Virginia is a good state for rockhounding. The Commonwealth is well known for its amazonite as well as its many caverns. In the southwest portion of the state, there is an interesting mineral crystal that forms the shape of a cross. Virginia boasts a wide array of fossils – from 540 million year old burrows (Skolithos) to one million year old Mastodon teeth. The state fossil, Chesapecten jeffersonius, is a large extinct species of scallop that dates to approximately 4.5 million years ago and was the first fossil ever described in North America. Virginia also has a few reported meteorites including a confirmed 2010 small meteorite that hit a doctor’s office in Lorton, Virginia.
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.
State Rock &
Fossil: Chesapecten jeffersonius (1993)
Virginia designated Chesapecten jeffersonius as its official state fossil in 1993. This large, distinctive fossil scallop was the first fossil described in North America, in 1687. It was named for Thomas Jefferson because of his interest in natural history. The fossil also celebrates the Chesapeake Bay. It commonly is found in stream valleys and on river beaches of Southeast Virginia and Eastern North Carolina. This species is the index fossil for the Lower Yorktown Formation. This species is usually distinguished by the number of ribs (9 to 12) and the rather rounded shell edge. Chesapecten is a lineage of scallops that flourished in the Chesapeake Bay area from Eastover to Yorktown (about 8 to 3 million years ago). Species dominated during different intervals of time: C. middlesexensis during the Miocene (Eastover Formation); C. jeffersonius during Early Pliocene (Lower Yorktown Formation, about 4.5 to 4.3 million years ago); and C. madisonius during Late Pliocene time (Upper Yorktown Formation, about 4 to 3 million years ago). Other scallops lived at the same time, but these were the most abundant.
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!
College of William
& Mary - Department of Geology
Useful website regarding Virginia geology. Includes fossil sites.
Provides useful local information.
- Keith Frye, Roadside Geology of Virginia (1st ed., 1986).
- Jasper Burns, Fossil Collecting In the Mid-Atlantic States (1991).
- Floyd & Helga Oles, Eastern Gem Trails (1967).
- 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
Virginia Museum of
The Virginia Museum of natural History is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The permanent exhibit gallery Uncovering Virginia features recreations of six research sites in Virginia where VMNH scientists and their colleagues have worked or are working. There is a range of geographic locations around the Commonwealth that span a broad interval of time from 700 million years ago to 300 years ago. At each exhibit, there is: a recreation of the site as it is today; a lab experience where visitors can examine fossil or archaeological evidence and use the same tools as scientists to interpret that evidence; and video animation that brings to life the animals and plants that were alive at that time and in at that place.
James Madison University Mineral Museum
James Madison University – Harrisonburg, Virginia
The museum features over 550 crystal and gemstone specimens from around the world.
University of Richmond Museum
University of Richmond – Richmond, Virginia
The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature includes a variety or rock, mineral, and fossil specimens.
Museum of Geosciences
Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, Virginia
Museum exhibits include gems, minerals, and a full-scale model of an Allosaurus dinosaur skeleton found in Utah. The museum also has a display of minerals arranged systematically by chemical formula.
Stone Cross Mountain Museum
Southeast of Martinsville, Virginia
Displays staurolite specimens.
Gold Mining Interpretive Center
The Gold Mining Camp Museum at Monroe Park is the only museum in Virginia solely dedicated to the history of gold and gold mining.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Natural Bridge, Virginia
This rock formation is one of the oldest tourist destinations in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson once owned the property. Another US President carved his initial there (George Washington). The Natural Bridge is 215 feet tall and 90 feet wide.
Luray Caverns, a U.S. Natural Landmark, is an underground limestone cavern.
Virginia Division of Geology & Mineral Resources
Outdoor rock garden with identified specimens.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
George Washington & Jefferson National Forests
The George Washington & Jefferson National Forests include approximately 1.8 million acres. These National Forests contain marine fossils, approximately 350 million years old, that can be found in the sandstone and shale rocks. The fossil beds usually contain a community of marine creatures that inhabited the sea floor beneath an ocean that covered the area west of the Blue Ridge in the distant geologic past (Paleozoic Era). Crinoids (sea lilies), Trilobites (arthropods), Bryozoans (coral) are some other fossilized marine creatures found in these fossil beds. Some fossil beds contain fossil trees and plants. Specimen collecting is subject to federal law.
Fairy Stones – Staurolite Crystals
Fairy Stone State Park – Stuart, Virginia
Fairy Stone State Park is home to its namesake "fairy stones." Fairy stones are staurolite, a combination of silica, iron and aluminum. Staurolite crystallizes at 60 or 90-degree angles, hence the stone's cross-like structure. Found only in rocks once subjected to great heat and pressure, the mineral was formed long, long ago, during the rise of the Appalachian Mountains. The stones are most commonly shaped like St. Andrew’s cross, an "X," but "T" shaped Roman crosses and square Maltese crosses are the most sought-after. The staurolite stones are found elsewhere but not in such abundance as at Fairy Stone State Park.
Amazonite & Other Specimens
Morefield Mine – Amelia, Virginia
Commercial (fee access) business. The site is a pegmatite location and is known for its amazonite crystals (a variety of feldspar).
York River State Park, York County, Virginia
Fossil collecting is subject to permission and certain restrictions. Fossils include: sponge borings, corals, bryozoans, gastropods, clams, scallops, oysters, barnacles, fish (vertebrae), ray (dental plates), shark (teeth and vertebrae), and porpoises and whales (vertebrae, teeth, inner ear bones, bone fragments).
Indian Creek Fields on Colonial Parkway, York County, Virginia
Fossils include: corals, bryozoans, gastropods, clams, scallops, oysters, barnacles, fish (dental plates, vertebrae), ray (dental and dermal plates), and shark teeth.