10 Places to Experience Nevada’s Extraordinary Geological Gems - Atlas Obscura Lists

10 Places to Experience Nevada’s Extraordinary Geological Gems

From active opal mines to mind-boggling natural sand art.

It may be hard to believe, but hundreds of millions of years ago the land that’s now Nevada was almost entirely underwater. While the seas have long since receded, what they created and left in their wake is a place where geologic wonders and natural marvels abound. We’re talking massive deposits of gemstones and minerals, such as jasper, agate, onyx, and silver, not to mention more mined gold than anywhere else in America. Black Fire Opals, one of the world’s rarest gemstones, thrive in Nevada’s Virgin Valley, while turquoise mines exist seemingly around every turn (and at many of them, you can actually dig for these opaque stones yourself). Then there are the state’s otherworldly landscapes: red Aztec sandstone formations, made by great swirling and shifting sand dunes colored by minerals and carved into fantastical shapes over time; and cathedral-like spires and slot canyons so narrow they’re more like caves, all formed out of a mix of silt, volcanic ash, and eroded clay over millennia.

In the central-west part of the state sits Diana’s Punch Bowl, an enormous crater filled with water so scalding hot it was once nicknamed the “Devil’s Cauldron.” While inside Great Basin National Park, on Nevada’s eastern side, guided excursions explore the passageways of Lehman Caves, a limestone underworld of stalactites, stalagmites, and more than 300 rare and unusual disc-like speleothems, often with long calcium deposits cascading from them and down toward the cavern floor. Experience the true Wild West with a hard rock tour through southern Nevada’s Techatticup Mine, a once-so-prolific producer of gold and silver that the place became a catalyst for murder, and lots of it. Or mine some gemstones of your own (they’re yours to keep!) at the Royal Peacock Opal Mine in Winnemucca. In the 1990s, one lucky soul dug up a 130-pound opal known as the “Gingko Log.” It’s among the largest such stones anyone has ever found, planet-wide. 

From an “accidental” geyser in rainbow colors shooting boiling water into the sky, to a series of bizarrely shaped sandstone fins, ridges, blades, and hollows tucked away in Gold Butte National Monument, here are 10 places where Nevada’s earthy splendors are on full display.

This post is sponsored by Travel Nevada. Head here to get started on your adventure.