Tracking one’s steps has become commonplace thanks to the devices in our pockets and wrapped around our wrists. While we spend a lot of time thinking about how many steps we’re taking, do you ever take the time to think about what’s under those steps? For a group in Whatcom County, it’s a big part of their thinking. These folks are members of the Mount Baker Rock and Gem Club.
Since the late 1950s, a group of people has gathered together because of their common interest in rocks and gems. They learn together, go rock-hounding together, and proudly show off their finds. With a mission of promoting the earth sciences, the club centers around education through classes, field trips, and scholarships for students at Western Washington University. But most of all, it’s people getting together to have a good time.
Candi Gerard has always liked rocks. She went to one meeting in the late 1990s and got so excited she joined that night. “Here was this group of people that had different interests but all loved rocks and minerals,” she says. Some were more interested in the mineral formations, and some just like pretty rocks; some cut them to make jewelry pieces, and some made stand-up pieces for art. “They were all having a lot of fun, and this is what they had in common. It’s a really nice group of people of all ages interested in finding and doing something with rocks.”
Candi has been a member ever since and is currently the club’s president.
In the late 1980s, the club opened a lapidary room where members could work on stones and gems. Common lapidary work involves engraving, cutting, and polishing. The necessity of finding a new location for the lapidary room led to their current location in Bellis Fair Mall. On a whim, they looked there as an option and ended up with a complete storefront and space in the back for the lapidary work. This location has been a game-changer for the club. The added visibility has grown membership, and their storefront allows members to sell their work. Open Monday through Saturday, the space is run entirely by volunteers.
With our county’s varied landscape, there are different places to go rock-hounding depending on the specimens you seek. Our beaches are a good place to find agates, jasper, and petrified wood. Our hills are better for fossil hunting, with Racehorse Creek being a prime location. Jade, serpentine, and fossils are coveted finds in Whatcom County. The book Rock Hounding Washington offers specific areas around the state for finding different types of rocks and gems.
While getting involved in something new can be intimidating, this is a situation where people should be comfortable to dive right in. “You don’t need anything, just your enthusiasm to hunt and look for them,” says Candi. “If you want to go on a field trip, you might need a rock hammer, some boots, and eye protection, but you really don’t need anything to join the club or even just come to meetings if you want to learn.”
To join the club, one just needs to show up to a meeting, which is held at the Pioneer Pavilion Community Center at 2007 Cherry St. in Ferndale. Meetings are held at 7 p.m on the third Monday of each month. A picnic is held in August and December’s meeting is replaced with a Christmas party. Annual memberships are $20 per family. Meetings usually have an educational component but are also a good opportunity for people to share their finds.
It’s often the sparkly gems that people initially envision when thinking about the club. That’s what Candi was initially interested in, but in reality, there’s so much more to it. “When I joined the club, I realized that there’s more than just gems,” she says. “There are beautiful rock formations [and] you can learn about how they [were] formed by volcanos. There are earthquakes and just the whole earth as a machine, and learning what it’s doing to these rocks is really interesting.”
To get an introduction to the club, the Mount Baker Rock and Gem Club’s annual rock show will take place Saturday, March 25th, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 26th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pioneer Park in Ferndale. The show is free to attend and enjoyable for all ages. There are door prizes, raffles, and kids will receive a free polished rock for showing up. Finding details about the first show is a little rocky, but the show has been going on for 50 or 60 years. More information about anything related to the club be found at www.mtbakerrockclub.org or by visiting its Bellis Fair Mall shop.