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Planning, Equipment and Safety

Careful planning, especially in the desert areas such as we are in, is essential if a gem or rock hunting trip is to be successful. Some guidelines to follow are:

Decide where you are going.
Become familiar with the appearance of what you hope to collect.
Acquaint yourself with how and where to look for it.


The base lapidary shop (now closed), museum displays and shops dealing in gems and minerals are some places to look for the kind of rough material you hope to find. From owners of such shops or from a fellow collector or a hobby magazine, the name of a person who lives near the place you plan to visit can often be obtained. Write or call him and ask his help.

Information of the same kind can frequently be obtained from a Chamber of Commerce, the geology department of a nearby college, the state geologist, or a local mineral club. The Cal City/Edwards Gem and Mineral Society (may not exist) meets at 7pm on the second Tuesday of each month at the library in California City. There is also a rock club in Boron (may not exist)that meets periodically. Both of these are excellent sources for your gem and mineral local information.


Maps are essential. Common road maps, such as those provided by gas stations and state tourist bureaus are valuable, however, more detailed maps are frequently needed, such as topographic maps published by the United States Geological Survey. Each map shows a quadrangular area designated by the name of the town or prominent natural feature. These maps can be purchased for $2.00 (price may have changed) at High Desert Blue Print on Avenue I (they've moved)in Lancaster. Topo maps are of primary value to the gem and rock hunter intent on finding a described location. Geological maps, which add further information about rock formations, help guide the hunter to rocks associated with the gems he or she is seeking. (special gem and mineral maps can be found in towns such as Randsburg)


The rock-hunting vehicle, whether jeep, camper, trailer, or family car, should be put in first-class condition before it is taken on a trip. Most cars are not designed for rutted roads or trails across the desert. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is ideal for venturing where only a mountain goat or antelope would feel at home. Most of the areas listed in this guide, however, can be reached with the family car.

Some equipment that would come in handy once in awhile are:

  • roll of chicken wire for traction in desert sand
  • tow rope
  • spare fan belt
  • bumber jack located where can be easily reached
  • change of crankcase oil
  • five-gallon metal safety can filled with gasoline
  • five gallon can with radiator water and a spout


The choice of clothing and rock hunting equipment depends on the type of area where gems will be sought, but there are some items that are always needed:

  • pick with a square hammerhead on one end, and a pick point on the other
  • cold chisel with square point
  • large pickax
  • sledge hammer
  • large and small crowbars
  • shovel and trenching tool
  • screen, if gravel is to be worked over
Once you have your specimens, some equipment to protect them:

  • cardboard boxes
  • burlap and paper bags
  • egg cartons
  • wrapping paper and lables
  • zip lock plastic bags
Cothing should cover your whole body, even in hot weather. Clothing protects your skin against sunburn, insect bites, and abrasion by rocks and catus. Good shoes are essential. The most comfortable and safest for climbing on rocks are shoes with six-inch uppers and broad toes. High boots usually are too hot and too exhausting. Work gloves save hands from blisters, cuts, and broken fingernails. A hat is the best protection against sunstroke and a burnt forehead; sunglasses are helpful. Suntan lotions and insect repellent belong in the personal kit, along with a pocketknife, a magnifying gass, and a few raisins, nuts, and a candy bar. Also, a first-aid kit and snake bite kit. And of course, some water. (You should always carry an extra coat, storable food, and plenty of water in the event you get stuck overnight. The desert in the summer gets cold at night and winter days can get quite warm.)


You must not forget common courtesy and good manners. Many areas with excellent gem materials have been closed forever to collectors because someone was careless, insolent, hoggish, or a litterbug. (Some desert rats can have serious attitudes and should be approached only with caution) Some things to consider:

  1. Always obtain permission to enter private property.
  2. Know and heed the laws governing collecting on public lands.
  3. Be careful with fire.
  4. Clean up your campsite.
  5. Don't contaminate wells or creeks.
  6. Fill in holes that you dig.
  7. Leave gates as you find them, open or closed.
  8. Don't trespass on growing crops or drive across grasslands.
  9. Report any vandalism you find.
  10. Leave firearms and blasting materials at home.


Rock hunting, like any other outdoor activity, is not without physical hazards. Rocks can fall from a shattered quarry wall, a frost weakened cliff, or an overhanging mass. Open mine shafts are obvious dangers. Children and pets must be kept close at hand and constantly supervised. (There is at least one mine North of Cal City that enters horizontal then, without warning, goes straight down onto sharp and shattered timbers and big rocks. Always use a flashlight and check every step.)

Safety in rock hunting, like safety anywhere, is based on common sense and moderation. The greatest risk is getting lost. Leave word where you will be going and when you expect to return. Try to stay within sight of your vehicle. Old mines present a clear hazard. The best advice is to stay out of them. Poison gases, rotten timbers, hidden shafts, roof rocks ready to fall, snakes and wild animals can make an old mine a deathtrap. (Wild burros are known to use old mines for shelter)

Dynamite is often abandoned around ghost towns and old mine sites. It has become touchy with age and may explode at the least jolt.

Rocks in some desert areas harbor a fungus that can cause serious illness. The careless collector who licks a rock to make its pattern visible could contract the disease. Even breathing the dust stirred up by collecting activity may spread the infection. Wash up thoroughly before eating.

If you get stuck in the desert, try these remedies:

  1. Tap the sand down hard in front of the wheels.
  2. Lay chicken wire under the wheels.
  3. Place burlap bags, filled half full of sand and tied, under the wheels.
  4. Let air out of the tires until they are about half deflated. You can reinflate them later.
Campers in desert regions are advised not to set up in dry stream beds or canyons where they might be caught by flash floods.

Rattle snakes and scorpions are the most commonly encountered poisonous critters in this region. The best advice is to stay away from them. Snakes take shelter from the midday heat under bushes and logs and sun themselves in cool weather in open spots. They are more active at night. Keep hands and feet out of holes and crevices. Turn over rocks with a stick first. (Do not walk quietly through the desert. You could surprise a sleeping rattlesnake and get bit. If they hear you coming they'll get out of your way.)


To summarize, when you hunt for rocks, gems, or mineral material, know what your looking for. Know how to recognize it when you find it. Give yourself plenty of time. Go prepared for the kind of work you'll have to do. Respect the rights of the man who owns the land you're hunting on, even Uncle Sam, and of those other gem hunters who will follow you.

The attached collecting areas list the rocks and minerals that can be found in the Edwards area. Directions to all the areas has been researched, but not actually been visited in all instances. If you have occasion to visit the areas listed and find the directions in error, please keep track of your mileage travelled and a better description of the area. Report this information to the base lapidary shop (The shop has long since closed. Notes should be sent to the webmaster of this site.) so that we can update this guide. Of course if you know of other areas not listed in the guide, let us know that also. With your assistance, we can make this an extremely comprehensive guide for rock hunting in the Edwards area.
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Page mirrored on High Desert Insider by permission from: Glenn Olson
Original Page Created: 25 Dec 97