Road Trip To The Utah Desert! P.1


I just got back from an awesome trip to the Utah desert and what an adventure it was. 30degree nights, 80degree days, brutal sunburn, gnats, mosquitos, flies and scorpions galore, no shower for 4 days, but it was incredible. Here's how it went.

Day 1 spent driving from Southern California to Topaz Mountain, Utah, about 620 miles( 997.8kilometers) 1 way.

The map says 9hrs, but it's more like 12. I left at 5am on Wednesday and arrived at 5pm. Why would you drive 620 miles, spend $400 on gas, just to go camp in the middle of the desert you ask? Gems and minerals of course.


The drive up was pretty un-eventful minus the semi-truck fight, the speeding autonomous car , and cows, lots of cows, but no cowbell.



Topaz Mountain is a famous mountain in the Thomas Range of the Eastern Utah desert known for the gemstone topaz. In this short range there are several other rare & valuable minerals found there too, fluorite, opal, garnets, pseudobrookite, bixbyite, uranium and the rarest, red beryl.

When I arrived in the cove at 5pm I staked out my camping spot, plenty to choose from as there were only 2 other people there. The Cove is an old caldera from volcanic activity 7,000,000 years ago. Now we camp in it!

After setting up I then hit one side of the cove I hadn't been to before, the saddle on the East Wall.


I had heard this area wasn't as searched as the center and West wall of the caldera so I thought I'd give it a try. While it has been mined quite a bit, it was nothing like the other two areas. The topaz here was easy to find and plentiful.

The above photo is what we call Sherry topaz or trade name Imperial topaz. This is the natural color of this area's topaz, however when exposed to solar radiation the topaz will bleach out like in the photo below.

For some this is a bad thing, but for me it's fine because the topaz still screams when reflecting light. The nice thing is most hunters leave the bleached out material behind meaning you can pick beautiful pieces up right off the rock.

After about 1 hour of collecting and 1 hour of hiking I headed back to camp for bacon dogs! You can't go camping without bacon & hot dogs.


Wash it down with an ice cold beer, the aches & pains from mining & hiking don't bother you as much.


Thursday I woke up bright and early, err, dark, cold & early at 4:50am.


I caught the tail end of a cold front that came through which was nice because the first day it kept temperatures in the day down in the low 70's, but the night was cold for tent camping.

Anyway, this second day I hit up the West wall of the caldera. This area has been heavily worked for decades, but still produces plenty of topaz and the much sought after red beryl. So I began the climb up the wall at 7am determined to get the red beryl. Side note, red beryl is so rare that it is estimated for every red beryl found 150,000 diamonds are found. It is only known in 3 localities in the world, two in Utah and 1 in New Mexico. The latter I have never seen a specimen of though.

Heading up to the red beryl zone on the West wall, white patch upper, center, left.

The hike/climb to the red beryl zone on the mountain is about 500 feet up. It may not seem like a lot, but it's tough and the higher up you get the steeper it becomes.

The rhyolite is a blessing and a curse. It grips your shoes well, but because of the shape of the stone it can cut you up pretty badly if you fall. Last last year a young man from Utah was killed when a boulder rolled onto him. BYU Student
So, you really have to be careful and know what you are doing when going up to the higher zones.

After about 1 hour of looking for the right spot, things started to pay off.


While there is still tons of topaz there most of the easy stuff has been dug out. However, not all of it. Pockets missed by others and plants whose roots have eroded the rhyolite make searching less about luck and more about skill. Occasionally luck reminds you that it helps out too!

That! Right there!

A red beryl crystal right on the trail!



This was about 2hours into my digging and from there the day just went vertical. I ended up digging 4 more red beryls out of the mountain, 1 I lost though then I hit the rock and it bounced out. I pulled out a boat load of topaz too. About what I usually would do in two days.


The views from where I was digging of the valley below are spectacular. This views is about 80 miles to the Wasatch Mountains in the distance.


It was a great place to take lunch and be thankful.


Here's a look at the area I was mining.


The rock is rhyolite. The holes everywhere are topaz rich gas pockets. In these zones probably half of them had topaz in them.


And a little red beryl in a vug(pocket).

This was the crystal I mentioned earlier that escaped me. As I was chipping it out it flew off the mountain somewhere. Luckily there was another one a little further in the vug that I was able to get.

I called it a day at about 3pm. It was warming up, I was sunburnt and tired so I headed back down the mountain.

When I got down I wrapped up the specimens and went back out to the center of the mountain to collect bleached crystals. I ended up finding a few more sherry's as well as a bunch of bleached.

Another night of bacon dogs, beers and I was off to bed. I actually slept in my truck the following nights because it was cold and windy outside. My view after waking up was pretty nice, the center of the caldera wall.


The following two days were as good as or better than the first two, but it's a long story so I'll continue with it tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

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