Woodbury and its environs are known in the rock hound community as a go-to destination for geode hunters, so when Richard “Dick” Gross, an avid collector, heard that a road construction project had uncovered a treasure trove of new specimens, the news did not come as a surprise.
What Gross didn’t expect to find, however, was an enormous geode roughly the size of a watermelon. The unique rock — which Gross named “The Whopper” — is now displayed alongside dozens of other geodes in the office of his Tullahoma home.
He wasted no time cracking it open to see what treasure had been hidden inside for millions of years. He wasn’t disappointed. The cavity is filled with glowing quartz crystals and a variety of other light-reflecting minerals.
Gross has a long history in science and academia. Before moving to Tullahoma with his wife, Susan, he taught biology, botany and conservation at Palm Beach Junior College in Lake Worth, Fla. After relocating to Southern Middle Tennessee, Gross joined the faculty at Motlow State Community College where he taught for 26 years, guiding students in geology and photography courses. Many of his photographs are included in college textbooks,
The Gross family is known in other fields as well. Their daughter, Paula, a botanical expert and teacher, is co-author with Professor Larry Mellichamp of the unique book Bizarre Botannicals, filled with their color photos of what is referred to as “outlandish plants that can be grown at home.”
Gross learned about the discovery at Woodbury last spring, when he received a phone call from Lisa Mayo, a geology professor at Motlow.
Geodes are spherical rocks encapsulating a hollow cavity that is lined with crystals. They begin as bubbles in volcanic rock or as animal burrows, tree roots or mud balls in sedimentary rock. Over time the outer shell of the sphere hardens and the interior fills with hot, mineral-rich liquids.
Over centuries the liquid evaporates and crystals form of varying shapes and colors that can only be seen when the geode is cracked open.
“She called in early May saying there was a road being cut on Highway 70S between Woodbury and McMinnville,” Gross said. “Lisa said a lot of geodes were being found there, including very big ones. My interest was piqued when I heard about the big ones.”
The largest geode Gross had collected before visiting the new site in Woodbury was roughly nine inches in diameter. He joined a group of other rock hounds, including Vollie and George Stone, Scott Ulm, Mark and Grey Landrum and Billie Allen, and the team headed out to Woodbury to see what could be found.
Although Mayo’s news caught his interest, Gross nearly did not go to check out the new discovery after learning that representatives of two universities and several rock enthusiasts from Georgia had already made the trip.
“I thought they’d have picked the site over and I almost didn’t go,” he said. It was a good thing for his collection that he changed his mind. With the assistance of some of the other team members, Gross uncovered “The Whopper,” which measures 20 inches in diameter and dwarfs the other geodes in his collection. According to Gross’ research, the largest geode ever found in Tennessee measured 24 inches.
But the size of “The Whopper” is not the only thing that makes the newly discovered Woodbury location special.
“This site is important because we’re finding a greater diversity of secondary minerals and that’s very important to collectors,” Gross said. “Usually it’s just quartz and maybe a little calcite. But here, we’re finding really crystallized calcite, dolomite, chalcopyrite and smoky quartz.”
Although there are some geodes to be found on the public right-of-way lining the road project, Gross said the bigger geodes are being discovered on private property. According to Gross, the property owner has given permission for people to access his property to collect them as long as the construction project is ongoing. Once the work is done, he said, the property owner will resume using the land as pasture.
“Rock hounds know how to take care of people’s property,” Gross said. “There’s a code of ethics in the rock hound community.”
Gross has been collecting geodes for 30 years and travels to the mother lode in Keokuk, Iowa once a year to add to his collection. Finding such a large geode so close to home was a welcomed surprise.
“It blew my mind,” he said.
For more information on geodes or the Woodbury site, contact Richard Gross at email@example.com.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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