Oklahoma's official state rock provides the perfect foundation for a geological day trip.
Gem and mineral collectors around the world treasure the barite rose rock because its shape is a natural phenomenon. According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, rose rocks – the reddish-brown sandy crystals of barite that resemble a rose in full bloom – are more abundant in Oklahoma than anywhere else in the world. In 1968, the rose rock was named the official state rock – marking its place as an Oklahoma symbol.
Small quantities of rose rocks have been found in California, Kansas and even as far away as Egypt; however, no place can match the concentrated outcropping that extends 80 miles through the central part of Oklahoma between Pauls Valley and Guthrie. The most abundant and well-formed rose rocks can be seen in Noble, the “Rose Rock Capital of the World.”
Hunting for rose rocks can be a rewarding activity. Well-formed specimens are highly prized and a favorite addition to mineral collections. So where to look? You’ll most likely find rose rocks in places such as ditches and gullies where erosion or road construction has occurred. It also helps if you go just after a heavy rain, when the soil has been washed away to expose the rose rocks.
According to Joe and Nancy Stine, local rose rock historians and proprietors of the Timberlake Rose Rock Museum in Noble, rose rocks have been found along State Highway 9, about five to eight miles east of Norman and south to Noble. Look no farther west than 60th Avenue, which crosses Highway 9.
The rocks have also been found at Lake Thunderbird. Fall and winter are the ideal seasons for rose rock hunting since weeds and grasses are dormant, leaving rose rocks more exposed and easier to spot. The state’s drought conditions over the past few years have also benefited rose rock hunters.
“You can find small rose rocks around Lake Stanley Draper which are exposed when the water level is low,” said Nancy Stine.
Rose rocks range in quality, with the average size reported between half an inch to 4 inches in diameter. The largest known single rosette recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey was measured at 17 inches across and 10 inches high, and weighs 125 pounds. Rose rock clusters 39 inches tall and weighing more than 1,000 pounds have also been found.
Decades ago, historians uncovered legends and interesting folklore about the origin of the rose rock. The Stines recorded one of the Native American legends surrounding the rose rock, which was handed down by E.L. Gilmore, a Cherokee storyteller.
According to Gilmore, in the 1800s – despite a decision in favor of the Cherokees by the Supreme Court – President Andrew Jackson ordered the removal of the Cherokees and other Indian tribes from their eastern homelands to Oklahoma, a journey later referred to as the Trail of Tears. About 4,000 people died on that journey, and Native American folklore states that "God, looking down from heaven, decided to commemorate the courageous Cherokees. As the blood of the braves and the tears of the maidens fell to the ground, they were turned to stones in the shape of a rose." The rose rock is found in Oklahoma, the end of the journey.
After hand-digging bucket after bucket of rose rocks for more than three decades, the Stines say that the best rose rocks are usually encased in the hardest dirt. It’s incredible to know that these intricate rocks have survived the stomping of dinosaurs through farming and modern commercial development. That’s why the town of Noble recognizes the value in having such a unique concentration of rose rocks.
To celebrate the honor of being the “Rose Rock Capital of the World,” Noble hosts the annual Rose Rock Music Festival – an event drawing more than 20,000 people to downtown Noble for a three-day festival during the first week of May. This festival features a wide range of live musical entertainment, a parade, craft show, karaoke contest, car show, poker run and carnival.