Neil Van Oost Jr.

Rocks….  Yes, I’m into rocks. In 1954 I became a Boy Scout and this started my love of the outdoors and rocks. It was not only my introduction to to the outdoors and camping, but also my parents introduction to family camping. I remember our first camping trip to Lake Welch in Harriman State Park in Bear Mountain, NewYork. It was supposed to be a whole week of camping and wound up to to be a month long stay. My uncle Henry had talked my father into the idea and was also camping in the spot across from us, only he was staying for four weeks. After the first week went by, my parents decided to stay, Pop and my uncle would go back to work, as their vacation time was over, and commute back and forth to home and spend the weekends with us. My aunt Henrietta, was an old hand at camping as they had been camping and traveling all over the country for a long time, in fact a couple of her four children had been born on the road.

What a great summer for us kids, all kinds of places to explore and a nice lake to fish and swim in. One of the first things Pop did was to get a guide to all the trails in the area from the ranger, On the weekends, just Pop and I would explore one of the trails. Mom would make us a lunch and we would be off for the day hiking through the woods. One of the trails was supposed to lead to a mine, and on a Saturday morning, my father handed me the map and trail guide and let me pick where we would go for the day. I remember I was excited, because I had been studying the map and guide all week, I wanted to go to the mine. I had never gone to a mine before, and as a young boy, I had thoughts of gold and precious stones, it never crossed my mind at the time that all kinds of different minerals came from mines. Well we never did find that mine, not on that day or any of the five years that we camped at Lake Welch during the summer. It wasn’t that we stopped looking, we must have made two or three attempts every summer, we did find the mine garbage dump and a rusted out, semi whole, model A, Ford, and eventually what we figured out to be the tailings pile (mine rock dump), but we never found the hole in the ground that was the mine. On every one of those trips, we picked up stones, I remember picking up some pyrite (fools gold) and a stone that sparkled with mica, then when we found what we thought was the tailings pile, a black heavy stone that we never identified.

That was a wonderful time in my life and ever since then I have picked up stones, Pop, Mom and I made many camping trips and as we picked up knowledge from other people along the way, we went to many different places looking for rocks. We sought rubies and sapphires in Franklin, North Carolina and emeralds in Hiddenite. We found aquamarine at one mine and yellow flakes of thorbinite (a radioactive mineral) on a rock, at another in a mine cave that lit up red and green when I turned on my battery powered ultra violet light on.

cape may diamonds

We have searched for Cape May diamonds, those lovely New Jersey, rounded by the ocean pieces of quartz that glisten in the sun when wet. Up in Herkimer, New York we have mined those sparkly, double terminated (points at both ends) quartz crystals called Herkimer Diamonds – for thirteen years Pop and I did some serious rock mining there, until Pop went on oxygen because of breathing problem caused by working thirty-two years in a chemical plant and a life time of cigarette smoking. Where ever we went, Mom was also there, doing her thing, looking for nice rocks for her craft projects. On trips to Herkimer, we never failed to stop by the river and pick up smooth stones for her to paint on.

When I got out of the Navy in 1969, Pop and I got interested in tumble polishing rocks, which eventually lead to cutting, grinding and polishing rocks. Both my parents are long gone now and I like to picture them hunting rocks in a much better place and always finding the good ones now.  Me I still hunt rocks. I make three trips a year, California, New Mexico and Arkansas. My next trip will be my annual trip to Arkansas to hunt for one of my favorites, Quartz Crystals.

In all of my rock hunting trips, I have come to realize that its not the finding that is most important, but the looking, and the people and friends you pick up along the way. — Well, Yes I guess it is a real kick, when you find that big, shinny, sparkly one.