Hello and Welcome

Hello. Welcome to my new blog...'Between the Jackets'. What's it about? Life. Everything that happens between the jackets of birth and death. The real story. It's about people of all shapes and sizes, different personalities, unusual struggles, and funny situations. This also includes children, animals, crawling, creeping, and swimming creatures.

Let's face it, some days life serves you a big plate of worms. Not very tasty in my opinion. Other days it's a 'picture perfect' stuffed turkey next to a crystal dish filled with cranberry sauce. Yum! And please don't forget there are going to be those 'cheeseburger and fries' days, which essentially boils down to the funny, awkward, and in between moments of day to day living. Because life is pretty much unpredictable, I'm going to do my best at getting it right. Some days I know I won't. The best books and stories ever written come from personal experience and the struggles we face every day. These struggles we eventually overcome and, oftentimes, laugh about. They are the hidden treasures that make up the space 'Between the Jackets' and are well worth remembering.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rockhounding Junkies--part one

Julie's Top Eight Places to Rock Hound in Utah--The Rockhounding Junkies

One of our favorite activities is to find a place where the entire family can collect beautiful rocks. Hah! Is that really possible? For the Helms, yes! We believe in Peter Pan and Puff the magic Dragon, remember? Our family motto: Rock Adventures are for Everyone...as long as it's safe. That doesn't mean we're not going to climb steep mountains and forge rocky streams on our quests. It means that we're going to try hard to keep everyone safe while we're doing it, and keep any real danger at level zero. With teenagers it's a work in progress...believe me!

It's important to remember to wear long pants. If anyone falls, the knees are protected. Make certain you take enough food and water for your group. Sandals or open toed shoes are forbidden. Who want's a bug bite on top of their toe? There's plenty of snake holes, too. A diamondback rattler curled under a rock and waiting to strike is easy to imagine. Their bite is mean. So watch out! Children hate to have dirt in any kind of shoe. Tennis shoes or boots are worthwhile investments when it involves collecting rocks.

There are many places in Utah that are too steep or too difficult to hike with children. I'm going to name eight places we actually dug at to find beautiful rocks with our family. Utah is a magical rainbow when it comes to finding colored collectable stones. Taking five gallon buckets is a must. Cardboard boxes (I don't care how strong you think those suckers were stapled or glued) are useless for storing rocks. Spend the money and buy plastic. It works!

1. The Dugway Geode Beds (Juab County):  Any rock hounder mother or father who is worth their salt can't miss a trip to these beds. Of course it took us a couple of visits to ACTUALLY find REAL geodes. We dug at rocky holes that looked well-used before we even started digging, with nothing to show for it except blistered hands and sunburns. What the heck did geodes look like anyway? We discovered more dig sites, broke up a lot of dirt balls, threw away countless roundish rock hopefuls, and exhausted ourselves swinging picks and shoveling in mounds of clay and dirt until we found our first, second, third geode and the magic happened. We wanted...we needed...we craved...more, more, more.

Dirty? You can't go to the beds without transforming into a massive dust bowl yourself--crusty fingernails, filthy clothes, grit on teeth, dust and gnats up your nose, and endless unknown particles dropping into your hair are all part of the charm.. These become the most cherished moments. The younger children weren't the best diggers; they got tired quick and were constantly drinking water under the hot sun. Drinking plenty of water does what to a child? That's right, we stopped digging frequently, dodged the snake holes, and took children potty, dangled their little butts over holes we dug in the dirt for them.

Swinging picks are out of the question for children, and the shovels too big for their small feet. So small hammers or large metal spoons were given to the littler ones. The older children dug like they were mining gold, with fierce determination and endless energy. Between a husband and the adolescent diggers, children are the most enthusiastic when a geode is finally cut open, and in front of their eyes purplish crystals sparkle like rare diamonds.

So in the end, when we're driving home after the sun has set over graveled roads, and owls are dive bombing our car, it's been worth it. The teenagers are watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon contentedly on the DVD player. The children lie sleeping all snug in the car, with visions of geodes displayed in a jar.

One of the funnest trips we took to the geode beds was when my husband hauled his tile saw in the back of his black pickup truck and cut geodes as the kids and I found them on site. Talk about instant gratification. Once you find a geode, you're overcome with a mad desire to see what's on the inside. It was a race to see which of us, young or old, could find the biggest, most colorful, unique geode of the day.

If the sky is clouded over when you head out to the geode beds early in the morning, it's even better. Remember--you're going there to dig not fry eggs. The less sun the better, and it's easier to work. We always pack lunches and take plenty of water. Sunscreen, the spray kind that doesn't sting eyes, quickly becomes your best friend.

2.  Topaz Mountain (Juab County):  Wow! Topaz Mountain is situated between the Drum Mountains rising to the west and the Dugway Geode Beds to the northwest. The day we headed out with our family to dig, every rock collector in the state must have decided to head that way, too. Men, women, children, dogs, old diggers, young diggers; the place reminded me of Hogle Zoo. Busy! Busy! Busy! People moved across giant rock gravel like worker ants preparing for the winter. Sparkles glimmered from every rock. We asked a man mining up the mountain a ways where to start digging. He stood in front of his hole, brandishing his pick, and told us anywhere. Clearly though, he didn't want us digging in his spot. Rock hounders get very territorial if you get too close to where they're digging.

So where does the sparkling rock come from? The crystal in the mountain. And since Utah frowns on rock hounders using their own explosive devices, I guess some unknown person comes in and dynamites new sections once in a while for topaz enthusiasts. If a person loves topaz, brown sparkly crystals that quite possibly can be made into pieces of jewelry, then this place is perfect for any rock hounder.

The older children set off to find their dig spots higher up the mountain, while my daughter and I found spots where the younger ones could dig that appeared less tricky for tiny feet to navigate. The topaz crystals are there, but you need to find them. Many of the crystal pieces we found that day were picked up right off the ground. That was the funnest part. The littler ones got a few bumped knees, but nothing too serious. Ziploc bags worked best for our collecting on this trip, though we wished we could have filled our buckets. So don't go on this expedition expecting buckets of topaz like we did that first time. It's not going to happen. Much of it needs to be carefully extracted from rock. You can gather the heavier rocks, too, but it was a lot more fun picking the crystal up by hand and shoving it down our jean's pockets or into our plastic bags.

3.  Copralite Mountain (Juab County):  A really incredible place to find big rocks of gem quality copralite--fossilized feces. We don't get to collect dinosaur bones here in Utah, but rather the next best thing--dinosaur poop. Don't worry, it's not still stinky. Whew!

Copralites are trace fossils which show the petrified diet of an animal that lived millions of years ago. How fun is that? We bought a local rock hunting book, found the spot we wanted to investigate, and left early one morning. We saw people that we assumed were rock collectors in other areas, but it didn't seem like anyone was finding much. We kept following the directions in the book we had and drove right to the magic dinosaur poop spot. Hooray!

Collecting the petrified poop exhausted us. The stuff is everywhere. And it's heavy! Yeah! We needed our five gallon buckets for this expedition. We found more than poop, though. There was agate, jasper, petrified plants...and rocks we couldn't identify.

The colors? Look up at a rainbow the next time it rains and imagine rocks of every color--red, purple, blue, pink, green, white, orange, grey--and you'll be correct. We kept busier than a hive of honey bees. I think we even found a dinosaur bone jetting out of one piece of copralite. Don't get excited; it's only a guess. Can anything get more thrilling?
We collected until our buckets were filled and our backs and arms ached non-stop. My daughter and I had to use the muscles of her oldest sons to carry the buckets down the hill. A few of the bigger rocks were rolled down, away from the younger children, but close enough to the Suburban we could drop them in the back after the buckets were loaded.

We've taken several more trips back to our "no-tell-em" dinosaur poop spot. One trip to a gold mine would never be enough, right? Copralite Mountain became our gold mine. And the beautiful thing about the whole experience? We didn't need to dig holes. The petrified rocks on top of that hill were waiting patiently for us every time we returned. We collected them like you pick corn from a stalk, one rock at a time, and loved it. It's a good two and a half hour drive from Lehi but well worth the trouble.

4.  Riley's Canyon (Summit County): Holy crap! No, wait. That's dinosaur poop. The stuff my family hunted down on this particular trip was petrified red horned coral--beautiful gem quality material when polished. We drove from the four way stop in Francis, Utah, down highway 35, six miles heading southeast, and stopped at a trailhead to the left of the road called Riley's Canyon. Through a rickety fence, we opened and closed to keep the cows in, we hiked a couple of miles up a trail.

The first piece of red coral of the day was found laying on top of the soil on the left side of a steep hill--not too dangerous if you hang onto the children's hands as you're climbing up the steepest part. The hill doesn't get flat on top, but it's definitely less steep. We hung our picks from our belt loops, so that we could dig if we wanted. The coral was scattered everywhere across the ground in a large area. You have to get the hang of what you were looking for...the coral is dirty. It looks more like the petrified branch of a tree. But once you've found a piece, and if you're in a good spot, you find plenty more. It's a matter of spotting it.

We even found jasper, agate, some petrified sea bed, another type of coral, plant fossils, perhaps even an egg, and again, rocks that were cool looking but that we couldn't identify. What a blast! We took empty backpacks and filled them until the zippers bulged. Once again, my daughter's sons carried them back down the mountain trail. Though it should have been easier going downhill, the younger children were exhausted, so it took a bit of coaxing and carrying to get everyone down the trail to the car. But what a trail! Red horned coral quickly became our next best treasure.

It's only fair to  mention that Becca's boys, Brigham and Dominic, seemed to sniff the red coral out on that mountain like they were bloodhounds. They found more than any of us put together. And that's hard to admit...since I really wanted to find more than them. It's okay, though. When they weren't looking I stole some. I felt plenty guilty when each of them offered up handfuls of their own coral to add to my pittance. Even Becca felt sorry for me and gave me most of hers. It's good to share, don't you think? I'm going to polish them some coral and make them each a ring. That ought a do it!

Please note the next four rock hounding expeditions will be included in another post. This one got too big. So for more exciting adventure from the Rockhounding Junkies keep checking back. You don't want to miss out on the excitement--not with crying, thirsty children, daring teenagers, and incredibly courageous mothers involved. Right? Of course not!


  1. Could you at least tell us the title of the rockhounding book you bought? I would love to take the grandkids to find coprolites!

  2. iamkevinw54 has changed to workkevinw@gmail about 6 years ago.
    I just got used to ball point pens and havent taken it down yet because I dont know how, or just am not motivated, lol.
    Wheres a ten year old to figure out my phone, flat fangled tv, or dvd player or pad when ya need one?
    Not here! After 10 kids I said no more 10 year olds here I did:-)