Obsidian may be found in a variety of places across the United States where there has been a history of volcanic activity. Collectors are interested in the glass-like “mineraloid” produced by the fast cooling of molten rock.
Obsidian comes in a range of shapes and hues, the most common of which is jet-black. The presence of bubbles or fissures in the stone, as well as the entrance of different crystals or minerals during the cooling process, may result in patterns that are distinctively colored, ranging from brown to silver to rainbow colors.
Obsidian is most prevalent in the West of the United States, but there have been occasional suggestions that deposits may exist in Virginia or Pennsylvania. I couldn’t locate any concrete data to back up the eastern sources, so I opted to avoid them for the time being.
Rockhounds looking for natural deposits of obsidian in the United States should go west, where there has been an abundance of many useful things, from arrowheads in the glory days of the Native Americans to surgical-edged blades being manufactured today. Obsidian is both attractive and desirable to a wide range of collectors.
Where To Find Obsidian
1. Obsidian Cliff, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is home to some of the country’s biggest obsidian resources, which should come as no surprise. The area’s volcanic history is extensively recorded, and it remains a hotspot for volcanologists from all over the globe. Visitors to the park are allowed to drive up to Obsidian Cliff and look at the formations, but they are not permitted to take anything from the park.
Other obsidian deposits may be found in Wyoming’s hilly areas, such as near Jackson Hole along the Teton Pass or farther south in the Green River area. You may use online tools to assist you find the best places.
2. Big Obsidian Flow, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Oregon
There are so many obsidian deposits in Oregon that it would be impossible to discuss them all in one article. The Big Obsidian Flow, located in the heart of the Newberry Volcanic National Monument, is one of the largest and most well-known.
The flow is about one square mile in size, and a popular path starts near the Newberry Volcano and winds around the flow’s perimeter.
Although the obsidian deposit at Newberry is magnificent and well worth seeing, no obsidian may be removed from the National Park. However, collectors in Oregon have other choices, including the following:
Glass Butte: located in central Oregon, about 100 miles southeast of Newberry Volcano.
Bear Valley: located in south central Oregon.
Big Stick: Located about 60 miles southeast of Glass Buttes
3. Massacre Lakes in Nevada
The Massacre Lakes region lies in Nevada’s far northwestern tip. As with many other western states, the sources of obsidian mentioned for Nevada seem to be limitless, with verification of the locations sometimes difficult to acquire. I discovered a couple publications about this location that describe obsidian being abundant in the area’s dunes.
There are many campsites in this region, at least some of which are managed by the BLM. On federal properties, the BLM permits rock collection. Just make sure you understand the laws and restrictions of rock gathering on public property.
4. Obsidian Ridge, New Mexico
This is an excellent location for a family excursion. Obsidian Ridge is located in the Jemez Mountains, approximately 50 miles northwest of Sante Fe, near the Jemez Volcanic Field. The region has a real sea of obsidian for collectors of all ages to pick up and pocket to take home with them.
There are a few nationally managed parks in the region, so check a map before setting out. Collecting is not permitted in national parks. There are many more obsidian sites in the Jemez region and across New Mexico.
5. San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona
The San Francisco Volcanic Fields span over 3,000 square miles and are home to over 600 volcanic vents, making it one of North America’s most distinctive geological features.
Rock collectors searching for specimens to add to their collection should study national parks and privately held property before choosing where to hunt in this large region. The Bureau of Property Management grants rock hunters access to a large portion of their land.
Arizona is a haven for rockhounds, with Tucson hosting the world’s biggest rock exhibition. In the north-central portion of the state, Coconino County has numerous obsidian deposits.
6. Warner Mountains, Northern California
The Warner Mountains are well-known for their deposits of rainbow and pink obsidian. There are four mines in the region, as well as the Modoc National Forest in the state’s northeastern portion, where limited collection is allowed.
Permits are required in certain locations. You should verify with the individual mines to find out what hours they are open. There are additional obsidian deposits north of San Francisco and in the state’s southern mountain regions.
7. Apache Tears at Cochetopa Dome, Colorado
The Cochetopa Dome is the sole confirmed site of obsidian in Colorado, but others have also mentioned Nathrop, Silver Cliff, and Beaver Creek.
The Cochetopa Dome is approximately 20 miles south of Gunnison. Chochetopa Hill is another name for this region. Chochetopa is a Ute name that means “buffalo pass,” and Native American tribes often utilized the obsidian found there to create arrow and spear points during their yearly hunts.
Much of the land is now unavailable to the public, having recently been sold to private owners. However, there are many lakes and a stream in the region that are well-known for their trout, and fisherman have reported that storms often wash tiny nuggets of obsidian known as “Apache Tears” down the banks for eager collectors.
These spherical black “obsidianite” stones vary in size from 1/4 to 2 inches and have become popular among local collectors, thanks in part to the traditional tale behind them. According to the legend, in the 1870s, the soldiers conducted a surprise assault against the Apache tribe in the region, and the victims’ wives’ tears turned into obsidian.
The owner of an Apache tear, according to legend, will never have to weep again since the tears of these women will replace those of the stone’s owner.
8. Black Rock Desert, Utah
Millard County in western Utah is home to the Black Rock Desert. On BLM lands, you may find black, brown, red, and snowflake obsidian.
The BLM controls about two-thirds of Utah’s territory, so there are plenty of chances for rockhounds to add to their obsidian collection. Another region in Utah with a high concentration of obsidian sources is Piute County.
To establish whether of these lands are privately held, federally owned, or under the authority of the BLM, a comprehensive map will be required.