Editor’s note: Morgan is our resident rockhound here at The Royal Tour, and today she shares a story of her finds in Texas. For more of her adventures in all things rocks, click here to visit her index page.
When an invitation took me to Southeast Texas, I found myself faced with a unique challenge – how to indulge in my passion for rockhounding while traveling with just a carry-on. Determined to explore the wonders of nature, I embarked on an unforgettable road trip journey through Sam Houston National Forest.
With rockhounding as the goal, I needed a suitable tool for my adventure. Traditional
rock hammers, also called “prospector picks” or “geologist hammers,” are flat like a pick on one end (in order to pry out buried rocks) and have a square hammerhead on the other end (for splitting rocks open). Since TSA doesn’t allow hammers in carry-ons, I wasn’t able to bring my trusted tool. I needed to find other options without going to a geology specialty store. A general hardware store provided the perfect answer – a mini hatchet with a pick on the back end. While traditional rock hammers
can be pricey, the nifty little hatchet cost a mere $18.
Some of the gravel roads of the national forest also call for a truck or SUV; luckily, most Texan rental companies tend to have plenty of options available, and my rental truck served well.
Traveling back home with my loot after the trip presented its own set of challenges; my hosts were appreciative of the hatchet I left with them, while the baggage handler at the Houston airport was less enthusiastic to find out that his joking, “What do you have in here; rocks?” was met with my laughter and confirmation. Always be sure to pack any delicate rocks, such as the crystals found in Sam Houston National Forest, with lots of padding.
Rockhounding Sam Houston National Forest
While rockhounding is generally restricted in national parks, it is permitted in national forests. In fact, some national forest maps even mark designated rockhounding sites, making it easier for enthusiasts to discover hidden treasures.
Worldwide, you’ll typically find good opportunities to rockhound in streambeds, since the water washes mud and clay off of the rocks and transports heavier prizes than would normally be buried close together. Sam Houston National Forest is no exception. Stepping out of my rental truck near a picturesque stream that wove its way under the gravel road, I immediately spotted a beautiful carnelian right in front of me, literally embedded in the roadbed itself.
Continuing my exploration along the road, the next time I hopped out of the truck I stepped directly upon a surprising find – a shell fossil! Excitement fueled my journey, and I decided to venture deeper into the forest. As I wandered further, cautiously passing signs announcing hunting season, I encountered what I can only describe as “Jurassic Park noises,” which hastened my retreat (and which I still can’t explain with any degree of certainty; after all, my expertise lies more with things long dead than with living ones). Nevertheless, even the road out of the park held more surprises. Stopping by the side of a freeway, I discovered a stunning yellow quartz cluster lying in the ditch.
The journey continued with much more to collect, most of which I discovered just off
the side of the road with little hiking involved. Agates, jasper, chert, quartz in various mesmerizing colors, fossils, and petrified wood stood out plentifully. Although I hoped to find tektites (unique pieces that are typically formed by meteorites hitting the earth and creating glass upon impact) and rhodochrosite (an unusual pink stone), the famous pink Texas granite I stumbled upon was no less fascinating.
The National Forest lies on the Gulf Coastal Plains, a relatively young area geologically that has developed mostly from clay, sand, and silt of a delta that existed in the area from roughly 145 million years ago until today (the movement of which also created the gentle slope of the land toward the Gulf of Mexico). Some of these deposits aren’t even fully turned into rock yet, so they’re soft and generally easy to dig through. This sedimentary rock origin explains the fossils I found, since many layers of this sediment are rich in shell material.
Petrified palm wood is Texas’s state stone, and you may very well find some in the area, though other petrified woods also lie in wait. The petrified wood pictured, with lovely clear wood grain and a ceramic-feeling texture, was a gift from my hosts during this trip; it was found on their property rather than in the National Forest. Doing a bit of research as to what you’ll find in the area will help you know what to search for throughout your trip.
National Forest Activities
While I didn’t partake in any of these during my drive-through rockhounding adventure, the forest boasts camping areas, hiking trails (including the 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail), fishing, boating, hunting, and more. Keep in mind that your rockhounding and hiking activities might be hampered by hunting season, so be sure to pay attention to signs. Also, consider wearing bright orange to help hunters be able to recognize you.
Sam Houston National Forest and the surrounding area proved to be a haven for rockhounding enthusiasts, with an array of natural wonders and other activities waiting to be discovered. From carnelians and agates to fossils and petrified wood, Sam Houston National Forest contains a wide range of finds to satisfy any rockhound and adventurer.
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