Agate hunting: fun and free
Get on the beach and find some of nature’s treasures
Agates—a great reason to get out on the beach! To find agates, look for smooth, shiny rocks in the gravel among larger stones away from the surf line. Just after a high tide or a storm is the time they are most prolific but they can be found any time. A guide book with photos can be a big help. Near river mouths on the beach is a great place. Since many are translucent a good giveaway for agate hot spots is folks at the beach with an upraised hand looking towards the sky through an agate.
Agates are a semi-precious stone, a variety of quartz known for its brightness of colour and fineness of grain. They are extremely hard stones that can be polished to a high gloss. Agates are an aggregate of various forms of silica, mainly chalcedony. Extremely resistant to weathering, agates remain as nodules in the soil until they are washed into the gravel of shorelines and rivers. Wind and water dislodge them from the soil of cliffs and river banks and they surge to the ocean with other gravel.
They can be found in all colours of the rainbow and most often come in black, red, brown, white and yellow. Some have a layered look. Moss agates have fern-like patterns formed from manganese and iron oxides in the quartz. Others have hair- or needle-like inclusions; some have wavy lines known as ribbons, while coated agates look frosted with colours underneath. Jasper, a type of agate, is coloured red, yellow, brown or green from iron oxides and other impurities. Fancy jasper has mottled patterns of colours. So many beauties to find!
A stone with versatility
Used to make jewellery, carved into cameos, paper knives, marbles and inkstands and as leather burnishing tools, the agate is a relatively inexpensive stone, though some well-defined patterns bring quite a high price when made into designer jewellery. An easy way to display their many colours is in a glass jar full of water, which replicates the shine of polishing without the work.
The name comes from the Sicilian River Achates where agates were mined in ancient times. Found all over the world, they are very plentiful and easy to get to on the southern Oregon coast whose exciting winter storms break agates from river banks and send them to the ocean.
Going about the hunt
When you go it’s a good idea to wear layered clothes for changeable weather and old shoes with non-slip soles or rubber boots. Plastic bags stuffed in your pockets are useful for carrying your finds. Always keep an eye on the waves—it’s easy to become very engrossed in your agate search but be aware. In Oregon it is illegal to dig in cliffs where agates may be and is not a wise practice from either an ecological or a safety point of view.
Agates are the September birthstone and traditionally used as a 12th and 14th wedding anniversary gemstone. Some claim agates are beneficial for improving memory and concentration, encouraging honesty, increasing stamina, preventing insomnia and enhancing pleasant dreams. Or looked at another way you increase your stamina by losing track of time while walking beaches concentrating on looking for agates, then sleep well from all that exercise and fresh air. Either way it’s a great excuse to get out on the beaches and finding free treasure is always a bonus.
For information on sunny southern Oregon Coast beaches where agates may be found go to www.goldbeach.org or call 800.525.2334.