Rockhounding ABCs – “Clothes Make the Rockhound”

“Clothes Make the Rockhound”

                What you wear when out rockhounding is just as important as what you bring. Rockhounding is like hiking, star gazing, bird watching, or geo caching as one must be protected against the elements. Unlike those delightful past times and hobbies, rockhounding means you may be in a single spot for hours at a time, cracking rock, chipping rock, and dusting off specimens.

                One time we were rockhounding for garnets from an outcrop in Connecticut that was on the private property of a Boy Scout Camp. We called the Boy Scout camp weeks in advance to ask permission to rockhound there, and to find out what was the protocol. This was on private property, so without permission, we would have been illegally rockhounding, and at risk for a tangle with law enforcement. The Boy Scout camp director was happy to oblige, and shared with us that no power tools were allowed, and he asked for responsible rockhounding. We scheduled the date in advance, found out whom we needed to call if questions came up, and we began our preparations. We did not know where exactly the outcrop was, as the directions were vague, the Boy Scout camp was not actively promoting rockhounding or inviting rockhounds after all, but we knew it was at the camp’s exterior, and near a railroad track. So while driving around the outer borders of the camp we saw a break in the woods that lined the camp and saw railroad tracks. We parked on the side of road, on the camp’s side, and got out our packs and started to march to search for this outcrop. The directions led us to believe the outcrop would be visible if we followed the railroad tracks. We were ready for this walk, prepared in advance for the changing weather of the spring, the emergence of bugs, and the hand tools required. We came to a clearing in the brush and woods, thinking we were close, when before us we see a number of discarded Listerine Mouthwash bottles lining the path, and then some Popov Vodka bottles, and then some rubbing alcohol bottles, and then we arrive at our destination,,,,,an old abandoned meth lab!  There was the propane tank connected to various drums and barrels, out in the middle of the woods! We looked around, realized “yeah, this is a meth lab,” then we cursed, and then proceeded to walk back to the car. Rockhounding is not easy. We drove a little farther about another mile, and decided to search again. This time we saw the outcrop from the car. Since it was spring, the trees were still somewhat bare. We parked again on the side of the road, camp side, and with our packs marched toward the outcrop. This outcrop was very, very hard, but we saw the orange garnets on one of the exposed faces, so we were happy to have multiple chisels, both styles of hammer, and some crow bars with us. The matrix surrounding rock was so tough that we decided the best strategy was to chip away blocks of stone, concentrated as highly as possible with garnets, and then we would work on this stone back home.

                While we were hammering the chisels with our hammers, the noise emitted by both of us was quite loud. Then, in addition to the noise we were creating, we heard the popping of gunfire! We had read that this was a camp ground and firing range, and while we were not targets, and we were not hanging out in the range, we were in the vicinity of the noise. Prepared for this scenario, we had ear plugs in our packs, and were able to rockhound despite the noise we were generating, and that the gun fire was generating.

We did not recover garnets or crystals in this scenario, but removed stone for later work. We hauled back as many slabs as we could responsibly load into the back seat and trunk of the car without destroying the car’s shocks.

                Here is a list of considerations when putting together your rockhounding ensemble:

  1. Prepare for rain with a parka. They are easy to fold up and easy once folded up to store in your backpack. When cold outside, a parka also offers a layer that can warm you up quickly.
  2. Boots! Expect a rocky, rough terrain. Boots made for hiking, not just for walking, will be helpful as you find yourself balanced at different possibly awkward angles chipping away at a stone. The boots are protection against mud, snakes and other critters, and best bet for any terrain. We have bought our boots at thrift stores and over eBay to save a few bucks. Expect your boots to get quite dirty, and possibly needing to be replaced each season, so feel free to purchase second hand, used boots, expecting to wear them down quickly.
  3. There is a reason that jeans were standard uniform for miners in California. They are hardy, big resistant, easy to wash and dust off, and ideal for rockhounds. Jeans are the way to go, no matter the temperature. You will find yourself sitting in a hole, or in a pile of dirt or on the side of an outcrop. Stay comfortable and free from scratch or injury by wearing jeans.
  4. We prefer long sleeved as additional protection against mosquitoes and other bugs, and protection against the sun. Long sleeve t-shirt, with a short sleeve t-shirt over it is fashionable, and smart rockhounding.
    1. “Diamond Tip” – The t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, jeans, etc. that we recommend for rockhounding are going to get very dirty, very quickly. The lifespan of a rockhound’s wardrobe is lessened with each adventure. We prefer to shop for all these articles at the local thrift or second hand store as a result. Clothes, especially shirts and jeans are plentiful in nearly any size. If you need to discard a shirt or jeans afterwards, better for your expenses, and more environmentally responsible for it to have been a second hand article.
  5. Goggles, glasses, eyewear for everyone! When hammering rocks, shards will fly. Goggles, protective glasses, Blu-blockers or sunglasses are absolute requirements. Just like in shop class, please do not begin cracking away at stone without wearing protective eyewear.
    1. “Diamond Tip” – Protective glasses are a good option to buy in bulk. If you go on an adventure with a group, there will likely be someone who does not have them. These are necessary for the safety and responsibility of the entire rockhounding party. Please always wear protective glasses or goggles and insist your rockhound buddies do as well.
  6. Hat, chapeau, or cap. Whatever you call your headwear, it is a valuable asset your rockhounding uniform to help protect you from the elements, the sun, keep your hair out of your eyes during this activity that requires all your hand to eye coordination.
  7. Gloves are critical, whether they be industrial gloves, or fabric or cloth gloves that are available from any hardware store, or convenience and gas station store. Your hands will thank you, and your manicurist will thank you.
    1. “Diamond Tip” – A cost effective glove are the fabric and cloth gloves that are often found in the car supplies at a corner store, or any drug store or convenience store. They are a low price point, and you may want to have more than one pair to share with fellow rockhound.
  8. Ear plugs. This is a personal preference depending on your sensitivity to noise. Banging on rocks throughout the day, or using a jackhammer (extreme rockhounding), can be taxing to your hearing. Some rockhounds are not impacted by the loud noise and do not need them, but other rockhounds require ear plugs for comfort and precaution. Perhaps pack ear plugs as they are small enough to take up next to no space in your pack.
  9. SPF! Shield yourself from the sun any day you rockhound! You could be in the shade, you could also be in full sun, the entire day. Protect your skin beforehand with SPF (this is good advice for every day), and bring a small travel sunscreen for other rockhounds not as prepared as you are.
  10. A notebook and pen to help you record the provenance of your finds and discoveries. Another chapter describes in detail the importance of documenting your finds, and the additional value, sentimental as well as financial and monetary of documentation. Your cell phone is a great tool for this, but a small notepad and pen or pencil may be easier to use.
  11. Sometime a gem and mineral club can be granted access to rockhound around a working mine. If you are a member of a club, and your club has not explored this option, we suggest your leadership look into the potential for a field trip to a rockhound among a working mine, which requires their permission, guidance, and supervision. In those special instance, special gear is often required and that includes a hard hat, and boots with steel tips.
  12. A first aid kit is helpful for Band-Aids and bandages since you are using tools, cracking rock and stone, and are out in the elements, and susceptible to cuts and scratches. The first aid kit can incorporate the sunscreen we recommend, and hopefully is not needed if you are prepared, but a basic first aid kit is a good resource to have for any outdoors activity.
  13. When you are rockhounding along an outcrop on the side of a state or county road where rockhounding is permitted, consider a fluorescent orange or yellow mesh vest for safety. Pennsylvania for instance is a state where rockhounding is allowed (no rockhounding along federal or US highways or freeways), and while we are as far as possible away from the road itself, we wear orange and yellow mesh vests as a courtesy to cars driving by, with drivers interested in what you are doing (a common occurrence). Some public areas where rockhounding is allowed, are also areas where hunting is allowed. For instance, where we hunt for geodes in Southern Indiana, private property, acres off a private farm, backs up to a state forest in Indiana where seasonal hunting is allowed. We also rockhound in Texas and in Georgia, on private acres that also allow hunting. Wear a vest if you are rockhounding in an area that you believe is also used for hunting.