Philadelphia Mineral and Garnet Hunt

Garnets in Fairmount Park?  Why, yes please!

\"Patti\'sMid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures had arranged an April weekend mineral hunt in historic Fairmount Park. It would most likely involve hard word and getting dirty and probably bushwhacking.

Of course I signed up! And then crossed my fingers the wild weather would hold off and give us cooperative weather.   When the weekend arrived, the weather was very kind and cooperative.  And to my eternal surprise, I learned that as you walk along some of Fairmount\’s trails,  you are actually walking on garnets. They are littering the trails.


Let\’s be honest, we all know what I thought…

Well for anyone interested in doing such a tour, it was not hard work and did not involve bushwhacking of any kind. The minerals can be found easily, and I was able to pick up loose garnets right off the trail. No equipment or tools are needed – just a good eye and a good guide.

Geologist Guide

Karenne Snow, the geologist guide, found me sitting in front Valley Green restaurant re-reading the group\’s instructions and trying to figure out the roads (which sadly, lack signage at this location).  Karenne recognized the \”Lost and Desperate\” look I seem to permanently possess and quickly introduced herself.  She was very friendly and lead me back to her truck and where the other participants would gather to start our adventure. After everyone arrived, she gave us a little lesson on the region and the minerals.   Karenne passed around rock and mineral samples that she had with her in the back of her truck.  Then she explained how the rocks were formed, how minerals were generated by volcanic activity, and the geological history of the park.

Fascinated, I learned much more about an area already familiar to me. It was like learning something new about an old friend.

Let\’s be honest… I secretly hoped for a treasure map.  Seriously. One day I\’ll get my hands on a treasure map! I wanted a trail map and a big \”X\” saying: Thar be GARNETS here!

There was no treasure map.   🙁

But that did not diminish the day. It was warm, bright, and beautiful. The early morning photographers were out capturing the birds on Wissahickon creek. The early morning geologist was marching us up a trail, and the early morning mineral hunters were following behind.

Treasure Trail


When someone says you are setting out to find minerals, especially garnets, you may expect a very complex route, a difficult trail, bush-whacking through the rough, and day trekking backpacks with inventory. Or at least, I imagined that. (My imagination apparently can go wild)

Instead, Karenne says, \”Let\’s go!\” and we walk up the first trail we see, and hang right. That\’s it.  It\’s the path and trail that everyone is currently using. There are bikers and hikers on our Treasure Trail as we stand there.

We crested a hill and found bare rocks jutting up against among trees and trail, and Karenne points to them and instructs us to start looking. Then she bends down and picks up a garnet that was at her foot.  It is that easy.

Mineral clusters


While getting a geology lesson, we learned that many of these minerals bloom in clusters, like the one shown here.  The magic of this is understood by better people than me. It involved volcanic activity and pressure, and geologist-magic that I barely understand.  I just nodded and hunted.  I am amazed that these minerals were scattered everywhere.  In this area we could easily find garnets, but we were also on the lookout for staurolite and kyanite.  One of the fellow hunters managed to find a kyaniite mineral in a small rock, and we all gathered around to study what it looked like. Then it was back to searching the path.


These stones are small in size.  But they are there. Actually, they\’re everywhere.  Along the same path that bikers bike and hikers hike, the garnets break free of their stone matrix and skitter down hill.  The loose stones gather in the crooks and crevices of the trail and can be picked out from the gravel and acorn crowns.  They look dark, almost like black shotgun pellets. But if you look closely, you\’ll see the larger stones are taking on the dodecahedron shape, and if you have a good like, you\’ll see the deep brown/red coloring.



Mission: Find the largest stone possible


I wanted to find the largest stone possible. Not for any gem purposes, but to see if I could find a mineral with the dodecahedron shape.  I picked one of the small rocks up off the rubble pile, and this is what I found: a matrix with a cluster of garnets. Some of the stones still in this matrix are showing the flat planes of the dodecahedron shape – so I took it home.

My little sling bag was quite heavy when I was done picking up mica rocks and mineral clusters.

Fairmount Park

\"goose\"This goose was particularly was funny.  S/He was approaching everyone along the creek in the hopes of receiving food.  I saw this lone goose approaching me, and I was looking for signs of aggression;  which is what a mama goose may do if you go near her nest.  But instead, the goose kept studying my hands and didn\’t do any of the things a typically aggressive goose would do.  I  lifted my hand up – and s/he got very eager and followed my hand\’s movement. Repeating this process, the goose followed my hand eagerly, even coming closer to me while I did this. That\’s when I realized that this goose was expecting to be fed! And apparently was friendly.  Unfortunately I had nothing I could feed the goose.

Our group was at the mouth of a smaller creek feeding into the larger creek, and we were looking for more rock types and minerals right by the water.  As I searched, the goose kept following me. When I didn\’t feed it, s/he would then go to the next human and look for food.  After an hour, the goose gave up on our group and swam down to a fly fisherman and begged for food.

Devil\’s Pool

After searching along the creek, Karenne showed our team the path that leads up to Devil\’s Pool. I didn\’t have the ability to make it all the way to the overlooking rocks – it was too much for me. The trail leading to Devil\’s Pool is a precarious path along a ledge and a brave leap over open air. I couldn\’t do the final \’leap\’ to see the natural water hole.  Some of our field trip members were able to brave the path and get a few pictures.


I, however, discovered that Shakespeare lives in Fairmount park.  There is a plaque mounted along the ledge trail and tucked under an overhanging rock, showing a Shakespeare quote.  What a novelty is this? Who\’s idea was this? And how novel is it to be standing on the lip of a trail and suddenly find yourself facing a carved plaque dedicated to the Bard.

Closing the Adventure

We had so much fun walking the trails, searching for rocks and minerals, and enjoying the beautiful day.  After breaking for lunch, I headed home with my bag stuffed with rocks and minerals.   I have a baggie of garnets.  On my next rainy weekend: Garnet Project at home!  I have no idea what I\’m going to do with them yet, but I\’ll be sure to post. 🙂


Trip Summary

Trip Worthy?

  • Day trip? Yes
  • Weekend Trip? Yes. Explore the park and local activities nearby
  • Worth Going Out of Our Way?  This will depend. Do you want to see the country\’s largest park system? Learn about the history of this park, and how it was built? Do you want to hike, bike, and explore? Then yes, Fairmount park is lovely and a valued gem nestled in the congestion of a sprawling city. Tip: Arrive at this park early to get a parking place – it is VERY popular and parking can be a challenge.  Is this worth flying into the city alone? Not unless you are a rabid mineral hunter and simply MUST HAVE a set of Pennsylvania garnets.  Otherwise, see about adding this to your local-weekend to-do list.
  • Worth air-fare? No

Kid / Pet Friendly?

  • School kids? Absolutely! Who doesn\’t like playing in dirt?
  • Teens? If they like outdoors – absolutely. If they like exploring trails, finding unique gems hidden in the park, this could be a very good day for the whole family.  While I was there, several groups of teens were hiking along the trails and having fun \’crossing\’ the creeks. (by \”crossing\” I mean they were stomping through the water and giggling hystericallys)
  • Really young kids? Strollers will not work here. Backpack-babies are fine and actually sighted along trails with very young and eager parents.
  • Pets?  SO. MANY. DOGS.  Yes. Bring Fido.  But keep Fido on a leash and understand that fowl are nearby (in case your dog is a birder).

Enjoyment Level?

  • If you are looking for outdoorsy entertainment, this is a nice mix of science, education, exploring AND exercising.  See about joining Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures on their next scheduled event. You\’ll be able to follow-the-leader and then spend the rest of the day exploring on your own.
  • If you like beautiful places and history, Fairmount is a nice place to learn and explore. Learn more about Fairmount Park and see all the things you can enjoy.
  • If you want something more calm, the park has several benches along the creek which invites visitors to sit and bird / people watch.  On a beautiful day, this could be an ideal way to spend a few hours reading and relaxing.

Handicapped or Limited Mobility?

  • This would not be a good trip for anyone fragile or wheelchair confined
  • However, if you have an elderly person with a mobility scooter, they could easily reach some of the trails and partake in the exploration (but NOT all trails, check with the park on access routes)