One question common to those new and curious about the sport of rock hounding is, ‘How do you know when you have a good one?’ ‘How much is a good rock worth?’
Starting with the most common, rock hounding is an old sport, people have collected rocks for a long time. Some ancient person, the first rock hound, picked up a rock and wondered at the beautiful colors, marveled at the way the sunlight filtered through the stone and wondered if it would make that tiger go away if you nailed him between the eyes with it! Today the tigers are gone, we ate them. The rocks are still here, and more are being made every thirty or forty million years. To find out more about rocks begin with...wait for it...Facebook! Join a group like Northwest Rock hounds, Rock ID for beginners, opal hunters, petrified wood and many others. Just subscribe and read, you will find a ton of information.
The next step is to look at some of the rocks in the nearest creek bottom, better still, look at the rocks in the pavement in your driveway. The aggregate used by concrete firms are sifted and cleaned gravel from our local rivers, not always but usually. You can find petrified wood, limb casts, Jadeite, quartz, agates and obsidian. Don’t take a pick to your dad’s garage floor or you may find some pain. First thing to take on your trip to the creek is a water bottle that squirts, a lot of what lies under the surface is revealed when you wet the rock. Most amateur collectors start with quartz, often a white stone that mom insisted dad haul home on a camping trip. Sometimes tons of the stuff lines the flower beds in backyards. From a rock hound perspective, it is a ho-hum find, that said, pick it up and take it home if you like it. Rock hounds love rocks.
Try going to the rock and gem shows that travel around, it will cost you a few bucks to go but you will begin to see the wonder of rocks and gems. You will have to wade through tons of beads, bracelets and bangles usually over-priced and of poor quality. Check out the finished products like spheres, eggs and obelisks made by the zillion for resale in America. What you will get is a hands-on lesson in what a rock can become with care and creativity. Take extra time in the booths that sell ‘rough’ this is a cleaned-up version of what you might find in the wild. Sometimes the ‘wild’ is central Africa or Siberia, Mexico is a wonderland of beautiful and mysterious rocks and gems. The best shows for the new rock hound are the local clubs who put on an annual rock show. Here you will find everything from gold to quartz often at really good prices. The smaller tables and vendors often have collections for sale.
Joining the local rock club is a sensible move, for our area the Santa Rosa Gem and Mineral Society is one that is loved and honored. The club has a full workshop for members to use for a small fee. The club also has monthly meetings and rock hounding field trips you can go on. When you find that first hunk of petrified wood, you are on your way. Some say, ‘why not get a hobby that weighs less?’ What! Like stamps or a cracker collection? My rocks are still under two tons. Check out Gem Faire on the web and SRGMS has a good site for local details.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.