My day started out as it usually does, walking up and down the side of this particular mountain prospecting for gold. Prospecting in the Mojave Desert in April is an interesting experience. You never know what kind of weather you may encounter. It can be very much like a hot summer day or a windy, beautiful spring day. This day it was sunny and very hot. My thermometer was giving me readings between 102*F and 107*F throughout the day. It was very warm for that time of year and it was difficult dealing with the heat. I was not yet acclimated and had to take regular water breaks to keep hydrated.
After a long tiring day of hiking up and around the mountain, I began my descent. I found myself about two-thirds of the way back down the mountain and decided to sit on a rock and have something to drink as the heat intensified. The beauty of the desert never fails to captivate me and this day was no different. There was not a cloud in the sky. Because of the absence of air pollution, the sky was blue, clear, and translucent. I reached the bottom of the mountain and the landscape changed abruptly. The mountain shifted steeply from sheer cliff to flat desert. At this point my practice is to find a spot to leap down the last few feet. I was tired and thirsty. I sat down to drink a bottle of water and allowed my eyes to acclimate to the harsh sunlight. After a few minutes I looked down at the ground and could not believe what I was seeing. Right between my feet was a beautiful 8-carat turquoise gem stone devoid of most of its host rock. I reached down to pick it up and admired its beauty. The stone was shaped like a small egg and had a mottled blue and white pattern. The desert is mostly shades of tan and brown so this stone really did stand out. When hiking in the flats the color of the sand varies very little. Because of that it is easy to pick out surface deposits of different minerals such as magnetite and copper. Only when you explore the mountains do you see the different layers of mineral deposits due to erosion from wind and rain.
As I began to survey the land around me, I realized that I was sitting in the middle of an exposed deposit of turquoise. All around me were blue stones of all shapes and sizes. I have found turquoise ranging in size from the head of a pin to as large as a two hundred carats. The shapes vary from round to oval and some are elongated. I always have a plastic bag with me, so I walked around the area and filled the bag with blue stones. In the months since that fateful day, I have found four new deposits with each one incorporating a slightly different hue of turquoise. Some specimens are soft and can be scratched with a fingernail. Others are very hard and barely can be scratched with a pen knife. I have found turquoise stones that come in different shades of blue to different shades of green. My favorite gem stone is pictured below and turned out to be an entirely different mineral. Laboratory analysis confirmed it to be Chalcosiderite, which is part of the turquoise group that also includes faustite and planerite. Chalcosiderite is very uncommon and found in only a few places in the United States including California and Nevada. All of the specimens coming out of that particular area show this same multi-color pattern.
For seven months I have been finding turquoise gemstones at different locations. Then on November 1, 2014. I was collecting surface turquoise when I decided to sit down and survey the area. After a few minutes, I heard two hawks calling to each other. I turned to look at them but what I saw about two feet behind me was the turquoise vein. It was a very amazing sight to see. I can’t explain why I keep finding turquoise when I sit down or bend low to the ground. Hikers have walked through this area leaving cans and bottles behind. I also have found brass casings from bullets used in target practice. I sometimes wonder how these deposits were missed. I am just grateful that my adventure started because I was thirsty and had to have a drink of water.
Since discovering these deposits I have registered with IGS to become a certified gemologist. My time is now spent between my job working with special needs students, studying gemology and geochemistry, and searching for more turquoise. The deposits seem to have a nice amount of turquoise stones in them. Each time I go to the desert I find more turquoise than the previous time. If you decide to go out into the desert to do some prospecting, my advice to you is this. First of all, drink lots of water. Don’t over exert yourself and take breaks. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is sit down and look around. The desert reveals her treasures when you take the time to appreciate her beauty. The difference in the sun’s angle can make the colors pop from a seated perspective. When prospecting, sit at different locations and look in different directions. Take the time to enjoy the beauty of this majestic place. You never know, the desert may be waiting to expose her concealed treasures just for you.
The author has been prospecting in Southern California for more than ten years. He is a member of The Gold Prospectors Association of America, International Gem Society and The Temecula Valley Prospectors Association. He can be reached at [email protected].