the form of opalized wood. This is because the Virgin Valley was once a region of forests and lakes until it was buried by volcanic eruptions. Over time, the buried wood was replaced by silica as water filtered up through the ash layers creating the beautiful opals seen today.
State Fossil: Ichthyosaur (1977)
Nevada designated the Ichthyosaur as its official state fossil in 1977. Ichthyosaurs ruled the world's oceans during the Mesozoic era 200 million years ago. Ichthyosaurs – whose name means "fish-lizard" – were streamlined marine reptiles that ranged in size from seven to thirty feet long. They had sharp teeth in long jaws, and big eyes. They had four crescent-shaped fins, a stabilizing dorsal fin, and a fish-like tail with two lobes. They breathed air with lungs through nostrils that were close to the eyes near the top of the snout. They gave birth to live young (fossils have been found with baby Ichthyosaurs in the abdomen). The Ichthyosaurus shonisaurus popularis was the name given to a species discovered in Nevada in 1928 (although reports state the discovery was in 1928, the expedition to the Humboldt region is referred to as: The Saurian Expedition of 1905). Some thirty-seven of these reptiles became stranded in mud flats from a receding equatorial sea that once covered Nevada. The longest specimen found at this site, located at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the Shoshone Mountain Range near the town of Berlin in northwestern Nye County, Nevada, was fifty-five feet long and represented the only complete fossilized skeleton of the species ever found in the United States.
State Metal: Silver (1977)
Nevada designated silver as its official state metal in 1977. Nevada’s nickname, of course is the ‘Silver State.’ In 1859, in the Virginia Range of Western Nevada on the site of Virginia City, a rich mineral deposit was discovered. This ‘Comstock Lode’ was named for Henry Tomkins Paige Comstock, a California prospector who first laid claim to the land. This one lode yielded more than three hundred million dollars in silver and gold in twenty years. This bonanza resulted in a great increase in the Nevada population. Other strikes were made but none would compare to the size of the Comstock. The rich deposits of silver in Nevada have been important factors in the establishment, growth, and prosperity of Nevada.
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!
Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology
The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology is a research and public service unit of the University of Nevada and is the state geological survey. NBMG’s Special Publication No. 29 – Rocks, Gemstones, Minerals, & Fossils of Nevada is a very useful resource.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management – Nevada
The vast majority of the entire State of Nevada is federal public lands. The majority of these lands – over 48 million acres (a size greater than several entire states in America) – a federal public lands managed by the BLM. In fact, the BLM manages approximately 2/3’s of the entire land base of the State of Nevada.
- James R. Mitchell, Gem Trails of Nevada (2d ed. 2002).
- William A. Kappele, Rockhounding Nevada (1998).
- Stephen B. Castor & Gregory C. Furdock, Minerals of Nevada (2003).
- James Klein, Where to Find Gold & Gems In Nevada (1983).
- Maureen G. Johnson, Placer Gold Deposits of Nevada (2011 – reprint).
- Richard L. Orndorff, Robert W. Wieder, & Harry F. Filkorn, Geology Underfoot in Central Nevada (2000).
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 4B - 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
Nevada State Museum
Carson City, Nevada
The museum is located in the former United States Carson City Branch Mint building where coins were minted from 1870 to 1893, all bearing the distinguishing "CC" mint mark. The Earth Science Gallery explores Nevada's geologic history from 1,750 million years ago to 40 million years ago, including a walk-through Devonian Sea. The museum includes an exceptional re-creation of an underground mine from the Comstock Lode. Also on display is America's largest exhibited Imperial mammoth (17,000 to 15,000 years old) found in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
W.M. Keck Earth Science & Mineral Engineering
University of Nevada – Reno – Reno, Nevada
The museum exhibits an outstanding collection of minerals, ores, fossil specimens, and mining related relics. There is a special emphasis on early Nevada mining history with samples from famous mineral districts such as the Comstock Lode, Tonopah, and Goldfield.
Nevada State Museum
Springs Preserve – Las Vegas, Nevada
Museum visitors can stand face-to-face with Nevada's state fossil, an Ichthyosaur Shonisaurus popularis.
Northeastern Nevada Museum
The museum’s exhibits include a two million year old American Mastodon that was discovered in 1994 in Spring Creek, Nevada, currently the only well documented American Mastodon in the Great Basin. The museum also exhibits fossil plants and animals found in Northeastern Nevada.
Mineral County Museum
The museum’s exhibits include fossil, rock, and mineral displays.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Great Basin National Park
East Central Nevada
Great Basin National Park includes Lehman Caves, a beautiful marble cave ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and over three hundred rare shield formations.
Death Valley National Park
Western Nevada (and California)
Death Valley National Park protects the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert and contains a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains.
Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park
East of Gabbs, Nye County, Nevada
The park is located 7,000 feet above sea level on the western slope of central Nevada's Shoshone mountain range. The park preserves a Nevada ghost town (Berlin) as well several undisturbed ichthyosaur fossils.
'Hand of Faith'
Golden Nugget Casino - Las Vegas, Nevada
Visitors can see the 'Hand of Faith' gold nugget, which is the largest known gold nugget in the world to be found with a metal detector. It was discovered in 1980 in Australia using a hand held metal detector. It weighs 875 troy ounces.
Historic Mining District
Virginia City, Nevada
Virginia City was the site of the famous Comstock Lode.
Elko Meteorite Crater Field
North of Elko, Nevada
The ‘Elko Meteorite Crater Field’ is located on federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management north of Elko, Nevada. At this site, there are about 206 craters that cover an area about 12 miles long and nearly 2 miles wide. The craters range in diameter from 16 to 820 feet and up to 12 feet deep. It is believed that these craters formed over 6,600 years ago. No meteorites, however, have been found at the site. Accordingly, some suggest that the craters are a subsidence feature.
Valley of Fire
Clark County, Nevada
Visitors can see stunning natural sandstone formations. The park also includes petroglyphs.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
BLM-Managed Public Lands
Subject to collecting restrictions imposed by federal law, a wide variety of specimens are identified by the BLM on public lands in northeastern Nevada, including: Petrified Wood, Fossils (Crinoids, brachiopods, corals, ammonites), Agate, Jasper, Barite, Calcite, & a variety of minerals.
BLM – Garnet Fields (Garnet Hill) Rockhound Recreation Area – White Pine County, Nevada
The Garnet Fields Rockhound Recreation Area is located about four miles Northwest of Central Ely in the Eagan mountain range. The area is famous for its very dark colored spessartine garnets found in a flow banded rhyolitic volcanic rock.
Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine – Northwest Nevada
Commercial (fee access) business. Rockhounders may purchase an opportunity to look for opals.
Royal Peacock Opal Mine – Northwest Nevada
Commercial (fee access) business. Rockhounders may purchase an opportunity to look for opals.
Black Rock Desert – Northwest Nevada
A variety of thundereggs occur in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.