With a nickname as sterling as the Silver State, you better believe Nevada’s a jackpot of mining history. With historic and modern-day silver, gold, and copper mines dotting the state, there are countless ways to zero in on the massive amounts of wealth Nevada mines produce to this day. Head for guided tours of historic mines that put Nevada on the map, hop on a tour of some modern-day mines in Nevada in some of the largest open pit mines on planet Earth, or get a little more hands on with rockhounding that’ll have you crying “Eureka!” from all corners of the state. Nevada turquoise is more accessible than that of any other state, along with natural quartz crystals, free garnet dig sites, and crazy-rare black fire opal public mines. Grab that paper map, a few tools—rock hammer, garden fork, squirt bottle—and a container for all your finds. You’ll be glad you brought ‘em.
Mining & Rockhounding
Can You Dig It?
(The Answer Is Yes, You Literally Can.)
State of Nevada
Nevada’s mining story broke ground before it was even an official state, as pioneers made their way west to the California goldfields in the mid 1800s. Some folks practiced prospecting along the way, but after Nevada’s first gold discovery in what would become Dayton, many stuck around to see what else they might find. Turns out, just up the hill, it’d be the largest silver discovery in the world, instantly calling thousands of westward miners “back east” to get a piece of the colossal Comstock Lode. The boom years of the first major discovery in the United States produced more than $300 million bucks, much of which helped fund development of the West Coast, flipped the bill for the Civil War, and officially made Nevada the Silver State.
The bulk of what is mined in Nevada now isn’t much different than it was in 1859, still championed as one of the largest gold and silver sources on earth. Most of the major mines of Nevada surround Elko, Ely, Winnemucca and Lovelock, and make tours available to the public during summer months. Get a look at modern mining equipment, like trucks bigger than your house, and some of the most massive open mine pits in Nevada at places like Nevada Gold Mines—the largest gold mining operation in the world.
What about those old mining towns in Nevada? Nevada’s home to the most ghost towns and historic mine sites in the country, so if you’re trying to figure out just how many mines are in Nevada, we’re talkin’ in the thousands. Stand in the footsteps of Nevada’s forefathers at Virginia City’s historic silver mines on the Chollar, Ponderosa or Comstock Gold Mill tours, or head south to see the Techatticup mine in Eldorado Canyon—a mine as famous for its bountiful riches as the outlaws and desperados who flocked to it.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
From Eldorado Canyon to Jarbidge and Osceola to Virginia City, hundreds of mining camps sprung to life across Nevada right around that same time—some strikes the biggest, and others the purest—many destined to become the most famous mining towns in Nevada, thanks to the arrival of the Transcontinental Railroad. Gold, silver, and copper mines popped up all across the state, which is how damn near all of Nevada’s still standing cities and towns first got their start. Today, more than 20 minerals are mined in Nevada—some so unique they’ve drawn the likes of businesses like Tesla and Panasonic.
Millions of years of geologic activity made Nevada—much of which was once a sea floor—the perfect stomping grounds for mining gold and other precious minerals, while also forming distinctive fossils and countless crowdless Nevada rockhounding sites, loaded with unimaginable diversity. That combined with millions of acres of unfenced public land access makes for next to perfect conditions in this rockhounders paradise.
Nevada is a turquoise mining mecca—so much of it in fact, that Nevada has more turquoise mines than any other state. Sink your pickaxe into more than 120 turquoise mines across the state— many of which possess those prized Royston blues that even inspired Tiffany and Co.’s signature hue. For one of the best places to rockhound Nevada, head straight to the source at the Otteson Brothers Turquoise Mine Tours in Tonopah.
Other prized Nevada rockhounding locations can be found right outside Ely, and have a thing or two to do with natural garnets. When prospectors first came to Nevada, they kept turning up red gemstones in the mountains spanning from Ely to Elko. Though originally assumed to be rubies—hence naming the area’s iconic range the Ruby Mountains—turns out they’re garnets, and pretty sizable ones at that. Local and visiting geologists and rockhounds head to Garnet Hill for sizable garnets that can be found laying right on top of the ground, lodged in matrix, or buried in large deposits beneath the ground.
There’s something else besides turquoise and garnets in them thar hills. Huge deposits of petrified wood and some of the best rockhounding in northern Nevada await near Denio and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Fear not! We’re not talking about any old petrified wood—instead, rockhounders from around the world head for northwestern Nevada where opalized wood awaits. Nope, not a typo; this is one of the only places in the world the very rare process occurred, forming the Virgin Valley Black Fire Opal. Some of the best opal mines in Nevada can be found in this region—just take your pick.
And beyond? Some of the best rockhounding in southern Nevada lies outside Goldfield, in a place called Gemfield. Here, you can dig for chalcedony, agate, jasper, quartz, and countless other claims. Snag a few pocket-sized baubles that catch your eye, or load actual buckets of finds for a tiny fee. Though the rest of the state is loaded with dig sites presenting this kind of diversity, Gemfield is special because so many different types of rocks and minerals are found within one area.
True Tales & Travel Tips
Nevada Geology Rocks
Don’t let our epic landscapes fool you. Underneath the surface are hidden gems – literally – that are yours for the taking. Turquoise, garnets, black fire opals, and a whole lot more are still routinely unearthed from hills that used to (and sometimes still do) boom with gold and silver. Pick up a pick and see what treasures you’ll take home as souvenirs.
Snap a photographic “gem” while you were getting after that rockin’ Nevada geology? Tag those shots #NVAdventure to share them with your fellow rockhounds. If we dig it, you may find it featured here!