Rockhounding is the collection of reasonable amounts of mineral specimens, rocks, semi-precious gems, petrified wood, and invertebrate fossils. Invertebrate fossils are the remains of animals that didn't have bones such as shellfish, corals, trilobites, and crinoids. The material collected must not be sold or bartered. Arizona has many localities and varieties of collecting material. Not all varieties are found on public lands.
It is a good idea to check land ownership when planning a rockhounding trip. A good place to begin is your local BLM office. If you can point to a location on a topographical map (available at BLM) we can determine if the site is on public lands.
In most instances, public lands are open to rockhounding although no collecting is allowed in national monuments. BLM staff can help you make this determination.
Suction dredging requires permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In Phoenix, call 602-640-5385. In Tucson, call 520-670-5021. Before conducting suction dredging on BLM-administered lands in Arizona, you will need to file either a notice or plan of operations pursuant to 43 CFR 3809.
For more information, contact your local BLM office or the Phoenix branch of the Arizona Geological Survey at:
3550 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix AZ 85012
Toll free in Arizona 800-446-4259
Collection Limits - Free Rock, Mineral, and Semi-Precious Gemstones
Rocks, minerals, and semiprecious gemstones may be collected on public lands managed by the BLM without charge or permit as long as:
- The specimens are for personal use and are not collected for commercial purposes or bartered to commercial dealers.
- You may collect reasonable amounts of specimens. In Arizona, the BLM sets the "reasonable" limits for personal use as up to 25 pounds per day, plus one piece, with a total limit of 250 pounds per year. These limits are for mineral specimens, common invertebrate fossils, semiprecious gemstones, other rock, and petrified wood.
- A group of people does not pool their yearly allotment to collect a piece larger than 250 pounds of either rockhounding specimens or petrified wood.
- Collection does not occur in developed recreation sites or areas, unless designated as a rockhounding area by BLM.
- Collection is not prohibited or restricted and posted.
- Collection, excavation or removal are not aided with motorized or mechanical devices, including heavy equipment or explosives. Metal detectors are acceptable, with the exception of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
- No undue or unnecessary degradation of the public lands occurs during the removal of rock, minerals, or gemstones.
- For pieces of petrified wood heavier than 250 pounds or situation not covered here, please contact your local BLM office.
- If you wish to obtain more than 250 pounds of rock in a year, please visit the local BLM office to arrange to purchase it.
Mineral Collecting on Public Lands
Rocks are usually combinations of two or more minerals. The portions of different minerals making up rocks may vary, and the combinations of minerals may change within rocks of the same name. Granite, composed of quartz and potassium feldspar - usually with small amounts of mica or hornblende, may contain as many as a dozen other minerals. In addition, the portions of each of the minerals may shift from one deposit to another. This gives rise to the variety of local names.
Because rocks are made up of varying mixtures of minerals, and because there are about two thousand different minerals, the number of possible combinations is limitless. It is therefore very difficult to classify rocks except in broad, general groups. The most general classification of rocks is by method of formation: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.
Mineral specimens are normally examples of a specific mineral or assemblage of minerals collected by people. Mineral specimens can also include rock types. Examples of mineral specimens found in Arizona include: quartz, azurite, malachite, selenite, and calcite.
Semi-precious gemstones are used in jewelry-making and decorative arts. They are usually rocks that can be faceted or polished and are able to hold a shine. To collect semi-precious gemstones for commercial purposes, or in amounts greater than those indicated on this page, you should locate a mining claim. Contact your local BLM office to obtain information on locating a mining claim.
Examples of semi-precious gemstones found in Arizona are agates, fire agates, jasper, onyx, and Apache tears.
Petrified wood can be found in Arizona within the jurisdiction of the BLM Phoenix, Safford, Yuma, and Arizona Strip field offices.
Collecting of mineral and fossil resources is prohibited in certain areas being managed under special designation to protect their scientific and natural values, such as research natural areas, national conservation areas, and national monuments.
Collecting Artifacts & Fossils
Indian and Other Historical Artifacts: You may not collect any artifacts, ancient or historical, on public lands. This includes arrow heads or flakes, pottery or potsherds, mats, rock art, old bottles or pieces of equipment and buildings. These items are part of our national heritage and scientists are still learning much from them. Human burial remains on both public and private land are protected by federal and state law from being collected.
Vertebrate Fossils: These include dinosaurs, mammals, sharks and fish, or any animal with skeletal structure. You cannot collect these fossils.
Invertebrate Fossils: These include ammonites, trilobites, and common plant fossils such as leaf impressions and cones, and may be collected in reasonable amounts.
Petrified wood can also be collected for personal use — up to 25 pounds each day, plus one piece, but no more than 250 pounds in any calendar year (43 CFR 3622). These materials must be for your personal collection and cannot be sold or traded.
Cultural Resource Use Permits are granted to professional archaeologists only (they must meet the Secretary of the Interior standards as a professional archaeologist). A letter from a BLM approved repository is required saying fossils or artifacts collected will be accepted. These items must be placed in the repository and cannot be kept by the collector.
Popular Rockhounding Locations
Arizona Strip District
Arizona Strip Field Office
Colorado River District
Kingman Field Office
Yuma Field Office
Safford Field Office
Black Hills Rockhound Area - From the intersection of Arizona Route 70, east of Safford, travel 10 miles north on U.S. Highway 191 to Black Hills Rockhound Area. Follow the dirt road 2 miles to the center of the rockhound area.
Round Mountain Rockhound Area - From Highway 70 east of Safford approximately 50 miles, travel into New Mexico to just beyond milepost 5. Take the dirt access road on your right for 12 miles, following the signs to the rockhound area.