Payson Has A Rock Star

Rock collectors meet monthly at Payson Public Library

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But for every pebble, every rock in the lines that comprise his front yard's rock garden, he can tell you its name and where he found it.

Agate, marble, sandstone, black jade, quartz crystals -- lines of them pile and swirl, marking not so much an idea, but a fascination. It looks like an impressionistic painting -- a rock painting punctuated by a sign reading, "Keep off the grass."

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Rock hound Russ Stewart shows off the front yard of his home in Payson and a small part of his rock collection. An avid rock collector, Stewart is president of the Payson Rimstones Rock Club.

"There is no rhyme or reason to it," Stewart said.

His wife drew the plans and he laid the tarp underneath, just to get the rocks out of their boxes. Stewart doesn't know how many rocks he has. "A couple million?" he guessed. "Give or take a million."

"Did you see the fish out front?" his wife, Jimi, asked. "I called it the turquoise pond." (The fish is ceramic.)

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Russ Stewart holds a piece of sandstone from the rock garden in his front yard.

Turquoise, Stewart said, "you don't find much of it anymore."

The good rocks are getting harder and harder to find. Modern times mean more people have traipsed through, picking the biggest, the best and the most beautiful.

But that just might mean you have to work a little harder.

The couple belongs to the Payson Rimstones Rock Club, and has for 10 years. The club organizes monthly rock-finding excursions, holds monthly meetings, and educates the community about rocks.

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Russ Stewart sits in his dining room surrounded by rocks he has collected and a ship he has spent the last six months building.

"At the beginning," Stewart said, "it was more like ‘let's go rock hunting.' Now it's more structured."

Stewart, who is president of the rock club, has a long, gray braid hanging down his back and says many people don't recognize him without his signature tall, black leather hat.

He is a stickler for starting club meetings on time. Exactly 3:30 p.m., second Wednesday of the month at the Payson Public Library.

At the July 9 meeting, members discussed whether new rules would require them to pay $20 to enter parks. They also presented a $1,000 scholarship to a girl headed to college this fall.

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Ships and rocks, for Russ Stewart, offer pleasurable outlets for his creativity and love of collecting.

The possible fee distressed members. Perhaps most disconcerting was that the bountiful forests, fodder for rock collections, were entering an era of decreased accessibility.

The rising cost of everything makes far-flung rock trips less plausible, Stewart said. The price of gas alone is enough to tether one to a 50- or 100-mile radius.

He and Jimi speak fondly of Arkansas, where they found a large chunk of white, semi-opaque quartz crystal in a clump of mud.

"We have to go back there," Jimi said. "I get excited when I can collect something as pretty as this," she added. "Russ likes to make jewelry with the rock. We both like collecting."

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The garden's design, "has no rhyme or reason," says rock collector Russ Stewart.

Indeed, knickknacks fill the couple's Payson home. Jimi paints, draws, and creates paper sculptures -- paper modeling it's called. A two-foot castle appears to be constructed with rocks, but is actually painted paper. Paper cats congregate in a corner.

Stewart builds boats -- too large to be called miniature, to small for a human to jump on board, though the model is real enough you might try. Sails proudly stretch and string intricately connects.

"Anything can get boring," Stewart said.

"That's why we have other hobbies," Jimi said.

Stewart makes jewelry with his rocks. Inside his garage sits polishers, saws and more rocks -- everything needed to transform raw nature into elegance.

Even the garnet could pass by a less-trained eye. Small outcroppings of red hint at what the stone could look like after a bit of polish turns what the earth provides into what humans would actually buy.

Small stones take weeks to fully polish. Russ wraps wire around some stones, creating earrings or pendants; other stones sit polished and resting in clear boxes on a cushion.

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Some rocks hold interesting shapes, says rock collector Russ Stewart.

Some people make lampshades, others belt buckles. Stewart says you can make just about anything.

"Sometimes you just pick up a rock that looks like it's supposed to be there -- like you just got to have it," he said.

"Everybody should go ahead and pick up real pretty rocks," Jimi said. "RPRs -- real pretty rocks."

"Then we have another kind of rock," Stewart interjects. "Leave 'er right there's."

Beginners tend to pick up every rock in sight. They have yet to develop the discriminatory eye of the experienced rock hound. "You just pick up everything you can see," Jimi said.

Then one learns the difference between the sandstone and the agate, the marble and the onyx. And as the categories reveal themselves, so too does the hidden sheen of the pebble on the ground.

Maybe then can a rock hound's garden rival that of the most avid plant lover.

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