Where to go: Off SR 260, roughly 20 miles east of Payson
What to take: Small tools for digging – I take small indoor-gardening tools
Difficultly: Fairly easy, hiking required. 4WD handy but not necessary
Slicing a 400-mile diagonal line across the midpoint of Eastern Arizona lies an escarpment known as the Mogollon Rim. Traveling north from the Phoenix metropolitan area along SR 89, you can’t miss it. As you approach the Payson area, the ridge runs in a ribbon of vermillion as far as the eye can see in either direction, rising up from the low desert floor to its pine-frosted upper level, it is a breathtaking sight.
Follow SR 89 into Payson and turn onto SR 260 mid-town. Don’t worry – the highway only goes one direction. Follow the winding road up the rim, past Christopher Creek to the turnoff for Tonto Village. Coming from Payson, you’ll take the underpass to the left side of the highway. Follow the road some four miles to the turnoff that’s marked Diamond Point. Take that up the mountain another 3-4 miles or so. You’ll be on dirt road for a good part of the trip off the main highway, even before you get to the Diamond Point turnoff. While it is maintained by the Forest Service, it’s not a perfect road. 4WD isn’t required most of the year but won’t hurt, either.
The name Diamond Point isn’t because of the shape of a pine-covered ridge. It’s because when you know what to look for, you can find quartz crystals so astoundingly clear they resemble herkimer diamonds. A few I’ve found even surpass herkimers in quality.
There is a Forest Service sign erected along the side of the road, letting you know the allowed seasons for hunting stones, and alerting you that blasting isn’t permitted. Neither is deep prospecting: the depth limit is three feet. Given that you’re not allowed to take in heavy equipment, that probably won’t be an issue. Nor do you need to dig deep to find the coveted crystals. You may find stones on either side of the road, and don’t need to stick to the vicinity of the sign. My favorite hunting spot is a bit further up from the sign. There’s a defined turn-off to the left and a rough service road just past that to the right. Neither is marked.
The best time to search is a few hours to a day after it’s rained. (Careful, though: the road is dirt and rainfall in the summer is notoriously unpredictable. Flash flooding can and does kill people every year.) My best finds have been to follow the path of water, because water often washes down loose quartz crystals. The crystals settle to the bottom of the stream, waiting to be discovered. Look for tiny flashes of what looks very much like glitter. Sometimes you’ll find a very tiny crystal of a millimeter or two across; other times you will dig out that little flash to discover it’s just the tip of a much larger stone, most of which is buried in the mud. If you carry a water bottle with you, you can always rinse off your find, but I prefer to wait. I need the water to drink. Dirt on a rock can be washed off at home!
Most of the larger crystals are milky white, albeit white with well-defined terminations, or points, on one or both ends. Others will be remarkably clear. I’ve uncovered one decent-sized pale citrine, and a friend recovered a large amethyst. (Citrine and amethyst are, respectively, yellow and purple quartz.) The colored stones in the region aren’t great quality, though the citrine I found had some beautiful rainbow flashes in its depths. On my first trip with a friend, I dug up a transparent double-terminated crystal about 2″ long by 1.25″ across. I still have it and still count it among my best finds.
Plan on some hiking away from the main road at least a little way. GPS is a good idea if you’re not familiar with the area, but you can find some decent stones without hiking too far out of sight of the road. I’ve found my best stones along gullies that are barely deeper than the surrounding area, and a friend found a couple of really nice stones embedded into the dirt surface of the aforementioned service road.
Look out for wildlife, however. There are bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and rattlesnakes living in the pine-covered mountains. Remember, this is their home – you’re the intruder, and if you’re not careful you could be dinner.