Story & photos by Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
Self-taught geology expert Laura Joki is, wait for it…a rock star. I discovered this when walking with her on the beach for the first time and running into one of her fans.
“I recognize that voice,” said a woman Joki swears was not a friend she planted there. “Are you Laura?”
After Joki confirmed her identity, Heather Harris excitedly explained that she had driven to Lin-coln City from Dallas, Oregon, specifically in hopes of running into her at the beach.
“I watch her videos on YouTube all the time,” Harris said. “She totally got me hooked on rocks and fossils.”
Now, thanks to the Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau, Joki’s fans can find her at (mostly) guaranteed times during a series of beachcombing clinics, which run through April 20.
On a recent scheduled walk, the weather was right on the edge of stormy, so Joki chose to take the roughly 15 hardy folk who showed down to the beach for a quick tour, followed by a longer talk and Q&A at her nearby rock, gem and jewelry shop, Rock Your World.
Guiding the group toward a rock outcrop she uses as a good example of the unique geology of the area, Joki stopped to pick up a rock and jumped right into the tour of detritus of interest.
“This is zeolite,” she said. “It can only be formed in the presence of sea water.”
This led Joki to an explanation about one of the things that draw rockhounds to the area — agates.
“Agates are mainly silica,” she said. “This is why you don’t find agates on Hawaii, for example. They have very limited silica there.”
Joki’s presentations combine way-back geologic history and recent findings by current scientists in the field, along with the occasional quote from “The Big Lebowski.”
“All of these scientific suppositions,” she said, “they are really starting to tie the room together.”
Although the weather quickly turned foul, the participants, clad in rain gear, still picked rocks for Joki to identify. Lincoln City local Stephanie Schmieding was one such sturdy soul.
“My husband and I go rockhounding on the beaches around here all the time,” she said. “Unfortunately we don’t really know what we’re looking for — we just pick up what we think is pretty. Laura is a wealth of information; that’s what brought us here today. We’ll very likely come to another one.”
Joki’s interest in geology started early, and she was raised near Mount St. Helens in a family where science was revered and curiosity was encouraged.
“I was always outside exploring, or inside buried in a book,” she said.
Through her teens and early twenties, Joki continued to educate herself about rocks, gems and fossils through books, workshops and hikes. As an adult, she tried to enter the corporate world, but decided to get back to the field she was passionate about, a journey that finally brought her and husband Mike, to Lincoln City.
“This is a very overlooked area for gemstones,” she said. “It’s a great place to find agates, jasper and petrified wood pieces and fossils. We’re a 10-minute walk from a good rock spot in either direction right here in Nelscott.”
Although the clinics teach participants what to look for when walking on the beach, about half of the currently scheduled clinics are planned for people that have limited mobility.
“We encourage people with ability challenges to join us,” Joki said. “When the Lincoln County Agate Society disbanded, I got a lot of their inventory. I’ll be bringing things to give away from that collection for people who can’t walk down the beach, so they can still learn about what we have here and not go home empty handed.”
In the event of particularly bad weather, the clinics will shift to the Driftwood Public Library. Check the VCB’s facebook page for weather updates.
“We will still have the education session if we have to move it to the library,” Joki said. “And I will bring lots of rocks and fossils for people to look at.”
Each clinic begins with a brief orientation at the 33rd Street beach access just north of the Sandcastle Beachfront Motel. Public parking lots are located at 35th and 32nd Street. Parking is also available along SW Anchor and at the beach access. Each clinic lasts two hours. Participants should bring a warm rain jacket, rubber boots, gloves and a container for collecting.
2 pm, Wednesday, Feb. 8
10 am, Thursday, Feb. 16*
3 pm, Friday, Feb. 24
1 pm, Tuesday, March 7*
9 am, Wednesday, March 15
3 pm, Friday, March 24*
4 pm, Tuesday, March 28
1 pm, Tuesday, April 4*
2 pm, Thursday, April 20
Clinic dates marked with * will have extra time devoted to participants with disabilities.