Something often heard as rockhounds reach down to pick up a rock that “speaks” to them is, “Oh, pretty! Look!” Many of us collected rocks as kids and still do as adults. But it’s far more than just picking up, gathering interesting stones and leaving them all around the house. Rock collecting (aka rockhounding) is very science-oriented and can also be an artistic hobby. The Lewis County Rock and Gem Society (LCRGS) was formed to educate both children and adults about the science and geology of rocks, as well as fun things to make, such as stunning jewelry.
LCRGS co-founder Tony “Steve” Conjulusa explains that he and fellow co-founder Dwayne Deck, who had only known each other as Facebook friends, met one day to pencil out the idea for the club. Conjulusa had been president previously of two other clubs, the Southern Washington Mineralogical Society and the Washington Agate and Mineral Society. Recognizing the need for a club in Lewis County, they put out a call on Facebook to gauge interest. “Within eight hours, we had 400 responses,” he marvels.
Their plans were simply to get like-minded people together, educating and enjoying a hobby that any economic level can participate in. “The poorest person to the richest person can do this,” says Conjulusa. “Anybody can go out and find a rock.” He further explains, “We also want to educate the younger ones in order to keep this hobby going.”
Unfortunately, COVID put a damper on the kids’ educational programs the past year, but the club is looking to rebuild the program. Previous activities such as teaching about the differences in how rocks are formed were well received by the kids, as well as art activities such as “rock trees” made with tiny stones and wire.
Conjulusa also offers education to outside groups, such as Boy Scouts. He shares introductory geology and then shows rocks that can be found close by or within a couple of hours, such as local carnelian and crystals, or thundereggs and fossils from Little Naches over by Yakima. “It does them no good for me to show them rocks from places far away, and they want to know that they can find them around here,” he explains.
Lewis County Rock and Gem Society is different than most clubs, which typically have many members who have been rock collectors since they were kids. This club has many members who are new to rockhounding and are just now learning about the fun hobby well into adulthood. “That’s one reason we have an education program the way we do, to educate adults as well as the kids,” explains Conjulusa.
The adult education programs are a big hit as well. The current program director, Anastasia Hansz, has been providing information in response to the annual survey of members asking what topics they would like to learn about. A recent video presentation, “Super Volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest” by Central Washington University Professor Nick Zenter, enthralled the adults in attendance.
Members are interested in a variety of aspects of rock collecting. “You know the thing about rockhounding — there are people like me,” Conjulusa explains. “I love to look for rocks. That’s my thing. There are others that go to shows and sell their rocks. We have people that are into just cabbing [short for “cabochon,” which is a stone that is cut and polished into a thin dome]. They don’t care whether they sell it or not. It’s just what they like to do. Any part of that spectrum still makes you a rockhound.”
Club field trips are a popular activity, going locally where people can easily participate, within three to four hours away at the most. These group activities are perfect for single parents or grandparents who want to take kids out to hunt for rocks but aren’t comfortable going alone.
People must be a member of the club to participate due to insurance liability, but the annual membership is very reasonable at $10 for an individual or $15 for a family. The cost is kept low to be affordable to everyone. All the money goes to cover insurance and pay rent to the grange for the monthly meetings. Silent auctions for rocks are also held at each meeting to help pay expenses.
The next field trip is planned in October for the Little Naches area, though the exact date hasn’t been set yet, due to the fire occurring nearby. The club also belongs to the Northwest Federation Mineralogical Society and the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies, so members are invited along on any of their field trips as well.
The Lewis County Rock and Gem Society meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Cowlitz Prairie Grange at 8154 Jackson Highway in Toledo. For more information, send a message through the Facebook page.