Rockhounding is amateur geology, the recreational study and collection of rocks, gems, fossils, and mineral specimens from their natural environments. It’s a great way to get outside and exercise with the whole family. Plus, there is no experience required!
Your first step will be to find out who owns the land you are intending to visit and ask for permission to collect. Ask if there are any rules about collecting for that specific area. Then get your gear together and have fun. Remember to be responsible. No specimen is worth your life!
Did you know that rockhounding is not allowed at National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Scenic Areas, or Tribal Land? If you are unsure about the area you are looking to collect in, contact local agency staff for specific information.
Some gear to take along might include a chisel, sledgehammer, screwdriver, brush, hat, water, sunscreen, sieve, trowel, bucket, bag, and a first aid kit.
Agates are very common in Eastern Washington. They are formed by regular layers of alternating matter filling cavities in volcanic rocks. They can also be found in sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. You can identify agates by their fine grain and the variety of colors that are often banded.
Petrified wood is formed through the process of permineralization. Trees and other vegetarion are quickly buried in soil with little oxygen available. When mineralized water is introduced, the wood does not decompose. The silicate mater preserves the original structure of the wood tissue. At the Ginkgo Petrified Wood Forest State Park in Vantage, WA there are over 50 species preserved within ~15 million year old Columbia River basalt flows.
Did you know that petrified wood is the Washington State Gem even though it’s actually a fossil?
When you bring your specimens home you can brighten the color of the rocks you find by rubbing them with a little mineral oil. Using a tumbler gives the highest shine. The colors and banding inside an agate are a surprise waiting to be discovered!
To help you get started with more advanced cutting and polishing, there are many local clubs that offer classes regarding lapidary tools. You will be able to create your own unique jewelry or other keepsakes with the rocks you find.
In addition to clubs, you can find out more information about Eastern Washington geology at other institutions in Washington such as the Burke Museum in Seattle, WA and the Stonerose Interpretive Center & Eocene Fossil Site in Republic, WA.