A Colorado Rock Hounding Adventure

Are you one of those folks who've been rock hounding since your childhood? In Southwestern Ohio where I grew up, there was never a lack of amazing specimens: a special sparkle here, an unusual shape there, or a tiny bit of ancient life feeding my playmates and my imaginations of the seas that had covered our homes. The pet rock craze was no surprise to me...but those specimens were far less interesting than the ones I found myself!

Once I moved to the west as an adult, my rock hounding drive hitched up a notch or two. I visited museums and public parks where dinosaurs onceroamed. And every road cut seems to offer an in-your-face geology lesson. The Grand Canyon rocked my world...and I began my journey into amateur geology.

My husband and I bought the Roadside geology books for every state we traveled through and on each and every road trip the rock hounding books have followed.

This weekend we stopped to do some rock hounding at a few places along route 160 between Walsenburg and Ft. Garland, CO in Costilla County. The layers of time demonstrated the turmoil and upheaval that had displaced the ancient sea beds. Our book noted the types of fossils we might find...brachiopods, coral and gastropods-even pointing us to the layer in which to look.

It was no easy feat to climb to the layer... the Madera Shale breaks off in tiny, sharp-edged pieces that had piled up so thick over the years that it was like climbing a prickly sand dune. Sometimes rock hounding hurts! The tracks of previous hunters showed us a good place to begin our search.

Hanging onto the side, our eyes combed the surface for a trace of some ancient animal. there were a few bits and pieces here and there. Remembering the volumes of fossils my Ohio homeland rocks contained, I was more than a little disappointed.

And then I spotted something...it just might be the characteristic grooves of a shell. The color was pale compared to the grey shale and it could be just a shard of the original animal, but my spirit lifted. I beckoned my husband to bring the rock hammer.

Ever so carefully, we worked to remove the rock that might hold a treasure. It would be tragic if we were responsible for the demise of a fragile remnant. We didn't want to ruin the fragment we could see or any part of something that might be hidden below the surface. when we finally managed to pull the rock from the shale it was a near perfect brachiopod!

My heart soared. We'd found an almost entire brachiopod and although it was small, it was beautiful. More importantly, it had shown itself to me! We found other bits and pieces that day, but it was this little guy that felt like a special gift. It had lain there all those millions of years, it had survived the violent earth changes that lifted its layer to a near vertical position, it had gradually weathered its way to the surface and quietly waited for my eyes to find it. And finally, it had been a wondrous moment shared with my special someone as we awaited its birth from the earth.

Sound like a special moment? It was! And you can do it too! No matter where you find yourself, with a little planning ahead, and a rock hounding book or two, you can arm yourself with the location and knowledge to lead you to your special find. Who knows, soon you may be shouting "I FOUND ONE!" yourself.

Colorado Rock Hounding Location: In case you find yourself in Colorado, here's where we made this find. Costilla County Highway 160, a stretch of 1 to 4 miles east of Russell (an abandoned, but obvious settlement of a half-dozen or so cabins, houses and barns). The dark gray Madera Shale layer contained our brachiopod specimen from the Pennsylvanian epoch.

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