Rocks have always held top priority among my three favorite things. The others are sea shells and driftwood.

Not diamonds nor rare gems. Just patterns of the earth.

The interest, perhaps, could be primitive. Or just in some folks' genes.

My fascination for some sort of treasure has come down through generations. One grandfather was an early gold prospector. Another fascinated by old bones and artifacts discovered on the cliffs and bottom of an ancient "Buffalo Jump" on his ranch. Later, it was a fascinating area for children and grandchildren to explore.

Aunt Pearl, birthday nearing the century mark, insisted on finding rocks for souvenirs on her last journey to California.

While camping on the Oregon Coast with some of the King kids, we also found agates and jade, exciting treasures.

Besides sand dollars and shells, when the tide was out I found some burnished black rocks deep in a sea cave. (They were about the shade of Madam Crow's wings. That was before we met!)

I took those rocks home along with the shell collection. I soon discovered the sight of them made me feel uneasy. The next summer, when we traveled to the coast and the Oregon beach, I took the rocks back and when the tide was out, returned them to their place, deep in the cave. (I felt as though a "hex" had been lifted!)

Fast forward. Missoula, years later. I had never belonged to a Rock Hounds group. A friend invited me to accompany them on a trip to Lolo Pass to look for Smokey Quartz Crystals. A sample was shown to me. The site was along the road somewhere in the mountains. A few began digging on the side of a slope. I was given a small shovel and directed to an area. I was puzzled. No attractive rocks. Just gravel and dirt. Suddenly, a large, Smokey Quartz Crystal. I was as thrilled as finding the pot of gold at rainbow's end! Numerous crystals were found that day by others.

I had never gone crystal hunting again until last week. Rich and Ruth, our "kids" from Seattle, were visiting. Dick's son Rich is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about minerals and geology. He know all the prime rock hound areas located in Montana.

During their short visit there was only time for a one-day trip. We traveled to Crystal Park and Mountain south of Wise River. The weather was cool. Rain and sun. A worker at the park said that crystals had been easier to find because of the rain.

Fortunately, one of the long trails up the mountain was smooth. (I don't leap logs and brush as in past years.)

Dick and Rich did the digging and sifting. Ruth and I explored the area.

During the afternoon, the weather continued to be "intermittent." There was rain. Hail. (Or was it "snail" or sleet?) Many crystals were found.

To me, the top treasure was the fun, laughter and arguments with "our kids."

Evelyn King is a retired Missoulian reporter. Write to her at Evelyn King, Missoulian, P.O. Box 8029, Missoula, MT 59807.

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