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Rockhounding in the Gem State

As it turns out, Idaho truly is quite the gem state (Abigail Taylor, KBOI)

One Boise school is giving students a hands-on way to learn geology.

Rockhounding, or the hobby of collecting rocks from nature, is popular in the state of Idaho and now, students at Timberline High School are finding it can also be educational.

"You talk about a club where all you do is walk around and collect rocks, [that] sounds extremely boring on the surface," said Alex Mikhalev, a Senior. "But, you get into it and there's a lot more to it. You can make some really cool stuff."

It all starts with the search.

The students go on field trips throughout Idaho and into Oregon to find stones, ranging from agate to jasper.

The field trips are paid for largely through fundraising that the students do themselves. They're happy to do it because they say the hunt for rocks is the best part.

"You know that you picked that [rock] up off the ground yourself and made it into this beautiful thing," said Megan Byres, a Senior. "It's a really cool feeling."

As it turns out, Idaho truly is quite the gem state.

"Idaho has a lot of really interesting geological uniqueness," said Alex Howard, a Senior. "You can find a lot of interesting stuff if you look hard enough. That's why rock hounding is really popular [here], because you can find really nice things within the boundaries of Idaho."

After the students dig up their perfect gems, that's when the lapidary work begins, or in layman's terms... the cutting and polishing.

Thanks to a recent grant from CapEd, the club now has a new rock polishing machine that makes the process much smoother.

“It’s really nice. I did a lot of work on the old machine last year," said Megan Byres. "It would take about six hours to finish a rock all the way through, from the cutting to polishing. With this new one, it takes about an hour and a half. So, it’s so much better. I really love it!”

Many of the students agree that the lapidary process is the most challenging, because there are practically a million ways to do it wrong and only one way to do it right.

"When you grind it, you run the risk of chipping it or damaging it, said Keaton Poe, a Junior. "So, you have to be extra careful in that step."

Once they've delicately shaped their stone, the students can choose to keep it the way it is or wire wrap it to really make it shine.

It's not a simple process, but the students say it's worth it.

"It's taught me to persevere and work with it because it's going to be an amazing product in the end," said John Pierre, a Sophomore.

The grant from CapEd will also help fund more rockhounding field trips for the club.

The club's leader, Greg Sandmeyer, said that kind of support from the community, helps the rockhounding club be at the caliber it is. It's the only high school rockhounding club of it's kind in the Treasure Valley.

The Idaho Gem Club also provides an invaluable amount of support to the club.

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