There are many locations in the Big Bend that have wonderful, collectible rocks. But the Big Bend is all private land or National and State Park land, so you can only hunt at ranches that are open to the public for rockhunting, or with a private guide like me. Currently, I have access to three ranches available for rockhunting field trips during cool weather (from around October 1 to around May 1). Different ranches may become available in the future, and there is no guarantee that the ranches I currently have access to will remain open in the future.
Rollin’ Rock Club membership is required for all my field trips. An alternative is membership in a club that has declared my field trips to be official field trips for their members. Club membership is required because the South Central Federation of Mineralogical Societies has insurance that covers the landowner in case we damage a fence or something. The cost of the Rollin’ Rock Club is $10 per year for a single membership, or $16 per year for a dual membership. You can join when you go on your first field trip with me.
The Ritchie Ranch (also known as the TW Ranch)
The Ritchie Ranch is close to Alpine. It is very easy terrain. There are lots of smaller pieces of agate found (under the size of an orange), and some bigger ones (from basketball to Volkswagen sized), but not much in between. There is agate and jasper in reds, oranges, yellows, and browns, and some with greens or pinks, and a blue background. There are also chalcedony nodules in blue-gray, white, and occasionally yellow, carnelian, and pink. There are geodes and individual quartz crystals, which are a favorite with kids.Because of the ease of access to the ranch and the ease of terrain once you are on the ranch, this is a great place for everyone, including families with children, and people with mobility concerns. As the ranch is close to Alpine, not much driving time is required, and half-day hunts can be scheduled for those who have lots to do, or have kids with limited attention spans. Of course, I recommend spending at least a full day there if you can, and it would easily take three days to cover the whole ranch!The cost for this ranch is $10 per person entrance fee and $1 per lb. for the agate and other collectible stones you take with you. Payment can be made by cash or check. Credit cards are not accepted.Recently, at the Ritchie Ranch, a rock was found that had two very different geodes in it: one was a fantastic yellow and pink fortification piece with pinkish quartz crystals in it, and the other was a bare cavity with a few individual quartz crystals in it. These two geodes had formed in the same rock, only about 2” from each other, yet one was very rich in quartz while the other was almost barren! I’ve got no idea which one formed first or how they managed to be so different, but it will surely make an incredible display.
East Needle Peak
East Needle Peak is about 100 miles away from Alpine. It comprises a full section (a square mile, or 640 acres) of some amazing geology: part of the tiny Sierra Aguja range, it’s a jumble of sedimentary and volcanic layers interspersed, upthrust, and folded in dramatic ways. You can find agate, jasper, petrified wood, and fossils, including fossil bones, shark teeth and ammonites. This area is known for “Pom Pom” agate, which has yellow saginite bursts in it, often with green moss and a clear background. There is a little bit of the pompom agate on this ranch, but also lots of other beautiful agates. The cost for this ranch is $40 per person per day, and that covers whatever collectible rocks you find. Payment can be made by cash or check. Credit cards are not accepted.
There is one special hill, called Duck Foot Hill (since that’s what it resembles on a map), that is home to five different forms of quartz in one place: agate and jasper, which formed in the holes and cracks in volcanic rock; chert and flint, which are sedimentary; petrified wood, which is a fossil replacement; quartzite, which is metamorphic; and quartz crystals. Duck Foot Hill is the only place I know of where all these types of quartz minerals can be found together.
New things are being discovered at East Needle Peak all the time! In October 2014, I found a piece of petrified wood that is basically a clear chalcedony with red and yellow color bursts throughout it. The only way to tell it is petrified wood is that the outside of the piece is in the shape of the wood, with rings and bark showing at the ends. Within the same hour, I also found a huge piece of green moss agate, about 20 lbs, that has cute little gold pompoms all through it, and one of the best arrowheads I’ve seen come out of the location!
East Needle Peak is very rough terrain, and a 4wd vehicle is recommended for access. Or, you can get close to the best sites with a high-clearance vehicle, and walk the rest of the way. If your vehicle won’t make the drive, you can possibly rent an appropriate vehicle from Far Flung Adventures in Terlingua, or often arrangements can be made for you to ride in with someone else, so don’t give up on this trip just because you drive a Prius!
Because of the difficult terrain, please make sure that you are in good enough physical shape to enjoy your rockhunt down there. You need to be able to climb up a fairly steep dirt hill for about 20 or 30 feet, walk a mile on rough ground in an hour, and stand up for most of the day to really take advantage of this field trip. Also, the temperature on this site can occasionally get quite hot (in the 100s) and the air is very dry, so be sure you are prepared for the heat if you go to Needle Peak in October, November, April or May.
South Larremore Ranch
South Larremore Ranch is about 45 miles south of Alpine on Highway 118. It’s 2,500 acres on the east side of the highway, between Elephant Mountain and Santiago peak. The ranch is flat, and consists of alluvial deposits containing many types of quartz stones. Calamity Creek is a seasonal creek that far south, and it runs through the property from north to south. The whole set of Calamity Creek channels have agate in them that formed on the Walker and Woodward ranches, including red, black, and gold plume agates, saginitic agate, and fascinating moss agates in all sorts of colors!
Also on the ranch are some very interesting gravel mounds poking up through the dirt which contain agate, including moss agates, fortification agates, and plume agates; petrified wood, some of which is completely agatized in beautiful colors; jasper in all colors of red from orange to purple, along with yellow, orange, and green; and flint and/or chert in nodules of different colors. There are also some shell fossils, and some interesting things I call “Terlingua Nodules” that appear to be at least partly agatized on the outside, and often are filled with calciferous mud on the inside. The cost for this ranch is $40 per person if I take you out, and $50 per person if the owners take you out. This is payable in cash or by check. Credit cards are not accepted.
The Walker Ranch
The Walker Ranch has been sold and is now permanently CLOSED.
The Walker Ranch is located on Highway 118 south of Alpine, and it shares a fence-line with the famous, now-closed Woodward Ranch. The Bird Hills, home of the red plume agate for which the area is famous, cross through the Walker Ranch from the Northwest to the Southeast. Walker Ranch has the same materials that were found on the Woodward Ranch, but in greater abundance. Red and black plume agate and “flower garden” agate are some of the more famous varieties of agate found on the ranch, along with amethyst and quartz crystals, abundant moss agate, and “peanut” jasper. Unusual finds include fortification agates that look similar to the famous Mexican agates of Laguna and Coyamito, in colors ranging from purple to pink and yellow.
The terrain of the Walker Ranch is moderate to difficult, and some hill climbing is to be expected to find the best material. It is, however, possible to rockhunt entirely on flat terrain, and within a few yards of where you park your car, if you have limited mobility.