Search for semi-precious stones turns into summer adventure

Grandson walks off with prize white rock at Maine mineral company

Bill Warren

Have you ever been to one of those amusement parks that has a machine where there is a grapple at the top and a lot of fancy goods in the bottom? And the sides are glass so onlookers can see the grapple, see the goods and become gamblers, betting that they snag one of the goods before the purchased grapple time is spent? If manipulating the grapple, in the time allowed happens, then one of the items becomes a treasure gained. In my experience however the treasure is sighted but is never realized.

This past month our family members from California came east. They were my daughter and 12-year-old grandson checking out the wonders of the Northeast. While I was trying to find things that we might do that would be educational and entertaining, my daughter took over my laptop and went into a search engine. There she found a place in Maine that offered rock hunters a chance to find valuable or semi-valuable gem stones, gold, and other precious metals. The business was in Woodstock, Maine. We got the directions, filled the gas tank, and with a friend we drove northwest for three hours. My daughter, Anne, updated us concerning her interests in rocks. Wow! I knew she was a physicist, but I knew not that geology was one of her hot buttons.

Western Maine Mineral Adventures is a small mineral company owned by Jody and Zoltan Matolcsy. They teach people to "fossick", an Australian term that means to look for semi-precious gem stones in a small way. They have screening trays, water troughs, and piles of tailings that they bring in from a mine somewhere nearby. The tailings are put in a pile, and they offer shovels and buckets for clients to fill with dirt and small rocks. Then, any amateur geologists ("rock-hounds" I call them) can take their buckets of tailings to one of the screening tables. There they can wash out the dirt, sift or screen the rocks into various sizes and slowly go through their collection to find treasures, if any.

Near the entrance there are samples in a display case showing rocks that have been found in the tailings from the Maine mine. In the office they have more samples of the sorts of rocks that can be found by searchers. Some of the rocks have been polished in various shapes.  

What types of rocks do rock hounds find? They include Feldspar all colors, Aquamarine Beryl, Optical Quartz, Smokey Citrane Quartz, Spodumene, Montebrasite, Muscovite Mica with Tepidovite rim, Biotite Mica, Siderite/Triphylite and Cassiterite to mention a few. When looking at the sample display, I was reminded of the grapple/treasure amusement park machine.

Do dreams come true? Can the impossible be realized? My grandson, Powell, found a fist-sized white rock that his mother identified as white quartz. It was two inches high. At one point in the rock there was what looked like a six-sided facet. But since it had not been carved, it was not a facet but a normal formation of rock. As seen in the photograph the six-sided point of quartz is translucent and almost clear. What I thought was bait (contents of display box) turned out to be the luck of a child.

The afternoon that we were at Western Maine Mineral Adventures, there were several people sifting through small piles of rocks. We were told that in the morning before we came, there had been 80 kids from a camp and in the morning after our visit another camp load of kids were coming. To help identify what one finds in the rocks, the company has some expert local rock hounds who help clients find their treasures.

The only rocks I think about are the "glass rocks" that my wife and I find when we are walking on one of our beaches. Glass rocks are not really rocks at all. They are pieces of glass that have been tumbled in sand and sea to make them smooth shaped. But Powell's rock was a rock hound's dream come true.

The day might have been fun in just fossicking. But our day became special as Powell manipulated the grapple and won the prize. Sometimes life is really beautiful.

(For more about sea glass see story and poem by Norm Walker in February, 2008, issue of "Rye Reflections".)

September, 2009