Monday, September 24, 2007

What I get for being in the office at 4 pm...

Every now and then, we get someone coming by the department, wanting help finding or identifying a rock. And it's great to help them - I've helped an archeology student identify rocks that had been used as tools, and I've disappointed a number of people by telling them that their rocks weren't meteorites, or gold, or dinosaur bones.

And then, sometimes, we get rather odd questions.

A guy just stopped by the office to ask about a mysterious rock found only in the San Juan Mountains above 8000 feet. Apparently it is made entirely from magnesium, and if someone bathes with it for three hours a day in a cast-iron bathtub, their hair will turn from grey to natural brown. And somehow it keeps skin from aging. (All this was supposedly carefully researched and documented by a Dr. Norman Shealy, a medical doctor who practices alternative medicine and owns his own university in Fair Grove, Missouri.)

Anyway, the guy wanted to know where to find the miracle rock.

Then he wrote down the name of the rock on a scrap of paper.

WELDED TUFF [Example picture here.]

I just about fell on the floor laughing. (Well, ok, I didn't. I politely told him that welded tuff was not that uncommon of a rock, and that, yes, you could find lots of volcanic rocks near Wolf Creek Pass. And I brought out a sample of a welded tuff from California. He said my rock was totally different, that his rocks had CRYSTALS in them. I told him that different volcanoes produced different-looking tuffs, but he wasn't convinced.)

I gave him the name of an emeritus faculty member who is writing a book on the eastern San Juan Mountains. Maybe the guy will listen to a grey-haired gentleman; he clearly did not think that I was a scientist on par with Dr. Shealy.

[Edit: Maybe, on the other hand, welded tuffs can help you solve an ignimbrite flare-up.]


Brian R said...

That's great...I can think of two instances where I've had a similar experience.

One was in west Texas, and we came across some ranchers and they had just found a couple of interesting looking rocks. They were very rounded and bulbous...very cool. They wondered if they were fossilized dinosaur eggs. We had to disappoint them and tell them they were diagenetic concretions.

Another time, in South America, a guy in the hostel we were staying in found out we were geologists and showed us some rocks with these very intricate and dendritic patterns on them. We had seen this before...they are from lichens on the rock. We told him this and he refused to accept that and kept on believing what he thought...that they were rock art from ancient inhabitants of Patagonia.

Kim said...

:D We get iron concretions a lot, but most people think they're meteorites.

The most bizarre rock ID I've seen came in northeastern Vermont. There used to be this festival called Bread and Puppet up there, and by the end it began to attract all kinds of vendors. Anyway, the year that I went, there was a guy displaying his rocks. Now, I was working on the rocks in the area at the time, so my husband convinced me that I should really check them out.

"This one is a dinosaur!" he said, pointing to a calcareous schist that had an odd shape if you squinted at it right. "And this one is the fossil of an extraterrestrial!"

I've got some samples of blueschists that might be good for, hmmmm, maybe dealing with too much pressure in one's life...

(Maybe I should save that story for the next geo-carnival, though... I could post about rocks mis-identified as fossils.)