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Fairburn Agate Beds

By admin

The state gem of South Dakota and a highly prized find among rock hunters, Fairburn agates get their name from the town near which they are most commonly found. The Fairburn agate beds are located about 12miles East of the town of Fairburn, SD (I give GSP coordinates at the end of this post). Xiao is “into” rock hunting so we thought we would pay the agate beds a visit.

To get there, you drive along the unpaved roads to the town of Fairburn (population about 70-80). Make sure
you fill up before heading out, there are no services of any kind. The town used to serve as a major railway rewatering point. Since the decommissioning of steam locomotives, however, trains not longer stop here. The town is served by a small school and town hall, but the old hotel and much of the old main street is abandoned. The day we arrived, the town was comparatively busy voting in the South Dakota primaries.

Given the popularity of Fairburn agates, I half expected this place to be a bit of hub of rock hunters, but alas the town has yet to profit from the gem that bares it’s name.

The derelict hotel on Fariburn\'s old main street

To get to the beds take highway 18 out east for about 10 miles. You will actually see signs for the agate beds along the way, you really can’t fail to find the turn off (See the GPX file below for coordinates). There is a small rustic campground located at the turnoff, with a dirt toilet and not much else.

If your in anything other than a capable 4×4, I would park here and make your way on foot. Even if you do have a 4×4, it might be a good idea to park here and hoof it in for several reasons. Firstly, there has been quite a bit of ATV and offroaders blasting around this area and there is call from some quaters to make this area a wildness and ban offroading. Second, if it rains hard while your out there, some parts of the track in can become extremly difficult to pass, even in a 4×4. So unless you have difficulty walking up to the beds and your prepared to keep a close eye out for storm clouds, park up. All this is said with the benefit of hindsight. We drove up and we were fine, but I wouldn’t bother again.

On your way up, you will pass through a gate, make sure you close it. It was open when I went through and I didn’t even notice it. So just watch for it, and make sure you close it (I put its location in the GPX file).

Once your up there and set up, you can start looking for agates. You have to train your eyes to look for small stripes in the rock. I managed to train myself so well that small alarm bells in my head still go a off, days later, everytime I see stripes: the wood in the airstream, the lines in an apple fritta, everything. I dream in stripes. Its getting a little annoying.

Some say these agate beds are dug out and all the best stuff is gone. While I’m sure they are not as fruitful as they used to be, you can still fine some nice Fairburn and Prairie Agates here. After every major rain storm, new rocks are reveled. The best places to find these freshly uncovered rocks is in the washes: small gullies, where the water as run down the hill side.

If nothing else, the views from the top of some of the hills in this area and stupendous. Its also about as close as a tourist, like me, is going to come to feeling like an old time Blackhill’s prospector. Slaving away under a hot sun, bent over looking for valuable rocks is a much more authentic experience than the tatty museums that line the streets of Custer, Hill City and Deadwood.

Things to bring/remember the agate beds:

  1. Water and lots of it. At least a gallon per person per day. Note, that if your going to stay at the campground, there is no water here, so bring it all in. While a fresh supply of drinking water is vital, water is also useful to wet stones to see any pattern more clearly.
  2. Strong bucket or bags. Don’t forget: rocks are heavy.
  3. Matt. I found that it was quite productive to take a longer look in some areas. Sitting down and going through the smaller rocks. So bring a matt to save your bum some stress.
  4. Keep an eye on the clouds if you drive in. Don’t get stuck in thick mud out there.
  5. Don’t drive past the “no vehicles” signs at the end of the dirt road. Past that point the ground is not very stable and large cracks could easily open up under your car.
  6. Take a modest amount of samples. Remember, these beds are for personal collecting only.


Comment from Mike Dungan
Time: November 25, 2008, 2:30 am

I have most beautyfull agate i found after two years serching the old kerns agate beds in 2006 Just smaller than fist size. I have sence been living here near Rapid city, SD. been trying to find out about Old Grandma Kerns. I know of some of the story about her and her agates and even kellogs company tryed to buy off her land to own the land of agaes. But what I’m so intrusted in is where the actual farm or ranch house was located back then ? Its kinda funny some the things i herd about her ! I enen herd something about shooting at som elder teen that was tresspassing her land and she feard he was after some her agates. How she sold some of her agates and had pockets of i think it was silver dollars and that she used this money to servive when she was getting older to servive, but she wouldnt sell the land to the kellogs company for certain and shure ! I beleive she left an will that it be turned into an site where some could come and enjoy finding the agates which case they made the 4h camp grounds their. I know what you meant about that gate being left opend and even at one time i saw no gate as someone tore it up. This last summer i finnaly visited it and i saw it had an new fence as well theve marked areas where now vehicles cant be driven in the agate area. I have an total of five agates in all from this area; Two of which i gave my daughters and the last three i found back in 2006. This big one is really awesome the redish brown and then the pinkish/white with the beauty all through the agate.
I just have wished to know more aboout where the actual farm/ranch house was located. or more about this familys histry.
Thanks for your time and God bless,
Mike D. Ret U.S.A.

Comment from Al Clark
Time: July 26, 2009, 3:21 pm

Traveling to Rapid City in late August 2009 with wife to see Mt Rushmore, etc. Rock hounding in my blood. Wanted to look around and see if I can find a Fairburn agate.

Thanks for the tips on the agate beds. Will check it out.

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