Seeking Earth’s Treasure: Being a Rock Hound
I’m a rock hound. Rock hounds are an interesting breed and can have interesting and exciting lives. I’ve been a rock hound for over sixty years and it is a great activity and hobby. I love seeking Earth’s treasures.
I’m a rock hound. Rock hounds are an interesting breed and can have interesting and exciting lives. I’ve been a rock hound for over sixty years and it is a great activity and hobby. I love seeking Earth’s treasures.
Have you ever noticed these strange characters out poking around a gravel pit or along a brook picking up one rock after another and studying it like it was some strange object dropped in from some distant planet…don’t be concerned, it is just a rock hound. They seldom bite though I’ve know a few who growl a bit. That’s what this is all about, rock hounding.
Rock hounds collect rocks. It is a hobby, a hobby that gets you outdoors, gives you lots of exercise and it takes some real physical endurance to get out there and really rock hound. You can’t be a couch potato and be a rock hound in the same breath. You can be a rock collector and just collect rocks from a rock or hobby shop or through a catalog or even EBay while sitting on your sofa, rocks someone else went out and dug for but that is being a collector not a rock hound. There is a distinct difference between the two species of human character.
Seeking out and collecting obviously is the foremost activity in rockhounding. There are over 1500 different kinds of minerals in our earth and multiple hundreds of different kinds of rock. Your treasury is endless and your adventures are boundless in living the life of a rockhound.
Collecting takes you out of doors so it is a good idea to know a little about the environment and be prepared to meet it. Weather is moody and what you find in the valley won’t be the same on the mountaintop. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time and learn about the lay of the land and accessibility to rock structures and mineral localities. You don’t want to get lost and you don’t want to get hurt. If you are going to rock hound do it wisely. The sun may be beautiful and warm but it can also be overpowering on a mid-summer day and storms can brew up quickly and severely with little warning. There are also a few creatures and plants out there that you really don’t want to mess with. Learn about them and know how to recognize them. Be observant. Know where you are and what is going on around you. Being a rockhound is a whole lot more than just collecting a few pretty rocks to display on a shelf in your family or game room.
I am fascinated by rocks; rocks and minerals and particularly fascinated by nature’s wonderful creations through design and weathering. It is all so amazing when you really take the time to look at it, think about it and appreciate it and rocks and minerals are not the least of them. Rocks are the commonest thing in the world and I’ve had some wonderful adventures and some really good times out there rockhounding over the past 60 years and along the way though a few were a little bit heart thumpers. No matter what, it is a great way to spend a day.
I’ve seen a timber rattler in the wild sunning itself on a ledge outcrop close to a horseback riding trail near Fair Haven. I gave him all the space he wanted. There wasn’t one rock around there worth collecting. I’m sure of it. The horse I was riding agreed and we did an about face and got out of there.
I met a black king snake taking a sun bath on the rock chair on Mount Flamstead. The black king snake wasn’t nearly as intimidating as that rattler. He’s harmless, big but harmless. I’ll guesstimate he was probably between six and seven feet long as he slithered away from me. I didn’t chase him down to measure him.
I’ve climbed ledges and rappelled off them just to get to some great rocks, checked out a few caves, met a moose, disturbed a family of foxes. Mother Fox insisted I leave. Her babies were napping I guess and I didn’t know the outcrop was their home until she informed me. She was nice enough, a couple of yips and a snarl told me all I needed to know and I got the message and went on my way.
I’ve seen black bear and wolves or maybe they were coyotes, I didn’t stick around long enough to really check them out but they probably were just curious. They won’t usually bother you if you don’t bother them. I didn’t run but I did pick up my pace a little on my way out of the woods. Rock hounding the ledges could wait for another day even if there might be some amethyst in that vein of quartz or something else of real value.
I’ve met all manner of insects and became well acquainted with several amphibians and a variety of fishes. I’ve shared my day and sometimes part of my lunch with squirrels and chipmunks, seen deer and spent several minutes watching a new spring fawn playing at the edge of a meadow, I can’t even begin to count the number of birds I’ve shared my day with. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all these wonderful wildlife characters while I’ve been out there rock hounding.
When I hear the word “hound” I think of “dog” but let me assure you, a rock hound is not a literal dog. Well, maybe it could be a dog if it were like my dog; Pal. Pal was my dog, a black, curly haired sassy little mutt when I was a kid and Pal went with me everywhere unless he chose not to. I’d be looking for rocks, maybe along the edge of the river and toss aside those rocks that didn’t particularly strike my fancy. I’d toss them and Pal would go chasing after them and bring them back.
By the end of the day of searching for rocks, Pal would have quite a collection of his own but we never brought his rocks home. There is a rule when you are out rock hounding; you carry your own rocks. Pal was never one for following rules. He had a head of his own and wasn’t much interested in my rules for dog behavior. If I was digging in dirt to find rocks that might be buried there, Pal would dig too. Pal liked digging holes and even though we would scold him for digging on the lawn I enjoyed having him dig with me other places and he dug up a few good rocks I might have missed had he not been there digging too.
Anyhow Pal dog is another story and could turn into quite a long one. Pal was an odd sort of dog at best and I suppose in his own way he was a rock hound too even if he was a mutt of a dog who wouldn’t follow the rules. He was a very good pal and we had a lot of fun rock hounding and enjoying many outdoor adventures together if you can call what he was doing really rock hounding.
A rock hound is a person who studies and collects rocks and minerals, not usually the whole mountain, just rock specimens, samples, small pieces of the rock, usually as a hobby but sometimes as a profession or a business. They are people who like rocks and are fascinated by the stories rocks have to tell and the power in the rock or mineral. Some people believe there are spiritual powers within certain rocks and minerals.
A rock hound can be just about anyone, big or little, rich or poor. Anyone may be, can be a rock hound. You just need a nose for rocks, an inclination to search for them, collect them and study and learn about them and learn from them as well. A rock hound collects rocks as intently as your hound dog might collect old bones, as a coin collector collects coins or a stamp collector collects stamps, whatever your hobby and collection may be. Rock hounds collect rocks. Being a rock hound can be a lot of fun and it should be. You can learn a lot about the world we live in by being a rock hound but you have to be willing to scratch and dig for them, get dirty if you want to be a rock hound. You have to love the great outdoors. Rock hounds are inquisitive and they are fascinated with the dynamics of this planet we call home, our Earth, this rock we live on.
Your rock and mineral specimens should be collected with care. Don’t try to do too much or go at it like there is no tomorrow. Take a little time to get acquainted with the area you are in. Be observant. In doing so you will find that you have gotten a lot more out of the day than just a few pieces of rock.
All around you are strange and beautiful things, treasures, fabulous, mysterious treasures; gold, silver, copper, gems, strange objects, fossils, arrowheads, shards of old pottery, fascinating things from the past, bone, footprints, history, legend, lore and of course those rocks and minerals you came after even in your own back yard. You don’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to be a rock hound. I’ve found some fabulous treasure not more than a few blocks from the apartment building I live in.
I’ve found some wonderful specimens along riverbanks, brooks, mountain streams and even the gravel on the edge of the road. I’ve found wonderful treasure at construction sites and in local gravel pits and rock dumps. I’ve found some really nice pieces when I wasn’t even really out rock hounding, just by being observant.
My husband used to love to go fishing and I used to frequently go with him. I like to fish too but more than that I just like being outdoors and especially along the river’s wind. One of the places we used to frequent is a place known as Hoyt’s Landing where you can usually reel in some pretty nice bass, walleye and perch.
Bored with fishing, I began poking around the shoreline and woods area to see what I could find of interest. I wasn’t expecting to find what I did though. I knew that local history testified to the river having been frequented by Native Americans centuries ago and was a popular hunting and fishing ground. When I found these treasures I wasn’t much more than three miles from home and had no idea of the archeology in my own back yard. These finds set me on a path of further search and research.
I’ve been rock hounding since I was about nine years old. I have a wonderful collection that I am very fond of. I have some very nice gemstones, some cut and polished, some still in the rough, in their matrix. Some of my gemstones I purchased through rock and mineral shops and a club I once belonged to, others I have collected myself. I have some nice geodes, New England Potato Stones, Thunder Eggs, concretions and conglomerates, pudding stone. I have some nice fossils, bits of meteorite, and mysteriously wonderful button stones from Lake Champlain, the only place in the world where they are found. I collected them many, many years ago. You can’t collect them any more. The area is protected as a geological preservation site.
I have arrowheads made of chert, jasper, chalcedony and flint; I have fossilized shells and petrified wood. I have, I think, at least once sample of every type and kind of rock that you might find in the area I live in and more from all around the world and I haven’t begun to collect all the kinds of rock there are, haven’t even made a dent in it…but my collection keeps growing. Some of it is valuable. Much of it is priceless, some of it more so than others and I suppose much of it is worthless to anyone other than to me.
I have a couple of rocks that are supposedly billions of years old though I personally question that theory. Each rock I have in my collection, each piece of rock is unique and special in its very own way and I don’t have two that are exactly alike. They may be the same type, even the same kind but in some way they are each a little different.
I have an interesting piece of weathered soapstone, interesting because of the weathering. It was a piece of rock that was on the ground by the corner of our porch where I lived as a kid. The rain would run and drip off the roof along the rain gutter and land on this rock. It has little holes in it that might make you think of worm holes only they aren’t. They are holes made from the constant drip, drip of rain on the stone year after year. The water has worn it until it is shaped much like a chalet type birdhouse. It isn’t a large piece. It fits neatly in the palm of my hand. It is just an interesting piece because of its shape and weathering and its coloring.
I have mis-identified some of my finds from time to time and had to correct my notes and I have some that I am still not exactly sure what their mineral make-up is or what rock they are. The average rockhound cannot without research and previous knowledge immediately identify everything he sees or finds and I’ve had to do a lot of learning along the way. So will you. That is part of the fun of being a rock hound. When you are a rock hound learning can be a very big adventure and a whole lot of fun; and it can be incorporated with other outdoor activities.
It was 1979 and I was the assistant Pathfinder Leader (Pathfinders is a youth group that teaches living skills as well as religion and is organized within some churches) and we had a group of the young people out on a nature hike to learn about edible wild plants and to recognize poisonous and dangerous plants.
While we were hiking I accidentally found a really cool rock and just the right size to bring home with me. We were hiking on the power line a short distance behind the SDA Church off Stratton Road near Killington Heights in Rutland Vermont. I wasn’t out there rockhounding but this is what I found; a beautiful hunk of rock containing some Elestial Quartz crystal and there is a legend or myth that goes with this particular kind of quartz crystal which lead to some good story telling while we ate our picnic lunch.
I found this beautiful quartz in a hunk of “ribbed rock” and though they are small they are very nice crystals that go from white to smoky. The rock I found them in was a chunk that was broken away from an outcrop where the power company had been excavating to set now poles for the power line. There are a couple nice crystals that range from white (nearly clear to a smoky amethyst in the same crystal). It is a nice piece and I would dearly love to find some larger crystals of this beautiful and mythical quartz. Elestial Quartz is said to be the “gift of angels” and the crystals are semi-precious gemstone. These crystals supposedly contain powers of wisdom and protection according to ancient myth. I don’t know how true that is but what I do know is that they are very beautiful crystals and finding that piece of rock made my day.
We picked up several other pieces and not all of it was Elestial but there certainly were some fine quartz crystals left lying around the excavation site. If I hadn’t done a little research on quartz in advance I wouldn’t have known the legend or recognized the find. Rock hounds need to be a little bit sleuth too so you know the story behind the stone. It makes being a rock hound just that much more fun and interesting.
Not all of the rocks and minerals I collect are collected because of their specific kind or type. I collect some of them just because I like them or they have a special memory connected to them; like my “piece of the rock”, it is a piece of the ledge I played on for hours day after day, year after year as a kid, or my “diving stone”, a piece of white quartz I found near Chipman Lake, a place we camped each summer when I was growing up. I found it in 1956 or 1957 I think and I still have it, that same, very same stone I used to throw into the lake and then dive in and swim underwater until I found it. I never lost it and I became a very good swimmer.
I also have a whole collection of little stones, pebbles and cobblestones my grandchildren have brought in from play and given to me as treasures or we found when we were outside walking as we often did. No, I haven’t kept them all, but I have kept some from each of them, not that they had any real value but that they are prized by me because they came from priceless, precious little hands, those of my grandchildren and were given to me with love and because they were fascinated with the rocks and minerals I had laying around my house. They gave me more. I’ve kept them, not because they are particularly wonderful rock specimens but because they were a special gift and are now a way to remember some wonderful moments with my grandchildren. They are very nice little stones. I love them and I love and cherish the hands that gave them to me. These are some of the wonderful treasures my grandchildren gave to me that they found when they were little. I keep them in a jar on my windowsill to look at and enjoy.
Rock hounds, I suppose really are an odd breed. I suppose to many folks must think it seems pretty silly to go around picking up rocks and checking them out, gathering up a bunch of odd shaped stones along a brook, poking around scrap heaps at old, closed or abandoned mines, digging around gravel pits and poking around construction sites, all places to find fascinating rocks and minerals but we have fascinating adventures and we really care about and respect this marvelous, majestic, awesome rock we live on called planet Earth. Rock hounds love everything about rocks from great boulders and outcrops to tiny grains of sand and we want to know about them, listen to them and know their stories. Rocks have wonderful stories to tell.
Rock hounding is a great hobby though it is one that requires a bit of common sense; bring home a sample, not the whole mountain; it’s a good rule to live by though I have occasionally tried to carry home rather large pieces of the mountain. It is a rule I learned the hard way.
Years ago, many years ago I had a neighbor who was a rockhound. He was an elderly gentleman and he and his wife ran a bed and breakfast inn across the street from my childhood home. He’d been rock hounding for years and when he found out this kid next door liked rocks he sort of took me under his wing to teach me about them. He showed me his rock collection and I enthusiastically showed him mine.
I collected rocks or pieces or rock everywhere I went and I seldom returned home without at least one rock, from tiny ones to boulders and I was determined to keep them all, quite against my parent’s best wishes. They didn’t relate well to these “treasures” I had found.
I learned a lot about rocks and rock hounding while growing up, mostly from my neighbor to whom I am sure I became quite the pest.
He taught me the difference between rocks and minerals, what was meant by igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic, just a stone and a gemstone, dirt, sand, gravel, concretions, conglomerates, geodes, fossils and a forest made of stone, the dynamics of our planet Earth and the relationship between a hunk of coal and a fine cut diamond. He taught me the priceless value of all rock and how we could not exist without them. The more I learned the more fascinated I became. I’m sure I probably drove the old gentleman to distraction some days with my bags of common stones and ten thousand questions but he had the patience of Job and a heart of gold. He was a great mentor and really helped develop and challenged my interest in Earth Science as a whole, not just rocks and minerals. Our Earth’s dynamics are awesome and rocks and minerals are the commonest thing in the world.
One of the things Mr. Clark emphasized was that I should handle my rock collection with care and keep notes and to use a camera. A picture is worth a thousand words. A camera should be one of your most prized rock hounding tools. Use your camera to take snapshots of the rocks you collect and the location you found them in. It will aid in the identification of your specimen later. Keep a notebook of notes on each collected item, where, how and when you found it. Number the item in accordance to the film frame number. What is more, those pictures make a wonderful memory scrapbook later. It is fun to have pictures of those special times to look back on in later years especially if you are sharing these times with folks you love and care about, your family and friends.
If you are collecting specimens of a particular rock or mineral be sure it is fresh and trim it to shape. You don’t need to bring home the whole boulder or outcrop; a small specimen and a photograph will do very nicely. If you are serious about collecting then you will want a fresh piece that is not eroded or corroded. Collecting weathered rock is fun and interesting but you will want a fresh piece or two as well. I usually try to collect some of both. It takes skill to break and trim a rock or mineral but it is well worth the effort to have a fresh piece. With a lot of patience, trial and error you will find you have some beautiful rock and mineral specimens for your collection.
In breaking and trimming your specimen light even blows work best. A pick hammer is not a sledge hammer. You aren’t trying to move an entire mountain, just collect a small piece of it.
I like to collect strange looking rocks as well as collecting the various types and kinds of rock and mineral. I have a collection of rocks that I call my “Brook Stone Collection”. My brook stones are all weathered and water polished by the tumbling of the stones in the brook from season to season and some of them have been washed ashore.
One of my favorites is a palm size piece of rock, I think it is probably feldspar with an environmentally stained skin, but now that it has been chipped away at by other rocks in the brook, tumbled and polished by the flow of water and weathered by the rain, wind and seasons as it finally rested on the shore, my rock looks exactly like what I imagine a “Petrified Toad Stool” might look. It really looks like a field mushroom. Who knows, maybe it is. No, it is feldspar but it was a fun find and I have mounted it on a homemade mount to look like the stem of a mushroom and glued a tiny green plastic frog on top of it.
It makes an interesting conversation piece and being a Vermonter who enjoys a tall tale or two, I’ve convinced a few folks that it is a “petrified toad stool”. Of course eventually I told them the truth and we all had a good laugh. Being a rock hound should be sideline fun as well as educational and adventurous. That is the whole point of getting out there; to enjoy yourself and the world around you and you should have some fun with it.
Collecting weathered, brook tumbled and polished stone is called brooking. I do a lot of brooking. It is a great way to spend a summer day. While I’ve been out there collecting rocks I’ve also had the opportunity to get acquainted with the flora and fauna of the region, to observe nature at its best and up close. I’ve waited and watched until nine little Mallard ducklings hatched and watched otters at play and the busy work of a beaver family.
I’ve shared the mountain stream with a family of foxes and a doe and her new spring fawn, observed birds to numerous to count and enjoyed the thrill of seeing the American Bald Eagle up close and personal on a branch not more than twenty feet from me. I enjoy rock hounding and some of my best times and most fascinating finds have been found just wandering along the brooks, the streams and the river’s wind. I love being a rock hound and I love getting out there, collecting a few rocks and just enjoying the great outdoors. Our planet is a marvelously awesome place and even though I have only seen a very small part of it I am captivated by it.
In seeking Earth’s treasures especially if you are a beginning rockhound, it is probably best to start in your own locality namely because you probably know a little more about it already. Your town, county and state no doubt has a very interesting geological history and they probably have many interesting and exciting specimens for you to collect. If you don’t know the geological history of your region now would be a good time to find out. You may be in for some very fascinating surprises.
Mine and quarry dumps are excellent places to start. Some of my first pieces came from a scrap heap at a local talc mine, marble quarry and granite quarry. Road cuts, washes and construction sites all disclose interesting and sometimes valuable finds. Begin with small, fresh and weathered rocks and minerals that are familiar to you. Don’t overlook riverbeds, brooks, lake areas, reservoirs and gravel pits, the outcrops in the farmers pasture, (get his permission to be there and be sure to close the gate and leave his stone wall standing) and be sure to look closely along your favorite hiking trail. Flooding, heavy rain and winter’s run off in the spring often leave some marvelous prizes in their wake. Read about the rocks and minerals you are seeking. Learn about them. Know a little about the geology of the area you are prospecting, the lay of the land. In doing so you can better know and recognize what you find there.
As you begin collecting rocks and minerals two or three important things should be kept in mind. Rule number one, you carry your own rocks. The first thing to keep in mind is rocks and minerals are heavy and difficult to carry around. Unless you are prospecting for profit you don’t need the whole mountain. Two or three small pieces and some chips and fragments to use for identification will do just fine.
A boulder in your back pack can really put a dent in an otherwise lovely day. Unless you happen to come across a truly rare and valuable find, no specimen needs to be larger than your fist unless it is really extraordinary and you are seeking a museum piece. If you are at that level in your rock hounding experience then you would have already scouted the area, knew what you were after and made arrangements for excavating and transporting your prize. Most rock hounds aren’t out there doing that. Your well being, health and safety should come first. No piece of rock is worth suffering a permanent injury over.
Secondly, consider this; rocks and minerals are terrific dust collectors. If you are going to collect them you will want to have them out on display where you can enjoy them and share them with others. The best way to do that is to keep them in see-through cases and mounts. Keeping them clean can be tedious work but most can be cleaned with mild soap and water and a soft artist brush or toothbrush. Flush them with clear water; shake off the excess water and let them air dry. I’ve used my hairdryer to dry them more quickly so I can put them back where they belong.
The third thing to remember is that rocks and minerals corrode and weather even in your nice clean house. Covering them with a clear, thin coat of lacquer can help prevent this. Keeping them in airtight containers is a big help. You can make your own containers by using clear glass jars with the screw on lids.
Make sure your specimen fits easily into the jar with room left for a mount. You can make a mount out of a small block of wood or piece of Styrofoam and paint it flat black or a color of your choice that will enhance and set off the colors and beauty of you rock or mineral or cover it with a nice piece of smooth fabric. Glue the block inside the cover. Be sure there is still enough room to screw the cover onto the jar. You can glue your specimen to the mount or just set it there, place the glass jar over the top and screw the lid tightly into place. Paint the lid to match the mount. There you have it, your own personally created and designed mount and making your own mounts is a great foul weather project when you can’t be outside collecting rocks.
Baby food jars and mayonnaise jars can be turned into great mounts and it is a “cool” way to recycle a product you probably were just going to throw away. Rock and mineral shops and hobby shops also carry professional mounts for your rocks and minerals and will even sell you glass showcases with lighting if you have the space and the money to do that; or you can build your own. You can also make some nice mounts from old picture frames, small wooden boxes and egg cartons. Use your imagination and have fun.
Rock hounding is a marvelous adventure that can be enjoyed for the greater part of a lifetime. It is a lot more than just collecting a few pretty stones. It is a learning experience and puts you in touch with this planet we call home.
Enjoy your rocks and minerals and enjoy rock hounding. There are one hundred one and then some fun projects you can do with your rocks and minerals. Give your imagination its lead and see where it takes you. Try making some planters, paper weights, trivets, candle holders and such and it is always fun to tumble and polish your own rocks and minerals and make your own jewelry. I enjoy making pet rocks, cute little rock critters. Make your rock hounding ventures fun at home at your kitchen table as well as out there in the great outdoors.