Have you been somewhere lately and noticed a brightly painted rock hiding among the thousands of others rocks you see but never notice each day? Did you pick it up and find a strange message on the back? Did it read, “Find Us on Facebook at Tex New Mex Rocks. Post a Picture & Re-Hide Me?”
If so, you just stumbled upon the newest craze sweeping America — rock painting, hiding and hunting.
A scavenger hunt?
Painting rocks is nothing new. Humans have been doing it since the beginning of time, but in this modern age of ours it has taken on a new life something equivalent to a low-tech version of Pokemon Go. But unlike the digital scavenger hunt for pop culture creatures, the interest in rock hiding and hunting seems to be on the rise and perhaps for the simplest of reasons — it brings people together.
The craze spread to West Texas and Eastern New Mexico a few months ago, thanks in part to Jill Foster McCall who brought the pastime back to New Mexico from Ohio where the craze is so popular that one Facebook group in Ohio has reached more than 180,000 members — it gained 20,000 in one week while McCall was visiting.
“One of my sisters moved from Houston to Ohio and they were at the library and they stumbled upon a rock in a group called Northeast Ohio Rocks,” she said. “We went during spring break and she explained to us how they got involved and we were out and about and my nephew found a rock. We helped paint some rocks while we were there and my mom and my kids enjoyed it so much.”
McCall came home to Portales, and looked for a group in the area to join, but couldn’t find one so she and another sister started Tex New Mex Rocks and the group has exploded since March 21 of this year, reaching 13,000 members earlier this week.
“I don’t really know what the attraction is, but we are adding people constantly all day long our phones are going off with Facebook notifications,” McCall said.
Maybe the attraction for others is the same thing that drew McCall to it. She’s since painted more than 500 rocks.
“It is relaxing to me I can come home from work and relax,” McCall said. “The thing that has appealed the most to me is my kids sit down with me, no phones, no computers, all talking and laughing and painting and it is just carefree and allows you to express yourself and forget about the bad things going on in life.”
It indeed seems to be one of the main allures to the hobby for adults.
Former Hobbsan Masey Doss said she and her daughter found their first rock outside Sam’s Club in Lubbock, and her daughter was hooked.
“We have found four so far. It is definitely a surprise and exciting,” Doss said. “We look for them in random places. We found one while leaving Walgreens.”
The mother, daughter duo haven started painting many rocks and Masey said she loves the quality time she spends with her daughter hunting rocks.
“It is a really fun activity we can all do together,” she said. It also seems that besides allowing people to express their creativity and basically turn any outing into a scavenger hunt, the rock hobby is giving people a sense of community they may be lacking in their lives.
“There was this family who lost a little girl and we did a Dorie (the fish from Finding Nemo) painting event for them,” McCall said. “And then a little girl in the children’s hospital in Lubbock who was painting and people started donating materials and using her hashtag in her honor. I think it gives people a sense of community they seem to crave. I think it has made people talk again. So much now is email, text messages and Facebook. I have seen so many pictures of paint parties with families, neighbors and friends.”
Hobbsan Michelle Aker said a friend got her involved in rock painting, hiding and finding and now she and her four-year-old daughter hunt rocks in their free time.
“She gets super excited and upset when we have to rehide them,” Aker said. “It is like Easter egg hunting. You get excited. It is more fun for me to hide them. She wants to keep them.”
But keeping them isn’t part of the game. The rocks come with a tag on the back that asks the finder to rehide them, but to first post a photo of the rock on the Facebook page and say where it was found. Some families have created their own hashtags finders can use when posting so the rocks can be tracked. Amazingly, rocks can travel long distances.
Betty Gallegos, of Hobbs, said she enjoys painting the rocks with her grandchildren and the whole family enjoys tracking their rocks online with the hashtag #RFamilyRocks.
“One of my granddaughter’s (rocks) was found at the Grand Canyon,” Gallegos said.
It can be disheartening though when rocks are never found or found and never reported, Gallegos said.
“We have painted a lot of them and a lot haven’t been reported,” she said. “I’m not sure if people are keeping them, but we need to know what places are not allowing us to put them there and if they are just throwing them away. I painted a big one and put it at the Hobbs Library of Noah’s Ark and I haven’t heard since if it has been found.”
McCall said sometimes people do keep rocks and sometimes they are never reported, but the group urges rock finders to post and rehide the rocks they find to keep the joy going, and it certainly seems that this game of rocks does spread joy as posts from the Facebook group attest:
“Found these beautiful rocks on my bench. Made me smile after a day I’ve had. Thank you,” one poster wrote.
“Co-worker, Pila Montoya, found this beauty on a post at JP Stone Community Bank. She asked me to hide it for her. It’s like playing ‘I Spy,’” another wrote.
“Awwww this was so great finding this. Opened up the dealership and I look down on this cloudy day and guess what I found. Thank you guys and gals. #rockking.”
“Found this rock at Portales News Tribune. Will hide it again. I asked the Lord to help me find one and He did.”
“Well I went for a run in hopes of finding my first rock!!! Didn’t happen, maybe tomorrow.”
It seems the rocks spread a little sunshine in peoples lives as Hobbsan Bernadette Granger found out one day.
“I have found two,” she said. “It was like a little bit of happiness. I think we do stuff throughout the day and don’t realize they have a ripple effect and these little rocks show the ripple effect and how we can make someone’s day brighter.”
Easy to get involved
If it all sounds exciting and you want to get involved but don’t know how, its easier than you think. The Tex New Mex Rocks page includes a lot of helpful information from the where to get rocks to paint, the best paints to use, how to seal the rocks so the paint lasts, how to attach tags to them so they get posted online and re-hid and lots more helpful information.
McCall said basically any rock will do, but they should be cleaned, painted with acrylic paint for the best results and sealed with a clear lacquer.
“We have some people who are so artistic others will try to buy their rocks from them,” she said.
Indeed the rocks run the gamut with paintings like Di Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” to rocks that look like Ms. Piggy, or a Minion from “Despicable Me,” to more mundane rocks that look like cigarettes and some painters go so far as to paint sprawling towns on dozens of rocks and hiding the whole village.
McCall said it can start one rock at a time, but whether it is many rocks or a few, the act of painting, hiding and hunting rocks offers many health benefits so perhaps take her advice. “When we’re creating, we’re stepping away from the stress in our lives,” McCall wrote on the Tex New Mex page. “When we hide rocks, we’re giving – and that just feels good. When we’re looking for rocks (to paint or painted rocks) we’re out in the fresh air. When our rocks are found and posted, we’re excited. The idea is to get out and get moving. Take a walk and find a rock.”