My husband and I had so much fun searching for Petoskey Stones during a recent child-free weekend getaway to Charlevoix, Michigan. Also, we were pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to polish these stones by hand. Keep reading to learn how to identify, find, and polish these stones for yourself.
Petoskey Stones are truly an interesting local treasure. The Petoskey Stone is the official state stone of Michigan. It is found only in a small area of the world, and the Lake Michigan shores in Northern Michigan are some of the best places to find these unique natural treasures. These tan-gray stones are actually fossilized coral from hundreds of millions years ago. They are easy to spot because of their distinctive pattern of hexagonal cells; each cell features fine lines radiating out from an “eye” in its center. The word Petoskey is adapted from the Native American word Pet-O-Sega which means “rays of the rising sun.” What an appropriate name for these unusual stones since the center of each cell looks very much like the sun and its warming rays! Additionally, it is said that carrying a Petoskey Stone in your pocket will bring you good luck.
Fun Fact: According to a USA Today article, President Barack Obama kept a polished Petoskey Stone on his desk in the Oval Office.
Looking for Petoskey Stones can be an incredibly fun activity for you with or without your family. During our weekend trip, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised at how easily we found these spotted stone wonders on the beaches there. On previous trips to Northern Michigan, we were not so fortunate. So what did we do differently this time around? And, how can you increase your odds of finding Petoskey stones? Try following this advice.
Avoid the most popular beaches. That is where most people go to hunt for Petoskey Stones; thus, the most popular beaches are the most likely to be picked over. If possible, look for more secluded beaches.
Go to the beach early in the morning. If you can get there before the other tourists, then the rocks scattered along the beach won’t be picked over yet. You will especially want to beat the crowds if you intend to search at any of the popular beaches.
Look along the waterline. It is extremely difficult to identify a Petoskey Stone when it is dry. Their distinctive hexagonal design stands out best when the rock is wet. When dry, these stones tend to look like a typical boring tan-gray stone.
Bring a spray bottle of water. You can spritz dry rocks with a little water in order to quickly discover any Petoskey Stones amongst the bunch.
Try looking in the early spring time. Some of the most experienced rockhounds claim that the frozen sheets of winter ice push these unique stones towards the shore. After the ice melts away, there are a ton of freshly unearthed stones awaiting discovery along the beaches. (We found several Petoskey Stones in late fall. Thus, you can easily find them throughout the summer and fall as well.)
Don’t forget to bring a bucket. You will want something to store your treasured finds in. A bucket works well because you can keep some water in it. I like to keep the stones wet so that I can look in and admire the pretty hexagonal patterns on the stones as I continue my search.
Polishing Petoskey Stones is pretty easy to do. We were pleased to learn that we can polish them by hand. It simply requires sandpaper (220 grit, 400 grit and 600 grit), a soft cloth, a little car rubbing compound, and possibly a file. The steps to polish them yourself are as follows:
- If your Petoskey Stone is not already a nice rounded shape, you may wish to use a file to further smooth the stone or better shape it.
- Dampen your rounded Petoskey Stone, and sand it with the coarse 220 grit sandpaper. Sand it with a steady rotating motion. Upon completion, rinse the stone and let it dry. Then, repeat the sanding process with the 400 grit sand paper. Then, do it again with the 600 grit sand paper.
Side note: We found it a bit tedious to start with the 220 grit and opted to use 150 grit sandpaper instead. The initial sanding seemed to go faster that way. However, all the instructions that I have found on the topic recommend starting with 220.
- Once you finish sanding the stone, look it over very closely. If you see any cracks, sand it again with the 400 grit and then the 600 grit until the stone is smooth and blemish-free.
- To polish the stone, sprinkle a little car-rubbing compound onto a dampened soft cloth (corduroy or velvet work great). Then, rub the stone with the cloth in short circular strokes.
- Once polished, inspect the stone once more for cracks and blemishes. If needed, sand the stone again with 400 grit and complete the whole process again. The end product is completely worth all of the effort.
Want to know more? If you are curious to learn more about these rocks (like we were), you can learn more about Petoskey Stones by downloading this PDF from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Edit: A “fun quiz” has been removed from this post since its original publication.