Neil Van Oost stoops low in the corner of the shop room of the Cape Atlantic Rockhounds' Mays Landing clubhouse and pulls an oval-shaped reddish rock from a knee-high white bucket.
The stone is unremarkable, even dull, on the outside. Inside, though, it's much more.
"This comes out of the Colorado river, but not the Colorado River today - where it was 1,500 years ago," Van Oost said, running the grey-streaked stone through his hands. "You don't know what you'll get in these until you cut into them, some of them are nice jaspers and agates."
The Cape Atlantic Rockhounds meet at 7:30 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in a small green building set about a hundred feet off Cologne Avenue, halfway between the Black Horse and White Horse pikes. There, the members discuss their mining expeditions and each year refine hundreds of rocks into cross sections of rhyolite rock-encased semi-precious stone, inchlong rounded medallions called cabochons, and more.
On Sept. 15 and 16, the club will host its 2012 Fall Rock Expo, selling the pieces the members have painstakingly crafted during the past year. While most of the members sell their rocks for personal profit, some of the proceeds will go toward a much-needed repair of the clubhouse roof.
"The whole event is profitable for each of us, but we have a club table that we donate to, and right now we're working toward getting our roof repaired," Van Oost said. "Everything goes into the roof fund, and we're real close now."
Jewelry and mineral vendors unaffiliated with the group will also have booths set up on the clubhouse grounds, and a band will play from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Refreshments will be available.
Being a rockhound is a labor of love, say the members of the group. While New Jersey, especially the Watchung Mountain range in North Jersey, offers some variety of rock types for the amateur geologists, accumulating a comprehensive collection requires a lot of travel.
Van Oost said he makes annual trips to the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, often returning with hundreds of pounds of quartz, jasper or agate. Chaplain Bud Stoddard, the club webmaster, said he has traversed most of the country in his three-decades-plus quest to gather every state stone.
"I have a lot myself," Stoddard said. "There's 50 states in the U.S., all but four of them have an official state stone, so over the past 30 years, I've been gathering up the official stone from each state, and I have almost all of them.
"I'll have them out (at the expo); then I have some rare and unusual rocks and minerals."
The club celebrated its semicentennial last year. It boasts about 35 members, most of them older than the the club itself. Stoddard said the group is looking to bring in more members, especially kids.
"We're trying to get children interested, teenagers, young adults," Stoddard said. "It's $10 a year to join, but it's for family. It's $10 for the whole family, not just for one person."
Dues cover the group's operating costs, and the members of the group are happy to show new members the ropes. The group also goes on occasional field trips to geological sites in the area, and offers advanced classes, for $3 each.
Van Oost has been a rockhound since he was 11 years old, when his father took him on weekend trips to mines on Bear Mountain, in New York. For him, there's no better escape than the peace of a rock hunt.
"There's nothing like getting out there," Van Oost said. "Sometimes you go by yourself out there. There's nobody, it's just nice and quiet. I can spend a whole day like that."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Cape Atlantic Rockhounds 2012 Fall Show
When: Sept. 15 and 16, 9 to 5 p.m.
Where: Rockhounds Clubhouse, Cologne Ave. between Routes 322 and 30.
How much: Free
More info: Call Club President Bill Bowman at 856-776-1739