Rockhounds or amateur geologists are people who collect interesting rocks, and some of them do so while travelling. There are two main groups, those who look for fossils (see Paleontology) and those who look for gems (see Gemstones), and some people look for both or even just for pretty rocks.
The easiest way to collect some interesting rocks is to just go somewhere with a lot of pebbles, such as some stream beds and beaches, and pick out the ones you like. Generally this is no more than an amusement for children, but there are places where quite fine stones can be found this way, for example agates along the shores of Lake Superior. Often the stones are found already polished by the action of water rubbing them against other stones.
Amateur geologists may also look for ore, for fossil fuels, or for interesting geological features. In a few cases it may be possible to stake a claim on a find. In others it may be worth reporting results to professional geologists at some government agency or a nearby university.
- See also: Mining tourism
Check the relevant legislation of the jurisdiction you are going to visit. There may be special procedures to follow to be allowed to collect geological samples or fossils, and rockhounding may be outright forbidden in some areas, such as nature reserves.
Most rockhounds carry a geologist's hammer which has a point on one side, useful for prying interesting things out of the rock they are found in. Many also carry a loupe, a tiny magnifying glass used mainly for examining gems.
Eye protection is essential both in the field and when cutting and polishing gems or extracting fossils from rocks.
Good boots, work gloves, and maps are needed for most rock-hunting trips. There may be geological maps available, and you probably want a good topographical map if venturing away from the beaten path. It is also common to bring a GPS navigation system. For some destinations, you may need additional equipment, e.g. for mountaineering or offroad driving.
- 1 Bancroft (Ontario). Bills itself as the "mineral capital of Canada". It has the Bancroft Mineral Museum, where the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club displays examples of minerals from within a 100 km radius of Bancroft. It has had an annual festival called "Rockhound Gemboree". Today the name is used by a casino.
- 2 Black Hills Rockhound Area (near Safford (Arizona)). This area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The most common and valuable gemstone to be found here is fire agate. The area can be tricky to find, a helpful map can be downloaded. BLM advises against the use of passenger cars or travel trailers to access the site. Watch out for rattlesnakes in the warmer months.
- 3 Crater of Diamonds State Park (Murfreesboro, Arkansas). State park featuring a plowed field where rockhounds are encouraged to search for diamonds. Thousands of diamonds have been found here, including the 40-carat "Uncle Sam" diamond, the largest diamond ever found in the United States.
- 4 Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Minas Basin, Nova Scotia). This UNESCO World Heritage Site has fossils from the Devonian "era of fishes", 300-odd million years ago.
- 5 Lampivaara amethyst mine (Luosto, Finnish Lapland). An open-pit amethyst mine, where visitors are allowed to pick their own, in the context of guided tours. The mine is worked with little machinery, not to be exhausted too quickly. There is a shop with amethyst stones and amethyst jewellery.
- 6 Mapimi (Durango, Mexico). Commercial operations ceased at the Ojuela mine, which is now open for tours. The mines have been the source of a number of exquisite mineral samples including adamite, legrandite, and koettigite, among many others.
- 7 Rockhound State Park (near Deming, New Mexico). This is one of the few state or national parks where visitors are encouraged to remove natural features – specifically the unusual minerals found in abundance there that make it a rockhound's playground. (There's a "bag limit;" check the web site for details.) Day use $5/vehicle; there are a number of campsites (extra fee).
- 8 Tankavaara (Finnish Lapland). "Gold village". Allows your trying gold panning and arranges multiple-day gold panning excursions. Yearly gold panning championships (using lead nuggets). Gold prospecting museum with a large collection of geological samples.
- 9 Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Badlands of North Dakota). This park has many fossils and some gems.
- 10 Whitefish Point (Paradise and Whitefish Bay, northern Michigan). The cobblestone beaches at Whitefish Point are open to the public where Lake Superior agates are found, especially after storms in late summer and the fall.
Eye protection is almost always needed, both when hammering at rocks in the field and when working with ones you bring home. Breathing in rock dust is never either pleasant or good for you, and some types such as coal or asbestos dust cause cancer, so a face mask is sometimes needed.
Depending where they go, rockhounds may be exposed to various other risks. See wilderness backpacking, altitude sickness and snakebite. Additional safety measures are needed if you go underground (see Caves and Underground works), approach a volcano to look for obsidian (volcanic glass), or use explosives or power tools.
Some rocks are hazardous to work with. For example, the semi-precious stone malachite contains mercury and can give off poisonous fumes when it is cut or polished.
Collecting anything or disturbing rocks or the soil is forbidden in many protected areas, and requires following certain procedures on any land in many countries.