Rockhounding For Fun And Profit



Lynne Wheeler, retired school teacher and president of the Payson Rimstones Rock Club, plans to return from a trip in plenty of time for the club's big Rock & Gem Show this weekend at the Tonto Apache Recreation Center.

"I'd be stoned if I weren't there," Wheeler said with a laugh.


Lynne Wheeler, president of the Payson Rimstones Rock Club, holds some of the more interesting artifacts club members have found on field trips to Arizona mines. The display is located in the lobby of the Payson Public Library.

As you might suspect from her choice of words, members of the Rimstones live and breathe rocks and minerals.

Wheeler believes rockhounding is the perfect family activity, and invites Rim country residents to attend the show and see for themselves how much fun it can be.

"Arizona has so much to offer," Wheeler said. "There are over 380 recognized rocks and minerals in the state.

"Plus it's an outdoor activity families can do together that doesn't cost a lot, and you get to see the most beautiful wilderness areas. Some families will pick up one rock from every place they visit, and that is kind of their memory of the area."

The Rimstones take monthly field trips and occasional overnight trips to places where particular kinds of rocks and minerals are prevalent.

"We've gone to Patagonia south of Tucson, and last New Year's we went over to Burro Creek and stayed three days and had a wonderful time finding agate," Wheeler said. "Burro Creek agate is known all over the world."

The club's trips are also a great way to experience the natural beauty of Arizona.

"I've probably seen more backroads and more areas of Arizona in the last three years belonging to the rock club than in the 30 years I've lived here," Wheeler said. "You don't necessarily have to have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle because there's always somebody else that will take you with them if you chip in on gas."

Included in the Rimstone's excursions are lots of old mines. In fact, the group's display case in the lobby of the Payson Public Library is currently featuring a collection of artifacts and ores found in some of the state's historic mines.

"When we go, it's primarily for the rocks and minerals, but a lot of our members collect bottles and other things they find in and around old mines," Wheeler said. "Bottles made from a glass with the right chemical content turn purple after weathering in the sun, and those are really beautiful."

Besides an example of the purple glass, the display at the library includes old mining claims, padlocks, nails, tin cans and other artifacts dating back to the mid-1800s.

"This is real history," said Wheeler, holding core samples from the display in each hand.

During the trip to the Patagonia area, a visit to an old cemetery provided a memorable experience.

"There used to be a town there that doesn't exist anymore, but here is this cemetery up in the mountains that dates to the late 1800s that the people still maintain with fresh flowers and everything," Wheeler said. "It was really a moving experience."

Some members of the group are into fossils, while one couple picks up animal vertebrae and bones.

"We have another member who goes for the photography more than anything else," Wheeler said. "You don't have to pick up rocks."

You can also find plenty of rocks and minerals right here in the Rim country.

"On Tyler Parkway you can find beautiful calcite, Wheeler said. "It's a creamy white color. You can go up to Diamond Point and find quartz crystals.

"You also find a lot of limestone and shale around here. That's what the whole Rim area was made from. And there's a lot of jasper and agate."

Anyone can attend the Rimstones' monthly meetings, held at 3:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of the month in the library conference room.

"A lot of people share things they've found in other states at the meetings," said Wheeler. "People also share on cleaning minerals, the different acids to use.

"People also share the activities they do with rocks and minerals. One lady makes beautiful Tiffany-type lamps that she cuts rocks for, a lot (of our members) are into jewelry making wire wrapping, bolo ties, things like that.

Membership in the organization is $8 a year for individuals and $12 for families, which helps offset the cost of the organization's monthly newsletter, "Rimstones Review."

The group's annual Rock & Gem Show this Saturday and Sunday at the Tonto Apache Recreation Center is another opportunity to learn more about rockhounding.

Thirteen vendors will be on hand with a wide variety of rocks, minerals and finished jewelry. There will also be a variety of books for sale.

"Neal Bearce, one of the authors of the three major books on rocks and minerals in Arizona, "Minerals of Arizona" (the others are "Gem Trails of Arizona" by James R. Mitchell, and "Rockhounding in Arizona" by Gerry Blair), is always at our show. In addition, at least eight members are planning to have display cases at the show, and a corner will feature activities for children, including a spinning wheel, grab bag and silent auction.

"We'll also have a person at the show who will identify rocks and minerals that people have found and want to bring in," Wheeler said.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3, but you can save 50 cents by picking up a green calendar at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"The calendar is a fun piece that talks about the show, about wedding anniversary stones, birthstones, and lots of other interesting things about gems and minerals," Wheeler said.

Show times

Payson Rimstones Rock & Gem Show

Saturday, Oct. 12, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 13, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tonto Apache Mazatzal Reservation Recreation Center

Admission: $3 (children under 12 free)

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