Rocks draw crowd at library |

Rocks draw crowd at library

A child holds up a rock to be identified by geologist John Penton at the library's "reading rocks" program on Tuesday.
Jim Grant | The Record Courier

It’s not unusual for children growing up in Nevada to gravitate toward an interest in rocks.

On Tuesday roughly 40 children brought their samples to the Douglas County Public Library in Minden to be examined by a geologist.

“It was a packed house,” geologist John Penton said Wednesday. “I thought I brought more fliers than I would need and I ran out. The librarian told me that between parents and kids there were 77 people there.”

Penton is chief of Nevada’s Abandoned Mine Lands Program, so part of his presentation is getting the word out about avoiding abandoned mines.

But the star of the program was the identification of the rocks the children brought with them.

“One kid had a nice little fossil, they were all really nice,” he said. “All the kids brought in a rock, if not a handful. Some had rocks they interested in. I discussed what I saw and told them the type of rock they had.”

Despite the large hunk of granitic rock called the Sierra Nevada looming over Carson Valley, Penton said he didn’t see much in the childrens’ collections.

“I didn’t see anything I’d consider granite,” he said. “Kids have a discerning eye, and they pick up something that’s different.”

What he did see was a lot of dolomite or quartz, and some rocks that came from mines in Western Nevada.

“There were also rocks they picked up at Lake Tahoe or along the river that were a bit rounded,” he said. “I explained that happened because of erosion or waves. They were interested to learn why rocks formed.”

Penton said the state Division of Minerals does presentations regularly as part of the campaign to keep people from exploring abandoned mines.

“It’s part of what we do to get the word, stay out, stay alive,” he said.

Over the past quarter century, the division has identified 17,063 hazardous mine openings in the state, of which 13,285 have been secured by landowners, claimants, counties or the state.

Penton has been working as a geologist since 1987, mostly in Nevada. He went to work for the division in September 2012.