• Collect Agate Gemstones – Part 3

    In this article, I want to go over some things I’ve learned when I collect agate gemstones using a field guide.

    I think I was in my mid-twenties and I was at the coast wandering through a gift shop that was situated on a hillside about 700 feet above the ocean. Great view, by the way. There was a small rock section and nearby was a display with a book in it. I took a second look and noticed it wasn’t just any book. It was a field guide to rock collecting areas all over my state. ‘Gem Trails of Oregon’ by James Mitchell, to be exact. First edition. Until now, the only places I knew about collecting agates and such was either at the beach or in the thunderegg beds in the central part of the state. I was blown away. To say I was excited would be an understatement. As soon as I got to some place where I could read it, I did. There were descriptions of the sites, the material that could be found, directions, and maps. Wow. There was even pictures of some of the material the author, or someone he knew, had collected. All I had to do was plan on how to get to the spots and then just pick up the stuff. And of course there would be copious amounts of specimens to be had.

    Well, with all this information at one’s fingertips, what does one do? Plan a trip obviously. So I did. The book was organized into sections of the state so I started with the sites that were the closest. I plotted a course that would get me to the most number of sites with the least amount of miles traveled. Let me digress with a bit of a disclaimer here. It’s been a while since this happened and although my memory is really good, it’s not perfect so I’m not sure which sites I went to first but I do remember how I felt after I got there. That feeling was disappointment. I got to the spots expecting to be able to fill up buckets. Didn’t happen. I got to questioning what I had done wrong. Was I at the right place? I double-checked the directions. I got to the places indicated alright. One of the few things I’m actually good with is maps. I even knew what most of the material was supposed to look like. Didn’t see it. Well, didn’t see much of it. Occasionally one of the spots would pan out, so I didn’t get skunked and knew I could follow the directions in the book. I looked at the book again and became a bit deflated. It wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked.

    So it became time for re-evaluation and a bit of research. My enthusiasm eventually returned but there were some things I learned about field guides. I’ll start with the bad then move to the good.

    1. Sometimes the guidebooks can be wrong. Not often, but sometimes. It turns out that not all authors are really meticulous in the accuracy of their field notes. In one case what was in the book as one mile was really supposed to be one tenth of a mile. “One mile after the state line” said the book. Minor omission of a decimal point. One hour was spent trying to find the road. I eventually found the road and the site. I know because I saw the site where the picture in the book was taken. 2. Some authors overuse subjective adjectives like ‘fiery’, ‘vivid’, ‘colorful’, ‘exquisite’, ‘excellent’, ‘beautiful’, etc. When you get to the site all hyped up, it’s something of a buzzkill if all you find are dull chips of something. 3. Some authors may not have even visited the site but are simply relaying directions they have been given. At least the author usually indicates that this is the case. 4. The site may have been very productive once but has since been well picked over. Some sites have been known for decades and can still be good if you have time but some are just cleaned out. If the site is in a published field guide, potentially the site is now known by thousands. 4. Land ownership may change restricting access to a site or closing it for good. As the population continues to explode, this is going to happen more and more.

    Now for the good. 1. First and foremost with whatever flaws this first book may have had, it got me out in the field looking. I rediscovered the treasure hunt. 2. Many sites have clear directions, a fairly unbiased description of the material to be had, and there is indeed material to be had. 3. The guidebooks I’ve been using have been updated for the better with second and sometimes third editions. They’ve certainly gotten more sophisticated. The maps are better and the site directions frequently include GPS coordinates. 4. While looking for a site, you may stumble on a better site that’s not listed in the book (score!) or you may find the source of the material for a site that’s not shown in the book (another score!!). Both these scenarios have happened to me. I’ve been to places where every rock you step on is the material you’re looking for. I’ve seen where a large section of a mountain is almost all agate. 5. Lastly, be prepared to have fun even if you don’t find anything. It’s an adventure so take a camera, learn stars so you can watch the sky at night, learn geology so you know what types of rock formations you’re looking at and what they may contain, and learn the history of the area you’re going to travel through. So what’s stopping you? Go rockhounding.

    If you click ‘Field Guides’ at the top of the site, you can browse through my store to find a selection of the most recent guidebooks I could find. They’re organized by state. The store is through Amazon so you can shop with confidence. Purchasing through the links there will help keep this site going. Happy hunting!

  • Collect Agate Gemstones Part 2

    When I was a kid of about six, my uncle had a rock shop down on the coast. My grandparents lived near him and when we would visit them, we would also visit my uncle at his shop. I remember there were really cool things in the display cases and rocks were spoken of in a very important manner. They had value. You could do things with them.

    I was then introduced to collecting by being taken the short distance to the beach. There were people there with buckets looking through the gravel.  At first, of course, I didn’t know what agate gemstones were so I just started picking up pebbles. I took my prizes over to be inspected and was told nothing that I had in that first batch was a keeper. Through trial and error I started to get my collecting eye and eventually brought back items that met with approval. I was finding treasure! Subsequently, every time my family would drive to the coast, I’d want to go collecting agates on the beach.

    One time my father and I accompanied my uncle to the central part of the state to collect thundereggs. These are little geodes that can have an agate, jasper, or even an opal center surrounded by a rock matrix. I remember turning off the highway onto a very bumpy dirt road and going eight miles to the site.  There were a lot of people digging there.  My uncle must have been successful because he had some extra thundereggs to give me.  I still have the three I acquired that day. One has a nice red agate center, another has green moss agate inside, and the last has a crystal center.    We also visited a site where leaf fossils could be obtained.  I still have the one I was given.  Withing the last couple of years, I was at a thunderegg site that I would swear was the same place we visited on that trip long ago.

    Alas, my uncle couldn’t earn enough with his shop to make ends meet. So he moved to the central part of the state and made dentures until he retired.  When he died some years ago, I was given what was left of his rock collecting tools.

    As I grew into early adulthood, I maintained my interest in rocks but collecting took a back seat. Fast forward about 10 years to when a friend of mine invited me camping. I had done some camping when I was a kid, but had not thought about it for years. While camping, my friend talked about hunting for obsidian, which is volcanic glass. This got me thinking about rock collecting again. Some time later I stumbled across a guidebook to rock collecting locations in the state. I was amazed by all the places there were to collect and all the different kinds of material to be found. Previously I thought the only places to collect was at the beach and at the thunderegg beds. This started the mental ball rolling again. It didn’t take very long before the camping trips stopped being just about camping and became rockhounding expeditions. I’ve never looked back.

    Beach agates

    Beach agates

  • Collect Agate Gemstones, Part 1

    So how does one get started collecting agate gemstones or rocks, fossils, and minerals in general?  Usually you see a rock or pebble on the ground that catches your interest.  If you pick it up and take it with you, you’re on the way to becoming a rockhound!  The first rule to remember is the old adage ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.  If you like it, that’s all that matters – be it a gem crystal or a mudstone river rock.  I’ve always been partial to agate.  It’s considered to be a semi-precious gemstone and is a variety of quartz.

    Okay, so you now have a few items back at your residence and at this point there’s usually a crossroad.  Did you just set the material aside or was your curiosity piqued?  Either that’s as far as your interest is going to take you, or your want to know more about your finds.  Alright, so you want to know more.  Now you’re hooked.  But where do you go to get more information?  If you know a rockhound by all means ask him or her.  If not, go to a local rock shop and someone there should be able to tell you about your finds.  Actually, go to a rock shop anyway if you can.  You may even be able to get collecting info on a local spot.  Make sure to look around the store.  This will at least let you see what other people collect and what may be found in the area.

    Books are essential.  Most rock shops will have them for sale.  If there are no rock shops in your area, an outdoor store may also have them and certainly one of the larger book sellers should.  In addition the internet has many sources.  In Part Two, I’ll relate my own experiences getting started and in Part 3, I’ll share some lessons learned and things to keep in mind when rockhounding from guide books.

  • Agate Gemstones – A Lifetime Of Fascination

    Agates are a variety of quartz.  Quartz is silicon dioxide and the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust.  The word agate itself is named from the Achates River (now called Dirillo) in Sicily by the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus.  It’s amazing when you think that when you combine an atmospheric gas, a grey metal-like element, toss in some impurities, and mix it with certain geological conditions, you get – agate gemstones!  And quite a variety too. 

    It seems that many people have a phase during childhood when they collect rocks.  Invariably there will be agates among the treasures.  Some of us are lucky enough never to have outgrown that fascination.  We call ourselves rockhounds.  Rockhounding is what we do whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Are you one of them?

    Laguna Agate Gemstone