While experienced hunters thoroughly enjoy a good day of garnet hunting, you don’t have to be an experienced hunter to find these dazzling little gemstones. In fact, they are probably the best stone for the inexperienced rockhound to begin hunting for. These gemstones are quite common and can be found in many US states and countries around the world. The rock which bears the garnet is very often peppered with the stones, too, so once you find a good garnet bearing area you will easily be able to take a very healthy cache home with you.
Garnets come in many varieties and the type of matrix rocks vary as well. The most desirable crystals will be a deep wine red to purplish, pink, or brilliant green. Even smaller crystals are quite distinct in their natural form and you will be able to recognize them when you see them. Matrix rock may be about any form of rock in the area.
Your first step in garnet hunting, as with all gemstones, is to check your maps and guides. When it comes to garnets, I never worry too much about a location being “picked over” as the stones are usually so plentiful. Next you will want to make sure that you pack all of the equipment you need to gather the stones.
You will want to take your rock pick and mallet and small chisels (an eighth inch blade is usually plenty big) for any stones you find in the matrix rocks. I use these a bit at garnet locations as every once in a while I will see a stone still embedded in the matrix rock that I just can’t pass up. Many times the rock bearing the garnet is soft and the stones can be removed easily with a small flat screwdriver or knife blade. A mallet can be used to break the rocks apart to find the stones. This is actually the hard way to get the garnets, however, and I don’t usually resort to bothering with the rock itself. The tools that I use most frequently hunting for this particular type of gemstone is a spaghetti colander, a screen, and an army issue fold up shovel.
Over time garnets erode from the matrix rock. By scooping the dirt in the area of the gem bearing rock and sifting it in the colander you can easily find handfuls of gems. I use a colander for hunting gem rock as the holes are about the right size to let the stones which are smaller than I am interested in keeping fall through. If you want to spend money at a hardware store for special screens, they do have different sized meshes that will allow you to choose how large the gems must be for them to be trapped by the screen. If an area seems to have been picked over, by digging down deeper you can usually find the stones that fell and were covered before the area became popular to hunters.
After “panning” the rock area, I like to also pan the nearby streams for the gems. Garnets will wash downstream from their source over time and are not as heavy as some other minerals so you don’t need to dig too deep to find good quality stones. Water currents can erode the natural facets of the stone however, so you may find many of the crystals in water are much smoother than those from the actual rock area, depending on how long they have been there. When I choose a spot in a stream I will use the colander again so I am only getting stones I want to keep. A gold pan works fine, too, but you will find yourself wasting time picking gems out that are smaller than you really are interested in keeping.
The normal sized screen I use for concentrated gem areas in streams where the stream bed is literally pink with small garnets. You will see this in many garnet areas. Most of these little garnets are not of gem size or quality, but they make great craft supplies. These I scoop up in the screen and just put in a bucket. Later at home I separate the small stones from the rest of the sand while watching television or talking on the phone.
Once you have found a few nice gemstones to use in jewelry, you will want to read up on panning for gold so you can find a nugget that one of your new gemstones will look nice with in a ring or pendant.
©2011 Sally Taylor