If you see a man or woman hacking away at a pile of dirt or mound of stones with the concentration of an inmate working his way out of Alcatraz, and if the man or woman suddenly lets out a war whoop, drops his hammer, picks up something in his hand, puts it to his mouth and licks it, then hops up and down in a peculiar St. Vituslike dance, do not call the police. It is a rockhound. Genus Americanus. Habitat North America. Young are known as pebble puppies. Harmless unless crossed when in search of specimens.
When you saw the rockhound he was at work on a spot where, from its general appearance or locale, he had judged he might find a mineral specimen of interest for his collection or his cutting machine. He found it. The reason he licked it was that this is the easiest way of telling how a stone will cut and polish. It cleans it off, and gives a sheen similar, momentarily, to that of a polishing wheel. The dance is peculiar to the species. It is known by a variety of names, including the Quartz Caper and the Rockhound Rock. It may be translated as "Eureka! I have found it!"
After the hound has completed his diggings he will hustle home and get his treasures washed as soon as possible to show to his family or fellow hound. You can never tell the real beauty of a group of crystals until the dirt or clay is washed away. His next move, unless he is a dealer as well as a hound, will probably be to call other collectors and promptly trade or give away any excess specimens from his hunt. A primary rockhound trait is excessive generosity.
At the risk of generalizing, I would say that practically all rockhounds are nice people. Despite the fact that some make a living from their hobby, few are out to see how much money they can make. Their generosity is a species trait that few other fanatics possess.
Correctly speaking, a rockhound is not out after rocks, he is after minerals. A rock is an aggregate of minerals, as in the case of granite, which is composed of feldspar, quartz, amphibole and biotite. To quote Dr. Frederick H. Pough, who was the curator of minerals and gems for the Museum of Natural History in New York and is the author of one of the collectors' bibles, A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals: "Minerals are the building stones of the earth's crust. They are stony mixtures of one or more of the 92 relatively stable elements that man has found in the earth's surface and its rocks. They have pretty definite formulas, and the things that go into them are the same no matter where the mineral is found. The quartz sand of Coney Island has one part of silicon and two parts of oxygen just like the quartz sand of the Sahara Desert.... In general, a mineral can be considered as a naturally occurring inorganic compound with fairly definite physical properties and chemical composition."
A nice feeling
These inorganic compounds have existed as long as the earth itself, so why suddenly do roughly a million American citizens start burrowing in the earth and climbing to dangerous mountain heights in search of them? In the first place, it isn't sudden. From the time the first shaggy Neanderthal man called at the cave of a loved one and presented her with a shiny pebble, the earth's inhabitants have searched for gems. A penguin will pick up a bright stone from the beach as a token of betrothal for his intended. If a monkey cage is filled with rocks, the monkeys will pick out the brightest ones. Same with people. A child's first instinct when taken on a walk is to pick up a pretty stone. He never outgrows it. Man seems to feel better when holding or owning or wearing a fragment of the earth. Most people wear some form of jewelry. The Chinese carry "fingering pieces," bits of polished rock, generally jade or carnelian, in their pockets. They rub them between their thumbs and forefingers because they feel good. This human desire for a piece of the earth is responsible for millions of dollars a year going into the mining, cutting and setting of gem stones.
There are as many varieties of rockhound as there are rocks. Some collectors collect everything. Some specialize. There are those who collect only crystals, only moss agates, only "picture" agates—so called because their markings make miniature landscapes or seascapes. Some collect only fluorescent material.
Regardless of the collector's specialty, the U.S. is a happy hunting ground for him. There is not a state in the Union that does not produce a stone worth collecting or polishing, and almost every gem stone known can be found within the boundaries of North America, including diamonds. There is, in fact, a spot called the Crater of Diamonds in Murfreesboro, Ark., which is now a tourist attraction. For $1.50 "You may find your own diamonds—anything you find under five carats is yours free, anything over, you pay a royalty." When the ground has been pretty well picked over, Howard Millar, who runs the Crater, takes a bulldozer and cuts down to a new layer. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gems have been discovered there, including the famous "Uncle Sam" diamond worth $75,000.
There are sapphires, rubies and emeralds in North Carolina; tourmalines, kunzites, aquamarines, agates, and numerous other gems in California; tourmalines in Maine; amethysts in Georgia; opals in Idaho; turquoise in Nevada and New Mexico. Diamonds may be found in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, although the only actual mine is in Arkansas.