A French Vogue article from 2018 serves as an unusual roadmap through the geological treasures of the American West. The author, Par Annachiara Biondi, interviews jeweler and “rock-hounder” Alison Jean Cole about her interest in mineral-specimen-hunting and the career she has built from this interest. Cole, who describes herself as a “full-time rock enthusiast” on her Instagram account, leads “women-only rockhounding tours in the Pacific Northwest” where she scours “beaches where rocks are naturally eroded out of cliffs or washed up in the sand, and rocky hiking paths” for “rocks in solid colors, devoid of patterns or textures” which she used to make “intarsia jewelry” which involves “piecing together different bits of colored rock to create a pattern.”
Insofar as her artistic jewelry-making process, Cole describes the day she learned to cut stones at her local rock club as “a life-changing one” and the act of rock-cutting as “the best thing I’d ever done.” After discovering her passion for stone-cutting and rock-hounding Cole “quit her job and started working as a full-time stonecutter.”
Cole now describes herself as a “lapidary,” the formal term for an artisan who works with rocks and mineral specimens.
On her field-trips, Cole encourages her participants to bring very little with them, which applies to both technology and mining tools. “You only need a bucket” says Cole, and a couple of “smaller instruments like shovels, garden claws, chisels and little rakes.” Cole asks her trip-participants “to leave their phones behind.” For the camping-aspect of her trips, Cole suggests bringing “a wide-brimmed hat, layers of light clothing sun protection, tall boots, and plenty of water and snacks.”
The other crucial piece of rockhounding equipment Cole suggests is a map–but not just any map. Rather than using GoogleMaps or a Garmin, Cole suggests using an old-fashioned paper “recreational atlas” which provides “information on all kinds of roads, including dirt roads, tracks, and wilderness areas” which, as Cole says, “will lead you to discover things that you would have never discovered if you were looking at a digital map on your phone.” Cole suggests supplementing this with “a geology book” such as “Falcon Guides or Roadside Geology.”
“Knowing the geologic history of an area is essential to understanding what kinds of specimens you are going to find and why they can be found there in the first place,” says Cole.
If you find yourself itching for an adventure, why not go on a rockhounding excursion? You’ll get to experience mineral specimens in their natural environment and “camp in the wild and hike under the desert sun,” as Cole does. With the scant equipment it requires and the potential it presents for an unusual and unforgettable experience in nature, a Rockhounding Vacation should be at the top of your post-COVID excursions-list.
Find more information on Cole’s career and mineral-specimen-genius in this video:
Find more information on Cole’s mineral-specimen-to-jewelry-business here.