Anna Stafford loves to talk about rocks, but after 15 minutes or so of animated conversation mere words simply can’t convey the depths of her affinity.
She needs an actual rock.
And Stafford never leaves home without one.
Her hand disappears briefly and then she plunks a smooth and shiny black stone on the table, with the sort of flourish a magician might display.
This chunk of iris obsidian, Stafford says, is her “pocket rock.”
Which is nothing at all like the Pet Rock, the silly 1970s fad.
Stafford smiles often and punctuates her stories with frequent laughs, but she is quite serious about the hobby of rockhounding.
Serious enough to have recently started Baker Rockhounds.
Stafford, who grew up in McCall, Idaho, and moved to Baker County about five years ago, emphasizes both what Baker Rockhounds is — and what it most assuredly is not.
“It’s not a club,” she said.
The word club, Stafford believes, implies bylaws and monthly dues and other formal trappings that run counter to her goal to cultivate a more inclusive bunch of enthusiasts.
She prefers to call Baker Rockhounds a “group.”
“A group of like-minded people who have a hobby which we feel is just soul-searchingly fun,” Stafford said. “Why have dues for something that’s supposed to be fun?”
Jarri McClarin, a longtime Baker County resident who had been urging Stafford for a couple of years to sta rt the group, agrees.
“The word ‘club’ sounds exclusionary,” McClarin said. “It’s so fun to say that I belong to a rock group.”
A Facebook page — Baker Rockhounds — is the online gathering place and forum for the group.
They had their first rock swap on Sunday, and McClarin said she was pleased with the turnout at the Northeast Oregon Compassion Center at the Baker City Nazarene Church, 1250 Hughes Lane.
The group also meets there on the first Sunday of each month at 3 p.m. The next meeting is this Sunday, Feb. 10.
As much as Stafford and McClarin relish meeting with other rockhounds to admire each other’s collections, and potentially swap items, they’re equally excited about the onset of spring weather.
Rockhounding, it goes without saying, is problematic when snow covers the rocks.
“Winter is when you polish your rocks, and get together to talk about them, and summer is when you go out and get them,” Stafford said. “We have fun year round.”
As a third-generation rockhound who has been involved with multiple groups both in Idaho and Oregon, Stafford said perhaps the most common complaint from rockhounds is that they don’t go on enough field trips.
She and McClarin and other Baker Rockhounds hope to satisfy the demand by scheduling regular trips, ranging from half-day excursions in Baker County to multi-day trips to prime rockhounding destinations elsewhere in Oregon and in adjacent states.
“Part of being a rockhound is just in the exploration,” Stafford said. “We want people to experience more of our beautiful state.”
Stafford said that since she started the Facebook page late last fall she’s come to realize that there are quite a few rockhounds in Baker County.
“There’s a lot of knowledge when we get together in a room,” McClarin said.
But both she and Stafford emphasize that Baker Rockhounds welcomes everyone — from people who can discuss geology and mineralogy at a Ph.D. level, to kids who just like to wander around and grab any rock that catches their eye — neophytes whom Stafford affectionately refers to as “pebble pups.”
“Kids are easy,” Stafford said. “They love anything that’s sparkly and shiny.”
Notwithstanding the common term “rockhound,” Stafford said Baker County offers more than just rocks.
There are also gemstones, such as various types and colors of jasper and agates, waiting to be discovered, as well as petrified wood, to be found on public land within the county.
See more in the Jan. 30, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.