Planning to Dig for Geodes
This journey took some twists and turns. It started on a Friday, when I called Sheffler’s Rock Shop to make an appointment to dig for geodes. Sheffler’s is located in Alexandria, Missouri which would’ve made my drive slightly shorter. It had been raining for a few days, but seemed that there would be a break in the rain on the next Tuesday.
The phone call was pleasant and I asked for advice on what tools I should bring. My last dig at Fisher Mountain mostly involved digging in tailings and while some people did have larger tools, most of the digging could be accomplished with a small hand rake. Tim, the owner of Sheffler’s, advised me that I should bring pry bars, a full sized shovel, sledge hammer, rock hammer, and, of course, 5 gallon buckets!
That kind of surprised me, but I had just the week before bought a 3lb Estwing sledge hammer so I hopped over to the local hardware store to pick up a smaller pry bar to go with the 3′ pry I already owned. In my life, pry bars are mostly used to scatter throughout my house near doors just in case I need a quick weapon so a small 15″ pry had ever been a priority.
Driving to the Keokuk Region
In my excitement to dig for geodes, I struck out the day before, knowing that I would never be able to fall asleep if I had to wake up at 4am to begin my trek. I had filled a thermos with tea and grabbed some snacks for the road, hoping that I could make the 4 hour drive to St Louis without stopping and arrive before dark.
Monday evening, I received a call from Tim Sheffler. He told me that, unfortunately, it would be best to reschedule as the pit was too muddy. I appreciated the call, but obviously disappointed. I was already 4 hours into this drive, and a little mud was not stopping me from acquiring some geodes.
On Tuesday morning, I awoke at 7am, a wonderful break from my normal wake up time of 5:30. I kitted up in my heavy, steel toed boots, thick Levis and an old t-shirt with a flannel over top. Mud was in my future.
I started the drive towards Alexandria, stopping in Canton, MO to acquire some delicious breakfast pizza from Caseys and call Tim to see if he had changed his mind. Alas, Shefflers was not in my future and plans needed to change. I had already expended so much emotional energy calling Shefflers so I steeled myself to start calling any and every geode mine I could find on google with hopes that someone would let me dig. (Can you tell I hate phones?)
Thankfully, my first call was to Jacob’s Geode Mine in Hamilton, IL who was quick to say that I was more than welcome to come out and play in the mud! The day was back on track.
Jacob’s Geode Mine
I arrived at Jacob’s, realizing quickly I was probably lucky that my rockhounding companion had been forced to bail on me. Salvage yards and broken down equipment are where I feel most at home, but I could definitely see people feeling a little iffy about the environment. I walked up to the office, looking intently at the map posted on the door before I stepped inside to have a chat and clarify where I was going.
The mine operates on the honor system at $25 per 5 gallon bucket of geodes. I only had one bucket, but I was intent on getting more. I got back in my car and headed down the gravel road to the mine.
About 200 feet before the mine there is a small creek that my car definitely would not have been able to cross. My car thoroughly enjoys dying on low water crossings, so I parked off to the side and began packing my equipment into the mined. It took a couple trips, and I was thoroughly out of breath by the time I was done.
Digging for Geodes
It was time to get to work. I had come hundreds of miles to get these rocks, and I was going to take home every single one I found. I started by looking for clear holes in the shale where previous miners had already found geodes. Since this was my first time and I was completely alone, I needed this hints to figure out what on earth I was doing.
I quickly developed a system, using my pry bar to loosen the shale then my rock hammer to clear out around geodes so that I could pull them out. I feel like I had adequate tools, but I really feel like I should’ve brought a chisel with a broader face so that I could move more shale. It is so delicate that my prybar would take out small chunks rather than shifting the larger shelved.
I had arrived at 11am, after wasting a lot of time picking snacks at a shop on the way up. By 1pm I had filled half a bucket and families began arriving. I was pleased to see that everyone that come through over the course of the day also seemed new to this hobby just like me. Most of the other people had picks and spend a lot of time swinging them. I am already well aware of my lack of skill with a pick so I had abandoned it quickly. I’m not sure if it’s a height thing or a weak thing, but I’ve never been able to utilize a pick effectively.
By 5pm, I was sore and ready to get out of dodge. I had a bucket and a half and all of my tools to get to my car. It took me probably four trips to hike all of my stuff back across the creek and to my car. I sneakily changed into some clean clothes and headed back to St. Louis, not wanting to drag my filthy, tired self into my friend’s home.
Cleaning The Geodes
I have only ever bought geodes from shows or stores and obviously they are quite clean compared to my muddy haul. When I arrived home I immediately set to cleaning the outside of my geodes. I put small batched into a shallow bucket and poured water from an exterior faucet, shaking them gently and pouring out the water when it got too dirty.
This was fairly effective, but I also thing that a good strategy would have been to allow them to dry then power wash the dry, caked on mud.