Modern backyard geology has taken on a substantially different meaning than the traditional meaning. In modern methods of building homes, dirt is trucked in from a variety of sources that is for the most part smoothed out and made to be as perfect for that style of dirt as possible. This means that anyone looking to explore the geology of their own literal backyard is extremely limited. However, the term backyard in the sense of geology, really means your neighborhood or general region, not limited to your physical backyard. This of course opens up numerous other options for exploration and fun.
Where to start?
By exploring your neighborhood, you should be able to find all sorts of different variations of geology in action. This is especially true if you live in an area that isn't as developed or if you are in an area that has very little human interaction. Typically those areas that are a little off the beaten path are the best places to get started. The less human interaction the better the odds of finding something that isn't already destroyed. If mountains or old river beds exist in an area they could be absolutely wonderful starting points for discovering some incredible finds.
Even wide open fields can create a great area to search through as long as the grass isn't too tall to prevent searching the ground. Often times wide open fields that have been relatively undeveloped by farmers can provide great sources of adventure for anyone looking to do some backyard geology. These open fields can be churned up by regular wind and storms revealing some hidden gems right on the surface.
Another great location to look is near any source of water. Anywhere that water touches is often a place where animals will have roamed at some point in time. These areas are great for finding fossils and also for finding different types of rocks as the water will often times work through rock formations while building the river or lake bank. The best options are lakes and rivers that have receded significantly over the past several hundred years. The greater the recession of the water the better the odds are that something truly awesome could be discovered.
What items are needed?
In order to discover what your neighborhood has to offer, it is suggested that you have some sort of a magnifying lense of decent quality. You are going to want this for examining the different rocks that you find. You are going to want a guide to the different types of a rocks, a geology map so that you can tell what rocks you should expect in your area, and some general gardening tools. It may also be a good idea to bring a rare earth magnet so that rocks can be checked to see if they have magnetic qualitites. Any rock that shows signs of magnetism could potentially be meteorites. Meteorites are not only exciting to find but can be pretty valuable and worth a nice deal of money to any collector.
How do I get started?
Getting started is the easiest part. There are a few different approaches to backyard geology. The first is that you can simply walk around slowly looking for items of interest. This is great for looking for specific items such as meteorites or even arrowheads in the right areas and can be pretty effective near water and in mountains. Another method is to dig through dirt and sand to sift through your find. Sifting is a great way of finding really cool items near water, especially moving water. The water will not only provide a great source of geological finds but will make it easier to sift through the good and bad stuff. You can also chip away at rocks in order to find something else beyond a rock face or to see if there is something to the inside of the rock that can't be easily seen on the outside.
As you find the rocks, use your guide to determine what rocks you find. You can either keep this rocks, or catalog them so that you can determine what rocks are predominant in the area. The further down you dig the more likely you'll find rocks that are more natural to the area. Generally the top layer contains a variety of rocks from different sources and could have been brought in from different locations by people. To avoid this get to about 2-4 feet below the surface and you should be able to find quite a few rocks that belong to that region naturally.
You can use the magnifying glass to explore every inch of the rock and make a true decision as to what type of rock it is. Then when you are all done, you can compare your results to the geographic map to determine if the map states the same rock types that you actually found. These maps are great for finding other types of rocks as well.
You can get as detailed in the geology of the area as you desire. Most people just like to check out the many different rocks in their area and not much more. Some like to take the rocks how and use them in projects. Even others are more interested in the discovery aspect of it all. Whatever your reasoning is for getting involved in geology, make sure that you take the time and give it a chance, as you can have a lot of fun doing it.