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Author: Frank Ross
There's something about rocks that make you want to pick them up. While the majority of rocks that are picked up are basically RTR's (round throwing rocks), some are so pretty that they end up in pockets, and often go through the washing machine only to be discovered after they start clanging around in the dryer.
Most kids even go through a period when they want to collect the pretty ones, so why not capitalize on that for a fun vacation. Rocks are found everywhere, but the real "keepers" are hard to come by.
First things first
Camping is a major pastime for families throughout the year, but summer holidays are a particularly busy time of the year. Most of the nation's preferred spots are already taking reservations, and many will be filled for the high traffic periods of Labor Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. If you are thinking about taking your family camping during any of these major holidays, you need to call and make reservations now, or you could end up "camping" in a motel with some very disappointed kids. You'll find our "State by State" section, a good place to start looking for a new area to discover.
With the exponential proliferation of information sites on the World Wide Web, a staggering amount of information is now at your fingertips. You'll find a through listing of all Federal lands as well as state recreation areas, in your region, by clicking here, and navigating to the state of interest and looking for the appropriate link to Federal and public lands.
Mapping it Out
Picking out a location is the first step to planning a trip, and then putting together a map to use for travel and local outings is very useful, especially if you intend to take extended hikes into the backcountry.
Since guys never get lost, a map would be for the rest of the family to use, but if by some inconceivable reason you want to refer to the map, just tell your kids that you want to explain something to them. That way you can sneak a peek and point out some aspect of navigation for them to "understand." Topo USA is a great way to get the "lay of the land" and the new version of this CD has improved GPS functionality, automatic routing, and detailed topographic maps for the entire US, in extremely accurate detail. If you're serious about finding gems, a topo map is crucial for finding specific areas where stones deposites are most likely to be found. Road routing for the entire US gets you to the trailhead efficiently, and backcountry trail routing, complete with elevation profiles, maps your adventure every step of the way. Click here to view Topo USA.
When you have a tent full of kids for a three-day weekend, it's a good idea to have some sort of plan for keeping them busy and distracted from axes, matches and other dangerous things. One option to consider is to make the entire family part of the planning process and teach your children what goes into putting together a memorable weekend, then let them do the work. Draw out what they are interested in doing by asking questions or making suggestions, then follow up by helping them do the research. If you have some rock hounds, or just a youngster that wants to learn more about rocks, the US Geological Survey web site would be a good place to start.
The USGS "Geology in the Parks" web site is a great way to introduce your kids to the interesting world of geology, with a non-technical presentation that is designed to be user friendly. You'll find easy to understand explanations for reading maps, identifying rocks and minerals, plate tectonics and much more. Before you set out on this year's camping trip, pack some information into your rucksack at http://www.aqd.nps.gov/grd/usgsnps/project/home.html. You can help your family start a rock collection by going to the following link. http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/collect1/collectgip.html
The terms "gem" and "gemstone" designate any mineral or organic material used for personal adornment, display or as an object of art. These stones possess beauty, rarity and durability, which also create value. The value of any gemstone is proportionate to its size and perfection. Although finding another Hope diamond is probably not in your future, it's still a lot of fun to look for these precious and semi-precious treasures. Of the 2,700 mineral species known to exist, only about 100 qualify as gemstones. Silicates compose the largest group of gemstones, and oxides compose the second largest.
Where can you find gems on your next camping trip? That would depend on where you decide to pitch your tent. If you would like to include searching for gems on your next trip outdoors, decide what stones you would like to go after then determine where they can be found and load your gear.
The only commercial production diamond mine in the US is the Kelsey Lake diamond mine that straddles the Colorado-Wyoming border, and freelance operations are not welcome, but there is another option.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
The State Park at Murfreesboro is the only place in the world where you may try your hand at diamond hunting in a kimberlite pipe (shaft of ore where diamonds are found). Since the discovery of diamonds, in 1906, 50,000 diamonds have been extracted from the park, and 11,000 of these were collected since it became a state park. The largest diamond ever found, at this site, was the "Uncle Sam, " with a weight of 40.42 carats.
To reach the park, take Interstate 30 south to Arkadelphia and follow Arkansas Highway 26 west to Murfreesboro. Follow highway 301 south 4 miles to Crater of Diamonds State Park. The kimberlite is intruded into Carboniferous and Cretaceous sediments. One of these sediments is an attractive, red jasper conglomerate. Samples of amethyst, agate, quartz, calcite, barite, yellow ground weathered kimberlite and grey kimberlite may also be collected. Sieves and other tools may be rented at the park. Water troughs are available for washing your finds, and the park staff provides advice on techniques and positive identification of your diamond(s).
Camping and motels are available nearby.
Rubies, Sapphires and Garnet
In the Cowee Valley of North Carolina there are numerous ruby, garnet, rhodolite and sapphire mines that are open to the public. Many mines have camping spots located adjacent to the mining area for easy access. While many are "enriched," most have the potential for producing a good number of native stones. Reportedly, there are four mines in the area that are not "salted" or "enriched." Enriched means that they "salt" the pails of dirt with a few samples to keep you interested while looking for native stones, but every year someone finds a big stone that makes local news. Some mines allow hillside digging, but most sell dirt by the bucket and you simply sit down at a sluice box and "mine" until you get tired enough for an afternoon nap. Numerous local shops have stones of all types to purchase as well as the usual tourist memorabilia. If this is your first venture into mining, it would be a good idea to stop at some of these shop to learn more about local stones and get some input on which mines are the best to try.
Other types of gemstones can be found throughout various parts of the country. Sapphires are also found in Montana, tourmaline is found in California and Maine, beryl is native to Utah, turquoise and peridot is fairly common in Arizona and sunstone can be found in Oregon. Opal fans will find deposits in the Virgin Valley area of Nevada, and you can also try your hand at unearthing some of these beauties in the Winnemucca area.
Before you "run-a-mucca" in Winnemucca or anywhere else, make sure the place you want to search is open to the public for this purpose. Many state parks prohibit taking stones, or digging for that matter. Private land owners also take a dim view of people arriving unnanounced with pails and shovels. A little research, and a few calls to local chambers of commerce will produce a mother lode of opportunities, or pick your favorite search engine and plunder this huge pile of information ore.
Once you have some stones, you'll want to display them. Depending on the stone, they may be either faceted or polished in a variety of ways. It is amazing to see what the most mundane rock looks like with a high sheen from a few days in a tumbler. Rock polishing is a fun project for the whole family, and very easy to accomplish. Cabela's Rock Polishers are easy to operate and very sturdy, for years of trouble free stonework.
Having a few alternative activities is a good idea, especially for extended trips. If your kids are interested in bugs, birds, frogs, lizards or any other critter that crawls, hops or flies you'll find out where to find them and how to identify each species by going to the USGS site for "Nature Watching and Exploration" at http://recreation.usgs.gov/nature_watching.html. If you can talk your kids into collecting mosquitoes you'll be ahead of the game when the sun goes down, otherwise take some repellent and have a great time.
Now all you have to do is decide where to go, what you (or the kids) want to do. Make your reservations in advance and get ready for a memorable weekend. Take lots of pictures, and don't forget the first aid kit. Collecting rocks and bugs isn't very dangerous but scrapes and minor abrasions are common.
If you need to upgrade or replace worn camping gear, you'll find a complete index of camping gear by clicking here.
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