Wilderness Underfoot: Amateur geologist, part 1: Rock collecting

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114548100611394.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114548101711394.jpg’, ”, ‘Tools of the amateur geologist – Safety first: anyone using hammers and chisels on rocks should wear safety glasses. To break or chip rocks, use a heavy rock hammer or a pick hammer (not a carpenter’s hammer, which may shatter). Chisels help to shape rocks and split off sections. A small dental pick is excellent for cleaning fossils. And a brush helps clean away dust and debris from rocks. If you’re hiking and exploring, bring Band-Aids for whacked fingers and scraped knees! Once you’ve taken your specimens home, you’ll want a magnifying glass to examine them more closely.’);

Some of the world’s most important geology collections have been built by amateurs who began rock collecting as a hobby

If you’ve ever stopped to pick up an attractive or interesting rock, then you’ve already taken the first small step into a hobby enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Rock collecting is fun, it’s educational and it’s an excellent outdoor activity for the entire family.

You don’t have to be a trained scientist to get started, and in the beginning you won’t even need tools. The easiest way to find interesting rocks is to poke around in a pile of glacial til—the mix of sand, gravel, rocks and boulders that is so common around our region. Most of these rocks aren’t native to Illinois; they were dumped here thousands of years ago by glaciers, after being transported by flowing ice from as far away as Canada. And while the bedrock in our region was built with layers of sedimentary limestone and dolomite, glacial til offers a wider mix of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks with a variety of colors and forms. You can often find this material used as construction fill and in landscaping. Look for it around your own house.

Children delight in searching for colorful rocks and crystals. In fact, once they’ve started poking around a rock pile, it may be difficult to pull them away. The same could be said of adults; the collecting bug probably lies deep within the primitive human instinct to gather.

To identify rocks, keep a couple of field guides handy. One of the best guides for beginners of all ages is the Golden Guide: Rocks and Minerals (Golden Press), an inexpensive booklet filled with basic geology information and advice about collecting, identifying and labeling rocks.

As your interest grows, you may want to join a rock or fossil club. The Rock River Valley Gem & Mineral Society meets at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of each month at the North Suburban Library in Loves Park; call them at 815-885-1410. One of the best clubs in the Midwest is the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI), which can be found online at www.esconi.org.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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