Advice to New Rockhounds
Learning How, Where and Why to Collect
By Mike Streeter

Join a Club
Your best bet to learn how and where to collect rocks and minerals would be to find and join a sanctioned rockhounding club in your area. If you live in the United State, you can use the following interactive map to find a rockhounding club near you. If you click on any one of the points on the map, a club name will appear along with a link to a web site with more information about it. You can also find the location of any rockhounding club by clicking on its name as it appears in the list in the tab to the left (opened by clicking on the little box with arrow in the upper left corner of the map legend).

You should also consider joining one or more well-placed rockhounding clubs in geographic areas other than where you live. Even though you would not be able to attend far away club meetings, you would be welcome to attend the club's field trips and some collecting locations might just be closer to where you live than where the club is based. It is always best that the club you join is a member of a Federation that in turn is a member of the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies. For instance, club membership in the Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies entitles you to participate in all field trips hosted by the Dixie Mineral Council, a coalition of 30 rockhounding clubs throughout the Southeastern US.

McRocks Message Board
Keep an eye on the McRocks Message Board for information or even post messages there with specific questions, if you like. You are also welcome to join in on any field trips posted there. Stay tuned to the board for announcements. The message board is also a great place to make lots of new rockhounding friends!

Rockhounding Guidebooks &
Rock & Mineral Field Guides
There are two types of field guides: 1) regional field guides to known localities where you can collect rocks and minerals; and 2) general field guides for identifying rocks and minerals once you have found them. It's a good idea to have both - the first to get you to localities, and the second to help you figure out what you have once you've gotten there and start digging things up.

You should plan to invest in as many regional rockhounding guidebooks as you can afford for whatever area(s) you are interested in collecting. There are countless guidebooks for different areas throughout the United States. Do a search for rockhounding guidebooks on Yahoo or Google and you will see what I mean. My wife Chrissy and I own many guidebooks and have found them to be invaluable tools. I just happen to have written one myself for western North Carolina and it is available on this website.

You should purchase one or more general field guides for rock and minerals. The three most popular field guides for identifying rocks and minerals are: "The Peterson Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals", "The Audubon Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals" and "Simon & Schuster's Guide to Rocks and Minerals". You might want to browse through all three at a bookstore or check out the links above to see which one you like best or, better yet, buy all three.

Rock and Mineral Identification
While most field collecting guides offer basic information about rock and minerals, you will need to learn about a systematic approach to using such things as mineral hardness, streak, luster, cleavage, and so forth. There is an online resource called the Mineral Identification Key II that you should check out that will help you identify unknown minerals. You will find all the information you need to identify the more common minerals, plus some not so common ones. Click on the logo to the right to proceed to the key.

The Experience is the "Payoff"
You have likely heard all sorts of get-rich rockhounding tales. For instance, you may get quite an inflated value of gems found at certain commercial operations from unscrupulous owners in an effort to draw in more customers. The truth is that you stand very little chance of making any money rockhounding, so if you are getting into the hobby for profit instead of fun, then you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed. But, if you are looking to spend a day whereby the actual experience is the "payoff", then you will be in constant luck while rockhounding.

Patience and Optimism
Keep in mind that becoming an accomplished rockhound takes time, so be patient and watch and learn from experienced and reputable rockhounds. Also, always maintain an optimistic attitude because it is always possible to find your gem of a lifetime on any given day and this is more likely to happen in a "positive world". And remember that sooner or later even a dog will find a bone that it didn't remember burying, so just keep hounding.

Quality Friendship
My greatest advice to any new rockhound is to seek out quality friendship and the rocks and minerals will follow. I wrote and posted the following on to illustrate my rockhounding philosophy:

A rockhounding field trip involves much more than collecting rocks and minerals. For my wife Chrissy and myself, finding a specimen worth keeping is just a bonus to any day spent in the field with like-minded rockhounds. Most of our friends were met on rockhounding excursions and getting together with them to swap stories, jokes and life events is far more valuable to us than any rock could ever be. While finding a decent specimen is never a certainty, laughter and good will are usually guaranteed. Beyond the friendship and camaraderie, the simple act of spending time in the great outdoors has its own unique rewards. Hiking a forest trail and enjoying a spring explosion of wildflowers or coming upon a mother deer with fawns can almost make us forget about the collecting location that we had started out to find. And as if all this wasn't enough, there still exists the chance to uncover a breathtaking rock or mineral. Even at locations where we have collected many times, we never know when we will turn over just the right rock to uncover the gem of a lifetime. But even when this doesn't happen, we are able to enjoy the countless other blessings that come with a day spent rockhounding with friends.

Over time and if you are a truly good and honest person, you are bound to befriend an experienced rockhound who may "take a chance" by showing you a prime collecting location perhaps known only to him. Also, simply by being in the company of more learned rockhounds, you will hear about other collecting locations. Once you learn a few decent spots, you will be able to trade this knowledge with others for directions to more collecting locales. Continue being a good person, making friends and hanging out with other rockhounds and you will come to find out that there are more collecting locations than you have time. But, the information will come to a screeching halt should you ever break your word and others lose faith in your integrity.

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