Prospecting Thoughts While Traveling in Southern Nye County, Nevada

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I went driving today to my club’s claims in the Johnnie Mining District in the hills outside Pahrump, Nevada. I never made it.

Instead, while driving HWY 160 west toward Pahrump, I thought about all the BLM land to the south of that road that may have not been recently prospected or rock hounded. The reason? A sturdy and nasty barbed wire highway fence with few breaks in it, only one faint road into the area in several miles, and few good pullouts to park. That’s enough to deter most prospectors even if the land is open and the ground unclaimed.

Compare that to Crystal Road, which strikes north from HWY 160 about four miles from I-95. No highway fence on either side. Fairly soon after leaving HWY 160, 15 to 20 large piles of dirt appear somewhat randomly over a mile or so to the east of Crystal Road as one travels to Crystal. Backhoe produced. Someone searching for gold.

I looked over some of these piles and their trenches. Must have been fairly old workings as BLM now requires a plan and  permit to operate heavy machinery on a claim. Unless some locals went rouge one day, possibly sampling on a large scale.

While I didn’t see any claim markers I felt uneasy about investigating further. Normally I would break out my metal detector or a bucket to take some rock and gravel. The more rural you get, however, the more testy locals become. I did have my laptop and there was cell coverage. I could have pulled up LandMatters to see if the area was under claim. But all map drawing websites are painfully slow with an average cell connection.

When I got home I researched the area a little. That ground was indeed unclaimed, with the only a large set of claims around the rough settlement of Crystal. If I go again to sample I will print out some maps first. In thinly populated areas, any truck parked on the side of the road gets attention. A person with a metal detector, a pick, and some five gallon buckets may be the highlight of the day for a nearby resident. Word will get out fast. If you prospect, you must handle the attention it attracts.

When I was last at my club’s claims, a fellow member pointed out the view east to I-95. “There’s gold all the way to the highway.” Hmm. Maybe washed from the hills. But in paying amounts? Some people think so, judging by those exploratory diggings and the fact there are so many claims around Crystal.

With temperatures now climbing, and my book deadline getting closer, I won’t be going back soon. But I will keep wondering about the area. And wondering what lies on the other side of HWY 160, the same looking ground but prospecting seemingly defeated by a wire fence. There is much to explore.

Okay, I will admit it. I got under that fence to sample a wash. Brought the gravel home. I don’t hope for gold when sampling blind, I look for black sand. Hardly any. But I didn’t get out my Whites GMT, which has a black sand tracking feature. It produces a  numerical readout to close in on areas with a greater likelihood of paystreaks. It’s far easier to search a gravel bar or a desert wash than with any other method.  But I ramble.




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My Apologies to the BLM

I wrote previously that the BLM doesn’t recognize rockhounding anymore as an activity. While that may be the case at the national level, the BLM in California still recognizes rockhounding as the vital and rewarding hobby that it is.

This page recognizes rockhounding with a video featuring Bill Depue, Founder and President of Diamond Pacific Tool in Barstow, perhaps the leading manufacturer  of lapidary equipment in the world. I had the great privilege of meeting Bill a month or two ago and I wrote about it here. In keeping with his modest character, Bill wears a Diamond Pacific hat but never mentions his involvement.

Interestingly, that page does not list all California BLM  rockhounding sites, it just mentions that the activity exists. Their Needles field office once had no reservation about describing sites.

Click here for an archived page that list sites under Needles’ management along with photographs showing what might be collected at each one. This is true endorsement. But I appreciate any effort that BLM California makes. Thank you!

Photograph below of Bill Depue.





BLM Doesn’t List Rockhounding As An Activity Anymore

This is so depressing. It’s like there is a war against rockhounding. Nearly fifty activities listed by BLM and none of them rockhounding. It’s not that all BLM land is closed to rockhounding, much is open, but there is something wrong when BLM hides our hobby. It’s even more strange because BLM has areas they’ve specially set aside for rockhounding, with no claims permitted in most of these designated areas. So why aren’t they listed at their search site?

I get the feeling they think we are destructive. And yet a BLM permitted quarry or mine can destroy countless fossils or specimens of copper and turquoise that any rockhound would love to have.

In a commercial ore mine, most mineral or crystal specimens are not economical to recover so they are run through the mill. Rockhounds treasure even the smallest specimens. We don’t tear up thousands of acres or make pits eight hundred feet deep. Yet today on much of BLM land we’re not allowed to pick up a single rock.

On a current BLM page I read this:

“Collecting may not be allowed in special management areas, such as wilderness and national historic sites or on mining claims.” That’s totally misleading. Unless expressly prohibited, wilderness areas, both USFS and BLM managed, are completely open to casual collecting. I’ve been in correspondence with top people at BLM management in Washington D.C. and I have their written assurances that such collecting is allowed. This is that misleading page:

On another current BLM page, this is stated: “In most instances, public lands are open to rockhounding although no collecting is allowed in National Monuments. BLM can help you make this determination.” Again, completely misleading. Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and Mojave Trails National Monument in California allow rockhounding. There are probably others. This is that misleading page:

As Jim Boone points out, most BLM land that has not been shut down to collecting remains open to rockhounding or claiming. But that acreage dwindles every year, as former BLM land is moved into National Parks or Monuments.

The area now known as the Mojave National Preserve had a rich history of rockhounding as well as commercial mining. But in going to Preserve status, the Federal government ended all mineral entry, including specimen collecting by rockhounds. Every one of its 1.6 million acres is now totally closed to picking up a single rock. I once had to ask staff personnel if it was permissible to make a plaster cast of an animal track. They debated that for a while and then said it would be legal as long as I didn’t step on any other tracks while I was making one. Sheesh.

Here’s a web page that shows you how to determine land BLM still considers public rockhounding areas. You have to search for rockhounding by that name. Know, too, that many BLM pages which featured rockhounding areas are now gone, like the one for Burro Creek, Arizona.



















And if you want an idea of an area that has been closed down, get a look at what 1.6 million acres looks like:

Rockhound Alert! Comments to BLM Needed Now!

BLM is considering opening the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and surrounding areas to casual collecting of rocks, gems, and minerals, as well as non-vertebrae fossils. This vast area in Southern Utah has been closed to collectors since 1996.

BLM needs your comments by November 30th. The following .pdf file gives you ways to comment electronically and by post. It also links to other valuable resources.

The Southern California Paleontological Society is at the forefront of the comment movement, having drafted an excellent letter supporting the opening of this rugged yet beautiful land.

Original letters  are strongly urged. I typed up a letter this morning and it is already in the mail. Here’s wishing you get involved, too. Thanks in advance!

Copy of my letter sent to BLM:

11/06/ 2018

669 S. Hwy 89A
Kanab, UT 84741
Attn: Matt Betenson

Re: GSENM-KEPA RMPs-EIS Vol. 1-508, Comment on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab-Escalante Planning Area Draft Resource Management Plans and Environmental Impact Statement

To Whom It May Concern:

Hello, my name is Thomas Farley and I am an outdoor writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. I support a decision to open up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) and the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area to casual rock collecting.

The request for comments suggests that  proper identification of the subject be made so I am forced to use boilerplate in this paragraph.  Specifically, I am commenting on the “Management Actions incorporated in Alternative D specific to the Kanab- Escalante Planning Area listed under Record # 1050 and #1051 (in the Draft Resource Management Plans and Environmental Impact Statement), and the Management Actions incorporated in Alternative D specific to units of the Grand Staircase National Monument listed under Record # 1048 and #1049, which would allow casual collecting in designated and posted areas within the monument.”

As to my comments, I belong to several rock, gem, and mineral clubs, as well as two  prospecting clubs. I am currently writing a book on rockhounding for beginners in the Southwestern United States. Adventure Publications is my publisher and the book will be out in early 2020. In my writing for the book I’ve encountered countless rockhounds who are aggrieved with the constantly diminishing amount of public land to collect on. I would urge all planners in this matter to consider allowing casual collecting in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) and the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area (KEPA). These grounds have been closed for too long. Nearby Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada allows casual collecting of rocks and minerals and has suffered no ill effects. As land withdrawn from mineral claims, these kind of areas allow rockhounding without the worry of trespass and as such provide a stress free exploring experience.

Rockhounding is an enjoyable solo and family activity. Sadly, the hobby seems to be gentrifying as fewer and fewer young people participate in the hobby. I think these numbers would increase as ground open to collecting increases. As an adjunct to camping or even day trips,  rockhounding is a terrific pastime that encourages an appreciation for our public lands. It increases tourism and brings money to rural towns and villages.  I strongly advise the committee to allow casual collecting.

Best regards,

Thomas Farley
3250 S Town Center Drive Unit 2036
Las Vegas, NV 89135

A BLM Permit for Rockhounding?

I visited the BLM office in St. George, Utah yesterday morning. It’s well done  with some interesting displays and local maps and books available. This is BLM’s Arizona Strip Office, which manages land in Arizona north of the the Grand Canyon, mostly remote, rugged ground with no services. An empty quarter if you will.

When I mentioned that I was a rockhound they asked me to sign a permit. I have never encountered this. Good for a year, it outlines the rules and regulations for casual collecting in the Arizona Strip District, much of which is closed. Rather than being an actual permit that one has to possess, I think it is  more of an official way of notifying rockhounds as to the ground rules. An employee explained it as “a backup” to have when rockhounding.

Although the BLM people were very friendly, they knew much more about ground that was closed than open. I received no information on good places to collect. Unless you happen to run into a district’s geologist by sheer chance, you may find that better open ground information will come from BLM web pages and telephoning the Right People before you visit. Frustratingly, some information handed out at the office was simply wrong.

Literature at their office said that BLM managed National Monuments are closed when in fact some are open, like Gold Butte in Nevada. Just check BLM’s website of the monument. This office had maps and brochures of Gold Butte, but, again it is open to casual collecting, not closed. Print out web pages disclosing open ground information of any area before going. This may save you from arguments in the field.

To add to all the contradictory language you will find on the web, this BLM reviewed document entitled Mining Claim Procedures for Nevada Prospectors and Miners explicitly states that no permit is required for rockhounding. In general, BLM and USFS offices act as their own fiefdoms, enforcing whatever rules they see fit to run their area.

“No permits are required for ‘weekend” or ‘amateur’ prospecting and rock collecting including using hand tools, pans, and metal detectors on land open to prospecting (Nevada BLM “Collecting on Public Lands,” BLM/NV/GI-98/0031), but if you are planning to use a dredge of any kind, you must contact the Nevada Division of Wildlife, 1100 Valley Road, Reno, NV 89512; telephone: (775) 688-1500 for information and permits for that type of prospecting.”

On a positive note, I visited the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area outside of St. George and found the scenery beautiful. BLM notes it as a rockhound area. Although I didn’t have time to search, only to take pictures, I would like to spend more time there in the future. See the photo below.

Update: I understand that the campground is closed for renovation, this now being February of 2020.


A happy hiker in the Virgin River Gorge area looking for petroglyphs.