Rockhounding West Virginia
West Virginia is a good state for rockhounding. West Virginia has extensive coal deposits. The state also has abundant fossils in the exposed Silurian, Devonian, and Mississippian formations. Plant fossils are commonly found in shales that overlie coal beds. These coal beds are often exposed along highways in the southern, northwestern, and north-central parts of the state, including Interstates 68, 77, and 79. Fossil seashells are more likely to be found in the eastern counties bordering Virginia and Maryland. Most of West Virginia’s Ice Age fossil animals have been and continue to be found in the state’s 4,000-plus limestone caves. This is because caves provide a place for stream and talus sediments to accumulate. Caves also provide stable temperatures and humidity, which are important to preservation. In order for a bone to be preserved, it needs to be buried quickly, because on the surface, bones decay rapidly and are often eaten by rodents.
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 Stone: Bituminous Coal (2009)
West Virginia designated bituminous coal as its official state stone in 2009, honoring the significance of coal in the state’s economy, history, and geology. Coal is found naturally deposited in the vast majority of the 55 counties of West Virginia. Coal was found in present-day Boone County in colonial times, in 1742, by the German explorer John Peter Salley. In 1770, George Washington noted "a coal hill on fire" near West Columbia in current Mason County. The first commercial coal mine was opened near Wheeling by Conrad Cotts in 1810, for blacksmithing and domestic use. The coal industry has evolved into and has been for many years an integral part of the economic and social fabric of the State.
Gemstone: Lithostrotionella (1990)
West Virginia designated Lithostrotionella, a Mississippian fossil coral as its official state gemstone in 1990. This coral and many other varieties lived about 340 million years ago, during the Mississippian Period, at a time when the state was encroached on by a shallow sea. In addition to corals, this sea hosted a teeming fauna of brachiopods, trilobites, and fish. The two main types of Paleozoic corals were tabulate and rugose corals. Lithostrotionella is a tabulate coral. Both types were decimated in the great extinction at the end of the Permian Period, 245 million years ago, which wiped out over 90% of the species of life on earth. They were subsequently replaced by the scleractinian corals that form our reefs today. Lithostrotionella is preserved as the siliceous mineral chalcedony, a variety of microcrystalline quartz. It is found in the Hillsdale Limestone in portions of Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties in the southeastern portion of the state.
State Fossil: Megalonyx jeffersonii (2008)
West Virginia designated Megalonyx jeffersonii as its official state fossil in 2008. Megalonyx jeffersonii is the Pleistocene age extinct Jefferson ground sloth. During the Ice Age, the creature inhabited woodlands, knocking over trees and digging up vegetation with its giant claws. The ground sloth stood more than eight feet tall and weighed more than 1,000 pounds. In the 1790s, workers mining for saltpeter in a Monroe County cave found several large bones. A Virginia man named John Stewart sent the bones to Thomas Jefferson, who presented them at a meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in 1797. Jefferson believed that the bones were the remains of a prehistoric lion and called the creature Megalonyx, meaning “great claw.” In 1799, a physician named Caspar Wistar published a paper that described the fossil and credited Jefferson with its discovery. The original Megalonyx fossil is housed in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Other Megalonyx fossils have been found in two Monroe County caves and caves in Pendleton County and Greenbrier County. Such fossils have also been found in others parts of the United States.
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!
West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey
- Jasper Burns, Fossil Collecting In the Mid-Atlantic States (1991).
- 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
West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey –
Museum of Geology & Natural History
Mont Chateau Research Center – Morgantown, West Virginia
This small museum, located in the lobby of the Survey's headquarters on Cheat Lake, near Morgantown, displays rock, mineral, and fossil specimens.
Bituminous Coal Heritage Foundation Museum
Madison, West Virginia
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Beckley, West Virginia
Visitors here, in addition to seeing exhibits regarding coal mining, can go inside and underground a legacy coal mine.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
New River Gorge
Canyon Rim Visitor Center – Lansing, West Virginia
Greenbrier County, West Virginia
Organ Cave is a National Natural landmark. The cave is one of the largest in West Virginia and was used for mining saltpeter.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Sugar Grove Road Cut – Pendleton County, West Virginia
Within the intrusive basalt (that intruded the shale), small vugs contain various mineral specimens including chabazite. Most are small. The Sugar Grove Road cut is about 12 miles south of its intersection with Route 33.