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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. My birthday is in January so I am fond of the deep red stone.

“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.”

What I had imagined vs. what I found

When I imagined what it would look like, I pictured thousands of sparkling, deep red jewels scattered across a beautiful Garnet 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. It did not look like the Garnet covered mountain of my dreams. So I figured I should learn more about them… perhaps then I would find my garnet covered mountain.  

Where do these garnets come from?

The cool thing is that the garnet rocks came from volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. The not-as-cool thing is that they are not as easy to find as the sign, or the locals, might suggests.

Here is an excellent video for you to learn all about the garnets at garnet mountain.

Images of the Mountain Side – and garnets

All That Glitters Isn't Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada - the actual mountain side
All That Glitters Isn't Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada - Rocks of Garnet Hill
And more rocks…

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

One family was already there, scouring the mountainside. I asked them where the garnets were – I was dying to know…

“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!”

Image of the first garnet I found

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.

Advice on how to find a good garnet

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. They told me that the garnets can be found near quartz.

Then, look for dark red color, or black specks, inside the rock. These colors apparently indicate the rock has garnets inside. 

Determined not to leave empty-handed, and schooled on how to find garnets, I grabbed my newly-bought hammer and chisel and went to work. I was on a mission to find these magnificent, sparkly rocks.

Besides that, I told my sister, “We are NOT leaving until we find a HUGE garnet,” and I was not about to go away empty handed. 

All That Glitters Isn't Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada - tiny garnet in hand
At first, this was all we could find.

3 things I learned about Garnet farming

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 three things:

  1. I had been lied to.
  2. I’m seriously out of shape.
  3. I wasted money on a hammer and chisel. 

My ego would not let me give up. Apparently, there is something very 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.

Just then, as I was feeling rather content about my finds, and about to suggest we leave, my sister told me about a woman she had just encountered.

Local woman finds a big one – without trying!

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. Garnet mountain was really starting to make me mad. 

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.

Did I mention I’m a bit competitive?

So, to fulfill my mission, I decided to walk 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.

All the garnets I found

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

All That Glitters Isn't Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada -B ag of rocks
The bag of rocks I brought back from Garnet Hill–before I smashed them to pieces.

“That’s it?” he asked, sounding more disappointed than I felt.

“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.

Holy Heck, I got a big one

I then started smashing rocks just to release my frustration–and I found a beautiful, relatively large, multi-faceted garnet.

Here it is….. ta da….!!!!

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?

The moral to my story

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

The breathtaking views at Garnet Hill

Despite the whole garnet misunderstanding, I highly recommend you visit Garnet Hill. The views are breathtaking.

Garnet Hill elevation

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

Important Garnet Hill Tips:

These are essential Garnet Hill tips that I really do wish someone had shared with 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

Getting there & other important 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.
Most importantly…at the top, there’s a parking lot with a bathroom.
All That Glitters Isn't Garnet: Hunting for Gems at Garnet Hill in Ely, Nevada - Dirt road leading up to Garnet Hill
Dirt road leading up to Garnet Hill

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