Rockhounding: Secrets of a Rock Collector
Rockhounding in the Southwest
Rock Collecting or Rock Hoarding
There seems to be a fine line between rock collecting and rock hoarding. Rock collecting brings to mind the scientific collection of specimens. Hoarders just haphazardly pick up and keep any rocks that appeal to them.
Wikipedia defines compulsive hoarding as:
"the selfish acquisition of possessions...even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary"
It's easy to cross the line when you begin to pick up every pretty, shiny, interesting rock you see.
RVing and Rock Collecting
Anyone who camps in the desert understands the lure of rock collecting. You’re surrounded by rocks. Rocks in your campsite, rocks on the roads. On BLM land, the dispersed campsites are often outlined with the rocks that people have collected through the winter season. Snowbirds who boondock in Arizona and other warm climates make rock jewelry and cut and polish rocks. They collect fossils and search for gemstones. Some snowbirds look for gold and go off into the desert with their gold panning equipment. Others search for turquoise on the desert floor or in old turquoise mines.
With all the opportunities available to rock hounds, it’s nearly impossible not to succumb to the urge to collect rocks when you are camping out or hiking those interesting trails.
Outdoor Activities and Rock Collecting
But you don't have to go camping to become hooked on rock collecting. Anyone who walks outdoors can be tempted to pick up the rocks along their path. Visit a park, forest or beach and you might find yourself picking up some shinny orange rock or a piece of pretty quartz or an agate. Before you know it, you have a pocketful of stones, then a bag full, then a bucket full. It's definitely easy to become hooked on rock collecting.
Serious Rockhounding and Casual Collectors
If you've ever been interested in rocks, you know that there are serious rockhounds and also casual collectors.
Serious rockhounds learn rock and mineral identification and carry their field guides, rock picks and gad bars on their belts. They know an agate from a quartz. Their collections are carefully categorized by name and type and labeled with date and location where they were found. Serious rockhounds haunt the rock and mineral shows, trade specimens and own their own cutting and polishing equipment. They are not to be taken lightly.
Casual collectors are a whole different breed of rock collectors. They seldom know the name of the rock they are holding, and categorize their collection by names such as "black shinny rocks" and "pretty pink rocks." They collect during their walks in the desert or on the beach, and pick up anything that strikes their fancy. (That's me!)
However, both kinds of rock collectors love rocks, fill their RVs and homes with rocks, hoard rocks in every available space, and always want just one more beautiful rock!
Geodes and Fossils
5 Reasons to Collect Rocks
Collecting rocks is appealing to kids as well as adults. There are many reasons why it's a great hobby:
- Rock collecting is cheap! If you collect your own on your walks and hikes, rocks are free!
- Rocks are readily available! You can find rocks on the beach, in the mountains, by the lake, in the desert or in your driveway!
- Rocks are interesting and beautiful. Each rock is different, with different colors, shapes, textures and consistencies. Some are very beautiful.
- Rocks have history. Some rocks contain fossils tell a story of prehistoric times and of the formation of the earth. An example is shown in the photo of the face in the rock I found in California, To learn more about it, read my article: A Rockhound's Discovery - Is it an Alien Fossil or an Ancient Native American Carving?
- Rocks are useful. Rocks have been used as tools and building materials since the beginning of civilization, but the collector can also make them into jewelry and decorative objects.
Useful Objects Made from Rocks
Some Uses of Rocks
Some people may view this as a rather useless hobby, but rock collectors like myself know that there are many good uses for the rocks that we pick up everywhere. Here are some of the many uses of rocks:
- Primitive people knew that rocks could be made into useful items like spear heads, arrow heads, hammers, mortar and pestles, jewelry and beads.
- Rocks like granite, marble and travertine (a form of limestone found near hot springs) are cut into slabs and used for building materials, floors and walkways.
- Obsidian, a black volcanic glass, is used for making scalpels and knives, beautiful wind chimes and carvings.
- Marble and granite is used for sculptures, headstones, buildings and monuments.
- Jewelry is fashioned from many, many different rocks and minerals.
- Household items like clocks, picture frames, bookends, paperweights, ashtrays, figurines can be made from petrified wood, jade, turquoise and other beautifully colored and patterned rocks and minerals.
- Large chunks of rock are made into benches, sculptures, lawn ornaments and landscaping focal points.
TurquoiseClick thumbnail to view full-size
Creative Uses for the Small Collector of Rocks
When you are a rock hoarder like myself, you may need a few excuses to pick up one more rock. So I've developed a list of more creative uses for those collected rocks.
- Use rocks as decorations around flower beds.
- Place rocks in decorative baskets or pretty dishes around the house.
- Rocks make great paperweights.
- Keep a few rocks handy for defense purposes.
- Add pretty rocks to indoor fountains or planters.
- Hide a key under a rock.
- Add some to your aquarium.
- Put a few favorites with your plants in your indoor flower planters.
- Fill a pretty vase with colorful rocks, and add water to bring out the colors.
- Line the edges of flower beds with rocks.
- Glue some felt or cork to the bottom and use the for doorstops or bookends.
Trailer for The Long, Long Trailer
Rock Hoarding Insipired by Lucille Ball
Years ago Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz starred in a movie called The Long, Long Trailer. It was a hilarious account of their adventures traveling across country pulling a camper trailer. Lucy became fascinated with the rocks along the way and began picking them up and putting them in the trailer. Despite Desi’s warnings not to pick up more rocks, she stashed them in closets, cupboards and every nook and cranny. Needless to say, her rock collecting backfired when rocks started breaking loose and rolling out of their hiding places.
"LUCY! You've got some 'splaining to do!"
Sometimes my husband accuses me of being like Lucy, because I do stash my rocks in all the nooks and crannies of our RV and in the little Jeep Wrangler that we tow behind it. I have baggies of small colored rocks in our kitchen drawers and in the bedroom closet. I have larger rocks hidden in the bottom of my clothes closet and in our basement storage compartments. There are coffee cans full of chalcedony and pretty, naturally polished desert stones. I have a separate place for rocks with flakes of turquoise, petrified wood. There are chunks of glittering white quartzite from Arizona and shinny black obsidian from California. A few pounds of rocks were picked up along a beach on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Rock Hoarding: Is It the Same as Rock Collecting?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rock Collecting While RVing: Things to Consider
Like Lucy in the Long, Long Trailer, there were a few things I didn't consider as I picked up all of those interesting rocks during our travels. I did have to secret some of them away so that my husband didn't know exactly how many I had, and those boxes, baggies and coffee cans added up. If you are into rock collecting while RVing, you may may want to consider these points:
- Rocks are heavy. Added weight reduces gas mileage.
- Rocks take up space. Space is very limited in an RV.
- Check the legality of rock collecting before picking up rocks. Rock collecting may be limited or banned in certain places. For example, you can't pick up petrified wood in the Petrified Forest National Park! Most National Parks have some limits on how many pounds of rocks you can collect, so do check them out before loading your backpack with pretty specimens.
Rock Collecting Tools
If you are thinking of rock collecting, you may want to carry a few useful tool with you in a canvas bag or backpack:
- Rockhound gad bar
- Rock pick
- Treasure scoop
- Geologist field tools
- Rock hammer
- Magnifying glass
- Safety glasses
- Rock chisel
Don't forget to take some water, both to drink and to rinse off dust to get a better idea of what your rock looks like.
Rock collector or rock hoarder?
Do you like to collect rocks?
The Fascination of Rocks
Whether you are a serious collector, an amateur geologist or just love to pick up pretty stones, collecting rocks is a fascinating pastime. You'll have some interesting and free souvenirs of your travels that you can display in a variety of ways, indoors and out. This is an especially fun hobby to share with children as they can collect on so many different levels, depending on their age and interest. Do encourage those budding geologists!
Do have fun on your next rock collecting outing!
Copyright ©2012 Stephanie Henkel
Questions & Answers
How do you clean rocks from the southwest desert?
I clean my rocks by putting them in a bucket of water with some mild soap and letting them soak a while to loosen the dirt. Sometimes I use a toothbrush to clean out indentations and cracks. Then, I rinse them with clear water.Helpful 8