High desert rockhounding is shifting into high gear. There is a little snow in places and very cold at night, but the rewards this year can be worth the pain and suffering. Heavy rain in the desert this winter has exposed new material. Relatively ‘new’ material, it’s hard to imagine a piece of desert palm tree root, turned to stone, as new material. Newly exposed might be a better description. As the weather warms this summer, it may become too much suffering caused by the heat. Reno is what, five hours? An easy hour or two and you are on the right spot for agates, petrified wood, wonder stone and many others. Nearby sights have mountains of crystals for your scouting pleasure.
Start by doing surface collecting, range not far from the truck, and move on in thirty minutes if you are not having any luck. Drive a mile and try again, the thirty-minute rule might help you get on some good stuff. Look on the surface but also traipse through small run-off ditches. Look closely at the exposed rocks on the wall, peck at the interesting colors and poke around on the stream bed you are walking in. It’s all good this year. There are two guides for rock hounding, do a search for rockhounding and narrow down to states. California is divided into north and south. My favorite is the Falcon guide(s), newer books provide GPS co-ordinates. Do a search using minedat.org to look for specific kinds of rocks in a specific area. Load the info into your portable device, pack a PBJ and hit the road.
Good boots, long pants, layers to adjust for conditions and you are almost ready. A backpack for dirty rocks and other treasures is essential. A long tool for scratching the surface of a possible find and to pull it out in the open for closer inspection. I use an old weeding tool or a hoe, a shovel gets heavy after a while, I can also lean on it. Bring squirt bottles and hose water to refill them back at the car are important. Squirt bottles give you a better look at the rock and may be close to what the rock will look like when polished.
Rock hammers to crack open a rock for a look inside is a handy tool, as are shovels. Picks and heavy pry bars are best left in the truck until you find a spot with lots of surface evidence. Buckets are easy to hump rocks, for short distances. Heavy gloves are important to keep the bite and sting under control when you flip things over. Sort through your pile before packing for home. Sandbags are usually inexpensive and some wire to tie them closed. Make sure to label each bag with a felt tip pen and date your finds for future reference. Buy more bags than you think you will need, one quarter full is a heavy bag. Bags also help keep the dirt and sand in check.
There are lots of websites to help you identify your rocks and local rocks clubs are helpful as well. Our local rock club, Santa Rosa Mineral and Gem Society, is a great resource. Members will help you with identification and guide you through the steps of transforming your treasures into wearable art. SRMGS tries to organize one field trip a month. There is another less formal group, Sonoma County Rogue Rockhounds. Members put together trips near and far often. Short trips in the county are also on tap.
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.
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