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Rockhounding With Charlie

My friends nicknamed me Driftin’ Dave in college because my mind sometimes wandered away. Although I’ve worked on the problem, it still happens today. One afternoon in 2004, I was driving in Spencer County and drifted off and missed my turn.

That’s when I saw a man on the side of the road holding a bucket. I needed directions, so I pulled over. He had long white hair, was dirty and disheveled looking, and I was convinced he’d been sleeping there on the roadside. As I (cautiously) approached him, I noticed he was picking up rocks from the road cut.

“Whatcha puttin’ in the bucket?” I asked.

“Some really nice brachiopods and a few cephalopods,” he said. When I saw those half-palm size seashell fossils and other bizarre things, I had a thousand questions. For me it was the beginning of an odyssey.

The man’s name is Charlie Oldham. Turns out he was a geologist who spent much of his off time picking up specimens for his private collection. Charlie says if you were to go back some 400 million years to what we now know as Kentucky, you wouldn’t be walking, you’d be swimming in a shallow sea with the remains of remarkable sea creatures. In fact, the northern tier of Kentucky holds some of the finest sea fossils in the nation.

Within days of meeting Charlie, I joined his club, the KYANA Geological Society in Louisville. Novices to professionals go on monthly field trips in search of a wide array of minerals and fossils. Now I can spot a coveted trilobite (a predecessor of the horseshoe crab) from several feet away.

Charlie created a monster. I then joined the Rockhounds of Central Kentucky, the Bluegrass Mineral and Gem Club, and the Kentucky Paleontological Society, all based in Lexington.

Through these organizations I learned that a few counties in eastern Kentucky boast one of the most rare and most sought-after types of agate in the world–Kentucky agate, and it’s our official state rock. Kentucky agate is prized because of its brilliantly colored bands�blood red, pitch black, oranges, greens, and other colors so unique there are not even names for them.

Now I’m passing it on to my children. They are proud pebble-pups, the kid version of a rockhound. Thanks, Charlie, for sharing your knowledge and time and for giving me something that will last through the generations of my family.


Many Kentucky streams hold geodes. Over time, these round rocks developed inner cavities and crystals such as quartz and calcite. Break one open with your rock hammer and beautiful crystals glimmer in the light of day for the first time in perhaps millions of years.

Tools needed: You’ll need a rock hammer, small sledge hammer, safety glasses, hard hat, boots (preferably steel toes), and the all-important 5-gallon bucket.

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