Practically every homeowner in Ramona has rocks on their property. And some of these small stones could potentially be a source of income, according to resident Joe Cahak.
A senior test engineer at Samsung Electronics, Cahak’s hobby is rockhounding. An avid hiker, Cahak knows the backcountry well. He can often be found searching the tops of hills and trails and scouring boulder outcroppings for unusual rock specimens.
Ramona has a rich history of gemstones and mining, which is discussed in historical books by local authors, he said.
Black, green and rubellite tourmaline, small crystals, garnets, epidote, spessartines, and rose and smokey quartz are among the specimen rocks often found in Ramona. Many of the rocks have no monetary value, but are still pretty and fun to collect, he said.
Cahak believes he has found a way to continue his hobby, share it with friends and allow local landowners to make some extra spending money.
“First, if someone thinks they have an old mining claim or something of significance on their property, I will go over the area for free and let them know what they have,” he said.
The evaluations can range from ”nothing is really here,” to believing a site would be suitable for small dig parties to discovering a potential mining claim, he said.
Although he hasn’t found any potential mining claims yet, Cahak said he believes there could be some locations either undiscovered or that property owners are aware of but have no idea how to promote.
Teri Kerns and Micole Moore recently invited Cahak to explore their Ramona Ranch Winery property off Highway 78. They wanted to learn more about the rocks on their vineyards.
“Our future goal is a self-guided natural walk for our guests to enjoy the beautiful views, interesting topography and more of the land we are lucky enough to be the stewards of,” Kerns said.
Led by Cahak, Kerns and Moore toured the property with their friends Scott and Susan Toothacre and Lisa Barnett.
Although no gemstones were found, Kerns said Cahak was able to point out the different kinds of rocks, explain their geological history and point out some interesting finds.
“He was so passionate and full of information,” Kerns said. “He’s a wealth of knowledge, it was a lot of fun, and he increased our awareness of what is here.”
After her friend’s tour, Barnett and her family also invited Cahak to their property. They expected they would have similar findings, and that was the case.
“We found we’re not going to be rich,” Barnett said with a laugh.
While they had some “fun, pretty rocks,” they had nothing valuable or rare, she said.
“It’s still worth it for folks just to see what is on their land, and overall, it helps for people to know what types of rocks are in the area,” Barnett said.
In cases where Cahak believes there might be enough rocks or minerals of interest, he is organizing small, private party digs for the landowner.
Each participant pays a small fee. Cahak said he works with local dealers and miners, and that everyone is aware that they have no further access to the site once the dig is complete.
Property owners should note that each participant is allowed to keep whatever they find while on a dig. Diggers are chosen from among his friends and acquaintances that might be interested.
“I can take care of all the details, including property access, liability issues, organizing the participants and collecting the fees for the owners,” he said.
The digs aren’t disclosed to the public unless the property owner is okay with it, he said.
“I respect the owners and their property,” the Ramona resident said.
Cahak said he uses no heavy equipment for his digs, and participants try to disturb the area as little as possible.
“We only allow six to eight people per dig and we carpool to the area. We’re so quiet our last landowner forgot we were there,” he said.
On one of his last group digs several months ago, Cahak used a weed-eater to trim some of the area so it would be easier to see the ground. Because of the lack of recent rains, group members didn’t even have to do much digging to discover their finds.
“I found almost a pound of materials,” he said, noting that axinite and low quality hessonite garnets were among his finds.
Cahak said no one is getting rich off the digs.
“The digs are only once a month or every other month and are very small scale, so the landowner isn’t making a ton of money. And I have a great salary —I’m not doing this for the money, but for the fun and adventure,” he said.
Because access to the property owners is the hardest part of organizing a dig, Cahak is eager to get the word out.
“We have so many local claims all abandoned on private property just sitting,” he said. “The digs are so much fun. The landowner gets a little bit of money. Everyone is happy and it’s a win/win for everyone.”
Cahak, who plans to retire in a couple of years, recently purchased both a facet machine and a cab machine — tools used for gem cutting and shaping rocks — as yet another way to have fun with his hobby.
After retirement, he said he also looks forward to having more time to hike the local hills and continue his search for unusual finds.
Cahak’s Facebook group for other rockhounds has more than 150 members. He frequently posts information on general and local geology, minerals, local mines, gem sites and gemstones. Members can also post photos of their own finds for identification.
He also credits the site with helping him find like-minded friends in the area to hike with and search for rocks and gemstones. Cahak has been interested in rock hunting since at least age 10, when he and his best friend used to try and find what they could in Wisconsin.
He also uses the site to describe and, in some cases, actively promote the many local mines in the area. He said that by making information about the mines public and writing up their history, there may be renewed interest in mining them and showcasing local gems.
“I love sharing the adventure of rockhounding and it’s a great way for families to spend time together,” he said.
He said he’s hoping more landowners contact him.
“I’m itching to get out and go prospecting,” he said.
Anyone can join Cahak’s Facebook group, Ramona Rocks and Minerals, to learn more. Landowners can also email Cahak at email@example.com .