Gem lovers looking for a rustic adventure a little off the beaten path may consider a trip to Topaz Mountain in Utah, where amateur prospectors get to keep whatever they find.
Located about 120 miles southwest of Provo, the Topaz Dome Quarry in Utah's Thomas Range has long been a popular destination for hardcore rockhounds. But, four years ago, Richard Pyne, David Stemmons and their partners established Topaz Mountain Adventures, which allows novices to join in on the fun.
"Our philosophy was to make the premium stuff available to the public," Stemmons told ksl.com. "So we do blasting tours and take you right up to the rock. We don’t keep any of it. Whatever you find is yours to keep.”
Among the treasures at the blast site are many varieties of Utah Topaz and other collectible minerals, such as Bixbyite, a black crystal made from manganese iron oxide. Topaz colors range from a bright amber to a deep sherry.
Pyne explained that Utah Topaz is sensitive to UV light (the type emitted by the sun). Once exposed, the vibrant color can fade to clear. For that reason, the tour operator sells UV-light reflective bags and warns prospectors to keep their precious finds out of the sunlight.
The property that Topaz Mountain Adventures has leased from the state of Utah is adjacent to free public lands also used for prospecting. The difference is that the public lands are very hard to work.
The $30 tours at Topaz Mountain Adventures run for four hours and prospectors can expect to leave the site with a handful of nice specimens, according to Pyne. Tool rentals are available and the staff is happy to assist visitors in identifying what they've found.
According to Pyne, it's not uncommon for a visitor to return to Topaz Mountain Adventures for more easily accessible treasures after working a full day at a free public site and coming up empty.
Topaz Mountain Adventures also offers a premium package at $649, which allows a group of up to eight prospectors to witness an actual blast (seen above) and get first dibs on the treasure found in the freshly exposed rock.
The blast site is 47 miles from the nearest town, and Pyne advised visitors to bring plenty of water and to dress in layers. Spring and fall are the best seasons for prospecting, although temperatures can range from 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning to 80 degrees in the afternoon. High temps in July and August can get to 110 degrees.
You can learn more at topazmountainadventures.com.
Credits: Images courtesy of Topaz Mountain Adventures.