Rock Hunting: Minerals are Out There

Rock Hounding: Minerals are Out There

Green serpentine from Maryland.

“There’s nothing left to collect.” Those are the first words I wrote for the book Gem Trails of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with co-author Karenne Snow. A longer time has passed since I wrote those words than I like to admit, but the reason for writing them remains the same. It is a lament I heard time and again from old time rockhounds and mineral collectors.

The most incongruous part of the statement is that it is often spoken while in the middle of a gem show and literally being surrounded by tons of collectable geologic debris. Naturally, my first thought upon hearing this is that all this stuff came from somewhere! This is also where I try to avoid smacking my palm to my forehead.

Rock Hounding: Minerals are Out There

Petrified cypress wood from a New Jersey irrigation pond excavation.

The undeniable truth is that the heyday of active mineral mining is gone from most parts of the US. What active mines remain are usually large-scale operations with big security fences and scary signs warning of dire consequences for encroaching on their domain. Many old locations and mine dumps are also off limits or have been buried by time or even worse by housing developments.

The northern part of my home state of New Jersey once had small copper mines and prospects from colonial days that are largely faded from collective memory. That said, the rocks are still there and so are the minerals even if they are not always as obvious as they used to be. Don’t believe me? Look down and notice these things you are kicking around as you walk. Definitely rocks. Maybe not museum specimens, but they are rocks all the same and they came from somewhere.

Rock Hounding: Minerals are Out There

A roadside stop uncovered these quartz crystals near Ramsey Canyon, AZ.

What I began to understand all those years ago is not that there is nothing left to collect, but that it is harder to find things. There’s a difference. Good finds are less likely to be waiting on a native silver platter from a quarry or mine dump as they were in the past. When you have the chance to visit such a location, by all means do so, but on a day to day level it is not always available for most collectors.

Take advantage of what is around you and keep your mind open so you do not ignore opportunities that do arrive. Driving somewhere? Make sure to stop and explore new terrain. Reexamine old leads and locations and then look for other ones nearby. Research. Find stuff. And most of all enjoy yourself while you are doing it. Maybe you won’t always find a prize specimen, but you can still have fun looking for it.

Scott Stepanski is a mineral collector and co-author of Gem Trails of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He also produces the world’s largest selection of mineral and fossil rubber stamps at

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