Rockhounding 101

What or who is a “rockhound”? Well, it is actually a term for a person who enjoys collecting rocks, minerals and gemstones as found in their natural state. No, it is not a dog who carries rocks, or a hound dog made out of rocks! If you are a child who also likes to collect rocks along with your elders, you may be called a “pebble puppy”. Some people have been known to say they have ” rocks in their head”. Any way you want to say it, the main idea is—-you think rocks are worthy of a special place in your living space and your life. It is hard to think of a better, more healthful hobby, that can be participated in by folks of all ages and interests.

There are many kinds of rocks to collect, from gold to garnets, from granite to gneiss, from fossils to fluorescents, etc. It also encompasses the study of chemistry, crystallography, geology, metalsmithing, jewelry making, lapidary, to name just a few. We use rocks in our daily lives without even being aware of it, as ingredients in toothpaste, paint, food products and pharmaceuticals. The White Knob Quarry in Lucerne Valley, CA is the source of the majority of the high quality calcite used in these industrial applications. We drive on rocks whenever we use a paved road or a concrete highway, enjoying a smooth ride as well as the beautiful scenery around us.

People are collectors by nature, whether it be books, songs, travel destinations, toys, games, shells, antiques, rocks, or good friends. Those of us who like to collect rocks have found a way to collect several things at once—–good memories of great trips taken with good friends resulting in wonderful rock specimens. You can just pick up everything that catches your eye (provided it isn’t too big to carry to the truck), or collect only certain things like micro mounts or crystals. You might want to collect only gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds, but you sure would be limiting your scope while making a huge hole in your pocketbook!

Some people only collect quartz, which comes in many forms and colors, and includes amethyst, citrine, rose, smoky, agate, chert, and jasper. It is found in caves and geodes, all over the United States, probably even in your own back yard, making it fairly easy to amass a large collection in a short time. Most people are familiar with Arizona petrified wood, with its beautiful purple, yellow and red agate. Well, Utah has petrified wood that looks even more colorful, at the Escalante Petrified Forest. If you check with the BLM office in Escalante, they may be able to direct you to a public area where you can collect some of this wood turned into agate.

Rockhounds usually take some collecting tools with them when out in the field, to make the job easier. You could use the specialized rock hammers, gads and chisels that are available in stores and online, or you could go to a hardware store and purchase the standard tools such as picks, small shovels, pry bars, stonemason hammers—-you get the idea—-and save some money for the guide books and maps you will need in your quest. The Gem Trail series by James Mitchell are useful in getting educated about the hobby as well as for finding good collecting sites in your area. They are printed by Gem Guides Publishing Co., and are readily available in bookstores or online. There is also the Falcon Guide series of similar books such as “Rockhounding California” and “Rockhounding Colorado” by other writers such as Gerry Blair and Gail Butler. They are also excellent and full of tips, information, maps and pictures to help you with your hobby.

If you do some searching, you might be able to find some of the older publications from the 1960’s and 1970’s such as “Desert Gem Trails” by Mary Frances Strong or the “Gem Hunter’s Atlas” series of books by H.Cyril Johnson. The Western States are well covered by a number of rock guide books, while the Midwest East and South are mainly covered by guides that list fee dig sites. North Carolina in particular has collecting sites for most of the precious stones, while Arkansas is favored by having the only known dig site for diamonds in the United States—Crater of Diamonds State Park.



I’ve recorded some Rockhounding tips for you, to listen, just use the player below.

If you are new to the hobby and really want to get educated quickly about the ins and outs of rockhounding, you should join your local Gem and Mineral Society or Lapidary Society if you have one in your area. You could also take some classes at a junior college such as jewelry arts or geology—chances are, you will find some knowledgeable rockhounds there too. Perhaps you just want to collect beach stones for collages or landscape rock for your yard—that too is part of rockhounding. There are interesting rocks of all colors to be found at the ocean or in riverbeds, gravel bars and lakes, as well as roadsides and quarries. Whatever it is that catches your interest and imagination, you will find that other people have probably had the same interests in the past—you can do an online search for information pertinent to your interests which will save you lots of time, allowing you to skip some of that “learning curve” and take advantage of all that knowledge just ready for the taking!