In these days when social distancing presents a challenge for outdoor activities, a solo or family outing to our local beaches can bring tremendous pleasure. Beachcombing has always been a thrill for most Lincoln County residents, but the hunt for agates and jaspers has its own special reward. They come in every color of the rainbow, making them desirable for collecting, as well as jewelry making.

Agates are quartz materials formed in hollow volcanic rocks that often outlast the eroding rock, leaving them exposed to be picked by rock hunters.

Winter and early spring are best for agate hunters. Not only is there less competition for the prized stones, but winter and springtime storms often pull sand off the beach causing waves to dislodge agates from deep below the shoreline, revealing them to beachcombers. Look for areas of gravel deposits, and then look closer to find the polished translucent quartz stones along with opaque jasper and, sometimes, petrified wood and fossils.

But how do you know a stone is really an agate? Laura Joki, owner of Rock My World gem and art gallery in Lincoln City has some tips.

“Hardness is the first clue,” she said. “You can tell visually because agates and jasper have a conchoidal or shell-like fracture, like glass. Little fingernail-like impressions on the outsides of the stone are an indicator of a conchoidal fracture. Luster is the second clue. They will both have a waxy or smooth texture with no visible porosity, meaning they are the rocks that stay wet a little longer rather than absorbing water. And last but not least, they both make a high pitched ‘tink’ when clinked against another agate, jasper or a piece of steel.”

“Agates are easy to spot,” Joki added. “Look for translucent rocks on the beach or rocks that glow when you hold them up to the sun. There are a couple of other types of rocks that glow but this is the primary thing people look for. With jasper, people tend to first look for brightly colored or patterned stones. Jasper is opaque because it can contain up to 20 percent other matter, like ash or mud which has soaked silica laden fluid into it like a sponge and eventually crystalized. Agates are clear because the quartz crystals are so tiny and well interlocked that they do not block the light. The clearer the agate, the better job the crystals do working together.”

What is the white coating that can be found on some agates? Joki says, “It’s the agate leaching out silica (which is what quartz is made of) forming a thick coating of white common opal or non-crystalline quartz on the surface, following patterns and contours of the stone.”

Joki is certified through the state’s Guide & Outfitter Recognized Professional Training Program (GORP) and is popular with tour groups, as well as Explore Lincoln City’s beachcombing Exploriences program.

Where are the best places to hunt agates in Lincoln County?

“The great thing about Lincoln County is that any beach which accumulates gravel can potentially hold a treasure,” Joki said. “All you have to do is wait one tide cycle for new treasures to emerge.”

Some of the most popular beaches from north to south are: Roads End, Nelscott, Taft near the mouth of the bay, Gleneden Beach, Fishing Rock in Lincoln Beach, Fogarty Creek, Beverly/Moolack Beach, Nye Beach, South Beach, Ona Beach and Seal Rock. Once you get south of Yachats, the most popular beaches are Bob Creek, Stonefield and Rock Creek.

When is the best time to hunt for agates?

“The old rule was low tide, but that’s really not the best advice on many beaches in Lincoln County,” Joki said. “Because of how close the bedrock is below the sand, chair gravel beds get stranded higher up on the beach, leaving them picked over and dry by high tide. I like to tell people to pay attention to any high wave warnings but otherwise it’s great to go out and start looking two to three hours after high tide.”

Many rockhounds then go through the lengthy process of tumbling their agates to achieve a perpetual shine. Rock tumbling or lapidary is achieved with a rotating machine to smooth and polish rocks, bringing out their inner beauty.

“You use different grits, beginning with a coarse grit for shaping the stone,” Joki said. “The next two steps are to remove the coarse grind marks left in the stone, smoothing it out for the polishing process. It’s important to rinse and sort out your rocks from cycle to cycle. And to get that extra ‘pop,’ the last step should be burnishing in a mix of unscented laundry soap and water to bring out the shine.”

Wesley’s Trading Post in Newport sells Lortone tumblers, made in Seattle. Pier Avenue Rok Shop in Tierra Del Mar sells Diamond Pacific tumblers, made in California.

Rock Your World is not just a cool little rock shop but a retail, mining, jewelry manufacturing and tour company. Check out their website at www.rockyourworldgems.com.

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