Geodefest 2017 Keokuk, Iowa and Hamilton, Illinois

I returned home yesterday evening, from three days at Geodefest 2017 which is jointly shared by Keokuk, Iowa and Hamilton, Illinois. This is a yearly event that goes 3 days and includes dealers selling all types of rocks and minerals, dealers that will crack open your geodes of any sizes, and three days of collecting at several locations, many of which are only available to collect at during this event, due to the fact that several are located on private property. I attended this event years ago when it was still being held in Keokuk, at the Hyvee Parking Lot and then it became well known, talked about, and advertised, that it outgrew that parking lot and the local club that sponsored it, moved it to the Chaney Creek Access on the north side of Hamilton, off Hwy 96, which has a large parking lot that so far, has been able to acommodate everyone that shows up there for this event. I might also add that Mike Shumate, who is like the Grand Poobah of Geode Hunters in the Tri-state area of Northeast Missouri, Southeast Iowa, and West Central Illinois, has directed and overseen this event for the past several years, and he and his people have done a very good job of it…Mike decided this would be his last year to set it up and supervise it, and from what I understand, the city of Keokuk has decided to step up to the plate and host it next year. All I can say is that they have some pretty big shoes to fill and hopefully they can do as good a job as Mike has done for the past several years.

Chuck Reed and I decided a few months ago that we would take in the entire event this year…we drove up last year for the last day of it and enjoyed the morning hunt with other rockhounds and then went hunting privately with John Oostenryk and Rockhound Bill the next morning. While we didnt find many geodes last year, we still had a blast and decided this year we would attend the entire event. Looking ahead at the forecast for excessively warm temps, I decided to leave Onyx at home with my Mom so he could stay inside the ac and I headed up that way on Thursday afternoon. I left around noon and stopped by to see my Rockhound buddy Nathaniel Reid, who is also a world -renowned Pastry Chef and has his own bakery in Kirkwood…he had asked me to bring him some crystals and minerals, so I dropped those off at this shop and collected some cookies and sandwiches for the trip as well…we visited a little while…he was pretty busy even at 1 pm, the place was packed with customers when I arrived…. and then I headed on up the road toward Keokuk, Iowa.

I arrived around 4:30 pm, checked into the Super 8 hotel on Main Street, and then headed over to the Chaney Creek Access Parking Lot to see if John had arrived yet. My good friend Robert, who owns a few quartz mines in southern Arkansas, was also driving up to set up a vendor booth and sell his beautiful quartz crystals and clusters at the event in the dealer area. He had emailed the day before to let me know that his arrival time should be around early to late evening Thursday. I talked to Mike Shumate for a little while and then some of my rockhound friends, Charity and Jamie, who I had met thru John the year before, arrived with their newly adopted son Tony, and while I was visiting with them and meeting Tony for the first time, John finally arrived shortly before the sun began to set….and started setting up his booth. Charity and Jamie help John crack open geodes for diggers for a nominal fee, and when there are slow times, either John, Charity, or Jamie can go hunt and dig geodes as well. 

By the time I left and headed back to the hotel, Robert had still not arrived and was not answering texts either..I was getting a bit worried about him but hoped to see him the  next morning there. After a good supper at V`s Restaurant next door to the hotel, I emailed him as well. After checking my emails and updating my FB page, I was off to bed a little earlier than usual, set to be up at the crack of dawn and ready to go get some geodes. Chuck was set to get up even earlier and hit the road from St Louis. I stopped off at the Casey`s store before crossing the bridge over the mighty Mississippi to get some ice for my cooler, setting a couple of sandwiches from Nathaniel in there for lunch later on…a chicken salad for me and a turkey sandwich for Chuck. With the heat coming on, I just hoped that the 15 bottles of spiked grape propel water that I had stocked the cooler with,  was going to be enough for all three days. I had no idea if I could even find that flavor and brand up that far north, but I can always find it when I head south to Arkansas.

I arrived at the parking lot soon after and walked around a bit, then signed up Chuck and I at the registration booth and signed us up for the new location as well, called the Barrow Pit. It was a location that John had specifically recommended to us, supposed to be an epic site and full of geodes. Chuck arrived about 7:30 and we were set to go, rolling out soon after 8 am behind our guide and headed to the Pit, which was located near Canton. Chuck and I were about halfway back in a long line of vehicles, we arrived at the new location about 8:45 am…..

We drove up a steep short hill and into a huge field, where we all parked, gathered our tools and buckets, and then walked down to the end of that field, where a concession stand trailer sat. The road leading in dropped off a small hill in front of that trailer and into a low area, where a pond had been carved out on one end butted up to the hillside on the west and spread out to the east in a zig zag pattern. The owner had dug out and dumped several piles containing hundreds of geodes, ranging in size from golf ball to basketball and several clumps of geodes in chunks of matrix as well….

Chuck and I walked down the slope and saw about a hundred rockhounds of all ages, spread out all over the valley dirt floor sifting thru geodes in the many piles. John`s information was right, there were hundreds of geodes laying all over the place there, and it was very likely there were many more that could be dug from the walls as well…we chose to surface collect and walked over to the far northwest corner of that small valley and began sifting thru the dirt piles to find the lightest geodes available….which is when my second surprise came upon me…in those many piles of dirt, many of the smaller geodes I was picking up…were light as a feather…it was like picking up air instead of a geode…even when I began picking up geodes that were the size of baseballs and grapefruits, they were light…as…a….feather !!  I was dumbfounded…because it has been a VERY long time since I had picked up geodes that were that light in weight. I started putting several into my bucket that were baseball size or smaller…and I cracked open a couple of them with my mini mattox and found gorgeous druse, sparkley interiors of quartz crystals inside them. The corner where we were digging at, became quite popular pretty quickly…John was over there a few times and there were a couple of young families that wandered over as well…it was not a problem with us because as I said before, there were hundreds of geodes to be found and in all sizes too. We soon discovered, all of us in that corner, that the smaller geodes were much prettier than the larger geodes, which seemed to be filled with brown crusty looking crystals instead of white or clear quartz. Here are some that John cracked open that will show you what I mean…

Speaking of John, we saw him about every 30 minutes, he was all over the place helping others and letting them know what to look for..eventually he showed back up around 11 am and started cracking open these big ones trying to find a really nice one or two to take home with him…he had some good help this time…Tony coming back over to work with him….

It was also about this time, that we began talking to a young couple with a very spirited young lady with them…she had a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and as it turns out, she was looking for pretty crystals like me…soon after talking to them, I found out it was her birthday that day and she was four years old…I asked her Mom what her favorite colors were and when she told me purple and yellow, I walked up to my truck and picked out a few pieces of fluorites in those colors, that I had with me from Gary`s fluorite mine. I wrapped them up in a clean white cloth and handed them to her and wished her a Happy Birthday….

I saw them again up at the parking lot later that day and she was still full of energy and rocking along…they came by John`s booth and I pointed out Ken Vaisivil`s booth and Robert`s booth next door, suggested they check them out too….I would bet you that she had a great birthday !!  

A few minutes later I looked over toward the slope entrance and saw that Charity, Tony, and Jaimey were having lunch next to the wall where they had been digging all morning…

…I saw Abigail to the right of the big boulder and many others were still looking around, even though we were winding down to quitting time soon…

As Chuck and I were packing up our trucks and preparing to head back to the parking lot, I took our sandwiches from the cooler and we had lunch on Nathaniel right there in the field, wolfing down our food and then driving back to Hamilton. Thanks Nathaniel, those sandwiches hit the spot !!

We made it back to the parking lot just in time to sign up for the afternoon hunt, deciding to go to Amish Fox River North. The group that had gone there that morning, said there were geodes lying around the river bed everywhere, the river was low from a lack of rainfall and we were told that the Amish farmer there would help us carry our buckets of geodes back to the parking lot with his horse drawn wagon. In years past, I had been to an Amish farm near Kahoka, these days it was referred to as Amish Fox River South, so I decided to go to Amish North and check it out as well. We drove to the west of the fourlane highway near Wayland and then down a very dusty road…a testament to the lack of rainfall in some time there. We then turned down a farm driveway, passing a beautiful black colt in a field and then came upon a modern day farmhouse atop a hill with a broad valley below…the road winding down the hill and around the fields below to the river…

At the end of this huge soybean field above, which stretches down to the left at least another quarter of a mile, the Amish farmer had fashioned a small parking lot in a wedge shaped area, however it was only big enough for about 25 vehicles and we had at least 30 vehicles in our group. One rockhound in our group was driving a mustang and he wisely left his car parked at the top of the hill by the modern day farmhouse and rode with someone on the way down to the river. I was the last vehicle in so I opted to park in some short grass on the side of the grassy path, instead of crushing soybeans as others were directed to do. I grabbed my bucket, tools, and camera and headed for the path to the river, catching up to Abigail on the way through the parking area…we discovered the Amish farmer`s wife had baked several goodies and even made some home made ice cream, to sell under a large white tent in the corner of the parking area….

She had baked cookies, pies, several small loaves of flavored breads like bananna nut and pumpkin, and other assorted goodies…before leaving, I purchased a large loaf and small loaf of bananna nut bread and let me tell you, it was delicious !! She told me that she baked in a huge dutch oven that was an antique stove and heated with a wood fire, as they do not use electricity.

Abigail and I started down the path and halfway down, we came upon the two beautiful brown and yellow Belgium horses that the Amish farmer hitches to his wagon….

As soon as we came upon the river, we saw folks wading upstream in the muddy water….

…folks searching the area of the river where the path comes down to the water….

…and some that went downstream to look for geodes….and checked out this island as well….

Abigail and I didn`t venture very far downstream…I went as far as the island seen above, while she was off to the left near the bank, where she was feeling some big geodes at her feet, so she was moving along inches at a time and checking out each one…

….and while I found a few geodes that felt light enough to be hollow, I found a lot of beautiful agates and a few geode halves that appeared to have either quartz or snowballs in them….all around the edge of that island no less….

It was about this time that John and Chuck passed us, they had done downstream on their arrival to check it out, they had information from morning crews that the sandy river bottom down there was loaded with geodes, however the much higher river level was now making it impossible to find anything, let alone see anything down there, so they decided to try and go upstream instead…finding deeper water pretty quickly, so they slowed down to check out the area across from the path entrance… this photo above, one might think they were fighting over this geode, if they didn`t know them at all…” it`s my geode…no it`s my geode ” kinda thing….the next photo will show you that Chuck was handing John this huge geode to determine if John thought it was worth keeping, weight wise…the lighter they feel, the more potential to be hollow and thus full of beautiful crystals….

After that, Chuck took a rest break on the far bank and John decided to do a little clowning around in the river….mainly he was disgusted with the fact that he wasn`t finding any geodes despite a thorough search and the fact that the river was now considerably higher, so he took a respite from the heat and cooled down some….

We had to be careful crossing the river due to a strong current from a rising river flow too…the day before, five to seven inches of rain had fallen and it had taken all night and all morning before the water levels started to rise. The morning hunters found low water levels and that island completely exposed, but by the time we arrived, the island was nearly under water and levels had risen a good foot. The current between the island and path entrance, was quite strong and several people had to be helped across it, unless you had a full bucket or two, and then you were fine on your footing….

Luckily for the many rockhounds that were located on the island and below it, that had two buckets or more, the Amish farmer came to their rescue with his team of beautiful Belgiums and wagon…

I headed back to the parking lot, paid for my bucket, and then found Chuck ready to go as well, so we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up before heading over to the parking lot at Hamilton again. Driving back up the field trail, I had this view of the Amish farmhouse from the valley floor below….

…and then closer to the house, I saw these pretty big red flowered bushes, guarded by a cute little guy….

Chuck and I returned to the hotel to get cleaned up, the river water was pretty muddy, Chuck had wisely worn his waders where most of us had simply waded in, in our hunting clothes. Had Onxy been with me on this trip, he would have looked like a drowned muskrat I am sure. 🙂  By 6 pm we were back over at the parking lot in Hamilton, and I was relaxing in a nice easy chair at John`s booth when Jamey pointed out a young man in the parking lot who was covered from head to toe in mud….

…I would venture to say that he had gotten his money`s worth and more that day. By 8 pm the crowd had left and so Chuck and I headed over to the Hamilton Cafe to have supper with John, Charity, Jamey, Tony, and Robert…have to say I have never ate there before but they serve good food and the atmosphere there is very family oriented. We headed back to the hotel for another good night of rest and decided we would return to the new location on Saturday morning, to see if we could find some bigger geodes on the other side of the pit. John had checked out a few spots over there Friday morning and found some nice bigger geodes.

After photographing a beautiful sunrise behind the hotel…..

….and stopping off at the Phillips 66 right down Main Street east of the hotel, to get fuel and some more ice, I headed over to the parking lot to find Chuck already there and lined up out on Hwy 96 shoulder…he was ready to go ! I checked on Robert and visited with Bruce Baur a bit, he was a vendor on the other side of the parking lot from John and Robert, and is a good rockhounding friend as well as a very good candlemaker. He and I go way back to my early days of attending Geodefest years ago. He was there on Friday as well but I didn`t spot him there, found him instead on FB that night and he told me where he was located. We had a good short visit before my convoy left for the Barrow Pit, and I was again bringing up the rear of the line, mainly because there are some people that have no clue how to drive, some that have no clue how to get in line, and some that get in line for yet another convoy leaving later and block some of us completely out, completely disrespectful of others. And then there were some ahead of me that had no clue how to drive with their flashers on in a convoy of vehicles, coming to a stop and wanting to let others in to break the line, and then there were those that naturally could not, or would not, keep up and keep the line tight so as not to get lost from the pack ahead. Some people really need to get a clue on how to drive, especially in convoys and packs like that, and Mike Shumate`s crew does a great job of giving out information on it, so it was obvious that not only do they not know how to drive, they don`t know how to listen either…..but I didn`t let it put me in a bad mood or ruin the rest of my day, just took a few deep breaths, expressed a few choice thoughts, and drove on south. We arrived about 20 min later and this time Chuck and I parked a little closer to the entrance. We walked down the slope and this time veered to the right and found out that the word must have gotten out about big ones to the right. We walked along the dirt wall to the far side, and dug over there a while, then eventually moved back to that south wall below these hay bales, where there was some decent shade…have to commend the owner, he has a nice geode pit and a good treestand for deer hunting up on the hill on the other side of the pit….

This trip there was a large commercial bus full of rockhounds from Indiana and Michigan on board that had driven down for the weekend digs….

So we hunkered down in that shade below the round hay bales and started digging into the wall next to a guy from Gary, Indiana…he was doing a good job of pulling some nice grapefruit sized ones out, having a pile of them already stacked up. I dug a few larges ones out but they felt heavy and most were clusters of them embedded in the matrix rock, heavy enough I didn`t feel like dragging them back so I left them there. It was a good decision since there were some people back at the parking lot that apparently did take theirs back to crack open and they basically just fell apart and all they had left were pieces.

We dug there for about 90 minutes more and then headed out to get signed up for the afternoon dig at Rod`s, which is another creek location. Chuck stopped off in Keokuk and grabbed some bbq for me, and it wasn`t too bad.  I visited with Bruce a bit more as well as Robert and Ken, and then our convoy was announced next to leave. John drew us a map of where he went the day before and found some nice large snowballs in the bottom of the creek at Rod`s. Armed with that, we headed out and Abigail decided to go with us as well. We misinterpreted John`s map and went in an entirely different direction, stopping in a curve of the creek that appeared to be a spot, as Abigail confirmed, that John Oost had obviously worked and dug heavily into the creekbank, moving some major amount of dirt and rock. Abigail took photos at this location and I am waiting for her to send me some, when she does I will get them into the storyline to illustrate it better.

As it turns out, John did not work this spot, and we settled into the curve of the creek there and continued on with the work of someone else. We did well, digging into the softer dirt and sandy / fine gravelly bottom that made for easy work, and we were pulling out quartz filled halves of geodes right away, most of them very keep worthy and beautiful, plus there were some colorful agates and shale that had patterns of wood on them that made you think it was petrified wood, but it was soft and shaly instead. We dug there for a good 90 minutes and then I had to take a walk around to stretch my knees and ankles a bit…I have a lot of joint pain these days as a result of my injuries suffered over the span of 40 years of firefighting. I was warned many years ago by the fire department doctor that one of these days, as a result of my injuries converting to arthritis, that my favorite pain reliever and I would become good friends…and he was right.

I got up and walked around a brush pile that was blocking the stream flow somewhat, and on the other side, was a young couple with a beautiful collie named Sadie. They were digging into another curve of the creek much the same as us and I advised the guy digging that if he went just a little deeper down, he would be in the same layer as we were at where many of those geode halves were located that have the pretty quartz interiors. We talked a bit more and then I continued south down the creek bottom, turning the corner to find hedgeapples laying all over the place and walnuts just beyond that. I ran into our guide a short time later and asked him if he recalled where John had been hunting that morning and he said, yes John was further downstream, maybe a quarter of a mile from where we were digging. I walked back up to our curve and let Chuck and Abigail know and we decided to walk down there and see if we could locate the spot…Abigail said it sounded like the spot he was at the year before as well. We did fine til we came to a huge mudhole with very little water in it, mainly mud with deep impressions of footprints…and I am talking deep impressions here, some a foot deep, so Chuck opted to walk around to the other side and see if he could find anything good, while Abigail and I waited on the dry side. After about ten minutes, Chuck returned finding only a few laying around over there, and we decided to call it a day and climb back up the  hill to the parking area in the field, then paid our guide for our buckets of geodes, and then headed to the hotel.

We decided to have supper in Keokuk about 6 pm and walked over to V`s Restaurant, which is right next door to the hotel and is a laid back kind of bar and grill place, with very good food and good service too. Years ago a steakhouse was in that building. We also decided to sleep in the next morning and skip the morning Geodefest location dig, and save our strength for the private dig that John and his friends had been invited to near Wayland instead. John told us that any of us could go if we wanted to, it was originally thought to be an early afternoon dig, at a private sand and gravel business near Hwy 61. I am thinking the Iowa Club decided to go earlier due to the heat factor. I no sooner arrived at the parking lot and was talking to Mike Shumate about the similarity of the Barrow Pit and the old C-61 site for large geodes 25 years ago in the same area, when John and Chuck walked up to let me know the Iowa club members were there now, and that Abigail was on her way there too. Mike gave me directions to the turn off and away Chuck and I went. We arrived right behind Abigail and a nice older couple who were club members. After grabbing a bucket and tools, we were soon inside the gate, looking for geodes and other pretty rocks and crystals along with several others. Everywhere that there were large rocks to be found, one could look thru and find geodes as well as geode halves, large and small chunks of agates, some that resembled mozarkite even, and I even found a nice piece of horn coral there. Abigail took a few photos of me up on the gravel pile with some of the Iowa Club Members surface collecting for anything pretty….

…and trying to crack open a geode or two…

…here are a couple of geodes that I cracked open there with my rock hammer….


If we would have had access to a machine, I am sure we would have found quite a bit more nice stuff there. By noon tho, we were wore out from digging, climbing, and the increasing heat, and headed back to the parking lot at Hamilton. On the way back, I photographed this farm along Hwy 136 east of Wayland….

 Around noon I was walking around and spotted a new vehicle parked down by Chaney Creek, a dark colored pick up with a bed full of large geodes. I walked down and struck up a conversation with a young man named Hunter, who it turned out was a local high school senior. He and a friend of his from Wayland, discovered the large geodes in a local creekbed on Hunter`s property nearby, they loaded them up and decided to bring them to the show to see if anyone might want some big ones to take home. As it turned out, I had been looking for a big one or two, so I selected one and he carried it down to have John crack it open..I told Hunter if it was hollow and beautiful inside, I would buy it from him…and he said if I didn`t like it, I wouldn`t have to buy it. John cracked it open pretty quickly, which was a good sign, and it was GORGEOUS inside. He cracked open a second one that turned out to be full of dirt and second generation quartz, not pretty at all, so I passed on the second one and instead purchased a few smaller halves along with the first one from Hunter and his buddy, plus they threw in another one for free. Here is what the big one looks like all cleaned up, full of sunshine quartz…

Both of these guys were very nice to deal with and are just trying to make some extra money to apply to college funds after they graduate next year. I saw a few more of them cracked open and they had gorgeous quartz interiors too…if anyone is interested in contacting these two guys to get some large geodes, give me a shout at and I can provide their information to ya. 

Chuck headed home about 1:30 and I was on the road for home by 2:45 pm. I made pretty good time and arrived at my Mom`s house to pick up Onyx about 6:30 pm…I think he was pretty excited to see me, she said he was sitting by the window watching for me as I pulled into the driveway and honked the horn, then made a beeline for me when she opened the door. I think he missed me as much as I missed him, it was a happy reunion !  I photographed this sunset on the way to the house from there…

Another great trip in the book and here are some photos of the nicer ones I found and a few that I purchased, all cleaned up….like the big one, cleaned up with soap and water only….

…and these two found at the Gravel Plant, cleaned only with water so far….

…and two tennis ball sized geodes,  that I purchased from my buddy Ken Vaisivil at the show…

I still have some more to crack open…John advised me to wait til he comes down here to go rockhunting with me locally, he will bring his geode cracker and take care of it for me….so I will wait and post more photos when WE get them cracked open then. 🙂