Article from the Backbenders Gazette of January, 2002
(Fourth Place winner in Adult Advanced Articles 2002 competition
South Central Federation of Mineral Societies)

The following is an article by the PMNS Curator


© 2002 Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D., Curator, PMNS

This article is intended to assist the "new guys and gals" who want to learn how to be a "Rockhound" or "Pebble Puppy" and have little or no experience or training. Length allows only a brief coverage of some basics.

What KIND of "Rockhound" do you want to be?

What are your interests? Cutting precious stones (Faceting), fossils (Paleontology), cutting and polishing rocks and minerals (Lapidary ), collecting and studying minerals or other. Houston Gem & Mineral Society (HGMS) has these and other sections for adults and children.

What, where and when do go want to hunt?

Don't start hunting on your own. There are many million of square miles in the U.S. where you stand a good chance of finding nothing you would want to collect.

So where do you find places to collect?

1. Determine what you are interested in. (see first note above)

2. Determine where those things may be found. How do you find out where things may be found?

{a} You attend meetings and ask questions of the more knowledgeable Rockhounds at meetings;

{b} You read as much material on your area of interest as can find. Go to: your club's own library and publication; the public library; book stores; Gem, Mineral & Fossil shows; rock shops; and books which friends will loan you.

{c} Purchase geological maps and books of maps to learn where every little waterway, hill, cut and bluff is located in the State you want to hunt in. You can get these from Universities, the U. S. Geodetic Survey (included in the footnotes) and State Geological Departments.

{d} Subscribe to good magazines on the field (some are included in the footnotes).

{d} One of the best places to dig, is a new road cut or railroad cut freshly made, exposing new fossils and minerals, after some rain washes away the initial construction dirt from the new cut.

3. Determine when the best time may be to look for specimens.

{a} If you are searching in rivers for fossils, you don't want to go when the river is high. Do go after there has been flooding, but after the river has gone back down. Flooding and high water wash out fossils and sometimes minerals. Then you wait for the river to go down and go pick up your prizes on sand bars and banks.

{b} Consider climate conditions. Rivers can be dangerous during flooding. Deserts, plains and other areas can be dangerous during high temperatures. River banks, cuts and gullies can be dangerous when wet and slippery. Biting and stinging insects, poisonous snakes, toxic plants and other things you encounter in the wild may be worse or better during certain seasons and weather conditions.

{c} It is better to go on cool or warm days when the humidity is low and there is no holiday or weekend traffic to fight. However, if you tough it, inclement weather and conditions may mean less competition.

4. What do you wear and personal items to take with you?

{a} It depends a lot upon the weather and where you are going to be hunting.

{b} If you are going to walk in a river bed, river banks, cuts, gullies or other slippery surfaces, you wear tennis shoes or other shoes which will grip well when wet.

{c} If you are going to be climbing hills or mountains, you wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support. If there is danger of a mashed toe, wear steel toed boots if possible.

{d} I recommend wearing full length pants and shirt sleeves. Limit your exposure to the sun; insect bites and stings; toxic plants, abrasions and other mishaps. Wear something which is tough such as blue jean pants and shirts. Don't wear something which can be easily ruined--as it probably will be.

{e} Always bring a hat and a bandanna. This will protect your face, ears, eyes and neck from the sun, dust and sometimes rain.

{f} Carry a canteen or pack with water and sport drinks (to replace electrolytes in your system. Sweating (perspiring by ladies) is common on field trips and you don't want to become dehydrated.

{g} Carry the newer more powerful type of insect repellant and sun protection cream with a rating of at least SPF#15 or higher.

5. What do take with you to dig?

{a} This is much like asking how long is a piece of string.

{b} In many sites, you can just pick up minerals and fossils with virtually no tools. Other sites require specialized tools and equipment. Below are some samples to understand how much this can vary.

[1] Primary tools at any site, are the containers and packaging materials, in which to remove the minerals or fossils from the site and return them safely to your home, lab or clubhouse. You don't need to spend any or at least much money on containers. We all have lots of them around the house all the time. Some items are: (a) plastic bottles for water (to wash specimens) and to carry such things as Butvar glue (to keep fossils together until you can return them for preparation); (b) soft drink "flats" (these are cardboard containers which canned drinks come in); (c) styrofoam containers with lids (from fast food places with side orders); (d) fishing tackle or pencil boxes which can be purchased at chain stores, hobby centers etc. [these are great for small shells, pieces of bone and other smaller fossils and minerals]; (e) various size plastic storage boxes with lids, which are also sold very reasonably priced today, are good for bringing back larger specimens and/or clubs of dirt which you want to wash out fossils or minerals when you get back; (f) always carry with you toilet paper, paper towels and other packing material (bubble wrap, aluminum foil, and for large fossils, bring plaster of paris, burlap and water).

[2] Glue {1} Butvar chips dissolved in Acetone is used to stabilize fossil bones etc. {2} white glue, like Elmer's is useful and can be thinned down with water; {3} Super Glue is fast drying and is useful in some limited capacities.

[3] A magnifying glass--3 to 6 power and/or a 10 power glass or jeweler's loupe. Of course, also bring your prescription eyeglasses so you can see your feet and the ground when you are looking.

[4] For softer digging, such as in river banks, sand bars, spillways and other fairly soft ground, you may only need the following items: {a} garden trowel; {b} tea spoon or table spoon; {c} garden tool (points on one side and hoe like edge on the other); {d} kitchen knives and table knives; {e} mason's trowel; and {f} many other simple digging tools.

[5] A single edge razor blade to go around the edges to split the layers open to reveal the carbon remains of the fossil, for places like Florescent, Colorado where you find insects and leaves in layers of volcanic ash.

[6] A large pry bar and a sledge hammer and chisel in places like Kemmerer, Wyoming, and other similar places, where there are fossil fish and other fossils in harder layers of rock.

[7] Probably the most common tool is the rockhound hammer. Some of these are actually mason's hammers which have a hammer on one side and a chisel edge on the other. Another is the engineer's hammer which has a point on one side and the hammer on the other. Another often used tool is the baby sledge, which is a very heavy solid steel head on about a 10" or shorter handle.

[8] You may also, on occasions, wish to bring a pointed shovel, flat shovel, spading fork, sharp shooter shovel, pick axe, crow bar or many other usual construction type hand tools.

[9] Under some circumstances bring exercise mats or padded mats to lie or lean upon, when the site requires a lot of lying and digging.

[10] Identification books, manuals and other material can be helpful to help identify what you are finding.

[11] Tags and forms. Use a Travel Log when you start on your trip and log in at each stop, things like odometer reading, time, temperature and reason for the stop. Use a location form to log in information on the location. Use a specimen tag to write up at least minimal information for each specimen. At the location, I may only make up one specimen tag for the entire group of fossils or minerals from that location. However, later I will make up one tag for each significant fossil or mineral, as it is important to the value of your specimen to have detailed information.

[12] Camera, Compass, Notebook, Pen and Measuring tape. Especially when finding a vertebrate fossil, you may wish to photograph it "in loco" (i.e. where found), to draw it and write down compass readings from a point of reference.

[13] Water and Snacks can be very important to avoiding heat prostrations and hunger.

6. Rules, regulations and compliance.

{a} Clubs have Rules which they expect you to follow. You should also expect to sign an Assumption Of Risk form, showing that you understand that you are participating in something which can be and sometimes is dangerous.

{b} There are written and unwritten general rules, which you should understand and follow, such as:

[1] Don't go on land unless you do so legally. You may get yourself and/or your club into trouble OR you may get the Club barred in the future from a site. Be respectful of the land owner and your club.

[2] Follow the directions of the Club's trip leader.

[3] Always leave a site better than you found it. It is good for the reputation for your club, so you are welcome back by the property owners.

[4] Stay with the group. You may be asked to use the "buddy system" to assure that everyone is accounted for and has someone to help in an emergency. Also don't get too far ahead or behind the group.

[5] For safety and coordination of the group outing, meet at the designated place at designated time you are supposed to be there.

[6] At a site, pick up what you need and want, but don't clean the site out, just because there are more fossils or mineral specimens you could pick up. Leave some for those who come after you. Some excellent sites in the past are now devoid of all fossils and minerals. Most Rockhounds know what leaverite is. It means, Leave er right there where it tis--you don't need it and it isn't worth taking home.

Finally, there is a lot more to be learned and this is only a thumbnail sketch. You will have a lot of friendly folks who will teach you. They will gladly show you, tell you what you want to know and what you need to know to become a first class rockhound.

Here is your "Rockhounding 101" certificate of completion.

Name:_____________________________________ has completed the short course on beginning Rockhounding, having waded through the foregoing material with courage and diligence and is now ready to learn more about being a Rockhound or Pebble Puppy.

Date:___________________ _______________________________________
T. W. "Terry" Proctor, J.D.--Instructor

Gem, Mineral and Fossil clubs, publications & sources
(in alphabetical order after HGMS)

281 530-0942
website: http://www.hgms.org
[our club]

P. O. BOX 90791
AUSTIN, TX 78749
website: http://www.texaspaleo.com
[club in Austin, Texas]

HOUSTON, TX 77077-5636
website: http://www.iftx.com
[they have an online fossil of the month & have published an invertebrate book (and disk) on the Stone City formation at the Brazos River near Bryan, Texas--one of Texas' most hunted fossil locations]

P.O. BOX 56288
BOULDER, CO 80322-6288
610 964-6300 FAX 610 293-1069
website: http://www.lapidaryjournal.com
$30.00/year U.S. 12 issues [publication]

BOX 35565
TUCSON, AZ 85750
website: http://secure.formysite.com/minrec.org
prices vary [society and publication]

SSMC-3, #9202
SILVER SPRING, MD 20910-3282
website: http://www.ngs.noaa.gov (see directory thereafter)
prices vary [U.S. Govt. agency & publisher]

VENTURA, CA 93003-7783
805 644-3824
website: http://www.rockngem.com
$24.00/year U.S. 12 issues [publication]

Contact: Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D. c/o T. W. Proctor & Associates
630 Uvalde Road, Houston, Texas 77015-3766
Phone: 713) 453-8338 FAX (713) 453-3232 Email: auraman@swbell.net
Other Websites: https://terryco.us and http://www.terrylaw.us.