Essential rockhounding tools

Essential Rockhounding Tools: Tools Every Rockhound Must Have

Every rockhound must have these tools because they are essential tools needed by every rockhound worth their weight in rocks.

Wyoming is a state that is rich in mineral and geological diversity. It also has a long geological history, as evidenced in rocks and minerals dating back as far as 3.2 billion years. If you are an amateur geologist, or rockhound, you will find that Wyoming has no shortage of interesting sites, rocks, gems, and minerals to examine. But what are the essential tools you need in order to rockhound? This article will explore different rockhounding tools and take a look at some of the gems and fossils you can expect to find in Wyoming. 

What Is Rockhounding?

Rockhounding is the process of amateur rock-finding, or non-professional geology. Originally an activity of gem or mineral prospectors, it has become a popular hobby for those interested in the fossils, minerals, gems, and rocks of any given area. 

Essential Rockhounding Tools

Rockhounding does not involve all the tools of a professional geologist, but it does share some of the essential equipment of field geologists. This equipment is described below. 

Field Vest

A good field vest is lightweight but durable — and is comfortable in both warmer and cooler weather. It also should have a lot of pockets, and enough room in these pockets to carry other tools. 

A field vest can include loops for hammers, metal rings, a mesh interior, and pockets for pens, notebooks, and magnifying glasses. Though a sturdy backpack can also carry all of your equipment, a field vest is good to have when you need your tools on-hand,  

Geologist’s Hammer

A geologist’s hammer, or rock hammer, is a two-headed hammer with a square flat head and a pick (or chisel) head opposing the flathead end. 

This hammer is used to first break smaller rock pieces away from larger rock formations, and then further split or chisel the smaller pieces in order to determine the rock’s composition, strength, orientation, mineralogy, and history.  

Though some rocks require heavy hammers to break, a 16-ounce hammer is considered good for examining most rock types. 

Loupe/Magnifying Glass

Loupes and magnifying glasses are tools essential to studying the finer mineral structures of most rocks. A loupe is a hand-held magnifier without a handle — and a magnifying glass is one with a handle.

Geologists will normally use loupes or magnifying glasses that magnify vision 10, 15, or 20 times in strength. High-quality Coddington (double-lensed) or triplet (tripled-lensed) glasses are recommended.  

Mohs Hardness Testing Kit

The Mohs hardness scale is a way of determining rock and mineral hardness by comparing these materials to other rocks and minerals. 

A ten-point scale with arbitrarily chosen minerals as different reference points (number 1, the softest, is Talc, while number 10, the hardest, is Diamond) the Moh’s hardness scale of certain rocks is initially tested through field kits.

Most Mohs hardness testing kits include picks with which to scratch (or not scratch) unknown specimens. For example, if a number 4 pick can not scratch an unknown mineral, but a number 5 pick can, that means the mineral is somewhere between 4 and 5 hardness on the Mohs scale.

Some kits come with samples of the Mohs scale minerals (1 to 9, for example). These tools can ultimately help identify unknown rock and mineral specimens. 

Acid Bottle 

Geologists will often carry small (25 ml) bottles of diluted hydrochloric acid to determine whether a rock contains calcium carbonate or other carbonate minerals. 

The acid is placed on the rock using a dropper. If the acid bubbles or fizzes, the rock likely contains some form of carbonate. Weaker acids like vinegar or lemon juice can be used as well.

Pencil Magnet

A geologist will use a pencil magnet to determine the presence of magnetic minerals in a rock specimen. When the pencil-sized magnet is held at a certain distance from the rock by its pivot clip, it will sway towards the rock if the rock is magnetic. 

Pocket Scriber

A pocket scriber is a small metal tool with a sharp metallic (usually steel) tip. It can be used to scratch rocks and minerals and determine their hardness.

Some pocket scribers come combined with pencil magnets in one tool. 

Notebook/Clipboard

A notebook and a clipboard might be good to have on-hand for recording the composition of certain rocks, mapping rock formation areas, or just taking general notes.

Handheld GPS

A handheld GPS can easily determine your location. This can be useful when determining if you are on private or government lands where rockhounding may be prohibited.

Compass/Map

Along with a GPS, a compass and a map will help you navigate through unknown territory. In addition to locational maps, there are geological maps that show the likely geological epochs and eras of the area. 

Measuring Tools and Reference Books

Rockhounds may want to measure their rocks, minerals and fossil finds — thus the need for rulers, protractors, and similar measuring tools. A pocket-sized geological reference book may also come in handy.

Gem Hunting in Wyoming

If you’re rockhounding in Wyoming, expect to find quartz, agate, gneiss, iolite, peridot, opal, and Wyoming jade (nephrite) — common gems in the state. 

But that’s not all. Be on the lookout for corundum (rubies and sapphires) and diamonds as well.

Fossil Hunting and the Jurassic Mile

The Jurassic Mile is an area in northern Wyoming that is about 1.6 square miles. It is near the center of what is called the Morrison Formation, a sedimentary geological formation that stretches from New Mexico to Canada. 

The Morrison Formation contains rock layers from the late Jurassic period, some 145 to 156 million years ago. At the Jurassic Mile, massive vertebrate (dinosaur) bones, footprints, and prehistoric plants have been found. 

Though access to this section of land may be limited, there are many tourist-friendly areas in which to search for fossils in Wyoming. 

Here are some rockhounding items which may be of interest:

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Conclusion

Rockhounding and fossil hunting can be an easily-accessible hobby. Wyoming has a vast array of minerals and rocks to examine, and with some knowledge and the right tools, rockhounding can make for interesting and even unique discoveries.

I hope this article has been an excellent start for you in getting some ideas. Now, feel free to enjoy the rest of the year out, rockhunting.

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