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All That Glitters Isn’t Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada

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Everyone made it sound easy. “You should go to Garnet Hill,” an employee at our RV park told me. “Just drive up there, and there’s tons of garnets on the ground, and you can take them.”

“Garnets?” I asked, wide-eyed.

“Yep,” he said. “Lying right there on the ground. You just pick ’em up to take home.”

Even the sign near the entrance to Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada said you could just “[find] them lying on the ground.”

When I imagined what it would look like, I pictured thousands of sparkling, deep red jewels scattered across the mountain, just mine for the taking. But when I arrived at Garnet Hill, what I actually found was millions of white, jagged rocks covering the ground.

Rocks…
Rocks of Garnet Hill
And more rocks…

One family was already there, scouring the mountainside. I asked them where the garnets were.

“Oh!” the mom said excitedly. “We found some!” She proceeded to hold up a rock. “See?” she said as she pointed to a miniscule speck of black. “It’s a garnet!”

Rock with garnet in it
See that tiny black speck on the upper right part of that rock? Yeah, that’s garnet.

My heart sank. My dreams of striking it rich were shattered. But I still listened to the family as they offered me advice on finding garnets. They said to look for rocks that are sparkling because it means they contain quartz, and garnets can be found near quartz. Then look for dark red or black specks in the rock, which indicate garnet is present in it.

Determined not to leave empty-handed, I grabbed my newly-bought hammer and chisel and went to find these sparkly rocks. I told my sister, “We are NOT leaving until we find a HUGE garnet.”

tiny garnet in hand
At first, this was all we could find.

After hiking the mountain for 30 minutes, meticulously examining almost every rock within reach, I was sweating, very close to passing out, and I still hadn’t found any garnets. At that point, I became painfully aware of two things:

  1. I had been lied to.
  2. I’m seriously out of shape.

But I couldn’t give up. My ego just wouldn’t let me, and there’s something so addictive about hunting down something elusive and sparkly. I persevered and kept banging my hammer against every rock in sight. I finally found a good spot, with lots of promising rocks. I was feeling rather content about my finds, and I was just about to suggest we leave, when my sister told me about a woman she had just encountered. Apparently, while my sister and I were slaving away with a hammer and chisel, some local woman was out walking her dog on Garnet Hill and just so happened to find a large garnet, already perfectly broken free of its rock. That’s right. She found a huge garnet just lying around when she wasn’t even looking for it. I was furious and jealous. “Are you freaking kidding me?” I yelled as I threw my hammer down. But the woman’s story lit a fire within me. I couldn’t leave. I had to go out and find a gem as big and beautiful as hers.

To do this, I walked in the same direction the woman had come from. I tried to walk casually and not actually try to look for anything. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find a garnet like hers.

Sweaty and disillusioned, I left Garnet Hill with a huge bag of rocks, which I showed to my dad back at the RV Park.

Bag of rocks
The bag of rocks I brought back from Garnet Hill–before I smashed them to pieces.

“That’s it?” he asked.

“Well, the garnets just don’t come that big,” I explained. “I’m going to crack open these rocks until I find a good one!”

I then proceeded to hammer and chisel at every rock in the bag. Peeking out from the white rock, the shiny gems showed just enough of themselves to give me hope, but every time I cracked the rock open, there was just a tiny bit of garnet–hardly anything worth keeping. I then started smashing rocks just to release my frustration–and I found a beautiful, relatively large, multi-faceted garnet.

A garnet attached to rock from Garnet Fields Rockhound Area in Nevada
After slaving away for three hours, I was finally rewarded with this beautiful garnet.

I’m currently trying to figure out how to break it free of its stony shell without breaking the garnet itself. Any ideas?

Anyway, the moral of this story is this: perseverance pays off.

Despite the whole garnet misunderstanding, I highly recommend you visit Garnet Hill. The views are breathtaking. Its elevation is about 7,000 feet, and it offers you an amazing view of the copper mine in the town below. And, who knows, you just might find a spectacular garnet.

Mountain view from top of Garnet Hill in Nevada
View of the mountains from the top of Garnet Hill
Some Garnet Hill tips I wish someone had told me before I went:
  • Bring thick, gardening gloves
  • Bring a wide hammer
  • Bring a pick and a chisel
  • Bring eye protection
  • Bring lots of water
  • Don’t expect to find any garnets of substantial size
  • Don’t go in the middle of the day when it’s hot and sunny
Some other notes: The official name is Garnet Fields Rockhound Area, but the locals call it Garnet Hill. The drive up to it is a little tricky. It’s about 4 miles of steep, graded dirt road. There are signs clearly indicating where to go. At the top, there’s a parking lot with a bathroom.
Dirt road leading up to Garnet Hill
Dirt road leading up to Garnet Hill

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