Snot Otter just had the experience of a lifetime. For six weeks, I participated in the University of Nevada, Reno’s field camp with Shadowfax and couldn’t have asked for a better time. Field camp is the capstone course for a geology undergraduate and involves solving problems in the field, collecting geologic data, making maps, and developing skills in field geology. We had a great time, made close friends, and got to see some spectacular geology.
We also met some very interesting people. For the first few weeks, we lived at a field station in Ruth, NV, a small town that has been picked up and moved several times due to the expansion of the adjacent Robinson Mine. It was also the inspiration for Stephen King’s novel “Desperation,” a fact that’s both fascinating and creepy. The locals were very kind to us though, and they were happy to share info about their lives, Ruth’s history, and local arrowhead collecting. However, one local informed us of something completely unique. A couple miles from Ely, NV and just a stone’s throw from Ruth is Garnet Hill, which is, you guessed it, a hill loaded with garnets.
In the Appalachians, garnets are everywhere in the metamorphic rocks (mica schists, gneisses, eclogites, etc.) and can grow to over an inch in diameter. However, they are almost exclusively bound to their host rock and are rarely gem quality. The garnets at Garnet Hill, however, are perfectly euhedral (have full crystal faces) and can be picked out of the rhyolitic host rock (who would’ve guessed garnets could form in a rhyolite?) and remain intact. The garnet species is spessartine, a manganese aluminum garnet, and the crystals are deep red to black in color, occasionally slightly transparent. They can range from a couple millimeters in diameter to greater than quarter-sized.
Finding the garnets is easy in theory; walk around the hill until you find a garnet to pick up. However, we found out that it requires a little more detective work to be efficient in finding the good ones. Unless they’ve been weathered out, the garnets are found in vugs within the rhyolite. The vugs are easy to spot due to the presence of sparkly tridymite (a high temperature quartz polymorph). Sometimes it helps to break open the sparkling rocks to expose fresh faces and hidden vugs. However, if you’re lazy like me, you can also walk along the road or drainages and look for loose garnets. Being black, they’re easy to spot in the white/pink rhyolite.
While I didn’t find any amazing samples, a couple from our group found some really nice, large spessartines. If you get a chance to go to the hill, I’d recommend bringing a hammer and chisel to make cracking open the rhyolite easier. I’d also recommend bringing a sample bag and some water to wash off the garnets for a better view. Also, bring friends! Ten eyes are better than two (thanks Logan, Izzie, Nick, and Taylor).
If I’m ever in the area again, I will try to make another visit to the “Hill”- it’s definitely one of the more interesting things to do along The Loneliest Road in America.
10 out of 10, would rockhound again.
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