Rockhounding New Mexico
New Mexico is an extraordinary state for rockhounding. The ‘Land of Enchantment” is a great place for recreational rockhounders. New Mexico has an incredible variety of rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils exposed at the surface throughout the state. In addition, the state very likely stands out as having the longest history of mining of any state in America as turquoise was mined near Santa Fe in pre-Columbian times. The state is home to several national monuments (and a national park) that are geologic treasures.
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 (1967)
New Mexico designated turquoise as its official state gem in 1967. Turquoise comes from the French word meaning ‘Turkish’ since the original stones came to Europe through Turkey from Persia. Significant turquoise deposits in New Mexico existed in the Los Cerillos Mountains in the much-altered volcanic rock. Until the 1920's, New Mexico was the United States largest producer of turquoise. Since then, however, Arizona and Nevada has surpassed it in terms of both annual and total production. In the 1800s, the famous jewelry store Tiffany & Co. purchased New Mexico turquoise from mines in Cerrillos, New Mexico. This source produced a turquoise very similar in color to the famous Tiffany ‘blue box.’
State Fossil: Coelophysis (1981)
New Mexico designated Coelophysis as its official state fossil in 1981. Its name is derived from Greek meaning “hollow form” – a reference to its hollow limb bones. Coelophysis was a relatively small, meat-eating, biped dinosaur. It was one of the earliest known dinosaurs. It lived during the Late Triassic, about 205 to 210 million years ago. Coelophysis lived on the ground, walking (or running) on its two, powerful hind legs. It was a fast and agile predator. Coelophysis can be distinguished from other meat-eating dinosaurs by its small size (it was about ten feet in length) and the unique shape of some of its bones including the long and shallow skull, large number of teeth, rather large hands and long hip bones. It had a ‘wish bone’ – the earliest known example in a dinosaur. Most of the known fossils of Coelophysis come from one place – Ghost Ranch in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Edwin Colbert found this fossil site in 1947. Hundreds of skeletons were found jumbled together in what seems to have been a mass death. Paleontologists believe these Coelophysis died of thirst at a dried up water source. The water returned as a flash flood. It buried and preserved their bodies.
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!
U.S. Bureau of Land Management – New Mexico
The BLM manages over 13 million surface acres of federal public lands in the state of New Mexico.
- Frank S. Kimbler & Robert J. Narsavage, New Mexico Rocks & Minerals (2007).
- Halka Chronic, Roadside Geology of New Mexico (1987).
- James R. Mitchell, Gem Trails of New Mexico (9th ed. 2010).
- Martin Freed & Vaskys Ruta, Rockhounding New Mexico: A Guide to 140 of the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites (2d ed. 2008).
- Stephen M. Voynick, New Mexico Rockhounding:A Guide to Minerals, Gemstones, & Fossils (2009).
- Barry S. Kues, The Paleontology of New Mexico (2008).
- Barry S. Kues, Fossils of New Mexico (1982).
- Ronald Paul Ratkevich & Neal La Fon, Field Guide to New Mexico Fossils (1978).
- June Culp Zeitner, Southwest Mineral & Gem Trails (1972).
- 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
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Museum's permanent exhibit halls illustrate a ‘journey through time,’ covering the birth of the Universe to the Ice Age. The museum’s "Jurassic Super Giants" features the complete skeletons of Seismosaurus, Saurophaganax, and Stegosaurus. In addition, in the museum's atrium is the skeleton of Stan, a Tyrannosaurus rex measuring forty feet in length and twelve feet in height, the second largest T. rex ever found.
New Mexico Tech Campus – Socorro, New Mexico
The museum is part of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. The main exhibit hall highlights minerals from around New Mexico. Over two thousand mineral specimens are displayed in the main gallery. Spectacular mineral and rock specimens from the Las Cruces, Silver City, Bingham, Magdalena, Golden, Dixon, and Grants areas, are presented in thematic displays illustrating the mineral wealth of each locality. Other specimens from around New Mexico are highlighted. Top-quality mineral specimens from around the southwestern United States are also abundant in addition to pieces from around the world. Mining memorabilia, a modest fossil display, and a breathtaking ultraviolet-mineral exhibit are also found in the museum.
University of New Mexico – Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Meteorite Museum is located in Northrop Hall on the Main Campus of the University of New Mexico. It houses many meteorites from the extensive collection of the Institute of Meteoritics. The highlight of the Museum is a one-ton piece of the stony meteorite, Norton County that fell in Kansas in 1948.
Silver Family Geology Museum
University of New Mexico – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Museum exhibits include introductory displays on the nature of minerals and major groups of fossils, numerous outstanding mineral specimens representing the major mineral groups, gem minerals, Triassic and Paleocene-Eocene vertebrates, Miocene-Pleistocene elephants in New Mexico, Pennsylvanian and Permian marine fossils from around the state, orbicular rocks from around the world, and geological materials used in everyday life. The museum also includes two exhibits focusing on world-renowned geologic features in New Mexico -- the Jemez caldera and the Harding pegmatite mine, and another includes a large dinosaur bone available for close inspection. A separate room contains minerals that fluoresce which the lights are turned out. Cabinets of new acquisitions (e.g., a pair of dinosaur eggs) also are displayed.
Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum
Tucumcari, New Mexico
The museum exhibits replicated and original fossils, from tiny footprint casts to the forty-foot long skeleton of a Torvosaurus. Although not limited to this time span, the Museum’s focus is on the Mesozoic, the ‘Age of Dinosaurs,’ which is comprised of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. The newest major exhibit to open is a ‘mini-museum’ that explains and exhibits items from the earliest known fossils to modern man.
Miles Mineral Museum
Eastern New Mexico University – Portales, New Mexico
The small museum exhibits local rocks, minerals, gemstones, fossils, and meteorites.
New Mexico State University
NMSU Alumni & Visitors Center - Las Cruces, New Mexico
The Zuhl collection at NMSU showcases thousands of beautiful specimens of petrified wood, fossils and minerals
Farmington, New Mexico
Several exhibits of New Mexico dinosaurs include Pentaceratops and Albertosaurus fossils.
Deming Luna Mimbres Museum
Deming, New Mexico
The museum includes an exhibit of thundereggs, geodes, and nodules.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico
Underlying the rugged desert landscape is one of the most important geologic resources in the United States. T he Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted portion of an ancient reef that thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time. Preserved in the rocks are the bodies of sponges, algae, snails, nautilus, and many other animals that lived in this ancient sea. Scientists from all over the world visit the park each year to study the structure and fauna of the reef. The most famous of all the geologic features in the park, however, are the caves. Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 110 limestone caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern. Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber that is nearly 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Northeast New Mexico near Capulin, New Mexico
Capulin Volcano National Monument is an example of an extinct cinder cone volcano. The visitor center features exhibits about the volcano and the area's geology, natural and cultural history, and offers educational programs about volcanoes.
El Malpais National Monument
Western New Mexico
The name El Malpais is from a Spanish term meaning badlands. A volcanic field covers much of the El Malpais is part of the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field – where a pahoehoe lava flow filled a large basin rimmed by higher sandstone bluffs. The El Malpais National Monument has many inactive volcanoes, some potentially active volcanoes, and cinder cones, craters, trenches, caves, and other formations.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
North Central New Mexico southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Kasha-Katuwe means 'white cliffs' in Keresan, the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti. The National Monument’s cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Tremendous explosions from the Jemez volcanic field spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments), while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a ‘pyroclastic flow.’ Precariously perched on many of the tapering hoodoos are boulder caps that protect the softer pumice and tuff below. Some tents have lost their hard, resistant caprocks and are disintegrating. While fairly uniform in shape, the tent rock formations vary in height from a few feet to ninety feet.
White Sands National Monument
Southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico
The monument, located in southern New Mexico's Chihuahua Desert, contains the world's largest gypsum sand dune field – approximately 275 square miles – of fine white sand, formed by the prevailing winds into large ridge-like dunes. In addition to the massive volumes of gypsum, the monument also contains Pleistocene Period fossil tracks of mammoths, dire wolves, camels, and other large mammals near Lake Lucero.
Clayton Lake State Park
Near Clayton, New Mexico
At the park, more than 500 Ornithopod and Therapod dinosaur tracks are preserved in the lake spillway with interpretive walk.
Southwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Kilbourne Hole is a maar volcanic crater from an eruption about 80,000 years ago. It is over a mile wide and 300 feet deep. Green peridot crystals occur in the lava. Interestingly, the Apollo astronauts trained here in 1969.
Four Corners Area Near Shiprock, New Mexico
Ship Rock is the erosional remnant of a volcano (the volcanic neck). It is located in northwestern New Mexico on the Navajo Indian Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico near the Four Corners area. The rock rises nearly 1,600 feet above the surrounding landscape and resembles a 19th century clipper ship.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Luna County, New Mexico – Near Deming
Rockhound State park is located approximately ten miles southeast of Deming on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains. This is one of the few state parks in the United States specifically set aside for rockhounding. The Park is a favorite for rockhounds because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there. Scattered throughout the park are rock and mineral specimens of volcanic origin. These treasures range from varieties of silica minerals, quartz crystals, chalcedony, Agate, and common opal. Visitors are allowed to take up to fifteen pounds of rock for their personal collections.
Fossils – Crinoids, Brachiopods
Apache Hill – Lake Valley, New Mexico
Apache Hill is about 1.5 miles north of the ghost town of Lake Valley. This is one of the best fossil collecting sites in southern New Mexico. Crinoid fossils erode from the shale and limestone beds at this famous site.
Fossils – Plant
Rincon Hills – Rincon, New Mexico (BLM)
The Rincon Hills north of Rincon and Interstate 25 is a known fossil locality for Pleistocene age plant fossils. Chalcedony and opalized (common) plant fossils occur in the sandstone matrix.
Minerals – Harding Pegmatite Mine
Dixon, New Mexico
The University of New Mexico owns the Harding Pegmatite Mine property. Subject to modest rules (including a release), recreational rockhounders are permitted access.
Southwestern New Mexico
Fluorite can be found in nearly all of New Mexico’s mountain ranges. In southwestern New Mexico, the Lyda K Fluorite Mines are a well known collecting area.
Pecos Diamonds – Quartz Crystals
Pecos River – De Baca County, New Mexico
Pecos Diamonds – quartz crystals with double terminations (points on both ends) – occur in the 250 million year old Permian limestone near the Pecos River. Unlike ‘Herkimer Diamonds’ (quartz crystals found in New York) or ‘Cape May Diamonds’ (quartz crystals found in New Jersey), Pecos Diamonds occur in a wide range of colors.
Kilbourne Hole – Southwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Green peridot crystals occur in the lava at Kilborne Hole (see above) at this high desert location.