Ya'll, it's been a hot minute since last I smelt the sweetness of petrichor, stood waist-deep in gravish hole, or romped atop the vast canyons of eastern Washington filling my dog's backpack with petrified glory [Figure 1]. As such, I consider it a moral obligation to get you all out there hounding in my absence. A fresh wave of rockhounds! Or rockpups. To get you rockin', here is a listacle with my best tips and tricks to infect you with the most viral of tactile nature hobbies. There's even CHARTS to help organize the overwhelming number of options available [Figure 2].
#1 Where do I go?
Anyone will tell you that the most essential equipment you need when embarking on this fantasmagoric journey is a good attitude. When it comes to breaking into a fresh hobby, the best advice I have is finding the thing about rockhounding that excites you. A positive attitude when getting out there will go further than any tour guide or book you can find. As Scott Hamilton once said, "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." That totally applies to gettin' out and dirty. Rockhounding isn't always the easiest to break into when you dwell in the urban jungle (although, I know Geology Underfoot has at least one chapter dedicated to the rocks you can spot in downtown Seattle, which is pretty dope).
As such, the initial bolt of inspiration to land you that sexy stone is selecting a treasure of interest. Do you like dead things? Then checking out some fossil sites is perfect! How about colorful specimens to decorate your life and potted plants? Tumbler material like agates and jaspers, or even common opals are a good choice. Do you subscribe to the crystal craze? Then some quartz and zeolites should light a fire under your bum! Or maybe you have enough stuff and desire only to pleasure the sense with some natural ambiance. Then a tour around some of Washington's geologic attractions could be just the ticket to sate your wander lust (this applies to all states). The industry of guides and texts stretches far and wide and has been waiting patiently to catch your eye for all these years. Guide books love you, they always have. So check them out! Here is another dandy little flow chart for guide books and affordable references to peruse in your spare time [Figure 3].
Maybe leave it on the toilet for that post-coffee morning meditation?
#2 What do I need?
Your basic tools for rocks and fossils start with the bare essentials: a bag or bucket and sunblock. From beach combing to picking through tailing piles, if you come with the expectation of filling your pockets with good vibrations you're already well on your way to a righteous good time. Canvas geology specimen bags are (somehow) really expensive on Amazon. You don't have to get lost in the parlance of a geology degree though, as anything from Ziploc bags, to old rags and rubber bands, all the way to a hardy 5 gal. bucket will get you by [Figure 4]. Whatever you have around that you won't mind hauling back to your vehicle after loading it down with sweet satisfaction.
Next, if you are digging at all remember your gloves! A trowel or shovel of any size is a solid choice, but usually a rock pick or hammer will get you into the dirt enough to stir up some booty. I always have my geology hammer on my belt whenever I go out. It can be a digger, shuffler, breaker, or prier. Versatile and lightweight, the geology pick or hammer is a foundation of any rockhound's arsenal. After that, consider a pickax. If you'll be doing some hard rock mining or just hauling ass through several layers of dry dirt, the ax will get you there. A wire brush for scrubbing off dirt and clay will take you places, too, along with a spray bottle of water. The true colors of a stone will come out when its surface is as smooth as possible -ergo the water trick. You can also lick it. Licking rocks is a sagely way of going about identifying them, but it's not for the squeamish. A lump hammer, sledge hammer, saw (for extra softies like soapstone), and transportation vessels (some things like precious opal need to remain hydrated lest they crack following exposure) will polish off your list.
#3: How do I identify my finds?
There are tons of books, some of which are listed above, that can help you key out your specimens. The internet is always a safe bet, too. The Facebook overfloweth with groups, clubs, and forums where enthusiasts go to trade stories, photos, finds, and pass the time by identifying each other's finds. Don't be scared, most of them are perfectly congenial. In fact, groups like the NW Rockhounds have moderators that keep people honest and keep the dialogue productive and clean. Go nuts! If you're stumped by a stone or fossil, or just want to make some new online friends, use these amazing resources and get on with it! The more responsible hounds out there the better off we all are. To be sure, we are a kooky superstitious bunch with tales of adventure and hearts and pans of gold. Who knows, you might key out a stone on your own or ask around and come away with a blog of your own. If so, call me so we can talk about it. #NoButReally
#4: Ok, now what?
Now that you've had an adventure, and sort-of know what nature booty you have, you're on the right track. The road is uncertain though, so to keep on keepin' on. Ask yourself the following question, "Why did you pursue this undertaking of rockhounding ecstasy?" If the answer is any positive reason at all, good job! You have leveled up from rockpup to rockhound. Let's go digging some time.
You can keep your finds, catalog them, display them, work them into your lawns, gardens, and house plants. You can stash them away in treasure troves & boxes to show friends and strangers while you spin them magnificent tales of natural wonderment about the people you met along the way. Explorations of the mind and soul you so epically accumulated during your travels will pour forth to enamor! Or so i tell myself (bless you for reading this blog, together we can change the world for the better). I, personally, enjoy distributing rocks or wearing them on a chain [Figure 5].
Rock collecting carries some negative connotations especially in our ever-more materialistic society of continual self-domestication. I talk a lot about the gratification of collecting, but the real pleasure is in the passing-on. It matters not whether the person keeps the item, only the moment of mutual appreciation we share over it. Consider this and many other functions of your tantalizing nature booty.
Of course, the big ticket application of hounding is the display. Jewelry making and lapidary arts boast a long and prosperous romance with rock and mineral gathering. If this tickles you, there are tons of second-hand equipment sales happening right frickin' now online and in your local rock shop. Saws, sanders, metallurgy, you name it! Classes in crafting materials into everything you can imagine are offered around hounding hot spots (like Washington and Oregon). Lapidary and rock clubs and societies make it easy and fun to jump onto whatever post-adventure journey that calls you.
A few helpful keywords for your Google search: rock club, mineral council, lapidary club, rock shop, fossil society.
#5: What about the tricks?
Patience, puppies! This blog is chock-full of miscellaneous tricks to getting the results you want from your rockhounding excursions. Please, also seek out whatever other sources you can to blaze your own path. If you have specific questions that are not addressed here or through the other resources included, feel free to hit me up through the Let's Talk page & we can brainstorm together. For general application, I have gleaned a few stylish tricks from the generous rockhounds that abound around:
(I) Always check the desired locale with the Bureau of Land Management or other governing agency to ensure legal exploration and collection.
(II) Take a buddy and safety equipment for the terrain and material you're after.
(III) When digging, follow the trail of evidence left from previous diggers. This is not claim-jumping -as I've stated is a serious offense to the community- but by using cues from former successful sites, you are way more likely to strike a solid find. That, and some stuff requires a hole several feet deep to access the mineral vein, so hopping into a partially dug trench does lessen the burden a bit.
(IV) Check tailing piles and lines of erosion too. If this doesn't put out any sign of your prospective stone you may in the wrong place. If it does, you may find something left behind!
(V) Try to go out (safely) following a rainy day. Precipitation from flooding, lowered water levels, rain, or otherwise will wash away disguising dirt and plant material that may be hiding some shinies.
(VI) Strike with caution! If you are hard rock mining, remember that the stones or fossils are a different hardness than the matrix you are extracting from. This can offer a helpful assist when the matrix is softer or more brittle but you don't want to go whacking away willy-nilly. Working at a geode for hours just to have the loveliest sections break apart before your eyes is a terrible thing. Everyone learns the hard way eventually, but being mindful early on in the process can soften the ultimate price you might pay for being an eager beaver. Work the rock from the bottom upward. Strike below your target so that the fracture lines from the impact travel away from your piece. You can remove more matrix safely with this technique.
(VII) Be respectful and smart about your digging. Chucking an unwanted load from your vantage point might risk colliding with a dog, rockhound, or innocent by-standing squirrel. That's no good. So, even if you are entranced by activity or discovery, stay aware if your surroundings and don't clobber anyone or thing to death.
(VIII) It's always a good idea to keep anything you find at your site until you are ready to identify them. Some of the best finds (this is another theory I am developing) are the ones you don't notice until way after the fact. With the right lighting and identifying resources you will spend half your time pouring over your bucket before heading out, sorting and ogling things you don't even recall handling. It's an especially fun part of the whole experience and fosters the educational mood for you and whomever is with you.
(IX) Fossils, like the ones at icicle Creek and Stonerose Interpretative Center, present themselves in delicate sheets. This is the case with most fossils for obvious reasons so remember to remove whole layers of matrix at a time. Wedge your tool as close to where two layers meet and gently work out a slab. Once you get on a roll the sheets will begin to produce whole fossils because you are securing them horizontally before checking the edges for evidence of fossil bits to separate.
(X) Getting fossils out of concretions is a whole other can of worms. I have tried busting them open with hammer and chisel and of course there are the prohibitively expensive pneumatic preparation tolls out there. I think the most cost effective and safe method I've heard is to freeze and heat them until the concretion busts open along the internal fault lines created by the fossil's positioning. Yes, this takes time and patience is a resource often in high demand and low supply, but when you see that crab or ammonite gleam in the lit of s sun it has gone without for 50 million years, your inve