This area of western Utah is very special to me. I have been coming here on vacations for four decades and every trip has been eventful. I love to bust rock and Topaz mountain is no stranger to my hammer and chisel. The splitting of shale to find trilobites is also one of my favorites. If you like western history there is still evidence of the pony express route through this area with several water tanks left from this ill-conceived mail service. I sure feel sorry for the ponies who had to run their hearts out through this harsh landscape.
This area has a lot of old mines that are fun to explore, and some are still being worked for gold. There is a pretty area at the south end of the Great Salt Lake Desert called Fish Springs that is fun to visit if you have the right vehicle to get there (the road is a washboard nightmare). Running around this area in a four wheeler is a popular pastime for the Salt Lake City folks, as it is a nice day trip from this city. Just exploring the highly mineralized Thompson mountains, away from the crowd at Topaz mountain is a blast.
But of course the dugway geode beds is the big draw. This area is well known and frequently visited by rockhounds from all over the country. Because of the many visits to these beds, there are some issues. In order to find anything resembling a geode, some effort has to be made with pick and shovel... unless you have permission to the claim. In the past, permission was not needed and folks could just do as they please at this quarry. Because of liability and financial issues, this policy has changed. Please note... you must obtain permission to visit this claim, sign the waiver and pay the small fee. There are several signs posted at the entrance to this claim and it makes me sad to see adults with children ignore these postings and hunt the pit without permission. Not a good example to set for future rockhounds. It is so easy to get permission, so do so before you make the long trip out there. Check out the Bug House web site and plan your trip around one of their digs if you want easy pickings.
Although the backhoe operator makes it a point to cover the exposed veins when he is done digging, you can still find a vein he missed or dig off some overburden to expose a nice place to swing a pick. If digging in the veins is unproductive or no veins are exposed, another productive method of finding geodes in this pit is to dig at the base of all the fresh mounds of perlite scattered about. The backhoe operator puts each bucketful on top of these mounds so the geodes roll to the bottom. Many geodes are not noticed and get covered up by the next bucketful. And, if you have the energy... just digging through these mounds can be productive.
A lot of small geodes get no notice from the claimant, and these can be very nice. Almost all geodes are hollow here, and some of the very small hollow geodes put the big ones to shame. These good small geodes are very popular with the wire wrap folks, and I have seen some awesome jewelry made out of these. There are no large geodes here though. The average size for the geodes in this claim is two inches. You will occasionally find a grapefruit sized geode, but they are uncommon. The big ones are found a mile northwest of this claim in a thunderegg exposure I call the north pit.
The north pit has looked the same for decades. It has changed very little since mechanized digging was stopped in the 1960s, and only hand tools were allowed. I have enjoyed digging here and usually found enough to make it worthwhile. There is a nice place to camp overlooking this area where an eagle has made its nest, and if the old pits are dry (no mosquitoes) it is ideal. I have watched many rockhounds come and go here with no geodes, not even a piece of sparkle to be found. It is very hard to find geodes here and the easy stuff has been picked up. But... this has changed dramatically in the last year.
Due to complaints by disappointed rockhounds and the desire to take some of the pressure off of the claim, the BLM has allowed the backhoe at the claim to come over to the north pit to dig. The idea being that the claimant can keep what he uncovers and leave the rest for the rockhounds. This is very good for me and other geode hunters to more easily read the perlite veins and find that big one. As long as the claimant doesn't bring clients over to the north pit and dig up big geodes for THEM, it will work. It is just not right to commercialize BLM land for personal gain. That always leads to trouble and hurt feelings. In some rockhounds minds, mechanized digging is cheating and it makes their hard dug efforts seem mute. It takes me all day to do what a backhoe can accomplish in five minutes. I also realize that there would be no geodes found by the majority of rockhounds if it were not for the backhoe, so I have a hard time complaining or yelling foul.
Regardless what I think, now is the time to find that big geode in the north bed if you have a few days to dig. At the very least you will find a lot of discarded pieces laying around and the kids will have a blast. Just be cautious of the overhangs and don't use them to shade the kids. Because the backhoe does not regularly dig here, the overhangs can be dangerous. Please, If you dig here knock down the overhangs before you quit. It may make it harder for the next hunter to muck out that hole, but we want no tragic accidents. Good luck finding that big one. Just remember... it takes a lot more than luck.