Arizona State Symbols - State Fossil Petrified Wood

Northeast Arizona has an abundance of petrified wood - much of this land is owned by the Navaho Nation, the Bureau of Land Management or private owners.  But, there is a great place to go see the colorful petrified wood - The Petrified Forest National Park.  This park is known for fossils of trees that grew in the region during the Late Triassic Period, about 225 million years ago.  Many other fossils and gological formation can be seen in the park.  The earliest inhabitants documnted arrived here about 8000 years ago and there are over 600 archeological sites in the park as well.  This is a picture of some of the fossils found in the park.

Most of the fossilized wood here comes from Araucarioxylon arizonicum trees, although at least nine species of fossil trees have been identified in Arizona; all are extinct.  Here's an artist's rendition of what Araucarioxylon arizonicum probably looked like.

These fossils formed when trees, wood, plants and animals were buried under sediment containing volcanic ash.  Groundwater leeched silica from the ash into the logs, etc. creating quartz crystals that replaced the organic cells. The many colors exhibited in the Arizona petrified wood come frpm iron and other oxides and minerals. This picture from Tom Wolfe shows some of the colors that can be seen.

Theft in the park has been and continues to be a big problem and has been since people found the site.  Getting caught comes with a big fine ($350) but the real problem is the Petrified Forest Curse.  Many theives have had such bad luck after stealing the petrified wood, they mail it back or bring it back!  There is an entire room at the Visitor's Center dedicated to these cursed thieves.

At one time, Route 66 ran through the park.  If you are interested in collecting petrified wood in Arizona, there are ways and places to do it.  Check out Jim Stoops blog on his trip which includes information about where to go.

In addition to the fossils, there are over 600 archaeological sites in the Petrified Forest National Park indicating that human habitation began at least 8000 years ago. This photo from the National Park Service shows petroglyphs in PFNP known as Newspaper Rock.

Arizona State Symbols - State Gemstone Turquoise

Turquoise is usually found in mostly arid regions in sandstone layers - which means Arizona is the perfect place to find gorgeous turqouise.  Turqouise is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum.  It forms when water seeps through aluminous rock where copper and/or iron is present.  More copper results in blue turquoise; more iron results in green turquoise. However, turquoise can be yellow, brown, or white as well as the more sought after blue and green.  Turquoise is often found with matrix - black, brown or gold veining in the stones.  This matrix is part of the host rock.  This photo shows a band of turquoise in host rock.

Turquoise varies from gem quality to chalk - and buyers must be very careful that they are purchasing real turquoise as there are so many imitations being sold.  Purchased stones can be natural, stabalized or treated.  "Natural" is a relative term.  Most turquoise isn't hard enough to take a polish unless something is added to the surface, although gem quality turquoise needs no additions (only about 3% of all turquoise can be sold this way).  A wax-based polish is often used on "natural" turquoise and this is considered an acceptable natural stone.  Stabalilzed turqouise has been saturated with a resin to make the stone harder and to keep the color from fading.  This stabalized turquoise is less valuable and should be avoided. Treated turquoise is dyed, hardened and may even be reconstituted (dust than has been compressed and dyed to form a stone).  This treated turquoise has no value as a gemstone, but is pretty in inexpensive jewelry.

There have been many turquoise mines in Arizona; most are no longer producing turquoise.  Here are a few of the mines with examples of turquoise from each mine.

The Bisbee Copper Mine near Bisbee, Arizona allows turquoise mining in what is known asThe Lavender Pit.  Bisbee turquoise is no longer readily available but it is known for being hard, good blue color and for its chocolate brown matrix. 

The Castle Dome Copper  Mine was later known as the Pinto Valley Mine.  This is another copper mine where someone has a contract to mine the turquoise whenever a vein is found.  This mine was active back in the 1970s.

The Ithaca Peak mine is in north west Arizona, above the Kingman mine. This nice blue turquoise is known for its pyrite matrix. It is very hard to find and expensive when you do find it! This mine is also closed. Photo from the Turquoise Museum

The Kingman Mine in north west Arizona produces one of the best blues, often with black matrix.  This mine is somewhat unique in that the turquoise is often found in nuggets.  This mine is not currently producing.

The Morenci mine is in south west Arizona and is also mined out. It was known for turquoise with blue to light blue color with an irregular black pyrite matrix that when polished appears silver. The silver appearance of the polished matrix makes this a very sought after stone. Photo from Tribal Revival Beads.

Sleeping Beauty Mine turquoise is known for its light blue matrix free stone.  This is the favorite of Zuni craftsmen.  Named for the mountain (the topography was said to look like Sleeping Beauty) this mine has also closed.  Prices have quadrupled in the past two years. Below are pictures of the robin's egg blue nuggets found in this mine as well as a picture of the mine.

Turquoise Mountain and Birdseye turquoise come from the same mine.  Located near the Kingman mine, this mine depleted in the 1980s.  Turquoise Mountain turquoise is light to blue with both webbed and non-webbed matrix.  Some of the turquoise has light blue circled wiht darker blue matrix - hence the term "birdseye." Below are pictures of both types of turquoise from this mine.

The Cave Creek Mine is newer - near Cave Creek.  It is producing medium to dark blue turquoise, often with pyrite matrix.

Most of these pictures and the information about these mines comes from the Arizona Turquoise Mine Museum

More About Alaska and Rockhounding

While looking for information on their minerals, fossils and gemstones, I found out a couple of interesting things I thought I would share. The work Alaska, comes from an Aleut word Alyeska meaning "great land." Also, and this was too cute to resist, the state dog is the Alaskan malamute and the state page had this picture of a puppy.

Alaska also has a petrified forest - out on the Alaskan peninsula on the island of Unga.  Estimated to be 23 million years old, it can best be viewed at low tide.  This forest was part of a huge terperate forest of varieties of sequoias (actually related to the ones now found in California) that covered the northwest coast from Alaska through California.   The forest was buried in lahar (mud and glacial melt) following a volcanic eruption.  The lahar preserved the broken treens, limbs and stumps.  Later, when silica-rich fresh water seeped in under the lahar, the organic cells were replaced by quartz, jasper and chert (silica!), i.e. the wood was petrified. This photo shows many of the petrified stumps on Unga Island.


In addition to gold, jade and petrified wood, you can find jaspers, agates and native copper in Alaska. 

Alaska State Symbols - State Fossil Wooly Mammoth

Alaska's state fossil is mammuthus primigenius or the wooly mammoth. These very large grass eaters were 10-12 feet high at the shoulders and weighed between 6 and 8 tons. Their range covered the northern sections of Alaska and the Tanama River valley near Big Delta in the Alaska interior. This photo depicts how wooly mammoths looked, and is not an actual mammoth, although an intact baby has since been found elsewhere. Gold miners have occassionally found tusks and teeth in streams and on hillsides.  The photo is from the Alaska state web site.

It is believed that the wooly mammoth first developed in Eurasia, then traveled to Alaska from Siberia over the Bering Land Bridge approximately 65,000 years ago. The wooly mammoth went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Remember, in Alaska, fossils may only be collected with a permit for scientific research. This photo is of a wooly mammoth skeleton on display at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Alaska State Symbols - State Mineral Gold

No surprise! Gold is the state mineral of Alaska. Gold certainly played an important role in settling the Alaska frontier. First found in the mid1800's, the first Alaska gold rush brought thousands looking for quick riches. A second gold rush in the early 1900's brought thousands more. Gold was officially designated as the state mineral in 1968 This photo of a large gold nugget is from the Alaska state symbol web page.

The chemical symbol for gold is AU and its atomic number is 79. (see! I did learn something in chem class!). The name comes from the Latin aurum meaning "shining dawn." A rare, noble metal, gold is the oldest precious metal known to man - and has probably caused more conflict throughout history than any other commodity (oil is probably catching up). This photo of a gold sluice in Alaska is from Google images.

Gold has been, and can still be, found throughout Alaska EXCEPT in the Yukon Flats swamps and on the north slop near the Brooks Range.  So, you have to go to two different places to get jade and gold in Alaska. Best places to look for gold in the state are near Fairbanks, Juneau andNome.  Theh Klondike Area has beenmined since the goldl rush with levels of activity dependent on gold prices.  Between 1896 when gold was found there through 2005, an extimated 1,250,000 pounds of gold were mined.  At today's prices that would be worth about $12.5 million.

Gold is not very reactive to chemicals and is solid under normal conditions.  Consequently, gold often occurs in native form as nuggets or as grains.  It is found in veins and alluvial deposits.  Pure gold is a butter yellow color with a metallic luser.  Its hardness is 2.5-3.  As a result, pure gold (24kt) is not often used in jewelry - it's considered too soft.  Gold is usually alloyed with other minerals to increase hardness and durability.  For example:

      22 kt yellow gold is 91.67% pure gold , 5% silver, 2% copper, 1.33% zinc

      18 kt yellow gold is 75% pure gold alloyed with copper, silver, zinc and/ or cobalt.

       14 kt yellow gold is about 58.3% pure gold

        12 kt yellow gold is about 50% pure gold

         10 kt yellow gold is 41.7% pure gold

This picture shows the comparison of color of yellow gold.

If you want to hunt for gold in Alaska contact the Alaska PUblic Lands Information Center to request an information packet or go to  Their page at has links to maps and pdfs with information on where to look.

A few places to look for gold in Alaska include the Chicken Gold Camp in Chicken, AK and the Crow Creek Gold Mine in Girdwood, AK. As always, make sure you have permission to search and are not infringing on someone's claim.

Rockhounding Alaska has a list of books on sites to find gold and other minerals.

Alaska State Symbols - State Gemstone Jade

This month will spotlight the state rock, mineral and fossil of Alaska. The state gemstone is jade - more specifically nephrite jade. This photo is of a large 10 pound jade stone washed down from Jade Mountain into the Kobuk River. Photo from the Alaska state website.

The quality of jade found in Alaska varies; the best is generally found in boulders that have been rolled in streams making them very smooth. Jade rocks will often have a thin brown rind that has to be cut away to see the green jade. Items made from jade have been found that are hundreds of years old in archaeological sites along the Pacific coast, the Bering Sea coast and the Arctic coast of Canada.

Alaska has large deposits of jade in the Seward Peninsula in the northwest part of the state.  Jade Creek and Jade Mountain have particularly large deposits.  Look for jade in the Kobuk River (aka Jade Creek), the Dall River, and Shungnak River. 

Nephrite jade is composed mostly of silica and magnesia: color is usually dependent on the amount of iron present.  Nephrite jade can be sea green, gray green, celadon, lettuce green, grassy green or spinach green.  It can also be blue-gray, reddish-gray, greenish-gray, yellow or black.

Although there is an entire mountain of jade - most of us are unable to see it.  Jade Mountain has no access by road.  It is located in the Alaskan arctic in the Brooks Mountain Range in the extreme northwest part of the state.  Air travel is restricted to small planes, weather permitting. 

The Kobuk River runs 200 miles from the Brooks Range to Kotzebue Sound, all above the Arctic Circle.  Only small native villages are found along this stream where so many pieces of jade are found.  During the summer, there is boat traffic available to take you upstream.  During the winter, some guides will take you ono the frozen river.

The Washington Monument's interior walls have 193 memorial stones; the Alaska stine is at the 450 foot level of the west wall and is a 3'x5'x61' piece of jade from Jade Mountain.



03.19.2016 | Add new comment

Rockhounding in Alabama

 Over 190 mineral species can be found in Alabama.  Included are agates, amethyst, andalulsite, apatite, calcite, emeralds, fluorite, ilmenite, magnetite, monazite, onyx, opal, rutile, tourmaline, turquoise and gold.  

Paint Rock agates can be found in the Rock River Valley's streams and gravel bars.  The mid-eastern region of the state.  Fossils can be found in Covington and Russell counties - but the state fossil (Basilosaurus cetoides) CANNOT be taken out of the state without specific permission from the governor.  As always, make sure you have permission to look for rocks and fossils before collecting.

Be sure to check out:

the Steven C.  Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site near Jasper, AL

the Natural Bridge in Winston County (northwest AL)

the Russell Cave National Monument near Bridgeport, AL

the Rickwood Caverns State Park near Warrior, AL

the Cathedral Caverns State Park near Woodville, AL

This picture from Ken Gables Photography is of the Natural Bridge.


Alabama State Symbols - State Fossil Basilosaurus cetoides

The state fossil of Alabama is Basilosaurus cetoides.  Named the state fossil in 1984, the first fossil was found on a plantation in southwestern Alabama (Clarke County) in 1833.  Later, fossils were found in Choctaw and Washington counties as well.  The name means king of lizards but later research showed this creature to be a meat-eating dinosaur and it was renamed zeuglodon genus Basilosaurus.  This is an artist's rendition of what the whale might have looked like (from the site).

This particular whale died out at the end of the Eocene period about 34-35 million years ago and may have lived as long as 45 million years ago. Fossils have only been found in North America, with most of those found in Alabama (which was once under a shallow ocean that is now the Gulf of Mexico). He was 60-70 feet long and his tail could be over 40 feet!. This complete skeleton on display at the Alabama Geologic Museum was found in 1834. Only two complete skeletons have ever been found.  The other skeleton is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.


Alabama State Symbols - State Mineral Hematite

Alabama's state mineral is hematite - the primary ore of iron. Hematite was heavily mined in Alabama from 1840 until 1975 when mining ceased in the state. During that time, approximately 375 million tons of hematite were mined in the state helping to make Birmingham an industrial center. Alabama designated hematite as the state mineral in 1967 while mining was still underway. This photo is from the State's web site and is of hematite mined in Alabama.

Some believe that hematite can be used to ground or stabilize a person. It is also thought to provide protection. Fortunately, since it is a common mineral, it is inexpensive and we can all afford to own some as our own little protective rock.

Alabama State Symbols - State Rock Marble

Alabama's state rock is marble. Talledega county has a 32 mile long, 1/2 mile wide, 600 feet deep vein of very white marble running through it. This marble is considered among the purest and whitest marble in the world. Known as the Alabama Marble Belt, it was discovered in 1814. Some 30 million tons of this white marble have been quarried since 1900. This photo is from the Alabama state geological website.

This marble is metamorphic rock - it used to be limestone  Quarried in Sylacauga, Alabama (Talledega County) it can be found in a number of famous buildings including the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the Great Hall of the U.S. Supreme Court and on the Washington Monument.

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