How many times have you looked at a roadcut, excavation, quarry, or similar inviting hole in the ground and said, "I wish I could get to some of that stuff?" Well, there is a way in many instances to do just that, but it begins with a basic understanding of how to prospect safely, sensibly, and responsibly. Access to areas which are generally off-limits to the general public is hard-won and usually accomplished after many months or years of association with a particular person or established Club, and these subjects are the foundation of prospecting. Not to be preachy, however, these are guidelines which have been established by many generations of serious rockhounds who value the privilege of access to great sites around the country. In the following paragraphs we'll go over some basic safety and prospecting etiquette, as well as basic equipment needs for every rockhound.
Here's the most basic fact of rockhounding: ROCKHOUNDING IS INHERENTLY RISKY. We work with heavy, pointed hammers, pry bars, chisels, sledgehammers and big heavy rocks in generally secluded areas where the earth is broken. Here are some do's and don'ts to keep you safe and healthy:
1. Never enter a pit or hole alone. Unstable ceilings or walls, poisonous insects or snakes, bat guano (causes a nasty respiratory disease) can ruin your whole year.
2. Never roll boulders or toss large rocks in a pit if you can help it. It's very dangerous to anyone collecting below you.
3. Always keep an eye on any walls you may be digging in, step back and note "how it's hanging" and if there's any overhang. If so GET OUT and alert your partners and the landowner or person in charge.
4. Try not to leave lots of holes, it's dangerous to your fellow rockhounds as well as wildlife.
5. Don't try to excavate specimens that are too big to carry. A pulled muscle or heat exhaustion kills the buzz that rockhounding gives you.
6. Make sure your tools and other equipment are in good repair and are free of defects.
7. Use the right tool for the right job. You can destroy a beautiful specimen or fill your face with crystalline shrapnel by using a rock hammer where a chisel or screwdriver would suffice.
8. Make sure you feed heavily and regularly. Low blood sugar can injure or kill, no joke! Many senseless accidents could have been prevented with a PBJ. You're using lots of calories, so stop counting and EAT.
9. Drink lots of water, gatorade or juice during the course of the day. It's easy to remember when the weather is hot, but you can become dehydrated in cooler temps also.
10. Don't drink alcohol or use drugs before or during your expedition. Save the celebrating for after the dig, when the work is done. Also illegal drugs are , well, illegal and causing the area to be shut to collectors due to violating the law is very bad form.
11. Smokey the Bear says: ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES. If you smoke, please make sure your ash and cherry is extinguished when you're finished.
Most people who are drawn to dig in the earth have a better-developed sense of responsibility, I believe. However, there are some folks in every group who have to be reminded that we're all judged by the actions of a few. Greed and bad judgment have closed many areas to rockhounds over the years, as has irresponsible behavior and environmentally insensitive practices.
1. Greed is not good. We all dream of the museum-quality specimen or honker gemstone, but wacked-out behavior over rocks and gems belongs to prospectors of the Wild West and the oppressive regimes of Asia. Mother Earth is generous with her treasures, so when you leave only take what you can carry out.
2. Leave existing equipment alone. Not many things will shut an area down faster than an enraged property owner or leaseholder who finds their equipment damaged or tampered with.
3. Off limits areas are OFF LIMITS. That logging road may be the landowner's driveway, that dump pile may cover a cyanide pit, you never know what may be the reason for off-limits areas. They're a fact of life in our hobby, and most landowners or leaseholders have absolutely no sense of humor where trespassing is concerned.
3. Cooperate fully with the people in charge. Especially if they're your ride to the dig.
4. Share your experience. One of the greatest joys of rockhounding with a group is the opportunity to share your particular method of prospecting, to learn from others how to recognize formations, the different techniques for moving earth and extracting specimens, etc.
5. Don't litter. Even though we wouldn't purposefully leave a mess behind, a forgotten water bottle is a calling card to the last group or person who was at the site. Take a little extra time and look for microtrash or other litter and clean it up. The landowner or leaseholder will appreciate it and be more favorably disposed to you in the future if the area seems cleaner after you're gone.
6. Cookouts, picnics, or just plain lunch sometimes seem to take too much time from digs but you're out in the great outdoors, after all! Breaking up the day with a meal gives the opportunity to take off the goggles and gloves and get civilized with some good food; just remember to take your trash with you, extinguish your coals if you used a grill, and place compostables in a hole in an out-of-the-way area.
7. Be considerate of others physical limitations. Rockhounds come in every shape and age, and some folks are only able to make it out to a couple of digs per year due to physical or distance issues.
8. If you make a major change to the surrounding landscape (a pit or part of a hill excavated, for example) it's generally a good idea to let the landowner know what you've done so they can advise future visitors.
9. Ask the landowner, leaseholder or dig organizer before bringing mechanized tools to the site.
10. Honor the terms of any agreements and waivers you sign. Cheating hurts us all.
You can spend a small fortune acquiring prospecting equipment and if you do
you'll probably use every bit of it at eventually, but the basic tools and equipment
for the average rockhound are easily found without breaking the bank:
1. Heavy Leather Gloves- Go ahead and get two pair because you'll need the spare eventually. Choose gloves that fit well, have ample leather and give a decent range of movement.
2. Goggles or Impact Glasses- Standard goggles provide excellent protection but can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. Impact glasses are excellent choices which give a combination of light weight and eye protection. Don't skimp on your eye protection.
3. Steel-Toed Boots- Do yourself a favor and get a pair- they don't have to be Doc Martins. Brahma Boots make very affordable steel-toe boots, even steel-toe sneakers. Your feet will thank you.
4. 5-gallon Bucket- Indispensable. 3 5-Gallon buckets are even better for carrying specimens, tools and water/snacks/trash.
5. Rock Hammer- Estwing makes the standard 22-oz rock hammer, about 40.00 with a lifetime guarantee. Valley Forge also makes a fine and slightly more affordable (20.00 or so) rock hammer. Make sure you buy a rock hammer with a pointed pick, not a flat chisel pick which is used for fossil prospecting, and try to get one that is single-piece drop-forged. Two-piece hammers generally break.
6. Cold Chisel- Used for chipping and prying specimens out of host rock. Make sure it's at least 6in. long
7. Pry Bar- Make sure it's for geological excavation and not pulling nails or boards. 24in is the smallest you should look for.
8. Shovel- Don't leave home with out it.
9. Long Screwdriver- Used for extracting crystals and excavating small pockets.
10. Hand Cultivator- Excellent for sifting loose rock and soil for floating crystals and in situ specimens.
11. Sledge Hammer- All-around must have for rockhounding. Sometimes you just gotta bust rock.
12. FIRST AID KIT- Go ahead a get a small tackle box, put band-aids, antiseptic hand gel, alcohol swabs, butterfly sutures (crystals can cut very deeply and quickly), tweezers (for removing shards and other things that like to get embedded in flesh), scissors, roll bandages and tape, finger and air splints (broken bones and sprains are more common than we want to consider), bee sting kits, benadryl, analgesics and sunscreen inside. Believe me, you'll be glad you did.