Author: Michael Judd
Texas is big, 268,597 square miles of big. Over 27 million people call it home. With deserts, pine forests and the Rio Grande, a river that forms its entire border with Mexico.
In its biggest city, Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts houses works by well-known Impressionist and Renaissance painters, while Space Center Houston offers interactive displays engineered by NASA.
Austin, the capital, is known for its eclectic music scene and LBJ Presidential Library.
In the United States it is second in size only to Alaska. It is 10 percent larger than France and twice the size of Germany and Japan. In fact one ranch, named the King Ranch, is larger than the State of Rhode Island (and yes, Ford did name a truck after it)
Texas has a lot to offer to anyone prospecting, gem hunting, rock hounding, or metal detecting. It has 6 different eco zones, each with its own treasures. Mountains, seas, coastal plains, rocky plateaus, deserts and forests. All of this physiographic variety in Texas is controlled by the varied rocks and structures that underlie and crop out across the state.
Sneak Peek at Geology
Texas is so big, to list all the geographic features would be almost impossible. We will focus on the two main geologic features that contributed to the wealth of Texas.
The fascinating geologic history of Texas is recorded in the rocks, both those exposed at the surface and those penetrated by holes drilled in search of oil and natural gas.
The rocks reveal a dynamic, ever-changing earth; ancient mountains, seas, volcanoes, earthquake belts, rivers, hurricanes, and winds. Today, the volcanoes and great earthquake belts are no longer active, but rivers and streams, wind and rain, and the slow, inexorable alterations of rocks at or near the surface continue to change the face of Texas.
The geologic history of Texas, as documented by the rocks, began more than a billion years ago. The oldest rocks in Texas have been dated to 1.4 billion years old. Its legacy is the mineral wealth and varied land forms of modern Texas.
The immense size of Texas would lead one to believe that there must be gold. Well, there is. Texas is famous for its Gold – Black Gold that is.
Sea of Sedimentary Rock
Thanks literally to a sea of sedimentary rock that covers over 90 percent of the state and over a million years of heat and pressure. Texas currently produces about 3.75 million barrels of oil per day. The Lone Star State produces more oil than any other state in the United States and is the second largest producer of oil in the world.
About 130 million years ago Texas was part of a giant inland sea called the Western Interior Seaway. This inland sea covered the area for about 60 million years which set in motion the wheels that drive the crude oil production today.
All of the oil and gas began as crustaceans, plants and animals living in this sea millions of years ago. As these microscopic plants and animals lived, they absorbed energy from the sun, which was stored as carbon molecules in their bodies. When they died, they sank to the bottom of the sea. Over millions of years, layer after layer of sediment and other plants and bacteria were formed. As they became buried ever deeper, heat and pressure began to rise. The amount of pressure and the degree of heat, along with the type of biomass, determined if the material became oil or natural gas. This layer covers the majority of Texas and in some places can be up to 30,000 feet deep. Below this vast layer of sedimentary rock lies the bedrock of Texas. It is just a bit deeper here. Because this was a sea and there was wave action that eroded the mountains to the west, some ultra fine gold (yellow variety) can be found just about anywhere in Texas.
Llano Uplift, an island of grainte
The forces deep within the Earth never pushed that bedrock to the surface in most of the State. One area that was thrust up is the Llano Estacado. Located in central Texas it is slightly larger in area than the state of Indiana. Inside the Estacado is an area of exposed granite and quartz about 65 miles wide and 75 miles long. This area is named the Llano Uplift and is a rock hound’s wonderland. A total of 241 different rocks and minerals are found in Llano county alone. The Llano Uplift is made of precambrian rocks, more than 600 million years old, which reach the surface in the highest part of a broad dome shaped arch. The Llano uplift appears on a regional geologic map as an island of precambrian rocks (igneous and metamorphic) surrounded by a sea of Paleozoic and Cretaceous sedimentary rocks. Precambrian rocks are also exposed at the surface in scattered outcrops in West Texas around Van Horn and near El Paso.
This granite uplift cooled quickly resulting in cracks and fissures. These were filled with molten fluids and minerals which cooled slower and solidified into the quartz stringers that cross the region. While not enough to be commercially mined, these quartz stringers do contain gold. Eons of erosion later this gold can be found in the creeks and rivers in the Llano area.
So, is there really any gold to be found in Texas?
It’s not as silly a question as you might think. Although many states have an abundance of gold that prospectors can find, Texas is not considered to be one of them. This seems to fly in the face of common knowledge, since a lot of people associate Texas with the old west gold mining lore that they see so much in movies.
The fact is, if you want to know where to find gold, you have to do a whole lot of searching and researching. Don’t get me wrong, gold has been found in Texas. There is probably plenty more left in different locations across the state. But the Lone Star State isn’t exactly high on the list of must visit parts of the country for prospectors who are hoping to pan some valuable gold flakes or metal detect a big gold nugget.
Gold mining has not been extensive in Texas since the occurrence of the metal is limited. Geologists say that the reason why there is so little gold in the state is because of the type of rock (sedimentary) that covers most of the state, the lack of glacial activity over the last several hundred thousands of years, and very little tectonic activity. There have been a few notable gold mines in the state over the past couple hundred years. Mainly confined to the Presidio and Hazel mines in West Texas and the Heath mine in the Llano region. A total of 8,277 fine ounces by 1942, valued at $233,499 in 1942 (at todays price that would be about 10 million). Most of the gold produced has come as the by-product of silver and copper ores.
But today commercial gold mining simply isn’t extensive in Texas. To be sure, no sizable gold nuggets have been found in Texas, and there aren’t many areas of the state that are known for creeks, streams or rivers that are good for panning and sluicing.
If you are set on finding gold in Texas, then there are some mountain ranges where trace deposits can be found, such as the Packsaddle, Quitman, Allamoore, Van Horn and Shaffer mountains. You might also have luck finding gold mixed in with other mineral deposits and ores in the counties of Williamson, Uvalde, Irion, Taylor and Howard. Dry washing is popular in the western deserts north of El Paso.
This was recovered by me in 2015 in the Llano River.
And yes, I was using Gold Hog equipment.
The discovery of silver in Texas is credited to the Franciscan friars who discovered and operated mines near El Paso about 1680. Some of the mines that have produced silver are Presidio Mine, Hazel Mine, Sancho Panza Mine, Black Shaft Mine, Plata Verde Mine, Bird Mine, and one of the largest, the Shafter Mines. Total production of silver during the period 1885–1952 was 33,303,173 fine ounces valued at $23,446,564. No production of silver in Texas was reported by the United States Bureau of Mines after 1952, when 4,672 troy ounces valued at $4,228 were produced but that may soon change.
The Shafter Mines is now owned by a tiny Canadian upstart company, Aurcana, will re-commission the past-producing Shafter silver mine near the ghost town of Shafter in Presidio County, southwest Texas. In so doing, the company should soon yield prolific enough output to add an additional 10% to America’s overall annual production, making it one of the biggest primary silver mines in the world.
Texas blue topaz was designated the official state gem in 1969, and in 1977 the Lone Star cut was adopted by Texas as the official state gemstone cut.
Texas topaz is commonly associated with silicic igneous rocks of the precambrian granite which is why one of the few places it is found in Texas is the Llano uplift. Pure topaz is colorless, but topaz is found in a variety of colors due to impurities. Natural blue is the rarest topaz and the Texas Blue Topaz is found only in west to northwest Mason county.
Topaz is the hardest silicate mineral, and just like a diamond, it can be split with a single strike. The multi-faceted crystals with lustrous, beautiful coloring make very pretty mineral specimens and can reach an enormous size.
The largest gem-quality topaz crystal ever found in North America is in the Smithsonian Museum.
The pale blue crystal was found in Mason county in 1904 and weighs 1,296 grams – almost 3 pounds.
Topaz is hard and resists erosion so these gemstones are to be found on the surface of the collecting sites, sometimes with a worn, frosted appearance that makes them difficult to distinguish from quartz.
A unique ornamental rock, llanite, is quarried nearby. It is a complex rhyolite containing reddish feldspars and lovely little spangles of blue quartz.
Llanite has been fashioned into cabochon gemstones, spheres, carvings and paperweights, it is prized for its beauty, its even texture and the fact it is unique not just to Texas, but to Llano.
Banded Agate Petrified Wood
Rock hounds travel to West Texas from all over the country to hunt for these exquisitely plumed and banded agates. West Texas is famous for its wide variety of unique and beautiful agates and
jaspers. Some types are highly prized by collectors world wide.
Also to be found are petrified wood, fossil coral and dinosaur bone although not in the same quantities as in the States further to the West.
In the Texas Panhandle is found a unique variety of flint known as Alibates. It occurs in pretty shades of pink and blue and was highly prized by Native Americans of Northern Texas for its knapping properties as far back as 13,000 years ago.
There is now a National Monument in the panhandle of Texas, The Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, where the Native Americans quarried the flint. This flint comes from a 10-square-mile area around the monument, but most is concentrated on about 60 acres atop a mesa in the heart of the 1,000 acre monument. Sorry, no rock hounding here.
Places to Prospect
The Slab (free)
Between Llano and Kingsland is a place known as The Slab. It is a popular place for swimming, fishing, picnics, and prospecting. The Round Rock chapter of the GPAA just took over this claim and promised to keep it open to the public. Anyone can visit the area and gold can be found but NO POWERED EQUIPMENT is allowed and it is policed often.
Longs Fish and Digs (fee)
Just up river from the Slab is Malcolm Longs place. He owns over 200 acres along the Llano River. He also has mineral claims on over a mile of the river. All types of prospecting is allowed. Many arrowheads have also been found here. The camping is primitive, no electric, no water, no sewer. There are a few outhouses and 3 rustic cabins to rent. This is a cattle ranch so cattle roam free.
Gem hunting in Mason (fee)
Seaquist Ranch: 325-347-5413. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m. – sunset. Closed Nov – mid/January. www.masontexastopaz.com.
Lindsay Ranch (Cabin on Comanche Creek): You can stay at one of the ranch’s two B&Bs or camping is available. Call 325-347-5733 or cell ph: 325-347-4052. www.lindsayranch.net.
Bar M Ranch: Campsites and other activities available. Call 830-203-1611. http://barmranchservices.com/topaz.
Baringer Hill Minerals: Call 512-848-8309 or 210-240-1509. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.baringerhill.com. Note: Baringer’s website indicates due to weather, exploration and maintenance of sites, Emerald Hill may not be open after the Dec. 20, 2014 tour.
For the Rock Hounds (fee)
|Stillwell Ranch||Many different kinds of agate and gemstones.|
|Teri Smith Rock Hunts||Agate hunts to numerous locations in the Big Bend Region|
|Mineral Wells Fossil Park||Invertebrate Fossils|
Two sites with a wealth of information for rock hounds are:
the Texas Bureau Of Economic Geology http://www.beg.utexas.edu/
Paleontological Society of Austin http://www.texaspaleo.com/psa/index.html
Some gem and rock clubs of Texas. Most have permission to hunt on various private properties and only charge a minimal membership fee. They are also a great place for information on Texas gems and rocks.
Arlington G&M Club
Austin G&M Society
Central Texas G&M Society in Abilene
Chihuahuan Desert G&M Club in the Fort Davis/Alpine area
Clear Lake G&M Society in Houston
Dallas G&M Society
Gulf Coast Gem & Mineral Society in Corpus Christi
Fort Worth G&M Club
Houston G&M Society
Lubbock G&M Society
Midland G&M Society
Paleontological Society of Austin For rockhounds interested in fossils.
Pine Country G&M Society in Jasper
Piney Woods G&M Society in Huntsville
Pleasant Oaks G&M Club in Dallas
Southwest G&M Society in San Antonio
Texas Faceters Guild
Tri-Cities G&M Society, in Temple
Waco G&M Club
Williamson County G&M Society in Georgetown
Fredericksburg Nature Center a few miles south of Fredericksburg
There are places all over Texas to get out and do some swinging. There are many historical sites along the highways. Do not metal detect any of these sites. You can be arrested.
The same rules apply as prospecting or rock hounding in so far as most places are private property. Be sure to get permission before going. Local rules change from county to county or even city to city. Check with the local government on rules concerning metal detecting.
Laws – *very important*
In the State of Texas where most of the land is private if you lease a property for agriculture, hunting etc you may not have the right to look for minerals. But, if you have permission to prospect on the land from the land owner who owns the mineral rights to the land, you do not have to contact any authority to prospect. Mining though, private or public, still comes under federal and state laws.
If you are prospecting on State lands, which is managed by the Texas General Land Office http://www.glo.texas.gov/ you are required to be on land that has a proper permit from the State GLO on it and you are called a PROSPECTOR. Now, if you are on Federal lands on a deeded claim. You are a “SMALL MINER” and covered under the Federal Mining Act of 1872. Do not get those mixed up if asked by a Federal Authority!! For State of Texas lands you would have to go to the Texas General Land Office web site. You can find which areas are already permitted and which areas can have a permit or you can go down there and look on maps. If you are on a permitted site with permission, or get your own permitted site that is in a river or stream, know what the “Gradient Boundary” is. And, just because you have a permit to prospect the permit does not allow you to cross private land to get to the permitted area or go up a creek or gully off of the stream or river fenced or not from the permitted area. You could be in trouble.
The State of Texas allows dredges up to 5 inch nozzle size for prospecting in public waters. No prospecting within 100 ft of a bridge and no under mining trees or banks of water ways. The Texas Parks and Wildlife officers are the enforcers of the rules, and they do.
There is no BLM or other public lands in Texas other than National Parks and State Parks.
Collecting of any sort is strictly forbidden in National Parks and Texas State Parks
Prospecting is alive and well in Texas. More and more people go hunting for gold, gemstones and “pretty rocks”. No matter how loudly the old timers yell that there is nothing to be found out there any more. Most will give their permission to hunt on their land if you ask nice and leave the land how you found it. Set an example so everyone can continue to enjoy this great adventure.
Pack out what you pack in.
Fill any holes you dig.
Show we care for the land.
All photos used were taken by me or were obtained through freely distributed public photos and are for non-compensated public educational information.