Idaho’s known as The Gem State, but what sort of rocks and gemstones are actually available?
As it turns out, there are plenty of treasures hidden just below the surface for those who are willing to look. In “Rockhounds,” Outdoor Idaho takes viewers to find fossils and star garnets in north Idaho, agates and jasper in the Owyhees, and opals in eastern Idaho, and explores just how easy it is to take up the hobby.
You can snag any of these gems in a rock shop, but if you want to look for them yourself, here’s a run-down of the rocks and fossils featured in the show.
Emerald Creek Star Garnet:
Emerald Creek is the only place in the world that has star garnets with six rays. The US Forest Service manages the site, which is open to the public. Forest service employees will show you how to find garnets. It’s a good family activity for all ages, but leave the dogs at home; they’re not allowed at the garnet dig site.
- Location: From Highway 3, turn on Road 447, just north of Clarkia. Follow signs to Emerald Creek. The parking lot is a half mile walk from the dig site, though you can open the gate and drive up for handicap accessibility.
- Hours: 9 am to 4:30 pm Friday-Tuesday. Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Season: Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day
- Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12; Cash or check only
- What to bring: Containers to take home your garnets (sandwich bags or small Tupperware containers will do), plus food and water.
Clarkia Fossil Bowl
Located on private property adjacent to a snowmobile and dirt bike track, the Clarkia Fossil Bowl features 15 million year old fossils with preserved leaves. Unlike most fossils, which feature impressions, the anoxic environment of the ancient lakebed preserved the actual leaf tissue, allowing visitors to see the leaves that fell into the lake millions of years ago. Paleobotanist Bill Rember of the University of Idaho has studied the fossils for decades and has developed a technique for lifting full leaves out of the sediment for study. While leaves are the most common find, the sediment also contains seeds, flowers and the occasional fish.
- Location: 52540 Highway 3, Clarkia, Idaho
- Hours: Varies; Contact owner Kenneth Kienbaum at 208-245-3608 to set up a time
- Cost: $10 per person; Cash only
- What to bring: Boxes to take home your fossils; Flat blades (butter knives or pocket knives); Newspaper to wrap the damp fossils; sunscreen, water and food
Spencer Opal Mines
While visitors are no longer allowed to visit the mines in person, the Spencer Opal Mines store allows guests to sort through rocks brought down by the truckload by owners AJ and Claudia Couture. Opal is common in North America, but Spencer features high-quality opal that is durable enough for jewelry, in naturally occurring pink and yellow. Those who don’t feel like digging through the rocks can buy polished opal and jewelry at the store.
- Location: 27 Opal Way, Spencer, Idaho
- Hours: Varies by season, but usually 9 to 5 for digging; closed on Wednesday. Hours are seasonal; Open April through November. Call ahead to make sure:
- Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for children 4-12 years old
- What to bring: Safety goggles, spray bottle, garden claw, hammer, sturdy shoes; Water and food is available for purchase on-site.
Graveyard Point Plume Agate
For amber and green agate, visit Graveyard Point near Homedale. The site is on public land and has mining claims on many spots, but you can still find some agate floats and surface material outside of claims. Otherwise, contact your local gem and rock club to see if they have any upcoming field trips to the site.
- Location: Find directions in Garret Romaine’s “Rockhounding Idaho” or by calling your local gem and rock club.
- Hours: n/a
- Cost: No cost, though make sure to check with the Bureau of Land Management to avoid wandering onto someone’s mining claim.
- What to bring: Hammer, garden claw, spray bottle, sturdy shoes, water and food.
“Rockhounding Idaho” by Garret Romaine. Available at most local bookstores or online.
Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology. Free admission, regular field trips, and workshops for kids.
Owyhee Gem and Mineral Society. Monthly meetings, regular field trips. Located in Caldwell.
Idaho Gem Club. Monthly meetings, regular field trips. Located in Boise.