Rock hunters search for the Sierra’s hidden gems |

Rock hunters search for the Sierra’s hidden gems

Dylan Silver

Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It may seem that the mountains around Tahoe are nothing but white-and-black speckled granite, but for a few intrepid rock hunters, a closer look reveals hidden treasures. And no, these treasures aren’t gold or silver.

“It’s pretty amazing to find these perfectly formed pieces of nature,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Dylan Dickie, as he held up a hunk of double-terminated smoky quartz about as big as a candy bar. “These are kind of the coolest rocks you can find in this area.”

Though the area does lack diversity among the types of rocks and minerals, geology enthusiasts and rock lovers like Dickie are putting in their time, searching for that next big find, whatever it may be, before the snow falls.

“We do have diversity, but not as much as the foothills,” said Lake Tahoe Community College geology professor Scott Valentine.

Quartz crystals are a popular draw for rockers here, simply because there aren’t too many others rocks in the area that are as exciting as the shiny six-sided clear or dark gems. Features like double-termination, where a crystal point forms at both ends of the piece, differentiate them and make them more desirable.

“There’s lots of spots to find crystals,” Dickie said. “People find them all over.”

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Over the two years he’s been looking, he’s found pinkish quartz in the meadows and streams that shines after a good tumbling in his rock tumbler. He’s found all shapes and sizes of the dark, sometimes almost black, smoky quartz at higher elevations like the Luther Pass area.

There are crystal mines in the Tahoe area, but rock hunters are notorious for not sharing secret spots. Some of the best places are where two types of rock meet or volcanic areas, Valentine said.

“You’re looking for that contact,” he said. “Out by Kirkwood or wherever we get more volcanism can be good.”

For some people, crystals aren’t the only treasure out there.

“I go out all the time,” said resident Felix Brosch, who’s yard is decorated with stones of various colors and sizes. “It’s not just crystals. It’s not like one rock is better than another. It’s just whatever strikes me.”

It’s not uncommon any rocks that are different from the granite catch people’s eye, Valentine said.

“I always get people bringing in stuff for me to identify,” he said.

And he often gets students who take his class to become better rock hunters, he said.