Agates form in volcanic areas. However, agates can be found in all sorts of places due to the floods and ice age. Rivers that may now be extinct could have carried them for hundreds of miles. If you’re lucky, you will have volcanic mountains in your area. Not all volcanic areas will produce agates, but you are always likely to find something you like.
Where to find agates
The easiest way to tell if an area has agates is to look in any streams or rivers before heading further up the mountains. This method works most of the time. However, sometimes, the stream you’re looking in is not powerful enough to move agates, so you will still need to explore the mountains to verify if there are any. If you find a great stream, be mindful of others and take only the ones you like or need allowing other people to find some as well.
Other areas you’re likely to find agates are along the ocean beaches and in most desert areas. Agates are found in most states and are very common in the stone world to discover. The easiest place to start to find a location is to google agates in the state you’re in or plan to visit. If you want a really easy place to find some, googling your nearest rock shop will have lots of agates in many forms as many people cut and polish them for necklaces, display, and much more. Often, rock shops sell rocks for less than you can find them yourself in the wild. Joining your local rock club will also allow you to learn many fabulous areas that you can find agates among many other cool rocks. They will also be a good help for you to identify your rocks and help you see agates firsthand.
Many Facebook groups can help assist you in finding agates and determine if you have found one. Just note, hunting spots are just like fishing holes, and many people will not share the best locations.
What are agates
Agates are silica nodules that form in the pockets of basalt and other volcanic materials. Agates have banded lines that show when you cut an agate open. Some agates form in rhyolite beds inside of thundereggs. They are formed by mineral-rich fluids that slowly cool and dry over time. There are various agates types; some of these include tubular, moss, lace, sagenite, rutile, plume, water-line, seam, and dendritic.
Some agates may have druse crystal on them. Many agates are a part of the structures making up geodes. Many agates have unique chemical makeups allowing them to fluoresce under black light. Some agates, when cut thin with a light behind, will show many colors called iris agates. Agates can come in every color imaginable; however, colored agates are the most uncommon. Clear, white, and light blue colors are the most common agates to find. Sometimes things such as wood can become agatized as well!
In many cases, agate forms with or inside of jasper, and they are both found in the same areas. In very rare cases, you may find some agates with water sealed inside the agate.
How to spot an agate
Knowing what to look for to find agates is learned through experience finding agates in the wild. It will be difficult at first to find them, but the more agates you start finding, the easier it will be to train your eye. I look at banding, about 10 percent of agates you will find this was as the bands are a dead giveaway you found an agate. Not all banded agates will have a nice contrast between the bands. Some of the bands may be clear, so this is only part of how agates are found. Most of the time, the agates are still in nodule form and show no bands. This is where you look for the color of light shining through. The color of most clear agates is close to the color of cured clear silicone calking made into a ball. It’s very translucent but has an off-color when you look through it with a light behind.
Another easy way that you can use to spot agates is by looking for rocks that have conchoidal fractures in them. Conchoidal fractures are where the stone chips off, leaving a bowl-shaped fracture pattern.
If you’re on the beach, looking for rocks that do not have a frosted look when dry is an excellent way to tell if you have an agate. If you are in the mountains, many agates are covered in calcite on the outside of the agate, so looking for calcite-covered rocks helps. This can also lead you to find geodes. Sometimes the agates will still be in basalt and can be found on the mountain.
I find that unless the agate is really worth keeping, it’s best to leave it or chart chipping out a large area away from the agate. Chipping out agates from basalt usually leads to them fracturing or breaking into dust. If you’re lucky, you can find agates that weigh tens or hundreds of pounds.
Special colors of pink, purple and bright blue are among the hardest to find. One thing that is very helpful to finding agates is the time of day. When the sun is low to the horizon, early morning and late afternoon tend to make many clear agates glow compared to how other rocks look. On days when it’s raining, agates tend to stand out more than when it’s dry.
What to do with agates
Once you have a pile of agates you can start having fun with them. Many people use them for decorations putting them in glass jars around the house. Placing them in gardens and in flowerpots is common. If you place your agates outside, I recommend bringing in any outside before freezing temperatures come as this can crack and break apart your agates.
Sometimes, people will use them as a top décor when pouring concrete walkways to give your house a unique look. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can perform lapidary work on the agates. The easiest thing people do is tumble them, so they shine without the need for water. See my guide to the best rock tumblers.
To make nice display pieces, you can cut the agates and polish the faces. You can also cut and polish the agates to make necklaces and other jewelry. If you have agates that don’t have many fractures, you can even make them into wind chimes. Doing lapidary work does require a lot of time and up-front cost. If you only have a few you would like to make into something, looking for your nearest lapidary will help.
Some rock clubs may have all the saws and equipment you need to make various things you can think of. If you don’t have a local rock club, some rock shops may allow you to use their equipment at an hourly rate as well. If all else, you can look up lapidary groups on Facebook.
Finding agates is a fun hobby and a great way to get outdoors. All sorts of different types and colors keep things interesting. Lastly, to find agates, you will travel to some diverse places.