I’m a metal detecting rookie just beginning to learn the ropes of the treasure hunting hobby. My husband and I have been making a list of places in our area (southern Arizona) that we want to take our detector out and see what we can find. Over the past weekend, we decided to check out the old U.S. Army post Fort Lowell, which is now a huge park just a few miles from where we live. I first called the Fort Lowell Museum to make sure that we could metal detect there. All of the historical areas are secured and inaccessible, but I was given permission to hunt in the park areas.


The old post was active from 1873 to 1891, following the Civil War, and typically housed about 250 Calvary Regiment soldiers at a time. It played a huge role in the Apache Wars and was a stronghold for Tucson at the time. You can still see ruins of some of the old adobe structures, including what was once the post hospital. I found it interesting to not only read about (and hear about – my husband is a history nerd who loves this sort of thing), but also to actually see the history in the ruins of the fort.

While we didn’t find much in the way of treasure on our outing, I learned some things about metal detecting that I know will help us out as we continue our hunting.

  • Using different settings can tell you a lot. On this outing, we played with the settings on our detector to get an idea of what the alerts sound like, what the detector could tell us about how deeply something is buried, and what types of metals we might expect to find when we started digging. We’re getting the hang of it.
  • You need to have a plan when searching large areas. Fort Lowell park is huge, and we didn’t have a plan when we got there. We searched around some of the structures’ enclosures, but mostly searched willy-nilly. Afterward, I could see that next time we go, we need to have a strategy for searching; especially when there is a large area to hunt. Breaking the area down into smaller sections and then thoroughly searching each part will be more helpful and productive, I think.
  • A pinpointer is a valuable tool. The pinpointer makes finding targets so much easier! Once we narrowed down an area to dig with our detector, using the pinpointer to hone in on the metal made the searches go much faster because its alerts intensify as you get close.
  • It’s more exciting to hunt when you know the history. We did find some old, very rusted nails and unidentifiable pieces of metal on our search. That may not sound super exciting, but when we added in the history of the area, it made it more thrilling. The pieces we found certainly looked old enough to have been part of the construction of the fort, and we found them around the ruins. Were they Civil War era metals? I don’t know, but knowing that they could be is pretty cool.
  • The Arizona ground is really hard! We may have to invest in some additional digging tools. Southern Arizona is dry and hot (it was over 90 degrees when we went hunting, and it’s mid-October!), so the ground is like clay that has been fired in a kiln.

Overall, the search was great. We had fun, found a few things, talked about history, and enjoyed being outdoors. We’ve got some plans for upcoming hunts and will likely return to Fort Lowell too, next time with a plan and more experience under our belts.