LLANO — Stepping into Frank Rowell’s shop in Llano makes you realize why your mother made you empty your pockets of all those rocks you picked up on the way home from school.
She definitely didn’t want her living room to turn into Rowell’s Enchanted Rocks & Jewelry store with gems and minerals of all sizes packed in.
But for Rowell and other rockhounds like him, it’s a perfect fit.
“Gosh, I’ve been collecting for as long as I can remember,” said Rowell, who is also the president of the Fredericksburg Rockhounds. “I guess it just starts with looking down at your feet and seeing something that catches your eye.”
Gem and mineral enthusiasts in the Highland Lakes are among the luckiest in the world with a multitude of “rocks” ready for the picking.
The more than 260 different types of minerals in Llano and the surrounding counties brings an entire new meaning to picker’s paradise.
“Well, we have a lot of different minerals and gems but really not enough of any one that anyone could make a living on,” Rowell said with a grin. Over the years, people have tried with copper, silver and even gold, but for the most part, the biggest reward is in the collecting.
It’s something with which fellow Rockhound member Don MacDonald agrees. MacDonald, who owns North Lake Jewelers in Marble Falls, shares a similar rock-collecting start with Rowell.
“Been doing it since I was a kid,” MacDonald said regarding his gem and mineral collecting. Like Rowell, MacDonald parlayed his fascination with rocks, fossils and other similar items into a business — first as a jewelry maker for several major businesses before striking out on his own. But at the heart of it is the love of finding more gems and minerals.
“One of the things that makes it so fun is you can pretty much do it anywhere you are,” MacDonald said. “If there’s rocks around, there’s a reason to look.”
There are certain rules when collecting rocks and minerals — particularly on public lands — so it’s always a good idea to become familiar with those regulations. Rowell said that for people collecting for themselves, it’s often as easy as walking along a road and kicking over stones and rocks.
“If you have a property owner’s permission, you pretty much can collect anything you want (on that property),” Rowell said. In Llano, several people, including Rowell, own claims on the Llano River. He pointed out that it’s not to prevent people from collecting and prospecting on the river but to keep it open for those activities.
Which comes back to the pure accessibility of gem and mineral hunting.
“It’s not expensive to start,” Rowell said. “It makes it great for families because you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started.”
Around the Highland Lakes, beginners and the experienced alike can hunt up a bevy of rocks, minerals and gems. MacDonald said one of the reasons the area boasts such a collection of minerals and gems is because of the Llano Uplift.
“You have a lot of Precambrian rocks near the surface,” he said.
Typically, the Precambrian rocks — igneous and metamorphic — are buried deep below the surface under other rocks. Rowell said that across most of Texas, limestone is the rock closer to the surface.
“But here on the Llano Uplift, we have granite,” he said. “So you’ll find more minerals exposed or at least closer to the surface.”
In McDonald’s shop, he shows off a rock containing Crinoid stems fossils. Crinoids or “sea lilies” once lived at the bottom of the ocean (which at one time covered much of Texas.) Now, the only place you can find Crinoids in the Highland Lakes and Central Texas is on rocks as fossils. MacDonald found this particular fossil while hunting on private property.
“Usually, it’s sitting like this,” MacDonald said, turning the fossil so the smooth rock surface is exposed. “But this one was sitting (fossil-side up.)”
All it took was MacDonald to be looking down at his feet.
There are numbers of ways to get started in gem and mineral hunting and collecting, but one of the best is connecting with more experienced hunters. Rowell said that’s one of the benefits of joining a club such as the Fredericksburg Rockhounds. Though the group meets once a month in Fredericksburg, people drive in from as far as Round Rock and southern San Antonio to learn, share and swap.
“It’s a great way not only to get started but also to find places to go because so many of the club members have access to private property,” Rowell said.
On Jan. 17-18, the club is holding its 46th annual Hill Country Gem & Mineral Show at the Lady Bird Johnson Park Pioneer Pavilion, located on Texas 16 three miles south of Fredericksburg. The event is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Jan. 17 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 18.
It’s open to the public, and admission is free.
“The show is a great chance to see the different types of things you can find,” MacDonald said. It’s not limited to rocks, gems, minerals and fossils from the Highland Lakes area. Both MacDonald and Rowell have criss-crossed the country hunting and prospecting.
Many of the club members share a similar passion for the activity. Along with the displays, there will be vendors on hand selling items and even games for people of all ages — especially kids.
“This is a great thing for kids to get into,” Rowell added. “They can learn a lot. And it’s just good fun.”
Just don’t let Mom make you empty your pockets when you come inside. If she does, stash those rocks somewhere safe because you never know what secrets they hold.
Go to fredericksburgrockhounds.org for more on the show and club. You also can stop in at Rowell’s shop, 805 Berry St. in Llano, or MacDonald’s shop, 1016 RR 1431 in Marble Falls, to learn more about the hobby or tips on where to go.