Where to find rocks and minerals: advice for the beginner
"Where can you find rocks and minerals?" is a question I hear asked often by those new to the rock collecting hobby.
The answer is, of course, "everywhere". Every stone you kick out of the way, every bit of gravel in the driveway - they're all rocks and minerals of one sort or another.
The next question is usually, "Well, where can I find some pretty ones, then?"
If you have a creek nearby, go look around when the water is low - you can be surprised what goodies you might uncover.
Creeks and rivers are always good spots to start hunting - think of it as a chocolate sampler of all the geology upstream. If you find a particularly delectable piece, keep walking upstream and see if you can find out where it came from.
It can be a daunting prospect, at first, to learn how to identify a new rock or mineral. There are just so many of them, and many are dull shades of mud color. Don't worry too much about memorizing every rock you see, right away. You'll only drive yourself mad trying.
Instead, focus on two types - the really pretty ones you want to collect, and the really common ones, even if they're also the really ugly ones.
You might wonder, why even bother learning what the ugly, boring, everyday rocks are? Why not go straight to the shiny ones?
Well, the ugly ones lead you to the pretty ones, or at least tell you what might be there. For example, if you have lots of flat sandstone layers, and you know how to tell what sandstone is, you'll know that there might be fossils or calcite crystals in the area, or if you have a lot or serpentine, you might guess there's a chance you could find some jade somewhere.
It can take some time to accumulate this kind of knowledge. Get a good book on geology, and familiarize yourself with the basic types of rocks, and how to tell the differences between them. Once you know your basic, boring rocks, start to find out what more interesting things are commonly associated with it.
For the absolute beginner, the best bet is to join a rock club if you have one in the area. Rock clubs usually know the best places to look, and you can go with them on field trips to collect the goods. Follow someone who looks like they know what they're doing, and ask lots of questions - almost everyone is happy to help a newcomer out.
If you don't have access to a rock club, or just want something extra, I recommend the Gem Trails series for those of you who live in a state it covers. Before you go, look up what it says you can find in an area, and look up pictures on google to familiarize yourself with the material to be found.
Something to remember is that not every location has been discovered, or been written about. Erosion uncovers new things every day, and rockhounds haven't been everywhere [or at least aren't always willing to share the best spots].
So keep your eyes open, and poke around at the rocks even in the least likely places - I once knew someone who found some lovely pieces of fossilized bone in an empty field behind a Wal-Mart store.
Who knows? Before long, you might be the one leading the field trip to a newly discovered rockhound site!