Wednesday, March 2, 2016


One of the “fun” things about being a rockhound is the opportunity to join with like-minded persons in a local rock and mineral club(s).  Upon moving to Colorado Springs nearly ten years ago I attended a meeting of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society ( (CSMS), was greeted warmly, and shelled out a few bucks to join.  The club usually meets on the third Thursday of the month at the Colorado Springs Senior Center; see the web site for additional information.  In addition to the monthly meetings, the club has a number of satellite groups that hold regular or semi-regular meetings, numerous field trips are scheduled for the summer months, and an informative newsletter is published ten times per year.

Most rock and mineral clubs in the U.S. belong to one of the seven regional federations that span the country.  CSMS belongs to the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies (RMFMS) as do other clubs in Colorado (20), Arkansas (1), Oklahoma (10), Kansas (7), Nebraska (1), South Dakota (1), North Dakota (1), Nevada (1), Texas (1) Utah (7), Wyoming (6), New Mexico (7) and Arizona (17).  The Federation holds yearly meetings with field trips, publishes a newsletter, and a number of committees works on projects between meetings.  See the website at

In turn, the regional federations belong to the “mother” federation, the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (  Their structure is similar to the regional federations—hold a yearly meeting, publish a newsletter, and support committees working on a variety of projects.

In the RMFMS I chair the International Relations Committee, not because of any great expertise in the area but because volunteering to fill a vacant position seemed a decent thing to do.  It has turned out to be an interesting assignment since I get to correspond with international rockhounds and sometimes am able to offer valuable (I hope) advice.  Last year I was able to connect a person living in Germany (via Yahoo interpretation program) desiring Arkansas Novaculite with a dealer in that state.  I also was able to help a rockhound planning a commercial geology trip to the western U.S.
The majority of the questions received are from European visitors (15 this year) requesting information on collecting rocks, minerals and fossils in the United States---where to collect. Most people who contact me have noted my collecting interests shared on these Blog Postings.  A few have seen the specimens of amazonite and smoky quartz at a rock and mineral show and are interested in digging. One North African wanted to sell me “giant” barite roses. I am somewhat able to converse with persons requesting information on collecting in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states but am generally lost on collecting east of the Mississippi River. Often the various state geological surveys have collecting information that I relay to requesters, or perhaps I know of books such as the roadside series. It is not an onerous job and I sort of like conversing with these visitors. At any one time 10-20 percent of my Blog readers are international residents. What that means---I don’t have the slightest idea!
Fantastic specimens of cephalopods displaying a gemmy finish called ammolite.   Collected from Cretaceous rocks of Alberta, Canada (legally).
I also had an inquiry from two U.S. residents living in a state of the Midwest Federation of Mineralogical Societies. They wanted to know if a group of rockhounds could travel to Alberta, Canada, and hunt/collect ammolite from Cretaceous ammonites. I was not quite understanding why they picked me out of the lineup but was pretty certain the answer was “no. But I decided that must be one of life’s persistent questions that needed an answer. The group was also interested in contacting Alberta rock and mineral clubs. Well, I have been to Calgary and Medicine Hat a couple of times but never visited a rock club. However, I was able to locate answers to both questions due to the wonders of the Internet!

The short answer to the collecting question is “no,” visitors to Alberta may not collect fossils since they are protected under the Historical Resource Act (HRA). But visitors may purchase fossil leaf impressions, petrified wood, oyster shell and ammonite shell under some circumstances.

Visitors may purchase these fossils from First Nation (Native Americans in the states) sellers who collected such fossils on their Reserves (Reservations). The fossils may then be brought to the U.S. and sold or whatever. But it would be wise to ask the seller for a copy of their letter authorizing them to collect, as well as a written invoice. This documentation is great for getting through Customs. 

Visitors may also purchase these fossils from vendors at trade shows or retail shops. But again, ask for documentation: get a copy (best) of their disposition certificate received from the Government of Alberta, or at least record the number of the certificate (not as good).

Most of us have seen ammolite on display and for sale at major rock and mineral shows here in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere); therefore, it must be “legal” to purchase---and it is. But I add a small disclaimer (news to me): ask the vendor for their disposition number (an OK to sell), their export documents (an OK to export out of Canada) and get a copy of your receipt. With the purchase and the documents buyers may do what they want with their specimen.

OK, back to collecting. Neither visitors, or nor even Canadians, may  collect ammonite shells (baculites, scaphites, belemnites, ammonites [I presume also nautiloids and ammonoids]) on private land or Crown land without a permit. Canadians may surface collect other fossils, including petrified wood, on both private and Crown land [I presume invertebrates only but remain uncertain]; however, they cannot export or sell such fossils without a permit. It also is my understanding that visitors to Canada may not collect fossils of any sort, and one certainly does not want to offer explanations to Customs. And if visitors do purchase, they must make certain to declare such items at the border. So, my suggestion is to go sightseeing or fishing in Canada but not to pick up rocks or fossils or other natural items.

I also found that Alberta does have a number of rock and mineral clubs: Calgary Faceter’s Guild Calgary Rock & lapidary Club Edmonton Tumblewood Lapidary Club Lancombe Handicraft & Lapidary Club Medicine Hat Rock & Lapidary Club Southern Alberta Rockhounds

A couple of final comments. Last year in Tucson I noticed ammolite on large cephalopods collected in Montana. This year I saw a very nice ammonite (with ammolite) collected in South Dakota. In the early1980s I had an opportunity to participate in a couple of Canadian field trips and distinctly remember picking up and examining a few baculites scattered across the landscape. The leader reminded me that I could look but not take them out of the country. In the late 1980s I flew to Saskatoon for a conference on musk oxen and reindeer (at that time I was working on fossil musk oxen). At the Calgary airport cute little furry toy seals were selling like hotcakes in the gift shop. However, when going through American Customs all of these cute little guys were confiscated since the original fur bearing animals were on the endangered or threatened or marine mammals species act in the U.S. And finally, during my recent fishing trip to Ontario, Canada, two 70+ year old guys with a week’s growth of beard and traveling in a 15-year-old pickup were detained for 1.5 hours by Customs. The drug sniffing dogs went through the vehicle not once but twice. The agents had a good look at at our used undergarments and stinky fishing clothes. They did find a 10-inch piece of a dead fir tree that was being taken home to be used to turn a custom fishing rod handle. It had not been declared and was a natural item so was confiscated. Luckily my two pieces of Precambrian rocks went unnoticed! So, don’t collect the fossils when you visit the great and interesting country to the north.
A nice cephalopod from South Dakota displaying color hues of ammolite.
Disclaimer: the interpretations of Canadian collecting laws are just that---my interpretations and understandings. Those interpretations and a couple of bucks would buy you a cup of coffee but would not stand up in a court of law. 

For additional information contact the Alberta Federation of rock clubs at: