Silent rockhounding

Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club conducts silent auction

Bryan Hill, of Skandia, looks at one of the many rocks available at the annual silent auction of the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club. The event took place Sunday at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — Not everyone has easy access to a mine or quarry, and rocks like iridescent pyrite speckled with quartz and hematite might be hard to find in your backyard.

That’s when the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club can come in handy.

The club held its annual silent auction Sunday at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum, an appropriate place for such an event considering many unusual rocks and minerals, as well as local mining artifacts, are on display.

What was special about the auction, though, was the opportunity it gave non-rockhounds — or even avid rockhounds, for that matter — to buy a specimen containing a sheet copper vein from Keweenaw County for under a dollar.

People could place bids for rocks, which were identified by their names and the locations they were found.

Jasper Knob, located in Ishpeming, is a classic example of a great place to see rocks and minerals unique to the region. This is a close-up view showing the red jasper that gives the spot its name. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

It was an educational activity, if nothing else.

Cheryl Kellow, of Ishpeming, collects rocks, but like many people, might not be able to tell the difference between quartz and calcite.

“I have no idea of what some of them are,” Kellow said.

Bryan Hill, of Skandia, who was looking at a piece of jasper at the auction, said he enjoys rocks.

“Not as much as these guys, but I do like hunting and collecting,” Hill said.

The rock collection of the late Bob and Marian Markert is on display at the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum. People who attended Sunday’s silent auction, held by the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club, had a chance to view these unusual rocks. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Club President Dan Fountain, of Negaunee Township, was at the event where he looked at rocks brought in for identification.

Marquette County can be quite the place for finding them, considering the geology and history of the region.

“There is a lot of variety of rocks in the area,” said Fountain, who made note of the past mining as well as the fact that some of the rocks have been exposed and are in piles.

For example, the county has many iron minerals, he said.

“It ranges from your shiny, sparkly specular hematite — iron ore — but it has a lot of igneous, meaning primary minerals that came right out of the earth,” Fountain said.

When asked about the best spots to find rocks in the region, he became a little coy, but for good reason.

“That’s always a problem,” Fountain said. “We talked to our lawyers, and they said, ‘Don’t tell anybody where to go.'”

Public property, then, is the recommendation since access to private property could be problematic.

“The beaches are always good,” Fountain said.

However, sometimes the club goes on a rockhounding field trip to a quarry, for example.

“That’s another advantage of joining the club,” Fountain said. “We do get permission to go places that are otherwise locked up.”

Of course, finding a neat rock is a better experience when someone knows something about it.

“It’s a great place to meet other people who do know things about rocks,” Fountain said of the club.

Club functions like the silent auction also are great places to pick up unusual rocks.

Auction patrons, for example, could bid on rocks like chalcopyrite from Marquette County, quartz from the Republic Mine and epidote in basalt from Mass City.

“The prices are all reasonable,” Fountain said.

People who look for rocks can range from the toddler who picks up a shiny pebble on the beach to a geology professor. The preferred rocks also can be a large rock or even a micro-mineral.

“There are a lot of definitions of what is a rockhound,” Fountain said. “Some people are just into pretty rocks. Some people make jewelry out of them. They take the rocks and they cut them, polish them. Other people are interested in the mineralogy, the chemistry.

“Some are pretty rocks you just stack in the garden.”

The club meets at the museum at 1:30 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month, September through November and January through May. During the summer, business meetings are at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of the month.

Annual dues of $10 help support the club’s rock room, education at schools, events, scholarships, displays and more. Checks or money orders may be sent to the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club, P.O. Box 102, Ishpeming, MI 49849. For more information, visit or email

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is