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SAFETY FIRST AND LAST
The first and last concerns should always be about safety. You need to follow all the safety procedures that you would on a hike in the woods
(i.e. informing someone about where you are going and when you will return, taking along adequate water, food, and first aid supplies). If you are going to be going someplace where breaking up rocks is required you should get a proper hammer (either a geological pick or a brick masons hammer). Then be sure to get eye protection.
Chips broken off of rocks can fly from the rock at high speed and can hurt. Mines and quarries are often dangerous places with open shafts, tunnels,
loose rocks on high walls, and machinery. DON'T go underground, you need experience and the proper equipment to do it safely.
Also make sure you have permission to be on private land. The owners can tell you about specific hazards in the area. It
is also a good idea to check with the proper Federal Agency if you are going to collect on public lands.
WHERE CAN I COLLECT?
The next big decision is where can you go to collect. The best source for this information is often the members of a local gem and mineral society. You can find a list of these societies at
Bob's Rock Shop web site.
The larger of these clubs have junior sections for younger members and often sponsor field trips. They can get the group into sites that are closed to individual collectors.
It can also be instructive to attend a local show put on by these groups ( Bob's Rock Shop - Lapidary
Journal). These shows will have displays of rocks, minerals, and fossils: dealers selling specimens; and often
an identification booth run by club members.
A visit to a local rock shop may be helpful. Some carry printed guidebooks for localities in a region. They may also have examples of local
rocks and minerals. Guidebook locations have probably been visited by numerous people and localities can be collected out.
Additional information can be found from the State Geological Surveys
or the United States Geological Survey. In the more mineralogically rich areas,
state surveys have often published state mineralogies. Some states have also published pamphlets for amateur collectors or included information on their web sites. You can also get in touch with people on the staff. Your tax dollars pay for them and they also usually keep track of public inquiries to help them with the legislatures during budget times.
Rock and Gem magazine publishes a fair number of field trip articles (see Bob's Rock Shop site).
You might want to consider a site that charges a fee for collecting. They often will bulldoze an area so it can be more productive. Some states have state parks which are set up for collecting
State Park in New Mexico and Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas). Most federal Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management lands are open to
collecting (except for areas under active mining claims, National Parks and Monuments, and wilderness areas
[archeological artifacts and fossil vertebrates are also not to be collected]). You should contact the local offices to
see what rules are in effect and they may also be able to point you to good collecting areas.
The best places to look for minerals are where there has been recent activity to create fresh exposures of rocks. This can include construction sites, new roads (including newly
graveled areas), quarries, and mines. A good state atlas or computer based map program will often show where the quarries and mines are located.
WHAT DO I LOOK FOR IN THE FIELD?
What to look for really depends upon the locality and what is there. This is the reason it is helpful if you can go on an organized field trip and ask questions of more experienced collectors. A couple of rules of thumb is to look for the odd rock that doesn't look like the vast majority of stuff in the neighborhood. If there are holes in the rock, these are places to look for crystals (lots of shiny little flat faces of crystals). Metallic looking minerals are often things such as pyrite or galena.
Once you have found a specimen, it should be packed so that it is not ruined bringing it home. Newspapers or toilet
paper make good packing materials. The specimens can be placed in paper bags and placed in shallow boxes ( the
infamous beer flats). If you visit more than one locality on a trip, be sure to record the locality information and keep
it with the specimens. Egg cartons can be handy containers for small specimens in the field or for your collection at
home. Be judicious in trimming rocks down, you can have greater control at home.
Once you get the specimens home, they should be labeled with the locality information. This is usually the only thing you can't tell later about a specimen. Lack of locality will often completely destroy any scientific value of a specimen and will
destroy it's commercial value.
Have fun, that's what it's about.