Frequently Asked Questions About Mineral Identification and Collecting

compiled by Shari Kelley and Virgil Lueth


I think that I have found a meteorite. How do I know for sure?
  • The Institute of Meteoritics in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico has a webpage with several photographs of meteorites and helpful tips about identifying meteorites.
  • Several common rocks and man made materials, including iron ore from magnetite skarn deposits, iron concretions from sandstones, and slag deposits near old smelters and blacksmith shops, are often confused with meteorites.
  • Contact Virgil Lueth for a positive identification.
Where can I find gold in New Mexico?
See our free download about gold panning in New Mexico.
Where are good collecting localities in New Mexico?
  • You may want to download our free Rockhounding Guide to New Mexico (4.5 Mb PDF).
  • Two books, Gem Trails of New Mexico by James R. Mitchell and New Mexico Rockhounding: A Guide to Minerals, Gemstones, and Fossils by Stephen M. Voynick provide fairly up-to-date information about mineral collecting in New Mexico.
  • The book Minerals of New Mexico by Stuart Northrup gives a comprehensive list of mineral occurrences in the state.
  • Another resource is Rockhounding New Mexico by Melinda Crow.
  • Local “rockhound” groups can also be helpful in pinpointing collecting sites and providing information about local land status and collecting issues.
  • Several webs sites offer information about mineral collecting in New Mexico:
Is it OK to collect rocks or minerals along highway roadcuts?
The answer to this question is generally "yes" because highway right-of-ways are public property; however, the New Mexico Department of Transportation sometimes places signs at certain unstable or extremely busy roadcuts that clearly state that rock collecting is not permitted. Please pay attention to these signs for your safety and for the safety of passing motorists.
How can I have a mineral or rock identified?
Contact Virgil Lueth, the State Mineralogist. You can (1) bring the specimen to Socorro or (2) mail the specimen (along with return postage) to Dr. Virgil Lueth, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Socorro NM 87801. If you prefer, you can send a photograph of the specimen.
I’d like to visit the Mineral Museum in Socorro. What are the hours of operation? How do I get there?
Check the Mineral Museum’s website for location and other useful information.