How Rocks Became Jim Magnuson’s Passion

Jim Magnuson, author of Rockhounding & Prospecting – Upper Midwest, tells us about his fascination with the natural world and how rocks became his passion.

Hunting for Greenstone on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan

I grew up in a heavily wooded rural setting in northern Illinois and developed a fascination with the natural world. I would spend hours roaming in the woods with my dogs and discovering all kinds of collectible things like hazelnuts, morel mushrooms, black raspberries, wildflowers, and rocks. And while I enjoyed hunting and gathering all of these things, rocks by far were my passion. In northern Illinois, that meant fossils and some geodes. I assembled a considerable collection of rocks, and soon my mom was having to secretly remove some of the excess that was accumulating in different parts of our home.

Fast-forward 30 years, and my young family was settling in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I remembered that one of my uncles in northern Wisconsin had been a collector of Lake Superior Agates, so I did some homework and eventually started to have some success. At first, though, I soon became rather frustrated after going on a few expeditions and coming home with some “interesting rocks” but none of them agates. After 20+ years of agate hunting, I still love the thrill of the hunt, which is both mentally and physically challenging.


But it’s not all about Lake Superior Agates. Even in my own hunting “domains” I’m always looking for something new like Mary Ellen Jasper or Banded Jasper, both of which make beautiful showpieces or even jewelry.

I also love going to new places and learning about the unique and beautiful gems and minerals to be found. I always start by doing some research on what kinds of rocks are in a given region and then connecting with local rock hounds, mostly through rock and mineral clubs in the surrounding area. Rock hounds are an incredibly generous breed, willing to share their knowledge and important tips and clues to finding good quality specimens. It doesn’t mean they’ll give you a map to their very best hunting spots, but they’ll give you a great head start.

In my latest book, Rockhounding & Prospecting – Upper Midwest, I had the opportunity to meet with numerous experts in prospecting and hunting for things like Thomsonite, Keokuk Geodes, Copper, Greenstone, Fairburn Agates, and more. Talk about the thrill of the hunt! Each of the field experts taught me, guided me, and encouraged me. And we found some amazing stones, enough to guarantee that it’s only a matter of time before I return to hunt on my own.

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Liliane Opsomer
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