Recently I met a couple gals camping next to us in New Mexico. They were pulling an A-frame camper with a van camper and that sparked some curiosity. Judy Castelli and Connie Hoff use their van style camper to sleep in and for most of their daily activities but the A-frame is used mainly for their hobby and upcoming business. They jokingly refer to the van camper as the ‘winter house’ and the A-frame- their ‘summer home.’ What is their shared hobby, possible future business and passion? Why it’s rocks. They are Rock-Hounds or would that be Rock Houndettes? The definition of a Rock Hound is a geologist or amateur collector of mineral specimens. All teasing aside it is a very seductive hobby and one could easily fall into the habit of hunting and collecting. Example-after first speaking to these gals, I found myself looking down whenever or wherever I walked.
When curiosity gets the best of me, I interview and blog. When I had a hint of what they were up to and asked for an interview, I prepared lots of questions which turned out to be not needed or used since the discussion went in a whole other direction. I knew nothing about the subject. I made the mistake of assuming and we all know how unsuccessful that is and I had an expectation that I was on the right track which turned out completely wrong.
My thought was that as a potential rock hunter and collector, I needed to research and study. Once I learned a bit about the subject than I would go out looking for a specific type of rock. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! It seems I had things backwards and my way would be rather intimidating and probably not interesting to the average would – be – rock- hound. To do things in that manner may turn off those who might otherwise pursue this hobby.
Castelli explained their method. It is much simpler and surely lots more fun. Whenever they have some time, they look down and discover whatever appeals to them. Judy says they often look right where they are although they do travel some to find specific areas of supposed rock finds. Here in New Mexico, it is a favorite hobby since this area is noted for its Agates and Quartz finds.
Judy’s advice “Start picking stuff up.” She picks up what is pretty. She likes “ones with more than one color, those that have crystal or are sparkly.” Connie agrees, “Just pick up what you like.” Hoff also talks about those rocks “that speak to me.” So research and identification come later. You can start immediately this way.
There is no understanding why you should pick up a particular rock. It is just about interest and attraction to the collector. There are other goals for some collectors who are looking for specific valuable specimens. They might only want the ones deemed special enough for jewelry.
Judy talks about sometimes picking up rocks with just a hint of a quartz vein and that when cracked open they can yield a beautiful ‘surprise.’
This is how I learned about ‘geodes’. This idea struck a chord with me and was one way they sparked my interest in this pursuit. According to references I consulted, a geode is a small cavity in a rock, often a very undistinguished plain or bumpy round or oval specimen. Over time bubbles form in lava and harden. After millions of years the inside cavity becomes lined with crystals or other minerals forming a beautiful creation.
Judy started this hobby about three years ago when she became bored with other projects and needed a new pursuit, Connie is newer to the hobby and started about 1 ½ years ago. Both are still really passionate about it.
The A-frame houses their equipment like saws, grinders, polishers. It also is the place where they can work to take an unimpressive rock to a thing of beauty. The rocks waiting to be beautified are numerous but, with their facilities they must also be a limited as to amount of ‘treasures’. Ultimately, truly only those rocks deemed special are kept till their final fate is decided upon. For these ladies special equals pretty.
Speaking of beautiful creations, their future may include some artistic endeavors with the rocks such as jewelry and possibly imbedding their treasures into walking sticks they plan on carving. Both ladies have an artistic background. Judy once had employees and ran a studio where they specialized in stained glass lamps which were sold and displayed in Bloomingdales stores. Carving is something she also did in her past and as if that were not enough she also engages in oil painting. Connie says she paints as well but, right now is focusing on her drawing skills.
Connie zooms around on a small scooter that enables her to hunt several times daily while doing other errands. Walking the dogs also offers another opportunity to ‘look down’ and discover the rocks they almost missed on the ground. They are accompanied by a sweet natured shaggy dog named Daisy and guarded by a ferocious Chihuahua named Jack. He has no idea he only weighs a few pounds.
When asked how a beginner should start, Judy mentioned joining a club such as the one in Truth or Consequences called SCRAGS. The advantage is that the club members have experience, know where to find many specific minerals and can easily help you identify them.
The ladies talked of the benefits to this hobby. Well, there is just ‘enjoying being out in nature’ according to Judy and getting some pleasant exercise. Connie believes it has the same benefit as another relaxation method since you are “concentrated as in meditation.” They both felt that ‘making something beautiful out of nothing was a benefit.’
I wondered if your fitness level had to be one of a hiker but was assured it could be a very nonathletic leisure activity. Also I was concerned about the cost of any new hobby as new kinds of fun is often very expensive. Once again, when you start and are just looking for rocks there seems to be no real expense. As your interest grows, you may want a rock hammer, a saw for slicing, a grinder/polishing machine. All found wherever lapidary supplies are sold. You may even find a dremel of use. There also is a good secondary market on E-bay and Craig’s list. The grinders shape, the saws slice and the polisher brings the beauty out of the mineral. Grinders have increasingly finer and finer settings so the work can go from quite coarse to ultra- smooth surfaces.
So where do you look- anywhere, the deserts are optimal places but, rocks are almost anywhere you look outside. When do you look-after a rain and sunny days are suggested by the ladies. Colors and details are more evident when rocks are wet and sunshine can catch the sparkle of specimens.
Both ladies assured me that the amount of useful information on this hobby as well as identifying photos is plentiful online. They also recommend a book called Collecting Agates and Jaspers in North America by Patti Polk. She is a writer quite familiar with this general area of the country.
So explore a whole other dimension to camping, hiking or just a new fun activity to add to your daily life. Try Rock Hounding!
Photos by Dan Wentzel