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No Stone Unturned

Rockhounds scour the state for the good stuff

This pom-pom agate (green moss agate with bursts of yellow argonite) was uncovered at Needle Park, south of Terlingua. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)I must have rocks in my head to be out in the scorching Big Bend sun, teetering on a steep talus slope on Needle Peak, dodging thorny lechuguilla and prickly pear while searching for pom-pom agates and chalcedony pseudomorphs.

Agate expert Trey Woodward leads the way up the mountain. He has a knack for spotting dazzling rocks and helps me find “the good stuff” up and down the mountain.

“The hard part about Needle Peak is just getting to it,” says Woodward. The rugged spire, also known as Sierra Aguja, rises south of Terlingua on the western edge of Big Bend National Park. While the last few miles of dirt road leading to Woodward’s 285-acre Needle Peak acreage are rough going, the real fun begins when he powers his fat-tire Jeep down a slippery, flood-soaked creek, splattering us with muddy gumbo.

“Everyone loves the ride down here,” says Woodward, who leads outings to Needle Peak from his Woodward Ranch near Alpine, a renowned rockhound mecca where I got hooked on agate hunting years ago.

'Rock hunting is like treasure hunting.'

Whether I’m searching for agate in the volcanic backcountry of West Texas, precious gems and rare minerals in the Llano Uplift of Central Texas, or pelecypod fossils in Cretaceous limestone around Austin, collecting rocks captivates me like no other hobby. Many thousands of rockhounds share my passion for Texas’ geologic treasures.

“Rock hunting is like treasure hunting,” says Teri Smith, a rockhound from Alpine with a passion for agates and guiding others to prime collecting spots.

“You can be a scientist, artist, and explorer—all with rocks,” adds Smith, who has a rock shop and museum at the Antelope Lodge in Alpine, which she owns with her husband, John. “It’s thrilling to discover something beautiful, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

While Texas abounds with rocks, minerals, and fossils, public access poses a challenge. More than 94 percent of Texas is private land, off-limits to rockhounds without landowner permission. Much of the state’s public land includes state and nation-al parks and wildlife management areas where it’s illegal to collect rocks, artifacts, or plants.

Fortunately, rockhounds can hunt legally on pub-lic easements along Texas roads, and roadcuts can prove fruitful for collecting.

From the March 2010 issue.

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