Thursday, March 20, 2014


Not long ago I had a reader ask about rubies, the gemstone, and any possible collecting localities in Colorado.  The reader had read the posting on sapphires (Post:5-1-2013) and had been whispered “rumors” about rubies down near Buena Vista on the Arkansas River.  What about those rubies? 

I was sorry to disappoint the reader but the “Colorado rubies” at Ruby Mountain are actually a variety of aluminum garnet called spessartine [MN3Al2(SiO4)3]. These stones occur in a Tertiary rhyolite exposed as a series of intrusive dikes at Ruby Mountain and adjacent Sugarloaf Mountain and Dorothy Hill. Rhyolite is a light-colored, silica-rich, volcanic rock that is, mineralogically speaking, the equivalent of granite (they have about the same mineral composition). However, the rapid cooling of rhyolite did not allow for large groundmass crystals to form—you need to examine the rocks with a loupe in order to see the crystals. Rhyolite also has the tendency to form gassy vugs and cavities, essentially hollow spaces, in the rapidly cooling lava. The garnet crystals at Ruby Mountain formed in such cavities from “late stages vapors…enriched in fluorine, sodium, and potassium” (Modreski and Murphy, 2002).
Ruby Mountain, Chafee County, Colorado, as seen from the
BLM Ruby Mountain Campground.
Topaz crystals, many are sherry in color when “fresh”, and obsidian nodules (Apache Tears: marekanite ) also occur at Ruby Mountain with the tears being exceedingly common and the topaz rare. The topaz is often found in association with the garnets in vugs or cavities while the Apache tears are found in a perlite near the north end. Perlite is a light (low specific gravity) rock formed when the rhyolitic magma was frothy and full of gas bubbles and cavities. An abandoned perlite mine may be observed along the BLM hiking trail at Ruby Mountain. 

Ruby Mountain has been prospected since at least the 1880’s, perhaps even earlier, for Cross (1886) described the general geology of the region and observed that the garnet crystals are small and average about 2.5 mm. In addition, he stated most collectors offer a “few blasts” to loosen the rock. Sometimes I wonder what collecting today would be like if I could offer a “few blasts’ to shake things up!  Today, the crystal garnets are best located by “banging” a crack hammer on the very tough rhyolite (with appropriate personal protection). It is my understanding that the best garnet localities are located on the west side of the mountain, land that is private and now off-limits to collectors. I found garnet crystals in rhyolite near the top of the mountain but have been unable to collect topaz of any worthwhile size. The Apache Tears, eroded from the perlite, are located virtually “everywhere on the surface” near the north end of the mountain. Most are tiny, about the size of a wooden match head.

One of the more interesting aspects of Ruby Mountain is the chance to see the intrusive rock (rhyolite) in contact with the Precambrian granite. The rhyolite has been isotopically dated as 30.1 Ma (McIntosh and Chapin, 2004) while the Precambrian granite is approximately 1700 Ma years (Tweto, 1979).

The contact between the massive bedded Precambrian granite (left) with the Tertiary intrusive rhyolite dike (right).
To locate Ruby Mountain travel south from Buena Vista on U. S. 285 to Chaffee County Road (CCR) 301 (about a mile and a half north of Nathrop) and turn east for one-half mile. At the intersection with CCR 300, turn right toward Ruby Mountain Campground and travel about two and one-half miles. At the Campground (located along the Arkansas River) take the left fork of the road up a small valley to a dead end parking lot. Ruby Mountain is to the south.
Spessartine garnet from Ruby Mountain.  Photo courtesy

Ruby Mountain, the public sector, is now part of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Brown’s Canyon Wilderness Study Area, and has been proposed to an upgrade of National Monument.  Therefore, there are rules (explained on an information board at the trail head).  However, rockhounding with hand tools is allowed. Please remember---no blasting to loosen up the rock!

Ruby Mountain is also a wonderful place to “look west” across the valley of the Arkansas River to the mighty Sawatch Range. Mt. Antero, with its aquamarine collecting, is easily visible as well as Mt. Princeton with the display of magnificent glacial valleys.
Looking west across the valley of the Arkansas River at the mighty Sawatch Range. 
Ruby Mountain, Colorado, is not the only place in the U. S. where early prospectors mistook red garnets for the gem mineral ruby (probably wishful thinking!). The Ruby Mountains in Nevada, arguably the most spectacular range in the state, came across their name in a similar fashion. A U. S. Army unit stationed in Utah (the “Mormon War”) was looking for a new route across the deserts west of Salt Lake City and happened to take a noon break in the mountains. Some of the teamsters begin prospecting and located “red rubies” in their pans. The rubies turned out to be garnets, but the name Ruby lasted for mountains.
When visiting the somewhat isolated Nevada Rubies I am always reminded of a sentence by Sigurd Olson (one of my Minnesota heroes): “The smell of the morning is an adventure, and if you can start the day by going outdoors and sniffing the air, there is always a lift to the spirit.” 


Cross, R. F., 1896, Topaz and Garnet in Rhyolite: American Journal of Science, ser.3, v.31.

Eckel, E. B. and others, 1997, Minerals of Colorado: Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Fulcrum Publishing.

McIntosh, W.C. and C.E. Chapin, 2004, Geochronology of the Central Colorado Volcanic Field: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Bulletin 160.

Modreski, P. J. and J. A. Murphy, 2002, A Tour of Colorado Gemstone Localities: Rocks and Mineral 77.


  1. That was very informative, thank you for your explanation of Ruby Mountain. With your previous comments in mind, is there any known places in Colorado where actual Rubies were found and not its Garnet partner by mistake? I'm having trouble finding this information. Thank you.

  2. Hi, Does anyone know if Ruby Mountain is still open to collecting now, July 2016? Please comment!

    1. Yes it is open July is a great time do to snow pack

  3. being part of part of Brown's Canyon National Monument now does that make it closed to collecting?

  4. My family just got back from a trip to colorado and stopped at ruby mountain to hunt for garnets. I could not believe that we weren't able to get to the west side of the mountain anymore. We barely trudged up the trail on the east side and climbed about half way up. The family included someone with crutches and 2 young children. It was hot so we only stayed an hour. We found a tiny garnet and a sharks tooth! Have you ever heard of that? I majored in Geology, and I know my shark's teeth.

  5. Kathy. I would really like to see a pic of the tooth. send to csrockboy at yahoo dot com. Yes they have really stopped the garnet collecting. A Senator had promised me that rockhounds could continue collecting after it became a National Monument. Yea.

    1. It is still open, I was up there in april and met a few with picks. Spent the day and got about 5 carrots of garnet maybe? Most tiny but new and unworn. The west side is fenced off at the bottom north but the top isn't. Idk about the bottom south.

    2. How can you tell if its garnet or topaz?

  6. Topaz is usually elongated and mostly clear and may get confused with quartz crystals. Garnet is mostly red in color and forms more rounded crystals with numerous flat crystal faces. I am still not certain that the area, now part of Browns Canyon national Monument, is open for collecting. That is why I refer rockhounds to the BLM office in Canon City.