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Summer 2013

You Ain't Nothin' but a Rockhound

You don’t have to be an archaeologist to unearth a few treasures.

When I was a kid, I bounced down a bumpy road in our old family car on the way to dig up some geodes. The dust flew into the sky behind us as we crossed the desolate landscape of western Utah. Soon I caught sight of a series of holes and trenches up ahead. We came to a stop, and I jumped out of the car with my shovel in hand. With a little guidance from the adults, we dug in the correct layer of earth until we found the special rocks. On the outside they looked like any old rock, but we cracked open a few and saw the spectacular, glimmering crystals inside the geodes.

You too can be rock hound—someone who collects rocks, minerals, and fossils as a hobby. All you need is some preparation, a few basic tools, and a way to store and label your treasures.


Before taking your own trip, you’ll need to have a few things. Make sure you have permission or the proper permits; laws vary by state, and any collecting done on private land requires the owner’s permission. Bring some durable clothes, sunscreen, and maybe a hat. You’ll also need gloves and eye protection if you’re going to be using hammers and chisels. And most importantly, don’t forget to bring enough water!


Most rockhounding gear is practical rather than technical. To collect geodes, you’ll need shovels, buckets, and hammers to crack the rocks open. But not everything can be picked up or dug up with shovels. You have to extract most of the beautiful minerals and fossils from the surrounding rock. This sort of rockhounding involves examining the layers of rock as you search for veins of the material. To help you find crystals that would otherwise be very easy to miss among the grit, rocks, and dirt, a spray bottle and magnifying loupe are recommended. Finally, you’ll want a hammer and a chisel made for cutting rock. Heavier tools like a pry bar can help you lift rocks or widen cracks but aren’t usually necessary.


To protect larger rocks that you have collected, wrap them with newspaper and keep them in a box or a bucket. Keep smaller specimens in a smaller sturdy case so they don’t get lost or broken. You’ll also want to label your specimens. Simple masking tape can serve as an effective label out in the field and will help you keep a history of your special finds until you can make a nicer label back at home.

—Ben Keeley