Geology And Geophysics

A Guide to Backyard Geology

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"A Guide to Backyard Geology"
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Backyard Geology: A Rockhound's Tale

The fever came over me one late winter's day while readying my flower beds for the spring planting. It came over me suddenly and unexpectedly, with a power of discovery I had not known since I was a child.

I contracted this fever from a little piece of quartz buried in my flower beds. It was no bigger than a tennis ball and speckled with little gold flakes Flakes that I was sure were pure gold.

Like the forty-niners of years gone by, I found myself dancing and prancing, shovel in hand and dreaming of the riches and fame I had uncovered in my backyard. I spent the next week working in absolute secrecy, gathering as much of the material as I could uncover. I found much more of the gold and quartz, and even some decent size nuggets that I was sure would fetch a hefty price.

When I was satisfied that I had uncovered a small fortune, and with my backyard now pockmarked with deep cuts and holes, I took my fortune to a local gem dealer and proudly showed off my find. Expecting riches and a slap on the back, I was informed that I had found some great pyrite' crystals.

"Pyrite?" I asked, "Is that another name for gold?"

"It can be said so," said the gemologist, "It's also known as Fool's Gold."

That gemologist then offered me a book on local geology and the study of minerals. Instead of leaving with riches, I left twenty dollars poorer but with a book that would change my life. A book that would make me richer then any gold or gem vein could ever produce.

I read intently about the forces that formed the Appalachian Mountain range. How continental drift and the forces of great oceans of ancient earth history produced these mountains that surround my home. I was thrilled to find out the mountains behind my home once stood higher than Mt. Everest and are among some of the oldest mountain ranges on earth.

I studied intently the way these forces forced, stretched and pulled apart our continent and was overcome with exuberating upon learning that my property laid in the middle of what was some of the most violent natural history the earth has ever known. Great amounts of molten rock and volcanic forces once devastated everything here and plummeted the earth into darkness for eons. It was the cooling of the rocks and the trace minerals in the magma of this great violent force that left the mineral deposits throughout the region, such as the pyrite deposit in my backyard.

I studied local minerals and snapped up as much information as I could find on the subject. Then I began searching. Digging, panning local streams, slushing river beds and uncovering every mineral I could find. The minerals I have found have odd names that I did not know just one year before. Deep blue azurite, beautiful green malachite, garnets by the thousands, corundum and the rainbow of colors it comes in which include red rubies, pink, blue, orange and white sapphires, and every other color under the sun.

My flower beds are now rock gardens. My most beautiful finds are proudly displayed in my home. The riches I hoped to find are replaced by a collection gems and minerals that I would never sell. My friends and family admire my collection and wish they had the knowledge and dedication to go out and make these finds. I joined a local club, aptly named M.A.G.M.A, (see Mountain Area Gem & Mineral Association at The club offers me a have a whole new group of friends that share this passion for geology and earth science. We get together regularly and learn from each other, but better yet, we get out and dig and look for the history that formed this part of our world. We look for rocks.

Most recently I discovered some small flecks of Amethyst near my backyard, and I'm on a quest to find from where it originates. I spend my free time out there looking and studying, trying to figure out this great mystery. I've learned this; in the process of solving any one of these mineralogical mysteries, ten more will come to light.

I have caught the fever alright. Now I'm a full blown Rockhound with no cure in sight. Yet I have a hobby and a passion for science that I wouldn't change for the world and it all came about with the "discovery" of the geology of my backyard.

More about this author: Steve Banks

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