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Rockhounding

It is wise to verify land ownership before you schedule a rockhounding trip. A good place to start is at your local Bureau of Land Management office. If you can point to a location on a topographical map the Bureau of Land Management can determine if the site is on public lands.

Before you start, check out these safety tips from the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.

In most instances, public lands are open to rockhounding. However, no collecting is permitted in National Monuments. The Bureau of Land Management can help you determine whether your proposed location is suitable. For more information contact the local BLM office or the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1502 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85001, (602) 255-3795

Free Rock, Mineral & Semi-Precious Gemstone Collection Limits

Rocks, minerals and semiprecious gemstones may be collected on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management without charge or permit as long as the following rules are obeyed:

  • The specimens must be for personal use, not collected for commercial purposes or bartered to commercial dealers.
  • Only a reasonable amount of material may be taken. A reasonable amount is defined as "up to 25 pounds per day, plus one piece, with a total limit of 250 pounds per year." These limits are for mineral specimens, common invertebrate fossils, semiprecious gemstones, other rock, and petrified wood.
  • A group of people may not pool their yearly allotment to collect a piece larger than 250 pounds, either of rockhounding specimens or of petrified wood.
  • Collection may not be done in developed recreation sites or areas, except those designated as a rockhounding areas by the BLM.
  • Collection may not be done in any area where it is prohibited or restricted and posted.
  • No motorized or mechanical devices, including heavy equipment or explosives, may be used to aid collection, excavation or removal. Metal detectors are acceptable, except in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
  • The removal of rock, minerals, or gemstones must be accomplished without undue or unnecessary degradation of public lands.
  • For pieces of petrified wood heavier than 250 pounds or other questionable situations, contact the local BLM office.

Collecting Artifacts & Fossils on Public Lands

Pre-historic and historical artifacts
No artifacts, ancient or historical, may be collected on public lands without a permit. This includes arrow heads or flakes, pottery or potsherds, mats, rock art, old bottles or pieces of equipment and buildings. Human burial remains on both public and private land are protected by federal and state law from being collected.

Vertebrate Fossils
Vertebrate animals include dinosaurs, mammals, sharks and fish, --any animal with skeletal structure. You cannot collect these fossils without a permit.

To get a permit you must present a letter from a BLM-approved repository for the materials you wish to collect, verifying that the fossils or artifacts collected will be accepted. These items must then be placed in the repository and cannot be kept by the collector.

Hazards

Like many outdoor activities, rockhounding entails hazards, but most of them can be avoided by using care and common sense. Rattlesnakes are common in Arizona and are active during warm months. They may be found in damp, dark areas such as under old buildings as well as in the open. Any mining or rockhound district is susceptible to hazards created by digging. Be wary of holes dug by others and be courteous to those who follow you by filling any holes you create. Many BLM lands are used for cattle grazing or wildlife management. Do not work or camp in any manner that prevents wildlife or cattle from reaching water.

Recommended reading:

Blair, Gerry. Rockhounding Arizona. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing Inc., 1992.