Identify Kansas Rocks

Quartz is a common Kansas rock.

Identifying Kansas rocks is a vital way to understand the state’s geography and cultural history. Early Native American settlers depended on Kansas rocks and minerals for clay and pottery needs. In the early- and mid-1800s, coal mines were established throughout the state — where lead and zinc had become highly excavated commodities. Natural gas discoveries in the state went on to fuel brick manufacturing plants and other rock smelters and factories.


1. Visit outdoor Kansas locales. Explore different locales to find a wide variety of rocks. Go to the Chautauqua Hills in Woodson or Leavenworth County to find dense sandstones. Take a trip to the Cherokee Lowlands in Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties to examine coal samples. Visit the Geology Fact Sheets page of the University of Kansas — Kansas Geological Survey website or the Kansas State Map Collection page for for a list of state counties and contact information.

2. Examine rock colors. Look at the outside of the rock or chisel the stone open to examine the interior color. Find a pure, sphalerite zinc mineral, for example, by identifying the dark brown/red and/or white exterior and interior colors. Pick out a hunk of halite — or natural sodium chloride — by its translucent and/or white color. Compare the rock findings to geological and mineral textbooks and/or the Rocks and Minerals list provided by the University of Kansas — Kansas Geological Survey website.

3. Scratch the rock. Use your finger nail, the steel knife blade and/or edge of the quartz. Run each object along the surface along the rock to determine the hardness. A rock that scratches with the quartz but does not react to the steel knife has a hardness level between 5.5 and 7. On the other hand, a rock that reacts to a knife blade but is not penetrated by a fingernail scratch maintains a hardness level from 2.5 to 5.5. Compare rock colors and hardness levels to a Kansas Mineral Metallic or Sub-metallic Luster chart. Visit the Table for Identification page on the University of Kansas — Kansas Geological Survey website for an electronic version of the chart.

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