After a few trips rockhounding, we discovered the basics needed for a successful hunt, plus a few safety tips.
This hobby is pretty cool -you can go low tech such as beachcoming, along a creek with just a rock scoop and a pair of boots, hang a loupe around your neck and add a magnet; or tech-up with the rock hammers, rolling carts, hardness tester and metal detectors - alot depends on what you are looking for and where.
A few years ago, The Bearded Serenader and I did some rock collecting in South Dakota. There are many abandoned quarrys and we did our research and found several of them. By late afternoon, we had hit a couple, and there was one last spot- a small quarry with the promis of rose quartz. The Serenader decided to rest in the car while I hiked down to the dirt road leading to the quarry. It was quite spectacular - shear tan and brown cliffs surrounding head high piles of micas, a glint of rose quartz and dark schorl. I had the place to myself, listening to buzz of insects, punctuated by tiny pebbles falling down from the top rim of the quarry.
After almost an hour, I realized the sun was starting to set and long shadows were growing, burying the rock piles in dusky, ghostly hills. Suddenly I realized the buzz of insects had stopped, and the sound of tiny pebbles along the rim had a definite pattern, moving closer and closer to me. The hairs on my arms prickled, my heart started to race and I realized I was being stalked!
The adrenaline rush had my heart pounding. I only had my walkie-talkie in my pocket, a rock scoop and a rock hammer - I had one in each hand and started to watch around me - turning 360 degrees every few seconds, as I made my way so terribly slowly away from the high walls and to the path leading out of the quarry. The urge to pull out the walkie-talkie and whisper an SOS was overcome by the fear of one minute of inattention would be an opening. The path out of the quarry was a overgrown with bushes and weeds, so that was a looming fear - a perfect place for an ambush. I gripped my hammer tightly - more for reassurance than anything, as I didn't think a rock hammer against a mountain lion would be too effective. Trying to keep myself from running down the path to the road had my heart in my throat, and I didn't breathe until I sighted the car.
I learned a lesson that day - be aware of your surroundings! Don't let the lure of a treasure drop your guard. Rock hunt with a partner and keep each other aware and safe. I realize now the walkie-talkies, turned up loud, might have scared an animal away, but who knows?
So, here are a few basics we discovered thru trial and error, that help make any trip successful:
- Do your research - is the area public, BLM lands, private land, national forest or state forest? If private you must get permission from the owner -this is the most vital part. Each state has different requirements if you are hunting along a river bank or sand bar - know where the private property begins - at the shore, in the middle of the creek or up 5 yards from the water line. You'll save yourself alot of grief if you know this ahead of time. NEVER ASSUME IT'S OKAY TO ROCK HUNT ON SOMEONE'S LAND!
- Leave the site like you found it - fill in holes, close gates, clean up your trash.
- Always go rock hunting with a partner as the risk of climbing over rocks, walking along muddy creeks and over sharp stones can increase the likelihood of a fall. Ensure you have a way to contact someone close by either with a cell phone or walkie-talkie. Remember in remote places, cell signals are hard to find.
- Clothing - dress appropriately - boots, long pants, long sleeve shirts, hat, gloves, sunscreen, bug and tick spray. I use the Carhardt brand overalls as they provide a solid protection to legs, butt and knees - vital if you end up sliding down a hill full of sharp rock. Steel toe boots are standard wear for hard rock sites.
- Tools - rock hammer (NOT a carpenter hammer!), pick, chisels if you will be in hard rock, safety goggles, hard hat, gloves and pail. A rock scoop will save much back pain and also functions as a walking staff. If you can, bring a rolling cart or dolly to move those pails - they get very heavy fast! If you are looking for smaller items, a sieve or sarrucca will help go thru dirt quickly.
- If you are collecting fossils or crystals - bring something to wrap them in to protect the points. We used bubble wrap, newspaper, paper towels and also diapers are great. High grade the crystals at the site, and determine if they are 'diaper-worthy'. If not, leave them. It will lighten your load home immensely.
- Put the found items in ziplock bags, and label the exact location found. This will ensure you always know where something exceptional was found as you go thru the bag days, weeks or months later. A mineral specimen's value is closely linked to where it was found. Without that, it's of nominal value no matter how perfect or unusual.
- Bring a First Aid Kit - there will be bug bites, scrapes and the need for icepacks! Be super aware of your surroundings-watching for snakes, spiders and ticks. Looking thru a pile of rocks sitting in a field is a sure thing to find a snake or animal den. Never put your hand in a hole -that's what the rock scoops are for.
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas on any rock collecting trip. The nature of the trip itself means out in the boonies for the most part - don't get stranded along a creekbed miles from the nearest town or tow truck.
- Bring extra food and water and hydrate during the hunt, especially if you are in no-shade areas, mountain tops, gravel pits or quarrys. Those can turn into ovens since there is little ground cover or trees, and the temperatures can climb unbelievably high before you realize it. Be safe and smart about it.
So, use common sense to stay safe and error on the side of caution. Enjoy the hunt and I hope you find wonderful treasures along the way!
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