Round Mountain Rockhound Area is one of two Fire Agate collecting areas in southeastern Arizona (Black Hills Rockhound Area and Round Mountain Rockhound Area) on land under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in southeastern Arizona. I’d had these areas on my to do list for quite some time and was so excited to finally visit!
Round Mountain Rockhound Area is the more remote of the two, down a 12-mile dirt road into the heart of the desert, crisscrossing the Arizona/New Mexico state line. The ground is littered with white chalcedony and bits of red. I saw more sparkles of fire in the material here, but the material was a bit sparser than at Black Hills. When we visited in early November, the tumbleweeds were a bit of a stickery mess (I’d advise wearing long pants) and the song of the Sandhill Cranes flying overhead was a pleasant surprise.
As stated on the BLM website, from Safford, Arizona, take Highway 70 east for approximately 50 miles, entering New Mexico. Shortly after milepost 5, make a right turn on County Road A028, signed as Lazy B Ranch Road. Upon turning off the highway, you’ll pass through a significant white gateway for Lazy B Ranch, a ranch that was once home to the first female Justice of the US Supreme Court. From the highway, it is almost a 12 mile drive down a dirt road to the rockhounding area. Most intersections are well signed, directing you toward the rockhounding area.
The GPS Coordinates on the BLM webpage took us to the signed fork at the “Loop Road”, 11.6 miles from Highway 70, whereas utilizing the search words “Round Mountain Rockhound Area” on Google maps guided us to the corrals at the back end of the Loop Road, 13 miles from the highway.
We never saw a sign stating we’d reached the BLM Rockhounding Area. White and red colored Chalcedony could be seen on either side of the road prior to reaching Loop Rd. There seemed to be better material further back down the right side of the loop rather than near the loop sign or by taking the fork to the left.
It is a good gravel road for approximately 4.5 miles when you hit your first deep dip at a dry riverbed crossing. At that point it slowly degrades until hitting the BLM sign at 6.9 miles. At that point, the road becomes even rougher but is still passable by a standard two-wheel drive vehicle. We were surprised by the amount of “traffic” we encountered on the road, in part due to a cattle roundup (cowboys and all) at the corrals.
I would not tow a trailer any further than the cattle guard and railroad tracks at 4.3 miles in from Highway 70 unless it’s offroad equipped. At 4.4 miles in from the highway, you’ll hit your first deep rut. From there in to the rockhound area, the road becomes increasingly rough and rutted.
With that said, there is plenty of room in the rockhounding area, along the loop road,! to pull off and camp. We have a 39-foot fifth wheel, so we found an area to pull off prior to the railroad tracks. There really aren’t too many areas to turn off the road prior to the cattle guard.
I am not aware of any camping options in the immediate area, although most surrounding countryside is BLM and State Trust land. Utilizing a GPS mapping app with a public property overlay (such as Gaia) you may be able to find an alternative boondocking site in the area. Otherwise, there are options in Lordsburg, NM and Safford, AZ.
So, now you know how to get there and where to camp, where is the fire?
We drove to the right at the Loop Road sign another mile or so to the corrals where the local ranchers were sorting cattle.
The ground around the corrals didn’t look too promising; it was muddy and trampled by the cattle. Besides, we really didn’t want to interfere in the cowboying going on, so we headed back in the direction we had come. We parked and searched several times, checking out areas between the corrals and the loop road sign. I found some small promising material on the west side of the road nearer to the northernmost corral. I did see fire in a small piece or two – so I know it’s out there!
Sometimes you’ve got it and sometimes you don’t
I have to admit, I wasn’t on my game that day. There are a lot of tumbleweeds in the rockhound area and when we were there, the first week of November, they were just drying out, some still rooted and many tumbling along. They were full of small stickers that stuck to my socks, pants, sleeves, and my poor dog! On more than one occasion, as I was bent over or kneeling to inspect a stone more closely, I could have sworn a mountain lion was running up behind me, only to jump and turn to find another tumbling tumbleweed bearing down on me instead. Max got quite a laugh out of that!
There are quite a few red ant nests which are a good thing and a bad. The nice thing about them is that they clear the area around their holes of debris making it easier to see the rock, but they are mean aggressive ants. Poor Max’s paws kept getting stung and those buggers hang on! This is a suitable place for doggie shoes if you have an accompanying rockhounding hound.
As I said, my mojo was nonexistent, and we only spent around 2 hours looking for fire (compared to the 4 hours spent at Black Hills the day before). I spent too much of that time closer to the Loop sign, on the easterly traveling road, which I do not recommend. If I were to return, I’d be sure to drive the entire loop road scouting material. And with what I did see on this trip, I’d also spend quite a bit more time radiating out from the westerly side of the loop.
We explored some of the dry streambeds in the vicinity and found some interesting material. However, you’d be lucky to find any quality fire agate material in the streambeds due to the tumbling it experiences when the water runs.
We found some fun stuff to work with even with my mojo on the blink 🙂
If you don’t find anything in the specific rockhounding area, just take a walk as I found out the next morning; by simply wandering the desert land out here you’re likely to find something worthwhile. Having plans, we had to get a move on the next day. We woke the next morning to the sound of sandhill cranes and a light dusting of snow on the distant hilltops. It was Max’s birthday, so prior to pulling up camp we took him for a nice long stroll in the desert from our campsite, at least 7 miles from the rockhounding area. There were no tumbleweeds and we found botryoidal chalcedony in white, orange, and red, large colorful agate material and a broken open quartz crystal geode! As I said, just take your time, tune in (or out) and wander.
A little historical side note – the Lazy B Ranch
Upon turning off on the dirt road and passing under the Lazy B Ranch gateway one enters the land that just may (in part) be responsible for the interminable spirit of the one and only Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The Lazy B Ranch, originally homesteaded by the Day family in the 1880’s, was the childhood home of Ms. Day O’Connor, homesteaded by her grandfather back when the land was part of the New Mexico Territory. She and her brother Alan wrote a compilation of stories about their coming of age on the Lazy B, “Lazy B” by Sandra Day O’Connor and H Alan Dy. Imagine growing up in this harsh land at a time with much fewer conveniences than we have now.
H. Alan Day himself managed the ranch for over 40 years and authored two more books, “The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs” and “Cowboy Up!: Life Lessons from the Lazy”. All three are now on my must read list for those days when the weather is just too bad to hound and the creative inspiration just ain’t there.
I’ve provided links to their books from Bookshop.org for your convenience. Bookshop.org is a great way to purchase books and still support the independent bookstore. Every purchase on the site financially supports independent bookstores. As an affiliate, if you purchase a book through a link I’ve provided I earn a small commission.
Summary & Additional Information
I am not an expert! I’ll do the research and reconnaissance and share with you what I discover, but it’s always a good idea to do your own research before heading out into the field.
- Site: Round Mountain Rockhound Area
- GPS: 32.48472, -109.05950 to the general area
- Gem, Minerals, Rocks, and/or Fossils possible: Quartz, agate, chalcedony & fire agate.
- Gem, Minerals, Rocks and/or Fossils found: Quartz, agate, chalcedony, geode & fire agate.
- Mindat Reference: Round Mountain, Greenlee Co., Arizona, USA
- Rules, Surface, dig, other: There is a daily collection limit of 25 pounds per day, with a total of 250 pounds per year for personal use only. For more information on the rules and regulations for collecting here and on other public lands in Arizona, please click here.
- Public lands authority and/or private ownership:
- US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management
- PHONE: (928) 348-4400, EMAIL: BLM_AZ_SFOWEB@blm.gov
- ADDRESS: Safford Field Office, 711 14th Avenue, Safford, AZ 85546
- Private Land – there are some tracts of private land out here. We use Gaia to
- Fee to Dig or Collect: No fee
- Drive in classifications 2x, 4x, UTV, or Foot: The road is rough, a bit washboard and rutted in places but, it is passable by a standard two-wheel drive vehicle.
- Hike Classification (Difficult, Moderate, a stroll in the park): A stroll in the park. The terrain is flat, the only obstacles being tumbleweeds, a stray cow pie or two, red ant hills and cactus. With the right shoes, long pants, long sleeves and maybe even gloves, hiking is a breeze.
- Hike Distance: Entirely up to you – there are interesting pieces of chalcedony scattered alongside the road, stretching out into the desert.
- Environment (Desert, Forest, etc.): Desert, Wash, Canyon, and Foothills
- Safety concerns: Typical of a desert environment; watch out for poisonous creatures & predators, carry a safety tracking tool and paper map, always tell someone where you are going and if possible, do not go alone, take plenty of water, be sure your vehicle has plenty of fuel and check your tires before heading out.
- Where we stayed: Approximately 4 miles in, just off the dirt road, dry camping on BLM land.
- Camping nearby: Dispersed camping for up to 2 weeks is allowed at the rockhounding site, however, I would not recommend it for your average RV’r. The road is just too rough. But if you have a 4×4 outfitted RV, or are car or tent camping, you should be just fine. In fact, I’m sure the stars and the quiet are quite glorious out there!
- Interesting things to do and see nearby:
- Duncan, Arizona; Duncan is a small town founded in 1883 and now has a population of less than 700. It is a quaint little historical farming town near the riparian areas of the Gila River, rich with birdwatching opportunities.
- Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness; a wilderness area lying within the rugged Peloncillo Range, which stretches from Mexico to the Gila River. The area offers many remote and primitive recreation opportunities such as hiking, backpacking, rock scrambling and sightseeing.