- by the Vaulkhard family
Beaches are rockhound's best hunting ground.
Sometimes people get interested in indoor aspects of the rock hobby, then follow their interest toward rocks in their natural conditions, becoming outdoors enthusiasts in the process. Others, intent on hunting, fishing, hiking or camping, accidentally find themselves becoming interested in rocks, too, because rocks are everywhere outdoors, and people who are alert to their surroundings cannot help paying them the attention they deserve.
Of all the places where rocks are seen, the beaches offer them at their best. At shores where wave action is constant, Nature's persistent motion strips the rocks of coatings which disguise them, wears away their coarse irregularities to reveal inner patterns and colour, and, best of all, intensifies these qualities by wetting their surfaces so they look their finest to appreciative eyes.
What to look for
On local beaches one can distinguish many different rocks, of which only some have distinctive names and others are mixtures. Distinctions in colour are the easiest to notice, although colour is not always a positive clue to identity. The white ones are likely to be milky quartz, close relative of quartz crystals, those diamond-like clear stones often called rock crystal. The jet black ones are usually basalt, the same stone once used by the local native people for arrowheads and spear points, although the chipped weapon and the smooth beach pebble are often not recognized as being the same rock. Jasper will be noticed on the beaches, especially in its brighter red shading. Rust-red stones may be jasper or even that milky quartz again, stained with iron. Indeed, a great many stones can be included in the "quartz family," although they vary from quartz itself. The most widely appreciated member is agate, finer-grained than quartz is, and often with wonderful patterns and colour variations, and regularly quite translucent. People treasure the agates they find, and wish they were more widespread in this area. Epidote is another colourful beach stone, of yellowish green colour. It may come mixed with jasper and milky quartz.
Porphyry shows up in several variations, which carry local names such as flowerstone, snowflake, Chinese writing… descriptive of the way the feldspar crystals look in the porphyry, arranged in light-coloured pattern against the dark background rock. The feldspar crystallized as this once-molten rock was cooling slowly.
Another local rock with a mixture of internal pieces is called Dallasite, named after Dallas Road near where it was first noticed on Victoria's waterfront beaches. This is a type of rock known as a breccia - once a lot of angular rock chips, made solid again through Nature's processes. It is considered to result from an eruption under water, which forms pillow lava, and the Dallasite is formed in the open spaces among the rock pillows. Its mixed black, green and white colours are the official colours of the Victoria Lapidary and Mineral Society. It is now found over most of the Eastern side of Vancouver Island.
Probably thought of as a representative stone of this area, rhodonite is a stone that is either pink or pink with variations of grey, yellow and brown often with black coating and black internal veining. In the past obtained in several places in the Cowichan Lake area and on Saltspring Island, those locations are at present not readily available.
Rhodonite is nevertheless a possibility on any of our beaches. In the past, a number of fine pieces have turned up on Island View beach in particular.
Rhodonite in the rough is one stone which definitely calls for the use of a rock hammer. Its ordinary weathered appearance is apt to be related to that of a lump of coal or other nondescript dark rock, and it takes a judicious tap with the hammer to chip off a fresh surface to reveal the colour within. This useful tool is also known as a prospector's pick.
The tendency for rocks to be scattered widely over different local areas is a natural result of the glaciers which swept southward over Vancouver Island centuries ago, picking up rocks, breaking them up and dropping them off far from their original place.
Those who get to the out-of-the-way beaches, perhaps by boat, often find it easier to make good collections of colourful rocks. For those collectors limited to the nearby beaches that are somewhat picked over, there is always the hope that wave action, which constantly stirs the beaches, will have revealed good rocks previously hidden from sight! This is especially true after storms.
For those who might like to follow the rock hobby a little further, there are many possibilities for learning through books and magazines covering rocks, minerals, geology, fossils and gems; and about working with stones and making jewelry. The publications are available through their libraries for members of the several rock hobby clubs on Vancouver Island, and are for sale at the Rockhound Shop. Also, British Columbia's Dept. of Energy & Mines offers a pamphlet "Rockhounding ... on their website
in search of earth's treasure."
The annual Rock and Gem Show put on each spring by the Victoria Lapidary & Mineral Society is a wonderful showcase for the hobby.
Happily combining outdoors and indoors aspects, the rock hobby offers a variety of avenues to be pursued, and does not limit its appeal to any age group. Its followers have come to be known as "rockhounds" - a casual and friendly name that modifies easily to tag the youngest members as "pebble pups."
Outdoor participants range from great-grandma on the gentler beaches, perhaps aided by an aluminium walking-stick type of tool called a "gem scoop," to the adventurous and energetic types who tackle cliff faces and deep holes with heavy tools and expend enough effort to make other people mutter something about "rocks in their heads."
But the gathering of rocks is but a preliminary to one or another follow-up. In one form, it can be a simple collection of specimens on display, which can be expanded to include many of Nature's wonders in the form of spectacular crystal forms and rarer rocks and minerals.
Perhaps the most persistent urge is to bring out the beauty in rocks by smoothing and polishing them. The easy way to begin doing this is with a rock "tumbler," a motorized barrel that duplicates, at home, the smoothing actions of the beaches, and fortunately, carries if to a permanent polish much better than Nature can manage. When abrasive and water are added, the rocks put in the tumbler barrel wear on one another until smooth. Successive steps increase the smoothness until a polishing run will bring out the fullest beauty of colour and pattern in a whole batch of rocks.
The other way to bring out the beauty in a rock involves more equipment but can be even more satisfying. With the use of a diamond saw, a grinder, sander and polisher, a single piece of rock can be turned into a gemstone of exact shape and size, to be mounted and worn proudly - an example of lapidary art.
Those who find it worthwhile will acquire their own equipment to do that, although many find that one of the benefits of joining the lapidary society or a seniors' center is to learn on and use the equipment in the workshop of the organization.
Other branches of the hobby are silvercraft (for the creation of your own mountings of silver or gold), flower arranging with rocks, fossil collecting, and carving and other specialties. With so many ways for one's interest to turn, it is easy to enjoy the rock hobby!