From the moment you pull up to their whimsically-landscaped home in Eckert, Colo., it’s crystal clear that Penny and Vernon Moore are totally fascinated with rocks. They’re everywhere, outlining the driveway, the fence, the outbuildings, and even the creations that the couple has built out of still other rocks — like the turtle pond which sits in the center of the back yard and comes complete with a miniature waterfall.
Although rocks may appear plain-looking on the outside, once they have been opened they are truly beautiful. “You never know what you’ll find inside each one until it’s been split, sanded and polished,” Vern explained, holding out a few samples. “Some actually form pictures, like this one. See?” He carefully traced an image with one finger as I looked closer. “This one shows a heart with an arrow through it.”
“Hard to believe they’re made entirely from dinosaur poop, isn’t it?” Penny added cheerfully, gesturing towards the stunning displays of jewelry that she’d made with semi-precious stones. WHAT? Penny then handed me a plaque that held a thin section of something called Coprolite (pronounced kap’ra lite). With a delicate pattern of crimson, smoky blue, deep gray, saffron, and mustard yellow, it was hard to believe that the exterior had once merely looked like ... well ... rock. Above it was a poem that explained things, reading,
A few thousand years ago,
A dinosaur felt the urge to go.
He strained with all his might
And left this piece of coprolite.
Then in Noah’s flood he died
And in no time it was petrified.
Now that it has turned to rock
It’s really sad that it can’t talk.
Oh what a story it could tell
But here it is — not even a smell!
Handing the item back to her, I shook my head and thought, yes, these people most certainly have something unusual going on here. But after taking a tour of the property — which included a lovely picnic area decorated with petrified wood — it was clear that they’re doing what they love. As a bonus, there’s lots of travel involved as they seek out the raw materials found only in nature.
Owners of Moore and Moore Rocks, this couple not only cuts and polishes what they find but also do it for other enthusiasts, as well. Vern demonstrated the process, first by showing me his diamond saw which actually cuts the rocks in half. “It can go through a 4-inch rock in about 45 minutes,” he says, “cutting slabs that are a quarter of an inch thick.” Once he’s seen the pattern inside, Vern decides how he’s going to shape it by first drawing a form in pencil and then carefully following that outline with his tile saw. Water runs along the rock as he shapes it, which both “keeps the surface from getting too hot and also lubricates it for easier cutting.”
Penny, who has worked as a dental assistant since 1980, started creating her jewelry about three years ago and now has an entire collection of necklaces, matching earrings, hair barrettes and tie tacks which she sells privately out of their house. For the necklaces, she starts by placing a finished stone on her work table and then puts accent beads around it, moving them until “it looks good” before stringing all on wire and crimping them in place. With Vern (who has worked in machine, furnace, boat and appliance repair as well as doing upholstering and dry-walling) able to custom-cut whatever she needs, it’s been “really fun” for them to work together on designs. Together now for 41 years, Penny (who grew up in nearby Delta) and Vern (who is from Cedaredge) have already been collecting now for most of their married lives and plan to continue, although it is getting a little more difficult to be “rock hounds.”
In the past, they simply researched the laws of different states before going on a search, since “some places require permits” that specify the number of pound of rocks one is able to pick up each day, while “others, like state or government parks, don’t let visitors take any rocks at all. And in wilderness areas, you risk getting fined for even picking one up and looking at it,” Vern warns. Lately, however, “roads are getting closed off one after another,” making it a challenge for the couple to do search work. Luckily, however, they currently have an enormous stack that is waiting to be cut, shaped and polished, turning everyday rocks from plain to just plain amazing. ❖