From the winding rivers and tree-studded hillsides of the Texas Hill Country to the deserts and craggy mountains of West Texas, gemstone hunters each year collect agates, opals, quartz and rare natural blue topaz, which is the state gem. Texas doesn’t keep track of how many gems are collected or sold each year, and it’s against the law to remove stones found at state and local parks. However, private lands with on-site or nearby lodging offer gem hunters places to search and stay.
From Antelope Lodge
On desert and mountain lands near Big Band National Park, rock hounds can find chalcedony, jasper, opal, agate and quartz crystals. Antelope Lodge in Alpine is the starting place for guide-led gemstone searches. Summer temperatures can reach the triple digits in summer, so trips to nearby ranches and other lands are scheduled during fall, winter and spring months. The Last Frontier Museum of Rocks and Gems in the lodge’s lobby showcases locally found gems. Contact the lodge about organized trips, which are scheduled on different days each year. Daily and weekly rates are available for the property’s single rooms, double rooms with kitchenettes and suites. Each suite is in a separate building. Two double beds are in one room, and the other room holds a kitchenette and living room area.
At Stillwater Ranch
At Stillwell Store and RV Park on Stillwell Ranch south of Alpine and about 8 miles from the nearest entrance to Big Bend National Park, campground guests may search the grounds for gems. Primitive tent sites are available as well as RV sites with electric hook-ups and water. West Texas gem hunters may find plume agate in shades of black, gray and white, or colorful bouquet agate -- an agate with plume that can be pastel pink, peach, orange, yellow or red. The terrain is rough, so wear sturdy shoes or boots as well as hats and clothing to protect against the sun; avoid brushy areas to lessen the chance of encountering snakes. Step carefully to avoid brushing up against cactus thorns.
At Seaquist Family Ranch
Gemstone hunters have been visiting Seaquist Family Ranch in the Texas Hill Country town of Mason since the 1970s to search ravines and streambeds for pink granite outcroppings, which are the sources of pegmatite that contains topaz. With advance reservations, Seaquist Ranch allows rock hunting for a fee from morning until sunset each day. Mason has bed-and-breakfast lodgings, cabins and inns as well as restaurants and gem shops that line a pretty town square. While most topaz in Texas is white, natural blue topaz is located only in Mason county. All Mason-area ranches that host gemstone hunters suspend operations from November through mid-January during the state’s hunting season.
At Lindsay Ranch
At Lindsay Ranch, only guests who stay at the property or a ranch guest house in town are allowed to search or dig for stones. An extra fee is charged for gem hunting per day. Visitors who search Mason county for topaz should bring small picks, shovels and wire screens with 1/4-inch mesh. Small pieces of topaz sometimes may be found by sifting dirt through the screen. Chipping away at the rock outcroppings can reveal a find. Lindsay Ranch has two cabins with one or two sets of double beds on the 700-acre back pasture of the ranch and a third three-bedroom guesthouse with seven beds in Mason.
At Bar M Ranch
Primitive campsites at Bar M Ranch just outside Mason are along Honey Creek on an 800-acre working cattle ranch. The same family has owned the ranch for five generations. Guests may search for colorless and rare blue topaz. The ranch allows topaz hunting for a fee, and you can rent small shovels and screens with 1/4-inch mesh at the ranch offices. Sift the ground and pick at rocks of the creek and its tributaries to look for the gem. To see what blue topaz looks like when it has been cut and set in jewelry, visit the small crafts and jewelry shops in Mason.