These are photos from a 2011 trip that included a rock hounders' hunt for agates in northwestern Nebraska. Who wouldn't welcome (sexy?!) fun such as this? You must admit we look hot — even if it is strictly from the beating sun and a dire thirst for water.
These are photos from a 2011 trip that included a rock hounders' hunt for agates in northwestern Nebraska. Who wouldn't welcome (sexy?!) fun such as this? You must admit we look hot — even if it is strictly from the beating sun and a dire thirst for water.
The current popularity on TV of gold mining and gem prospecting reality shows means at least one thing in today's world. I'm happy to proclaim (and have done so more than once on Facebook) - rock hounding is sexy again!

OK, I'm not really sure that rock hounding ever has been perceived as sexy. It just doesn't have that kind of vibe in general, does it?

As a side note, an exception to that rule might be Amanda Adkins. Touted as a former model, she adds good looks to The Weather Channel's "Prospectors" show. It's about mining for gems on Mount Antero and surrounding mountains and valleys in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. The site is west of Salida and the Arkansas River Valley.

Adkins, widowed in the past couple years, provides for her seven children by prospecting and mining gems. She calls the slippery boulder fields above 12,000 and close to 14,000 feet - where deadly rockslides can start at any moment - the world's most dangerous worksite. That's got a dangerous, sexy feel.

She also appears to be falling (in love, but it could be down the proverbial - and totally appropriate in this case - "slippery slope" as well) for her new mining partner. Searching online for more information on her, I discover that Adkins and her new guy in August were confronted by her stalker ex-boyfriend, according to a Colorado Springs newspaper.

I have a hunch that storyline will make the show. For better or worse, rock hounding just got very mainstream in its drama.

But overall, I suspect rock hounders always have been stereotyped as nerds. So maybe a little scuttlebutt is a good thing in seeking common ground with the nerdy rock hound species.

As a child, I liked finding rocks and pebbles on the family farm to create rock families. My father also found arrowheads and the like on our farm. (I did have Barbie dolls, too, lest you start to really wonder about me.)

A treasured grade school memory is when our class walked a streambed close to Clermont, Iowa, looking for fossils among the rocks. I sure wish we would have had cell phones back then for easy photo memories.

Yes, to be sure, I was a nerdy rock hound.

Interested in rocks, pioneer history and the West, I made sure to visit mining areas when I finally headed that direction. It was after graduation from college.

Colorado was my initial western state of choice back in the 1980s. Visits to mining towns and districts included Cripple Creek, Victor and Goldfield in the Pikes Peak vicinity, Leadville, Idaho Springs, Central City, Black Hawk, Breckenridge, Fairplay, Alma, Silver Plume and Georgetown, and west of Boulder the three small towns of Gold Hill, Ward and Nederland. I spotted remnants of old mines or walked on their tailings. And I actually went underground into a hardrock gold mine, the Phoenix, at Idaho Springs, where I also first panned for gold in a nearby stream.

Later trips to other states saw visits to the silver mining area of Virginia City near Lake Tahoe and gold mining at Tonopah and the ghost towns of Rhyolite and Searchlight in Nevada. There was also the ghost town of Ballarat in California, just west of Death Valley (standing in between the two are the desert Panamint Mountains, where psychotic murderer Charles Manson hid at the Barker Ranch in 1969).

When I finally made my fateful first trip to South Dakota in the early 2000s, I'd discover more mining, There was gold mining near Custer, of course, where the discovery of gold on French Creek caused so much history of westward expansion into the Black Hills - yes, even though treaties with the U.S. government had deeded that land to the Indians.

Later, I would pan for gold in Custer State Park as part of a park educational program. It was me and a lot of kids as their parents watched. I guess I was reliving my grade school trek, except this time the goal was gold flakes - or better yet, nuggets - instead of fossils.

I've seen other mines, or their abandoned, often nasty remains - since then. Those mines were of various types - coal, uranium, lead, saltpeter, taconite, iron ore and our local silica sand.

Each type of mineral has a specific style of mining while some generalities are shared.

I've hunted for Fairburn agates, jasper, rose quartz and petrified wood in South Dakota locations, as well as chalcedony in Nebraska. Locally, I seek the sparkly allure of druzy (drusy or druse).

For me it all goes back to an innate fascination with rocks. I'd pick up what I found to be pretty or unusual, whether a rare gemstone or something far more common. But of course, I can appreciate gold.

After years of watching so many shows, I further appreciate gold and gem prospecting and mining. I'm hoping all the newfound attention (and dare I say it again - sexiness?) lures more people into the joys of rock hounding.

To learn more, contact the friendly folks at the Coulee Rock and Mineral Club of La Crosse, of which I'm a member. Or contact me for more information. I only wish I had found it many years earlier!

Lisa Brainard is recovering from injuries suffered in a fall, followed by a stroke, in September of 2012. She can be reached at: