Where to go, what to bring, and how to crack them open
Keokuk geodes attract rock-hunting hobbyists from all over, but just how easy is it to find one?
“As a young kid, we used to go to the Mississippi over there and go fishing,” Mike Shumate recalled. “There’s always geodes laying on the bank of the river. You’d break them open and say, ‘Oh that’s pretty,’ and throw them in the river.”
Unless they register for one of the Keokuk Geode Fest’s prospecting tours, Iowans must cross the Mississippi River into Illinois, where several businesses allow geode hunting on private property.
Finding the geodes is easy.
“That’s the only thing that’s in that hillside,” said Gary Jacobs, owner of Jacob’s Geode Shop and Mine in Hamilton, Ill.
The only way to know for sure if a rock is a geode is to break it apart to reveal the crystalline minerals within. Geodes range from the size of a pea to 350 pounds, although today’s finds tend to be smaller.
“There are not many real big ones here anymore, but once in a while someone finds a bigger one,” Jacobs said.
Newcomers needn’t worry about special gear.
“Just a rock hammer and a pair of boots and a good eye for snakes and things like that,” said Dave Smith. “Finding them is the first thing and opening them is the second thing, which can be a delicate process.”
Jacobs recommends prospectors bring a small shovel and pickaxe or pry bar. A small household hammer is a good substitute for a prospector’s hammer used to split open a rock.
“If it’s light enough, if they hold it in their hand and start tapping it, just follow that crack around it and it’ll split open,” said Jacobs.
Larger specimens may be split with a hammer and chisel, or on a plumber’s pipe cutter.
Customers should bring a 5-gallon bucket for their finds.
“It takes about three hours to fill a bucket,” said Jacobs, who charges $25 for a bucketful of geodes.
Jacobs Geode Shop & Mine: 823 East County Rd., Hamilton, Ill., (217) 847-3509