Sheffler displays a typical geode, a naturally hollow rock containing
quartz deposits. While geodes are found in many parts of the Unkted
States, the gem-like qualitiy of these stones are unique to the
extreme northeast corner of Missouri where the Sheffler family has
welcomed rock hounds for four decades.
A small collection of aging
buildings sits like a tiny island surrounded by asphalt where Route
136 joins Highway 61 on its way through northeast Missouri toward Keokuk,
Iowa. The metal barns look a little worse for wear and the old white
frame house is nearly as weathered as the large sign atop it which faintly
declares "Rock Shop."
But one stone building shines
in the sun, its walls adorned with rose-colored quartz, "Angel Moss"
barite, turquoise, opals and geodes lots of geodes.
"Geodes have been the love
of my life," says Betty Sheffler. "I was probably 2 or 3 years old when
I fell in love with geodes and I've never quit."
Formed by organic deposits
within 300 million-year-old mud, geodes are ordinary-looking rocks which,
when split apart, reveal a gem-like treasure of sparkling quartz hidden
inside. Sheffler Rock
Shop near Alexandria is a bit like that. What you see on the outside
cannot compare to what's inside.
In addition to geodes, the
store carries intriguing fossils, strange rocks and dazzling minerals
from around the world. Clearly, the most valuable treasure at the shop,
though, is Betty herself.
Known far and wide as "The
Geode Lady," 75-year-old Betty has stepped back from the business she
founded more than 40 years ago. Her son, Tim, runs the shop now but
Betty is still a fixture, sipping coffee with an ever-present cigarette
dangling from her fingers at the kitchen counter that stands unexpectedly
in the midst of the store.
Although her health has deteriorated
and her hearing is failing, Betty gladly shares her love for geodes
with anyone who asks.
began collecting geodes as a child. As an adult she started selling
geodes from a display case in her kitchen. That case grew into a
fulltime rock shop and two geode mines, earning her an international
reputation as "The Geode Lady."
"I just love the idea that
they are so ugly and you open them up and they are so beautiful," she
"I think God wanted us to
take the time to find all that beauty in his world. I really think that's
it," Betty says. "You dig out that geode and open it up and you're the
first person on Earth to ever look in there. You and God, that's it."
As a child, Betty scoured
the countryside near her home in Keokuk for geodes and split them apart
with a hammer and chisel borrowed from her father's tool chest. By the
time she was 15 she had read "The Geology of Iowa" twice and was starting
on the equivalent Missouri textbook. Her parent's yard was littered
"Oh, you don't know how my
mother celebrated when I got married and moved out of the house," Betty
says. "She could have her yard back."
Her late husband, Harold,
indulged her interest which grew from a rock collection to selling rocks
from a small counter in the family kitchen. "Living in the junction
here, people would come in to ask directions, or people would stop and
try to sell you things," Betty recalls. "Well, I'd end up selling them
Her husband even built her
the semi-circular rock house that is as much specimen showcase as family
Rock Shop has long been a landmark at the junction of Highways 136
and 61 in Clark County. The proposed "Avenue of the Saints" threatens
to pass through the shop and one mine.
"I wanted the beauty on the
outside so people could see it," the Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative
member says. "People come from all over to walk around the house. It's
But mostly, people come
for geodes, which sell for just a few dollars for small stones to $40
or more for larger specimens. Others dig their own at the Shefflers'
two mines. While the mines appear to be little more than creek beds,
they earn their name before a day of collecting is done.
"A lot of people come here
expecting them to be laying all over but it doesn't happen that way,"
says Tim Sheffler, who
moved back to Keokuk to take over the business. "You have to dig them.
It's hammers and chisels and hard rock mining. It's a lot of work."
The mines are open from April
through December, unless a warm spell makes winter digging possible.
Visitors pay $15 per person to extract up to 50 pounds about
a 5-gallon bucket load of rocks from the mines, the only geode
quarries registered with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Diggers must bring
their own shovels, hammers, sledges, chisels and pry bars.
While first-timers often
open their geodes in the field, experienced rock hounds wait until they
get home in order to protect the delicate formations inside. Either
way, geodes are sure to please.
"It's like a Christmas present.
You never know what you're going to find," Tim says.
Reed of Alexandria chisels geodes from the frozen ground of the
Sheffler Geode Mine. Visitors to the mine pay $15 for the right
to collect and take home 50 pounds of geodes Ñ enough to fill a
Geodes have formed in a number
of places around the world. Some, like the amethyst geodes of Brazil,
are ablaze in color. But the geodes here are glistening white, being
primarily composed of quartz crystal with enough other minerals thrown
in to keep geologists and mineralogists interested.
One website which sells them
describes Sheffler geodes as coming from "the only mine in the United
States that contains gem quality geodes." Betty even remembers one customer,
former Philippine ruler Ferdinand Marcos, who used to order geodes to
decorate his palace.
Last year, more than 25 tons
of geodes were collected at the two Sheffler mines including specimens
collected by customers and the geodes Tim gathered to sell. "These
geodes are famous because people like the 'geminess' of this particular
pocket. They have good clarity and there's a pretty diverse mineral
group within the quartz," says Tim.
The enthusiasm for Sheffler
geodes goes beyond the rocks themselves, though. In 1997 geology and
mineral fanciers from around the country descended on Clark County for
a "Betty Sheffler Day" celebration, complete with geode hunting at the
mine, a swap meet and a dinner banquet which included readings of letters
of appreciation from rock hounds around the world.
Today, Betty's health keeps
her from digging geodes or even visiting the mines. Her husband died
four years ago and Tim moved his family from Texas to take over the
business. In addition to opening the second mine which Betty
has never seen he's added fossils to the store's inventory, preparing
many of the specimens himself.
| Tim Sheffler
prepares a fossil for sale in the shop. When Tim Sheffler returned
from Texas to take his mother's business he added a variety of fossils,
such as this fish fossil from Wyoming, to the storeÕs inventory.
But at the same time Tim
works to save the business, another force may destroy it. Plans for
an expanded Highway 61 the "Avenue of the Saints" from St. Paul,
Minn., to St. Louis could mean four-lane highway will pass where
Sheffler Rock Shop now sits. Even the new mine lies in progress' path.
While the Shefflers see no
way to avoid their fate they are determined to carry on, continuing
operations at the old mine and relocating the store if necessary. For
Betty, the beautiful geodes buried in the ground require that they keep
the business open.
"There's geodes all over
the world but there's no geodes quite like these. These are gorgeous,
just absolutely gorgeous," she says. "Where
else can people go and legally dig something out of the earth that formed
there 300 million years ago. Where else can they go and do that and
come home with such a treasure?"
For more information
write Sheffler Rock Shop and Geode Mine, Rt. 1, Box 172, Alexandria,
MO 63430; or call (660) 754-6443. You can also visit them on the
Internet at www.commean.com/rocks/sgm/.