If you want to rock and roll on home with a pocket brimming with Idaho purple garnets, there are few basic things to know. First, garnets are not as rare as the gemstone industry may have lead you to believe. Second, they're called Idaho star garnets because even if they're not one in a million, they're still 10/10 in sex appeal [Figure 1]. Third, as with anything pertaining to monetary gains- WATCH YOUR STEP HERE, DUDE. The industrial use for garnets as abrasives makes them both cheap and highly desirable. Considering they are also plentiful in many states, this adds another layer to the collection protocol. In Washington, there are streams and cool mountain trails littered with purple garnets. According to one of my rock gurus, you can easily fill a backpack with hundreds of lower-quality specimens if you're willing to make the trek up the steepness and back, rocks in tow. I say "lower-quality" because, as far as the three key elements of gemology go, the Washington garnets are a stark second to those in Idaho.
In general, color, transparency (light passing through), and translucency (light and images pass through) are the three big elements that determine the quality and market value of stones. Washington purple garnets are just a little too cloudy and rough to compare with the world-famous Idaho purple star garnets. In addition to being the birthstone of January, garnets also get their name from one of my favorite fruits: pomegranate. Apparently, the Latin granatus means pomegranate, which is the color of most gem-quality garnets [source: gia.edu]. As a gem, these suckers are on the softer side, settling at about a 7.5 at their hardest. They can be found all over the world and in many different colors from purple to green to yellow. Ok, enough of this monkey business background.
Where can YOU, my darling rockhounds, find them yourself? See Figure 2.
Survey says: A load of places! BUT, they just might not be very big [Figure 3]. Since they have an industrial application and can be found tumbling right out of their crumbly schist matrix into creeks and washouts, most of the really good specimen areas are under claim. Makes sense, amirite? I've said it before and I will say it until they stick me in the furnace: If you could make money rockhounding, it wouldn't be free or legal.
That said, the Falcon Guides to Washington and Idaho are packed with places to check out. Ruby Creek in the upper WA Cascades is a garnet creek bed. Emerald Creek, ID is currently closed but will reopen in the western panhandle for world-class collecting. Actually, now that I think about it, the panhandle of Idaho is crawling with loose mica, quartz, and 'lil garnets to scratch that hounder's itch. Check road cuts with flaky schist and little baby hexagon holes in them. These geometric usteruses (uteri?) gave birth to the plentiful garnets snuggled all comfy in the forest road gravels and streams.
The Oregon and California coasts also have garnets in yellows and dull reds, if you know where to look. I don't. But I know people who do! So....they're definitely out there. The memorandum from the Elder Rockhounds is overwhelmingly, "Garnets used to be so much more available but now the claims are all bought up and the really good mines have mostly closed or run dry." Frank told me that, after weaving his glorious tale of finding a $20k stone in a hematite pyramid growth so perfectly shaped and balanced that at the climax of is tale he threw it into a pan and it spun freely for thirty blissful seconds. Frank was really something...when I feel the post about him is worthy of his greatest, you can count on seeing it here.
Mourn not the closed mines and exhausted deposits though! In this, our age of Technology and Environmentalism we have numerous sources to get outside and find something grand. Guide books (much like textbooks) are out-of-date almost by the time they are distributed in print. However, a guide to the state you are hounding in is your ticket to the wonderful world of garnets. Like I said, garnets are common enough that you can find them in most volcanic basalt in some form or another. So be sure to poke around anywhere your geologic map suggests their surfacing. For gem-quality stuff, your best bet is to chat up the local rock club for tours and claim owners, hit up a pay-to-dig mine, or go for a nice long drive up the forest roads in BLM lands where allowed, stopping to look every so often in the sandy gravels for 'lil sips of wine-colored perfection.