Rockhounding Thundereggs

I love to use Thundereggs as bases for many of my gem trees. Like the gem trees that I create, there are no two alike. The size, shape, and internal colors contained in these nodules compliment a wide variety of gemstones.

thunderegg 1aThundereggs were so named by Native American Indians. Legend has it that Thundereggs are the eggs of Thunderbirds (a legendary supernatural bird of power and strength) that lived in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. It is said that the Thunder Gods living in the volcanoes in that region would throw the “eggs” at each other. From a rockhound point of view, Thundereggs are one of earths little treasure chests. Getting their origin as gas bubbles that formed in rhyolitic lava. Silica rich waters seeped into these cavities leaving behind layers of solid Jasper, Agate, Quartz, and Opal!

Rockhound State Park, near Deming, New Mexico, is one of the only State Parks that actually welcomes rock pickers. You are allowed to collect 15 pounds per person per day! This state park has been well known to rockhounds for decades so finding quality material (thundereggs, jasper, and chalcedony) is quite a challenge. However, Perlite is still quite abundant.

There is a small museum and rock shop about two miles outside of the park that have thundereggs on display and have some for sale as well. A fun conversation with the curator (who was a partner of “the Geode Kid”) revealed the best hunting locations remaining in the Park. Taking his advice, we loaded up our gear and took the road less traveled.

lil florida mtsMy husband, Bob, and I slowly worked our way up the forty-five degree washout that split the outcroppings at the top of Little Florida Mountains. About a third of the way up, remnants of broken thundereggs can be found. We were on the right track! Often ascending this mountain on our bellies (to prevent sliding), we frequently stopped to inspect slightly exposed thundereggs and brightly colored red jasper that were too beautiful to pass up.

About two thirds of the way up the mountainside, I discovered a ledge and a sizable thunderegg still entombed in the rhyolite. Using a rock hammer, several chisels, and a small sledge I worked on this find for nearly 45 minutes. It took every ounce of energy I had to free this prize.

While taking a break to down some water and admire the view from this location, I heard Bob calling from above. He continued to climb while I worked on this one egg. He was all excited! I could barely make out his words, but I did hear him yell “jackpot!” I stashed my new find in my backpack and continued my climb to find Bob.

Bob near topAt the top of the mountain, Bob had found an eight foot diameter hole containing a multitude of thundereggs. Apparently dug by a previous rockhound, by taking your fill and leaving plenty for the next adventurer, this person followed one of the rockhound’s code of ethics J. Following their lead, we dug out and inspected a number of thundereggs, packed what we wanted into our packs, and left plenty to be discovered by the next wanderer to the top of the mountain.

We started our descent down the mountain along an easier path as the sun was getting low. Covered in dust, dirt, and sand our achy bodies longed for level ground while our hearts were filled and our grins couldn’t be wider!

NOTE:  If you desire to take this adventure on your own, take a friend. Don’t climb this mountain by yourself. Also, visit in the cooler months. Rattlesnakes come out of hibernation when the weather warms up.

Where do I begin?

“Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones like them.” Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)

As a child, my family was fortunate enough to spend our summers on an old farm in northwestern Wisconsin.pump The farm was no longer functioning as such, however the barn, chicken coop, and outhouse were still intact as well as the farm house and even a miniature kid’s playhouse added character to the property.

There was no plumbing or electricity in the house. We obtained water by using a hand pump outside, took baths in a lake, and even getting the mail was a ½ mile walk down a dirt road to our mailbox.

Ah, the walk down the dirt road!
Quartz stones were abundant and always beckoned to me along these walks. Of course, at the time, I didn’t KNOW they were quartz. They were shiny, clear or milky rocks that glistened in the sun like glass. I marveled at their appearance and made a habit of filling the pockets of my sweatshirt or bib overalls with these precious finds.

As a young adult, and as our family was growing, my brother, Patrick (a wonderful Architect), designed a new building to be built on family land not far from this farm. It rained a day after the hole was dug for the foundation. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to meander the site and inspect newly washed unearthed treasure that have risen from the depths by the excavating equipment. I collected colorful quartz and some Jasper.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, something truly wonderful and unique caught my attention. This stone, barely showing, had displayed similar characters as quartz however contained multiple colorful bands of red, orange, brown, and white! As I dug, the stone grew in size and more and more banding became apparent! What was this marvelous rock? Very excited at my find, I rushed to show my mom and hopefully learn the identification of this new discovery. Unfortunately no one I asked knew what it was.

Laker1I brought the rock home to Chicago and displayed it on the mantle of my fireplace. This 2 1/2  inch diameter stone drew the attention of many visitors, however, not one person could figure out what it was. My brother suggested that I ask his friend, Izzy, to see if he could point me in the right direction. Izzy was fond of Geology and was happy to oblige. Izzy examined the stone and said it was definitely sedimentary. He went on to explain the differences between sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock classifications. Izzy’s passion for the subject sparked something inside of me. I wanted to learn more and my thirst for knowledge on this subject grew exponentially!


That Christmas, my brother, gave me a gift that would change my life and world forever. He gave me a book and a fossil. Rocks & FossilsThe fossil is that of a sand dollar, and the book (the first of many in my library) is Rocks & Fossils (The Nature Company Guides) by Busbey, Coenraads, Willis, and Roots. It is a Time-Life book and can be purchased on Amazon right now for just 1 cent (used). ISBN 0-7835-4803-6

I cracked the book open. Chapter one pulled my right in; “Rocks are the pages of Earth’s diary, and fossils are the words on the pages, recounting surprising details of the history of life.” For the next three days, I read this book cover to cover. I read it again, this time marking pages and locations close enough to visit. It explained formations and timelines, mineral identification and properties, gemstones, mining, fossil identification and dating, paleontology, prep and cleaning. It detailed rocks, fossils, and minerals on how they form and where to find them. My mind filled with visions of excursions to dig sites to find these items for my very own! Music from Raiders of Lost Ark echoed in my head as I will become Indiana Jones (in a rockhound sort of way) !


And then….there it was. In the section on Agates, I finely learned what my very special rock sitting on the mantle is. It is an Agate. A Lake Superior Agate to be exact. What is mind boggling is that this rock was formed more than a billion years ago! Time and erosion against its host rock (basalt) allowed it to be freed, wander from its original location with the help of a couple of Ice Ages, eventually unearthed by manmade machines, and in my hand ……. A Billion years later! Wow!

I’m hooked (line and sinker)!
My love for rocks, minerals, and fossils are no longer a hobby. They are a mission!

In the blogs that follow, I will share the many rockhounding trips I have embarked on and include my trials and tribulations in the hunt for many rock and fossil treasures.