Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mysteries of the beach

"Spotted Jasper" Puget Sound WA

When I walk the beaches of Puget Sound, which are only about 100 yards from my front door, I never know what I'm going to find. The rocks that wash up on these beaches could come from anywhere, and may look vastly different from anything I've found before.

This is a rock I picked up a few weeks ago, clearly some sort of jasper due to its hardness and ability to take a polish. But the patterning, not unlike the "Poppy Jasper" of the Olympic Peninsula is here made up of very different colors and patterns. In other words, I have NO idea what this is or where it came from. That, precisely, is the gift of the glaciers that carved this landscape.

Size:  2" x 1" - Source : Alki Beach, Seattle

Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter Beaches

Banded Jasper or...?
The beach below my house is primarily sand, esp. during the quiet months of summer, when the surf is at a minimum. But in winter, storming winds and tides throw rocks up onto the beaches, and right now there is a thick layer of pebbles at the tideline. This is perfect for sampling the extraordinary diversity of rocks that characterizes this ancient glacial landscape.

This good-sized cobble attracted my attention today. It was heavy and glass-smooth,  typically a sign of a hard rock like agate or jasper, but with some lovely green and brown banding.  I haven't seen anything like it here before - but that is almost always the case here : rocks deposited on my beach are likely remnants of boulders dropped by glaciers here 10, 000 years ago.

In any case, I popped it into the tumbler - and in a week or so, I'll be able to get a clear look at it. Then it will either go into polishing - or get tossed back onto the beach.

Alki Beach,  New Year's Eve Eve, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Out of the Tumbler

Beach Cobbles, San Simeon, CA
As I posted back in March, I spent a pretty mind-blowing day collecting on the beaches near San Simeon, California, on my way up the coast. Why was it so great?  Because nearly every rock on the beaches there is of something interesting, whether a brecciated jasper, or an interesting agate, or some things that I don't even know the names for. But whatever they are, they have loads of color and striking patterns and polish beautifully in the tumbler.

They do especially well in the tumbler since they are already well-rounded by the wave action. In fact, I usually skip the first coarse grit step in the polishing process and go directly to the finer 120/220 silicon carbide.

I'm still processing rocks I found months ago, and by the time I'm done, it'll be time to head South again to find some more!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Area 54

Misc. Jasper & Agate, Area 54

Some rockhounding locations are in the guidebooks. Others are not, either by the author's choice, or because they are new locations, found just as others are exhausted by hundreds - if not thousands - of collectors.  This place was not one I'd ever read about, except on a rockhounding club website. I don't know where it got it's name - Area 54 - but it does give the place a sense of mystery: it sounds like there should be aliens or UFO's around.  All I can say is, I didn't see any...

The truth is, I don't know exactly where Area 54 is, or at least where the club trips go. It is somewhere on the road into the Panoche Hills in Fresno County, California. I never found the exact spot they described, but it doesn't matter. You can look anywhere in a 5 mile radius, or anywhere along that road and you will find colorful, sometimes stunning, material. The pieces I've posted here just came out of the tumbler - but I have much more.

My advice?  Next time you're driving south on I-5 in central California, take a short detour and explore this canyon.  You won't be sorry!

FOLLOW-UP NOTE: June 15.  I've finally gotten these stones all the way through the polishing process, and sadly, they don't polish well. Most have a largely matte finish with only a few seams that took a good polish. I might have worried that I had done something wrong in the process (such as contaminating the batch with heavy grit somehow) but there were a few agates from elsewhere in the batch and they took a perfect polish - so I know it's the stones. So if they are jasper, they are a somewhat softer one.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Back to the Variolites

Variolites, Olympic Peninsula, WA

I was back on the Elwha River again yesterday, documenting the amazing restoration project underway there after the removal of two old, salmon-proof dams.

(To learn more, go to:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elwha_Ecosystem_Restoration)

In the meantime, however, I always had an eye out for one of my favorite rocks - the Variolite, a rare altered basalt associated with the Crescent Formation.

This is not a lapidary stone - it does not take a good polish, but it is rare and unusual enough, that I collect them whenever I see them. In France, they are considered medicinal and just quite possibly spiritual. Who knew?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Peacock Rock

Peacock Rock, Puget Sound
The water along the shores of Puget Sound was almost dead calm today, and the sun was shining: both relatively rare events here in Seattle.  It seemed a perfect day to prowl the shoreline looking for rocks, esp. where the rising tide washed over the beach, revealing the stones' true colors and patterns.

Along the shore of Lincoln Park is a favorite spot since the strong currents make for good-sized rocks, mostly free of barnacles and other marine life (I prefer to avoid killing things that live on the rocks, and for that reason avoid low tides).

I walked for half a mile along the beach, and my best find was this multi-colored, thinly layered cobble. I brought it home and cut through it.  It has a handsome patterning and wonderful, subtle colors. I haven't tested it for hardness yet, but I'm hoping its hard enough to take a polish. Either way, it's not like anything I've ever seen here before.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I am slowly working through the rocks I collected in southern California last month, including some interesting jaspers from the Central Coast. One of my favorite locations, as I have mentioned before, is the stretch of coast between Cayucos and San Simeon. Some of the most colorful, varied, and spectacular jaspers I have ever found were here, a place I am sure to go back to again and again.

Sometimes, I pick up rocks that show very little on the outside, maybe a little color, or the glassiness  of agate or jasper. I don't remember what I saw with this one. It was yellow overall, with the smooth sheen of jasper, but very little patterning on the surface.

Today I cut through it revealed a wonderful variety of patterns, almost like the "Picture Jaspers" I look for every year in the Owyhee canyons of Eastern Oregon.  These are the two cut ends of the same piece, about the size of my fist.  Wonderful.