Rockhounding in the Granite State

Hunt for gems with this rockin' pastime



Photos courtesy of White Mountain National Forest

They can shine and sparkle, but they are also clues to the natural world. Certainly New Hampshire is synonymous with granite (the state rock), but the Granite State is also home to a wealth of rocks, gems and minerals like beryl and smoky quartz.

Recreational rock collecting, or rockhounding, is a fun outdoor activity that attracts everyone from curious families to inquisitive geologists and mineralogists.

People venture into woods, veins and mines for various reasons. They can be collectors, paleontologists, jewelry makers and those who just want to be outdoors.

Whether joining a mineral club or venturing out on your own, New Hampshire has a number of collecting sites with various rules and regulations, so be sure to know before you go.

A popular spot on the rockhounding trail is Grafton’s Ruggles Mine, a former mica mine on Isinglass Mountain with its pit and tunnels. With its tourist amenities like a gift shop with children’s section, it attracts many first-timers to “The Mine in the Sky.”

Another go-to spot for newcomers is the White Mountain National Forest’s Moat Mountain Smoky Quartz site in North Conway. Look for smoky quartz and green feldspar embedded in Conway granite.

“These rocks and minerals took millions of years to form, so collect responsibly so that future generations can also enjoy mineral collecting,” says Forestry Technician Elaine Swett.

Rockhounds should, like hikers, don a backpack, remember to dress in layers and bring essential clothing for warmth and rain protection, and bring food and water.

Also, it’s a good idea to label what you’ve found in small boxes (egg cartons can work for small finds) by date and location.

And don’t forget there’s also gold panning in some White Mountain rivers.


Gear

Get the basics from Peter Cristofono’s “Rockhounding New England” ($21.95) guide including 25 Granite State locations for collecting.

Dig it out with the stainless steel U-Dig-It folding hand shovel ($9.95).

If you have a child interested in the pursuit, then the Rock Hound’s Backpack Kit ($77.95) has lots they’ll need in the field, like pack, rock pick, safety goggles, notebook and more.


Gem Keeper Q&A

Elaine Swett, a forestry technician for the White Mountain National Forest, has been managing the mineral-collecting program for the past 10 years. She patrols the mineral collecting areas, maintains the sites and educates the public on proper mineral-collecting techniques.

What type of person is attracted to recreational rock and mineral collecting?
People of all ages that enjoy exploring and discovering our natural world. People that mineral-collect form a connection with and an appreciation for geology. From kids to senior citizens, novice collectors to Earth science professionals, everyone enjoys seeking and finding a variety of rocks and minerals.

Do you see many students and/or families doing this?
Yes! I regularly see school groups, summer camp groups and families mineral-collecting. Families enjoy sharing the thrill of discovery. Each rock they collect is connected to the experience they had that day. 

What are the do’s and dont’s?
Collect responsibly. Know the rules and regulations that pertain to mineral-collecting and observe them. Don’t dig so much as to cause significant surface disturbance that leads to damage of natural resources. Don’t leave the area you have been digging in until you fill your hole back in. Don’t cut trees, dig under trees, cut tree roots or dig adjacent to stream banks.

What kind of rocks and minerals will I find in the White Mountain National Forest?
Smoky quartz, mircrocline (amazonite), beryl, amethyst and topaz are the most commonly sought-after minerals. These minerals are found in granite rock units.

What do these minerals look like in the field at a site like the Moat Mountain mineral site?
It is common to find smoky quartz crystals that are perfectly formed, shiny and smooth to the touch. Scan the ground and look for something dark and shiny. There is a good chance that you will find a smoky quartz that someone overlooked. Pick up and observe the rocks in the area. Even novice collectors should have no problem finding crystals. Do you see any small, dark pyramid-shaped crystals in the rock? If so, you have found a smoky quartz crystal.

What do people do with what they collect?
Minerals collected in the White Mountain National Forest are for your own personal use and enjoyment and not for commercial gain. Some people enjoy collecting, identifying and displaying their minerals.

Are there any rare or unusual minerals in the Forest?
Topaz. Colorless to pale blue in color, it is often sought after by mineral collectors but is rare to find. 

What about panning for gold?
Tunnel Brook located in Benton has been a favorite stream for gold-panning for many years. Coarse gold and occasionally gold nuggets have turned up in many a pan. The hand tools recommended are a small hand shovel or trowel and a gold pan.

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