Friday, November 2, 2007

Dugway Geode Beds and Topaz Mountain

A field guide to Topaz and associated minerals of the Thomas Range, Utah (Topaz Mountain) volume 1

If you ever take one rockhounding trip, this one is a must: Dugway Geodes and Topaz Mountain. My cousin Tom has some kids who have become interested in rocks, so we thought this would be a fun trip. We hopped in the van around 6:00 am and headed out around Utah lake on hwy 73 and watched as the sun rose over the hills. We drove through Faust to Vernon, and then the pavement ended. After that it's desert and jackrabbits. We headed up over Lookout Pass and enjoyed the view before descending into the west desert.

The dirt road you take is actually the Pony Express route used in 1858 to carry the mail. You can visit the Pony Express stations along the way. We stopped in Simpson Springs for a break and checked out the little cabin. Time seems suspended out there; you can almost imagine what it was like for the guys running the outposts--living in the middle of nowhere with a couple of horses and waiting to get scalped by the locals. But the view was nice and the kids broke of some weird green tuff near the monument.

From there you drive along the edge of the Dugway Proving Ground: this place is straight out of a Tom Clancy novel--they test all kinds of war toys out here. Not a nice place to venture into (not that you'd get far -- the snipers would probably shoot you first). I have a friend who's a firefighter, and they dropped him by helicopter into a brushfire in Dugway once. He said he wandered over a ridge and saw a bright green pond.

We followed the Pony Express road for another 20 miles and turned south just before the Dugway pass to go to the Topaz ampitheatre. We followed the Pismire wash for 15 miles along the east side of the Thomas Range until we came to the Weiss Highway and turned into Topaz Valley.

Once you're in the valley you can pretty much pick a spot and start looking for crystals. The whole mountain range is made of rhyolite that formed with huge gas pockets in it. You find a crack and pry it open with a crowbar. The inside will be filled with sand and crystals. You can also look in the dry washes for clear topaz crystals. We opted for the tried and true location - the west side. Just walk up the side of the mountain and start looking in the cracks. We pulled out a handful of clear topaz and a few specimens of the sherry-colored stuff. It's really nice to look at, I must say. You can also find what they call clinkers. They are topaz that is so included with quartz that it becomes opaque.


I was having a blast, but some of the kids were starting to get whiny and fighting over the crystals, so we decided to go somewhere a little easier. We headed out of the ampitheatre and drove a few miles up the west side of the Thomas Range to a collecting site for Apache Tears. You drive up a small canyon and pretty soon the ground is littered with obsidian and jasper pebbles. Apache tears are little round pebbles of black volcanic glass. You can also find mahogany obsidian, which has brown streaks in it. I climbed around in the hills and found some wild rocks - bright red and pink matrix with black obsidian in them. After 20 minutes or so we were done there. We hopped back in the car and drove north through the Dell.



I was salivating over all of the mine dumps I saw, but we had to get to the Geode Beds so we kept driving. The Dell is a scenic place to be; many mining operations (even a Deseret mine. Hmm). Eventually you come around a bend and descend onto the edge of the salt flats. We're talking edge of the world here; it's an amazing feeling. You really feel exposed out there--it's so flat you can see the curvature of the earth. Soon we hit the Pony Express road and a few miles later turned off at the geode beds.

My hat is off to Loy Crapo. He bought the claim and maintains it for collectors. He periodically digs a new pit with his backhoe when collectors have exhausted the previous one. The minute you drive up to the site you can see piles of geodes left by the previous collectors. If you go on a Saturday you might see up to a dozen other collectors, but everyone is friendly. Just walk right into the pit and claw them out of the clay. If you are lazy you can paw through the piles of geodes around the sides of the pits. Just be careful you don't fall in. As collectors dig further into the sides of the pit, there is a risk for minor cave-ins.

The geodes here are usually filled with a blue or white chalcedony, with layers of black or white quartz crystals. I have heard of amethyst and barite being discovered in some of them. If you find a nice large one, resist the urge to break it with your hammer to see what's inside. Go to a rock shop and pay them a few bucks to saw it open for you. It's worth the wait.

© Rockpick Legend Co. 2007, All Rights Reserved
We gathered as many geodes as we could. The clay they are found in is pink and yellow, and bears a striking resemblance to refrigerated cookie dough. I was getting hungry. We gathered the troops and sorted through our haul, discarding some of the finds for the next guys who came around, and headed back to the road.

I always have a strange feeling reentering civilization after a trip into the desert. The trip out there feels strange, because every hill you pass over becomes more and more desolate. After a day out there I adjust to the peacefulness and find myself feeling more anxious as I can see the city again. It's an interesting transition. I usually end up wishing the next trip were sooner.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Facinating. To think I've lived in SLC all my life and NEVER been out there. Your narative is great! I think the kids and I will try this on our first 'Adventure Day' of the summer.

Chris said...

after reading that , my wife and i were planning a camping trip,i think our plans have now changed.

David P. Owen said...

Chris, I hope you didn't get a negative impression from the blog article--I loved the trip, and have enjoyed returning there frequently.

Anonymous said...

David, I think Chris was expressing interest in what you had written about. It sounded to me like he had plans to go comping elsewhere, but was considering changing them after reading your article.

Great description of the area and activities. I have been a frequent visitor to both Topaz Mtn and the Geode beds since the mid eighties. Great fun for the kids. Thank you for spreading the word!

Dave J

Anonymous said...

What a great way to spend a cold, drizzly afternoon - reading about and dreaming of new rockhounding sites to visit. Great pictures and descriptions. Thanks for "taking me away" to desert sand and sunshine.

laurie said...

Who would have thought Blue Topez here in Utah.. I have colected rocks my whole life but never anything like this. I am planning my first trip this weekend I will let you know what i find. Thanks for the heads-up.

David P. Owen said...

Unfortunately, no blue topaz here. I think that comes mostly from either Russia or Pakistan. The material in the Thomas Range is usually white or sherry-colored.

Brett said...

David,
Great Story. I cannot wait to take the kids. I would like to pull off the same trip but I am unfamiliar with the route. Are there maps etc that would help us follow your track?

catfishking said...

We are headed out that way this weekend. Thanks for the details, now we will know what to expect. We are going to try to fit the trilobite beds in this weekend also.

linda said...

Awsome!!!!!! Can't wait to go!!!

Anonymous said...

going to ocolo and baker next week, is topaz very far from there, iam getting some maps this weekend. thanks

Op said...

I am planning on taking a trip through Utah the end of this month and happen to have a few hours to do some sight seeing. Was wondering if any of the places you have written about are open during the winter months.

Alex Lay said...

Im trying to talk my parents into taking me there for my 8th grade trip instead of virgin valley opal. The rock club that we are in are taking a trip there soon and my parents are a little doubtful about driving all the way from california to go there and want to know how far the Dugway Geodes and Topaz Mountain collecting sites are from each other?

David P. Owen said...

Topaz Mtn and Dugway geode beds are between 30 min to an hour apart. It's not too bad, and you pass by some really cool sites on the way. From north to south, you could hit the geode beds, garnet ridge, Bell Hill fluorite mine, the little valley with apache tears, and then Topaz Mtn grotto, before picking up some Joy agate before heading down to Delta. That would be a long day, but there are a bunch of options.

JosephDC said...

I love your post. Very informative and easy to read. I wish we had printed it out before leaving for the Dugway Geode Beds. I put up a post of my own on www.josephtravels.com "Rockhounding and Camping—Dugway Geode Beds, UT" and the advetures we had, referencing your blog. Hope that's OK. If not let me know. Thanks again. We will be using your info when we go back this summer.

brookeleigh said...

thanks for all that info! We are excited to take our kids...and I think we will just follow all your stops along the way...sound like a great day! Thanks for posting :)

Liz said...

hi there,
we are italian and we are planning our holidays in the States. As we have a fried living in Provo and my husband is geologist, we'd love to go to Geodes bed to see if we can bring a nice geode that always remember us your beautiful country. is it difficult to reach the place? is a hammer enough to dig?
is it so easy to find geodes in this place? have we to ask any permit? thanks for all ypur reply!
annalisa

chris said...

I'm off from work this Friday, and my girls are off from school. We might take a day trip down to Topaz and see what we can find. Would you recommend picking up some rough items and getting a good rock tumbler/polisher?

Thanks for all the detail in your post! Holy cow, this is a wealth of information unto itself!

Tressa said...

Thank you for telling how far apart Topaz and the Geode beds are but on maps it looks like there might be two roads from Topaz to get there and you mentioned in a previous comment that there are sites along the way to see but which road did you take--was it the road west of Topaz Mountain or east? Were the roads bad?

David P. Owen said...

@Tressa, I haven't been there in a few years, so I'm not sure (the roads wash out every year and have to be regraded). There are roads running along both the west and east sides of the Thomas Range and both should be car-friendly. I believe the west-side road should definitely be in good shape, because of the active mining efforts in the area. East might be good too, but you miss Garnet Basin and the Apache Tears locations on the west end of the Thomas Range.

-hh said...

Glad to have found this webpage. I was taken out to the Dugway fields on a family camping trip way back in 1975 ... and I think that I still have a few (unsawed) geodes from that trip lining my one flowerbed...considering that I'm in NJ, that's going to cause some confusion someday to a future geologist! :-)

-hh

Glyphia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glyphia said...

Good blog, Dave! two things folks might add to a trip out there: venture out through the Dell toward the old pony express trail and turn left toward Fish Springs instead of rt toward the geode beds. Take the time to drive the auto route through the pools... the juxtaposition of reed-rimmed ponds full of egrets and heron in the middle of that vast desert 'nowhere' is enchanting and sorta mindboggling.
Alternately, after Topaz Mt, if you don't plan to swing by the the geode beds, and want to head home along Brush Hwy, turn N just at Fumerole Butte and go have a quick soak in Baker Hot Springs. Soothe those dusty feet!

Jenelle said...

Just out at the Geode Beds last weekend and discovered the pits have been closed off to collectors. There are signs spaced around indicating it is now private property and "NO TRESPASSING." We heard a rumor a couple months ago that the owner had died and his family is now in charge. The rest of the area is still a BLM collecting site, but its not going to be as easy to just drive in and help yourself.
We started digging around right outside the invisible boundary line (north side) and found some interesting stuff. There were rocky outcroppings covered in geode nodules like blisters, which are pretty hard to take home, but also many small, and some large (softball to basketball size) broken geodes on the ground which made us hopeful. We dug up some small ones in the gully and found a little pit someone started up at the top of the knoll that yielded quite a few (up to baseball size), but the quality was spotty. This particular area has a lot of that dense reddish rock in them, so quite a few more duds, but still plenty of darker druzy to be had.
Basically, it's going to take more effort now without the backhoe, but the private claim is surely not the only good spot.

Anonymous said...

12 years living in the land of Zion now live back east, so many fond memories of these same trips with my young daughter thank you for that

Ron Borsboom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Borsboom said...

Hi There, My name is Ron and I`m fron Holland. We would like to visit Topaz Mountain with a group of europeen for a rockhounding vacation...Please, can someone help us with all our questions ? If you want, Please contact me on r.c.borsboom@hotmail.nl MANY THANKS !

Geri Lawrence said...

Dave, I am the editor of the Tooele Gem and Mineral Rock Club newsletter. Is it possible to get permission to use your articles in our Rock Club newsletter?

sheriberi said...

I hope you don't mind but I did a map of your blog post. There are two ways to get there but personally, I'm excited to hop on the Pony Express Trail.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z3PgV8GRFbBc.kzm1tbOiF_fA