Rockhounding 101 – How to REALLY FIND minerals and rocks!

Rocky Rockhammer MascotOn this website we are sharing information about locations that some of the various contributors to this site have gone to. All of us find out about these mineral locations from various sources. Many locations have been talked about in every media format available, some published locations are so well known it is common to run into another collector at any time, some of the locations published are visited less than a couple times a year, if at all. By media, I mean, printed in magazines, books, club newsletters, posted online in forums, websites, on homemade video, on professional video and on television. Some collectors will grumble that all this publicity will make the location run dry. It makes local officials either look forward to increased tourism, or look for ways to restrict access, as if rockhounding was a hobby that allows one to retire early (on public gains!), rather than typically be retired to enjoy! Mineral collecting is a truly patriotic hobby! Knowing and understanding minerals and the deposits has always been a matter of national security, public knowledge and scientific outreach.

While many websites will tell you about what tools you need and speak of rock hammers, backpacks and boots, our #1 tool is knowledge. First hand, published and in modern mythic tales, obtaining information about locations is something that is the first step to find out as much as possible about a location before ever visiting it.

Field Guides are a great resource, as well as magazines focused on rockhounding, from now all the way back into the beginning of the 20th century! Old magazines like “Rockhounds” and “The Mineralogist” are great resources, as well as old and current issues of “Rocks and Minerals” and “Rock and Gem”. All of these can be found for sale on eBay and at various mineral shows around the united states. You never know when you are going to come across a great article about a location you had JUST heard about! One of the most amazing online databases is the complete run of “American Mineralogist” on http://www.minsocam.org/msa/ammin/toc/
The older issues have articles that have lead me to locations that might have been completely forgotten about.

Mindat.org is an amazing database that many of you are already familiar with, however, we often forget to think about just how amazing this database is, including lists of references for corresponding articles and books about the subject.

Geology Departments of the state you live in or adjacent to you, has produced several state reports on mines and minerals, which will often include information that can be very useful now. In the early 1900’s, feldspar was an important commodity, unlike now. Knowledge of mineral deposits will tell us commercial feldspar deposits also had garnets and schorl tourmaline, sometimes quartz or even topaz. Often an entire hardcover book has been produced, detailing the minerals and the locations they are found, across the state. California has at least THREE editions of this kind of text and I’m sure there are several people planning the next edition.

Road Atlas are great to have when you are planning and while you are en route. I personally love the DeLorme series, nice large print maps that have helped guide me to countless locations. The BLM has a program you can use, the LR2000, but my personal favorite database is the MRDS, Mineral Resource Data System, detailing the principal and secondary ore and location of all working, placed and closed mines and mineral locations. Just load the map and locate your location. I think you’ll be surprised what you might not know about the mines in your proximity. While traveling through Utah and Colorado, our Road Map was invaluable, showing BLM land that was open for public camping.

Clubs are a real mixed bag, but as such, you will inevitably come across information from all directions. Both of my favorite beach and fossil collecting spots were told to me by a lady at the Searcher’s Rock Club in Anaheim California. Right now in 2013, I’m cleaning minerals and going field collecting with a friend I made from attending the Culver City Club back in 2004. That is a collecting friend who has gone on dozens of collecting trips with me over 9 years. I’ve learned about so many parts of this hobby from mineral clubs and it has been an enlightening experience in many ways. You can get a complete list of mineral clubs here.

We loved this idea so much, we made it. The Mineral Search Page located Right Here on WheretoFindRocks.com, is something that we made from our LOVE of the general searches for states, countries and forms on eBay. The idea behind this is that if you check out the eBay results for your state, or general area, you’ll come across people who have gone out collecting at public locations and put something on eBay. This can easily lead you to general areas to collect minerals. It is a great first step in researching current producing locations.

Museums and local collections are great resources. You’ll find the museums thing to be easy, if not a long term task. Searching out collections, both old and current, are wonderful sources of information. For instance, if you wanted a good run down of California locations, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles has an entire wall devoted to very beautiful representations of our state, as well as the California Mining Museum in Mariposa. I LOVED the Wagner Free Institute which had this amazing OLD collection, untouched for a century. In the same vein, the Natural History museum of Prague featured minerals that had not been updated in decades, revealing a great deal of history that is so often removed from the more mainstream commercial museums. Local collections require a bit more finesse and luck. For example, getting to visit private collections can be mind expanding, as many long time private collectors have seen things that were so common for a small amount of time and now virtually unheard of. However, without some sort of recommendation from someone of some sort of personal relation ship with a private collector, most of them are not exactly looking for random visitors. However, if you had been a member of the Mineralogical Society of Southern California, you would have had the chance to visit with several outstanding collections belonging to members of that club. Which takes us back to Mineral Clubs, and why it is a wise idea to be involved with at least one of them.

Going to mineral shows is a great source of information, as the display cases often reveal locations that are open to collection. In fact, the name tags in the cases often match up to the club member’s name tags, the people running the mineral show, and often you can strike up a conversation about their display case.

Libraries all around have lead me to some wild collecting adventures. Your local library is going to have a couple things for sure, often books about the geology of the area, as well as a collection of the state’s publications on geological topics. A great for instance is back in the very beginning of my collecting days, some friends of mine discovered the 1962 edition of “Mineral Collecting in Pennsylvania”, which drove us in a search for the “Azurite” included quartz crystals of Kunkletown. The book was wrong, but there is nothing wrong with Anatase included Quartz, which we found. My most recent discovery of Lawsonite on the beaches of Southern California due to a geological sand sample report. You can read all about that in my upcoming blog entry.

Google Maps and Google Earth are to powerful tools that everyone has at their fingertips. You can do amazing amounts of research with both of these tools, locating mineral locations right down to their visible mine tailings! Understanding the various uplifts, errosion patterns, depressions and faint roads to nowhere are very useful for today’s mineral collector. A simple test, pick your favorite collecting area and look at it on google earth. You will see things you might have never noticed on foot.

Now, my secrets are revealed to you. I hope you use them wisely!

I want to leave you with this note, written by Rock Currier in the publication, “About Mineral Collecting” released by the Mineralogical Record.

Field collectors are a remarkable and accomplished breed. They are perhaps the rarest and purest kind of mineral collectors. They hearken back to the very beginnings of what we now call the earth sciences, and in many ways they embody the simple thrill and youthful joy of the treasure hunt. If you look you will find them “out there” trekking over just one more mountain, digging down just another foot, and hoping for just a little bit longer that they will find something. But remember, the first law of field collecting states: “The best to be found is still in the ground and the best that has been found has be ground!” (that is, ground up into powder in the mill and processed into metal)

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Collecting Howlite an hour North of Los Angeles

Mineral Club collecting at Tick Canyon in 1957
VGMS collecting at Tick Canyon back in 1957
For decades rockhounds have collected tons of howlite from the dumps of Tick Canyon.

To this day, tons of howlite still overflow at the mine dumps, dormant for over 100 years.


View Tick Canyon Howlite Collecting in a larger map

This location, clearly seen on the map above, is amazingly easy to find, park, and collect. The borate mine in Tick Canyon is called the Stearling Borax mine, which had its own mini railroad, a “dinky” sized rail, hauling borates out of the canyon to the station in Lang. The by product of colemanite mining at this location was an odd soft white material, with thin black spiderweb like inclusions running throughout. This material, Howlite, has no economic worth, as it is not an ore of borax, it is found littering the mine dumps.

Brandy Zzyzx collecting Howlite in Tick Canyon
The old mining area is now fenced off with no trespassing signs. Years ago, this main area was a common field trip location for clubs from all over Southern California. Uncommon minerals like Priceite and Veatchite could be found on the dumps, along with softball sized cauliflower shaped howlite nodules. You would think that with the original mine dump off limits, collecting would be impossible.
Howlite cut in half
This howlite nodule was cut in half, then mounted in a block of plaster. Photo by MiddleEarthMinerals.com
Something wonderful for mineral collectors, a large amount of the dump was pushed to the other side of Davenport Road, into the canyon below. This huge dump pile is full of howlite, as we found out visiting this location on December 23rd, 2012.
Howlite found in the dump material of the Stearling Borax Mine
Chunks of white Howlite can be seen in the dark gray dump
Forty pounds of howlite was gathered in what seemed like no time, with no digging required. The howlite was everywhere, even down the wash dozens of feet from the main dump pile.

Howlite is soft enough to carve easily, yet hard enough to be a popular lapidary item for cabbing, tumbling, and polishing.
Howlite chunk in Concrete block
You can see that the material was so unwanted, they would use it as a filler rock in concrete.

This location is a perfect place for anyone, it is easy, interesting and filled with desirable minerals!
Article from The-Vug.com Fakes Issue about Howlite
The article above is an excerpt from The-Vug.com Quarterly Magazine Fakes Issue, which was reprinted in the compilation book, available for sale directly from the publisher!

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Garnets in the Fairmount Park area of Philadelphia Pennsylvania

We just love the city of brotherly love and you can discover a beautiful feature of this area, the mica schist deposits running through this area, outcropping all over the Fairmount Park area and beyond. There is Wissahickon formation schist all over the place, not all of it has garnets and they never get big, but having one as a reference sample and visiting this area are well worth the time spent.

ducks in fairmount park
Ducks lined up by the Wissahickon Creek

While we have visited many outcrops of rocks around the area, the one where we took these photos is by the wissahickon creek, just north of the free public parking area by the Vallery Green Inn.

View Fairmount Park Garnet Deposit in a larger map

This area is beautiful and you can see blocks of Wissahickon schist used for building stone, with garnets poking out of some of the blocks. There is a beautiful stone bridge there, along with all sorts of birds, small animals, providing a beautiful setting just outside the city. We went down to the wissahickon creek, descending on the west side of the bank. Trails form around the creek, revealing water worn mica chunks with garnets sticking out. The red color is interesting, but few if any are of any gem quality, they are simply a mineralogical interest item and a beautiful example of a mica schist. Philadelphia is a beautiful city and this deposit of Kyanite is just one more great reason to visit! Check out Hotels.com for great deals on hotel rooms in Philadephia!

down by the wissahickon creek
A view from the trails by the Wissahickon Creek
Friends of Wheretofindrocks.com collecting garnets
Looking through the rocks down by the creekside
a tiny gemmy red garnet in matrix
A tiny gem red garnet in matrix
typical size of mica and garnet specimen
A rockhammer to show you the typical size and color of the garnet baring mica schist
flipping over rocks at the wissahickon creek
Finding a good specimen takes luck
Having fun looking at rocks in philadelphia
A beautiful setting for a nature outing, the mica schist of the Wissahickon Creek is a great way to spend an afternoon!

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Collecting minerals from “Cross Hill”, Nuevo California

A friend of mine asked to go visit the feldspar mine on the mountain in Nuevo California, about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, toward Riverside and on the way to San Diego. I had not been to the location in five years and I had heard that there was a lot of activity in the area with houses being built. As this has been a classic collecting location, along with the possibility of general prospecting around the area, I wanted to see what was going on.

View Nuevo Quarry pinpointed in a larger map
First I heard there was a gate up. That did not seem to bode well, but it looks like the Korean Church at the bottom of the hill put a gate up at the beginning of the road. It was open (and public land!) so we drove through. Going up the hill was no problem, just like in the past. The odd thing was, going up the hill, the graffiti was out of control on those rocks, empty ammo cases littered the ground alongside empty beer bottles. In addition, these signs saying that the road was PRIVATE were sprayed on the boulders, which is just plain nonsense! This is a road. You can not simply buy the rights to some land and close off a public road. There were work crews, lots of construction going on and shockingly, houses were springing up in this area. The turn off to the quarry was way worse than I remember, as they graded the dirt road down, down, down, so that the turnoff was a six foot climb in the Jeep, which was a little shocking. But, then the road seemed fine, as I remember, and we pulled into the parking area to start our walk to the quarry and dump pile. Seriously, nobody is going to tell me that, as a citizen of California and America, that I am not allowed to go on a public road, to an abandoned quarry to collect some worthless rocks that nobody will miss. Just because some chumps want to spend millions of dollars to build their secluded homesites doesn’t mean they can keep me from the public road outside their house. Keep those ATVs, the gun nuts and the teenage drinkers away, I’m here for some science and some nature.
Smithsonian Nuevo California Garnet
Here is the photo that got me interested again, a photo from the Smithsonian of a nice garnet from this location.

The quarry is very interesting, mainly feldspar and massive quartz, with huge crystals of schorl tourmaline embedded inside the feldspar. Along with this are garnets, most always forming in one thin layer on the outside of the feldspar blocks, the rare find of a scrap of aquamarine is possible and uncommon radioactive crystals of monazite and thorianite. I wanted to try and find some of the radioactives and nice garnet plate, my friend was looking for schorl chunks to put into reference kits for the kids. We found everything that you could expect to find from the quarry and spent about 2 hours collecting before hitting the road back to Los Angeles, with a wide open freeway, pre-rush hour, it was a great trip. If you are in the Southern California area, this is an interesting place to check out and I hope you make it without any problems and who knows, maybe in a few years the road will be paved! (and gated, to keep you ruffians out) This is BLM land, no person should DARE to stop entry to that land. Access to this area has been served by that road which far predates the church or the houses being built up there. It is absolutely shameful if anyone tries to stop you.

Overlooking the felspar quarry in Nuevo California
Overlooking the quarry from the parking area.
Huge Crystals of Schorl in feldspar
For size reference, here is my hand.
Nuevo Quarry with John
A human for size reference.
Another view of the schorl wall at Nuevo
More mouth-watering schorl!
Schorl Crystal in Matrix
This schorl crystal would fall to bits if we tried to remove it from matrix.
loose schorl crystal
A typical scrap of Schorl Tourmaline found on the dumps.
Garnet crystals on feldspar matrix
Commonly seen are the blocks of feldspar, more uncommon is a coverage as rich as this with well formed crystals.
Unidentified radioactive minerals
You can tell these are radioactive due to the radiation rings discoloring the quartz/feldspar matrix.
leaving the quarry with some kid rocks
Leaving the quarry with some rocks to share with the kids.

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Our Top 10 Favorite Mineral/Rock/Gem Memes

While the old definition of “Meme” would simply imply a behavior learned from cultural or non-family social interaction, the standard for “Meme” now is these humorous photos. Memes start when someone takes a photo, puts some words on it and posts it online. With enough approval, blanks are requested so that the public can start producing their own. The one unfortunate aspect of this is memes becoming too popular and being generated by people who do not have the aptitude to CREATE, leading to some very poor examples floating around on the internet.

Minerals have been the subject of these online jokes since nearly the beginning of their production. As terrible b/tards, tumblr uses and redditors, we have seen and collected dozens of mineral themed memes over the past few years and now we want to share them with you!

And now, onto…

#10 – Brace Yourself – The Mineral Posts are coming

Game of Thrones Meme for Minerals

This meme comes from the HBO show, Game of Thrones,
with Ned Stark saying his legendary line…”Brace Yourself, Winter is coming”, denoting the approaching LONG seasonal change in that fantasy world, which can last for a decade or more. In Memespeak, these are created when a meme goes viral, someone will inevitably produce Ned warning the audience that soon there will be a flood of that meme, most, poorly produced.

#9 – TheOatmeal.com – “We Require More Minerals!”

TheOatmeal Starcraft Meme for Minerals

Starcraft is a great game by Blizzard and while it has a huge fan following, South Korea is well known as the country with the most rabid players. While the South Koreans are plugging away at their computers looking for pixelated crystals, in North Korea, minerals are a more serious business! Created by the great comic creator, TheOatmeal.com

#8 – Halite Makes Me Hot

Models for Minerals

A favorite of online mineral memes is the paring of a mineral with a model and “quoting” the model telling the audience how incredibly turned on they are by a ugly rock. One of the misnomers about mineral collecting is that it is a bunch of old crusty men, when in reality there are, my god, WOMEN that collect minerals! Not only are they…Female…many of them are BEAUTIFUL women! Gasp! This is one of our favorites, because we can’t think of anyone who comes away from the halite filled brine pools thinking about anything besides getting a shower and lunch.

#7 – Disregard Marie, Acquire Minerals – Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad Hank Meme

A Meme within a meme within a meme, hey we have a meme to specifically make fun of that, but let’s focus on THIS one, which is, for our non-USA viewers or those who are not familiar with the excellent AMC Drama, Breaking Bad.
In the show, DEA agent Hank is shot and needs a lot of recouping time, bedridden he starts to obsess over minerals, buying them from various websites, including the one mentioned on the show, mineralemporium.com, which of course, takes you to Breaking Bad’s website. On top of that, this meme is a tribute to the Joseph Ducreux portrait, which traditionally says “Disregard Bitches, Acquire Money.”
Now, one of the funny things for Non-US visitors is that we wonder if the plot of Breaking Bad makes any sense…A School Teacher, who is poorly paid, gets cancer and is told that treatments are going to leave the family destitute. In hopes to pay for his medical treatment, he starts cooking methamphetamine. We would think in any real civilized society, someone shouldn’t have to worry about their family being torn apart by medical expenses. That’s a truly American way of life! Go USA!

#6 – Phillip J. Fry – Futurama – Not Sure if…

Futurama for Minerals

We would like to think the writers at Futurama would approve of this meme, the standard Phillip J. Fry “Not Sure if x or y” meme, done for the appreciation of minerals. There are hundreds, nay, might I guess THOUSANDS of stoners getting lost inside a quartz crystal or aragonite cluster, maybe even RIGHT THIS MOMENT! Put down the bong, son, Minerals are cool, even when not high.

#5 – Holy Shit – This Rock is PERFECT!

Found the perfect rock for my collection

There is a positive way to look at that face planting that is about to occur. Makes my face hurt…and makes me wonder…is it a quartz crystal? We hope so!

#4 – Bismuth

Bismuth Meme

The internet has a hardon for Bismuth. Lab grown Bismuth crystals are shared with reckless abandon, so this great meme, featuring a NATURAL BISMUTH crystal, a winner in our books!

#3 – Bill Larson, your argument is invalid

Invalid Meme

The meme that is dedicated to the form “This is x, your argument is invalid” where X is a something completely random and pointless, used as a tactic to make distracting point in a dispute to which you have no good retort. At an annual Tucson party celebrating the TGMS, a wild iguana appeared, coupled with countless bottles of wine, several people posed with the reptile. When it took to Pala Minerals owner “Burma Bill” Larson, a man with more untold mineral stories than you might ever hope to acquire over a lifetime, the flashes went off all over the place and as soon as an image was posted online, this meme was created.

#2 – Gave that Bitch a Crystal, Bitches love Crystals – MineralClassics’ founder Richard Kosnar and the legendary phosphophyllite.

Richard Kosnar Phosphophyllite Meme

Brian Kosnar showed me this meme that was created with a famous photo of the standard smiling face of his dad, Richard Kosnar. In his hands, the ultimate phosphophyllite. The meme? Based on a line from the TV show “The Boondocks” where the rich, violent whiteboy gangster styled after another dimensions’ George Bush Jr, saying, while texting a woman “Hold Up, I’m gonna send this bitch a smiley face. Bitches love smiley faces.”. Thus, the “I’m going to give this X a Y, X’s love Ys.” You can find wonderful minerals from Bolivia (where this crystal comes from), colorado and more at the website www.minclassics.com

And, finally, the Meme we believe might have been the first…

#1 – Out of nowhere…Feldspar!

Feldspar Meme

What could have been the first mineral meme, and surely, one of the most popular…”Out of Nowhere…It’s X” where X is the thing in the picture, in this case…two nice feldspar crystals.

There you have it, our Top 10 Mineral/Rock themed Memes! We certainly had MORE to share, but these were our favorites around the office. Hope you enjoyed it!

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