Digging for geodes in the Utah desert is great family fun

By Flint Stephens

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 29 2011 2:57 p.m. MDT

Exploring, hill climbing and digging are all popular activities to keep childeren entertained.

Throw in some pretty rocks, reptiles and animals, and you have a can't-miss adventure.

That combination is exactly what one can find at the Dugway geode beds in Utah's West Desert.

Geodes are essentially volcanic rock bubbles. Over time, the hollow space inside the bubble fills with water-carrying dissolved minerals that eventually form crystals. Dugway is among the best places in the country to find these unusual rock specimens.

But in spite of the unique nature of the Dugway geode beds, the site doesn't attract many visitors. About 100 miles west of Lehi, the area is remote and not widely known. There are no gas stations or convenience stores along the route, so visitors should take plenty of water, fuel, food and anything else they might need.

Locating the geodes is simple. Take shovels and look for places where there is evidence of previous digging. The biggest excavations cover hundreds of square feet, and there will be small geodes and broken pieces of larger geodes lying on the surface. Digging can produce unbroken specimens. Most of the geodes will be fist-size or smaller, but it is possible to find some that are much bigger.

Anyone who wants to break open geodes at the site should take a hefty hammer and some safety goggles for eye protection.

Geodes have no real value except as unique and pretty rocks. The crystals inside are usually white or clear but can be found in other colors, such as pink or purple. When cut and polished, they can be quite beautiful. Samples of other unique rocks are also common in the area.

The geode beds and surrounding area are on land owned and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. Casual collectors may take small amounts of gemstones and rocks from unrestricted federal lands in Utah without a permit if the collection is for personal, non-commercial purposes. There are some active mining claims in the geode areas, so be respectful if a claim owner asks you to dig somewhere else.

The last 40 miles or so of travel is on gravel roads, but they are well maintained and can be traversed by passenger car. There is a single sign marking the turnoff. Roads among the geode beds are dirt and drivers should watch the clearance because there are exposed rocks and ruts in spots.

The area's terrain is typical of the Utah desert: sage flats and rocky outcrops interspersed with juniper-covered hills. Wildlife in the area includes antelope, deer, wild horses, coyotes and a variety of small animals. Lizards and snakes are also common.

The drive takes about three hours, and it can be a great day trip for families along the Wasatch Front. Those who want to camp can do so on BLM lands, but there are no improved campsites or facilities of any kind at the geode beds.

About 25 miles before reaching the geode beds, travelers will pass Simpson Springs, a restored Pony Express station. It has an improved campground with restrooms. Water is also seasonally available. It makes a great rest stop for young travelers.

Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. He has been an editor and journalist for newspapers in Utah and Illinois. He has also written and edited a number of financial newsletters and investment blogs.

Driving directions

From Salt Lake City, take I-80 west to the Tooele turnoff. Take Highway 36 south for about 40 miles to the Pony Express Road (just past Faust). Turn west and drive about 50 miles to the Dugway geode bed turnoff. You'll see areas of digging activity almost immediately. The best locations are one to two miles after the turnoff.

From Lehi, take Utah Highway 73 west past Cedar Fort and Fairfield. The turnoff for the Pony Express Road is just past the Five Mile Recreation Area. Stay on the Pony Express Road until the junction at Faust, turn south, then west again on the Pony Express Road and drive about 50 miles to the Dugway geode bed turnoff.

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