A passion for beads started it, a fascination for (unaffordable!) gemstones and a growing collection of crystals inspired a desire to hunt those raw materials in the wild.
After attending a few rock and gem shows, I had the opportunity to join a rock club and go on a quarry trip to hunt for crystals, minerals and fossils. The hunt was successful, and I was truly hooked.
I am a painter, living in the fine arts fields of painting, drawing, graphic arts and photography. I had successfully avoided any formal science classes in college, so anything to do with earth sciences, geology or minerals really highlighted my lack of a science background.
Now, at 50ish, I was challenged to learn about a brand new field - earth sciences - which was way, way out of my comfort zone.
I was really starting to learn about this field from scratch. But, it didn't really seem like learning 'science'. Conjured images of dry geology textbooks, stratigraphic maps and boring rocks were what I, like a lot of people, thought about earth sciences. No one told me the incredible story of all the mass extinctions the earth has survived, or the sliding tectonic plates we all live on. I was passionate about learning how crystals formed, what gave them color, and how fossils were created. Learning about crystals totally disguised the science, and naturally led into learning about earthquakes, caves, quarrys and mines.
Luckily, my partner in this endeavour - The Bearded Serenader- shared my interest, although he has much more of a science background to start, with a firm grasp of chemistry, maths and engineering. Together we began in earnest, to prepare for our safari into the earthly wilds. Like any hunter, we studied up on our prey - learned about crystals - how they were formed and different types, learned how to do basic identification tests, discovered geodes and where they hide, and what happened eons ago to create the Mazon Creek fossils. There was so much to learn that was never covered in high school or 8 years of college!
With the help of our rock club memberships in a couple of local clubs, we were able to go on several hard rock quarry trips, as well as two mines. Here in the Midwest, access to quarries and mines are now becoming very hard to get into, as many quarry companies are reluctant to allow non-employees access due to insurance restrictions and safety concerns.However, there are still areas that are open and can be very bountiful in treasures!
MIDWEST GEODES & FOSSILS
In the Midwest, there are some pay-to-dig sites that are open to rock and fossil collecting such as Jacob's Geode farm on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, Stevenson and Saint Francisville on the Iowa side, and other geode sites in western Illinois. Various fossils can also be found, such as horn corals, colony coral, brachiopods and trilobytes.
MAZON CREEK - CONCRETIONS = FOSSILS
Mazon Creek fossils are known world-wide, and the Braidwood area is open to the public. While no digging is allowed, the iron concretions that the fossils are found in are naturally eroding from the hillsides, so it's an easy hike in the hills and valleys around the park and the concretions are plentiful.
CRATER OF DIAMONDS - ARKANSAS
In Arkansas, there is the Crater of Diamonds State Park that is a must-see and dig by any rockhound. The crater is plowed a couple times a year to bring up new ground, and anyone can find one of the Arkansas diamonds. This is set up for families to easily access and make a picnic out of the entire day. Tools can be brought in or rented, as well as wagons to move easily around the crater. Several diamonds are found each month, so it is well worth the effort.
MT IDA QUARTZ - ARKANSAS
For the Dig-your-own rock hound, nothing is better than a trip to Mt Ida to dig quartz crystals, clusters and plates! Many of the mountain digs are open year around, and for a small entrance fee, usually under $25 for the day, you can dig thru the mounds of red clay to find incredible plates of clear quartz, smokey quartz and wonderful crystal clusters. If you can - participate in the annual Quartz Dig, usually on top of a mountain, where the clay has been bulldozed from the quarry and freshly dumped. Contests for the best type of crystals are held, and everyone finds something. Watch out for the red clay however - wear clothing you never want to wear again! Also, do not plan on washing the crystals in ANY sink - it will clog it up forever! A crystal dig in Mt Ida is an experience you will not likely forget.
OUT WEST YOU CAN FIND..ANYTHING!
Mine and quarry access is still available out West in many areas, so don't be discouraged. Digs for turquoise, agates, tourmaline, aquamarine, petrified wood, dino bones and fossils, and other gemstones are ongoing so contact the local rock clubs thru several rock club federations that can be found at www.amfed.org. You can search by region or state for local clubs, and they can advise you of areas to go, avoid or they might be planning a hunt, and for a small membership fee, you could join them if you time it right. One of the agates you can find is the Bear Canyon agate (photo), along with the classic Fairburn and prairie agates.
A BOUNTIFUL LAND - THE EAST COAST & FLORIDA
On the east coast as well, there are several sites in New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Florida where dig your own Herkimer diamonds, fluorescent minerals, sapphires, rubys, aquamarine and Tampa Bay corals, and that are accessible throughout the year. Most areas are family-friendly, and open to children, however the harder rock digs such as the Herkimer diamonds may be a challenge to most adults, as well as children under 13.
The fluorescent sites at Sterling Hill and nearby can be intriging to all - you will need a black light (and some kind of cover to block out sun) but the thrill of finding these colorful minerals is a great experience. Along with the daily open-to-the-public dig-your-own, they have an area that is handicap accessible and great for young children. Material is brought in from the mine after blasting. Sterling Hill also has several night digs thru the year - contact them for details.
That's a quick rundown of some of the popular areas to rockhunt - of course that doesn't include hunting for copper in the UP, hunting for Lake Superior agates in Minnesota, digging out flint from Ohio or fossils in Kentucky and Tennessee. Earth's treasures are all around - you just need to know what to look for!
Watch for more posts on the specifics of rock hunting locations to come, and join my email list for more information.
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