Montana Has Two State Gemstones. One is Really Easy to Find
Montana is a great place to be if you like rocks.
I was recently going through a box of stuff that my mom had saved from my childhood. It was full of the usual items you would expect. Things like elementary school papers and crafts, handmade birthday cards from my favorite aunt and uncle, old family pictures, and a small bag of silver nickels and wheat pennies that my great grandmother would give the grandkids on our birthdays. As I scrounged through the time capsule of memories, I found my childhood collection of "special rocks", carefully stored in a bank check box (what's a check?), that was neatly labeled with my name in 4th-grade-me Sharpie script and sealed with a piece of tape.
Most of them were nothing special.
When I was a little kid, I picked up any old rock that I thought looked cool. "Look, it's solid black!" or, "ooh, this one sparkles in the sunshine!" I've since learned that most of the rocks in my kid collection are technically called leaverites. As in, leave 'er right there on the ground because they're worthless.
I can't stop picking them up.
My spouse likes to tease me about coming home from the river, lake, or mountains with a pocket full of rocks. It's cute when a little kid does it, but for some reason, she doesn't share my appreciation for cool rocks. Nowadays, I usually just drag home agates and petrified wood, both of which can be easily found in the Billings area.
Montana has two state gemstones.
With a Spanish motto that translates to "Gold and Silver", it's no secret Montana is blessed with precious minerals. Gold, copper, and silver were found in abundance in much of the western half of the state. In 1969, the Montana Legislature declared two semi-precious stones as official state gemstones, the sapphire and the agate. Some sources signify the agates as Montana moss agate vs. the dry head agate, but the Montana statue doesn't appear to specify.
Agates are plentiful from Billings to Glendive.
I've found a few small agates on the Yellowstone River as far upstream as Paradise Valley, but they're far more common from Columbus eastward. I find at least one or two every time I wander the rocky shores and sandbars - even at busy, picked-over fishing access sites. If you really want to find the big ones or increase your chances of finding a whole bucket full of agates, make friends with someone who has a jet boat and can take you to islands and areas that haven't been hit hard by rockhounds.
Agates are not particularly valuable.
The opaque semi-precious gemstone is so common in the Yellowstone River in southeastern Montana, that it's not very valuable. This Etsy seller is offering unpolished Montana agates for $10 per pound if you buy three pounds, or $12 for a single pound. Moss agates with lots of inclusions (the "mossy" looking mineral deposits) are frequently used for jewelry or cut into small slabs to reveal nature's artwork and are usually considered more valuable. Agates are easier to find when the sun is lower in the sky. They almost glow on the riverbank when the light hits them right. It also helps if you search after a rainstorm as it washes away the dirt and river grime, making them more visible.
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