Few would argue that the Rim country is a rocky place.
While many of us consider that a curse, the Payson Rimstones Rock Club sees the glass as half-full. President Lynne Wheeler, a retired elementary school teacher, says this area is a wonderland of rocks, gems, minerals and fossils.
"We have a lot of fascinating rocks on and around the Rim," Wheeler said, "everything from quartz crystals to agate, jasper to beautiful fossils that are over 350 million years old including Arizona brain rocks, those geodes that sometimes have crystals inside.
"This is a wonderful area to find rocks and gems because of the way the Rim was pushed up. We can see things that would be underground in other locations," she said.
The Rimstones have just completed putting together a special exhibit, "Rocks, Gems and Minerals of the Rim Country," which is now on display at the Rim Country Museum.
"We invited our members to bring their rocks, and we literally did a tailgate thing to find the best specimens," Wheeler said. "We included rocks from a broad area around the rim all the way to Flagstaff and Globe.
"There's black jade from Young, obsidian and Apache tears from Globe, fluorite crystals from a uranium mine over by Superior, agate from Agate Mountain, the brown and purple jasper you find in the Mazatzals around here, azurite and malachite that come from the Rye area and the Mazatzals, banded agate or zebra rock from the Seven Springs area, salt-related crystals from Camp Verde, sandstone from around here and up towards Forest Lakes. There's also a lot of onyx, from right over here on Tyler Parkway over to Mayer."
For those who would rather experience the Rim country's rocks, gems and minerals au naturel, the Rimstones are always looking for a few good rockhounds. Membership is $8 a year for an individual, and $12 for a family. In return, you get a monthly newsletter, a chance to go on field trips to old mines and other remote locations, access to a member's garage, which is chock full of saws, grinders, polishers and other equipment, and a lot of knowledge and information through meetings and seminars from a veteran cast of collectors.
"The majority of the people in the club do lapidary work," Wheeler said. "They transform what they find into something else, so we have one open house every month where people can learn to do jewelry and bookends and things like that."
The field tools of the rockhound's trade are hammers, picks, chisels, and a device called a gad "an enormous chisel, two or three feet long, with a pointed end," according to Wheeler. A rock hammer is flat on one end with a chisel on the other.
For those who prefer to seek out the rocks, gems and minerals of the Rim country on your own, the Rimstones have prepared a special information sheet, Rockhounding Below the Mogollon Rim, which is available at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Payson Ranger Station. It features places to look for rocks along the Control Road.
Diamond Point fire tower lookout area for quartz crystals.
Washes off the road for red jasper and fossils.
Whispering Pines for Arizona geodes, known locally as brain rocks.
Along the rest of the way toward Pine is lots of agate and strange-shaped rocks
To help identify your finds, the Rimstones recommend three books, all of which can be ordered from club member Russ Stewart by calling 474-9712:
"Rockhounding Arizona" by Gerry Blair, also available at the Rim Country Museum gift shop and the Payson Ranger Station.
"Minerals of Arizona" by Neil R. Bearce, also available at the Rimstones annual October Rock Show from the author.
"Gem Trails of Arizona 2001" by James R. Mitchell.
Of all the rocks in this area, geodes or brainrocks are among the more intriguing if for no other reason than the fact that each one contains a surprise.
When you find a geode, Wheeler recommends caution in breaking it open.
"Of course a saw is best, but if you use a chisel it will break into two pieces," she said. "Put it in a sock to avoid getting hit by shattering pieces."
What are the odds that you'll strike paydirt when you bust open that geode?
"A lot of them are solid, but there's at least a 30-50 percent chance that there will be crystals inside one chance in a 100 they'll be amethyst crystals, which are really just dirty quartz."
And speaking of crystals, Wheeler is aware of the spiritual qualities some people associate with them.
"Certain cultures have used them for hundreds of thousands of years for healing and similar purposes," she said. "Hematite is very calming, and if you put it on gives you a cooling effect.
"But I'm into the geology. I taught for 27 years and I tried to bring geology into my classroom. Every time I go to a show or on a field trip I learn something.
Collecting rocks, gems and minerals, she says, is a wonderful experience for children and a hobby that can carry over into adulthood.
"It's a collection a young person can start that turns into a lifetime of enjoyment," she said. "I have lots of friends who bring a rock or mineral back from a trip or vacation, and it's a souvenir."
In the Rim country, of course, the predominant rock is granite. But always the optimist, Wheeler says there are treasures to be found even in this lowly stone.
"Granite is very common," she said, "but there is lots of quartz in it if you look hard enough."
For more information on the Payson Rimstones Rock Club, call Wheeler at 472-7170.