Early rockhounds were prospectors looking for valuable minerals and gemstones for commercial purposes. Eventually, however, more and more people have been drawn to rockhounding for recreational purposes, mainly for the beauty that rocks and minerals provide.
The rockhound's principal piece of equipment is the rock hammer. This small tool has a pick-like point on one end, and a flat hammer on the other. The hammer end is for breaking rocks, and the pick end is mainly used for prying and digging into crevices. The pick end of most rock hammers can dull quickly if struck onto bare rock.
Getting started in rockhounding is easy; a collection can begin with a single "pretty" rock. However, there are many clubs and groups that rockhound together. Libraries, bookstores, and "gem and mineral shows" are very good sources of published information on where to find such groups. Also, tourist info centers and small-town chambers of commerce can also supply valuable local information. The Internet can also be a useful tool and can help find buddies in the hobby.
The avid collector will learn quite a bit of petrology, mineralogy and geology in search of collecting location information as well as in the identification and classifying of specimens, and preparation for display. The hobby can lead naturally into lapidary or mineral and gemstone cutting and mounting. The needed equipment then includes rock saws and polishers. Many beautiful crystal varieties are typically found in very small samples which requires a good microscope for working with and photographing the specimen. The hobby can be as simple as finding pretty rocks for a windowsill or develop into a detailed and comprehensive museum quality display.
Many states regulate the collection of some rocks and minerals, even on public lands, so it is advisable to read up on local laws before prospecting. Rock and mineral collecting is prohibited in most if not all national parks in the United States.
Many rockhounding sites require driving and/or hiking to remote areas, largely on dirt, sand or rocky roads where there is a good possibility of getting stuck. It is always a good idea to travel in a group and to bring plenty of drinking water with you when traveling, especially in hot, dry climates. If you must travel alone, be sure to let someone know of your plans.
It is advised to use safety goggles whenever rocks are struck, whether breaking open small stones or chipping a piece off a large boulder. Flakes of stone can seriously injure the eyes. Also, be aware that the dust that comes from chipping and cutting rock can be extremely hazardous to the lungs. If necessary, use a mask or respirator.