If you spend time on any Lake Michigan beach, it’s inevitable that you’ll find a few people wading-ankle deep peering through the cool crisp water, searching for something. These beachcombers are looking for northern Michigan gold in the form of three stones: Petoskey Stones, Charlevoix Stones, and Leland Blues. As ubiquitous as these stones are, it is often unknown how they were formed or arrived on our shores. Each stone has a unique history and is coveted for its rarity and symbolism.
So what’s the hunt all about? Below we will take a look into the history of each stone and why they bring significance to northern Michigan culture.
Petoskey stones became the official state stone of Michigan in 1965. The root of its name is Ottawan. Pet-o-sega roughly translates to rising sun -- and is also the name of an Ottowan Chief -- as a testament to the stone pattern that resembles the rays of a sun. When you look at a Petoskey stone, you’re actually looking at a piece of fossilized coral, more particularly the species called Hexagonaria percarinata that was alive some 350 million years ago! These fossils were picked up by glaciers, eroded into small rounded stones, and deposited in Michigan’s north western lower peninsula, where we find them today.
They are most popularly found in--you guessed it--Petoskey, Michigan in Little Traverse Bay. However, the hunting grounds extend to the Grand Traverse Bay region and along Lake Michigan Beaches around Leelanau Peninsula.
Charlevoix Stone (top) and Petoskey Stone (bottom) Photo: @visit_charlevoix
Charlevoix stones are commonly misperceived as Petoskey stones and for good reason. This stone is also fossilized coral, specifically named Favosite. Although they have a similar pattern, Charlevoix stones have a smaller honeycomb and lack the “eye” of a Petoskey stone. Seeing the stones next to one another clarifies the difference between the two. They are commonly found in the same areas as Petoskey stones and were also deposited by glaciers.
The eye-catching Leland Blue has a peculiar and little known history. The stone is actually a
by-product of the iron ore smelting industry that persisted in Leland during the late 1800s. The
by-product of smelting is called slag and is created in the purifying process to create iron. As the smelting industry collapsed, the waste was dumped into our Great Lakes and now shows up on our shores in the form of Leland Blue stones. However, despite the name, these “rocks” can also come in colors such as purple, grey, or green.
Whether you’re lucky enough to find one of these coveted stones or it takes a while to finally strike “northern Michigan gold”, these rocks remind us of our special corner of the world.
Pro-tip: Rock hunting is best in the fall or on a rainy day when you can see all the rocks on the beach when they’re all wet!
12 Collectible Rocks and Fossils of the Great Lakes. May 18, 2018. https://greatlakeslocals.com/12-collectible-rocks-and-fossils/
Rock Collecting – A Michigan Tradition. May 1st, 2014. https://promotemichigan.com/rock-collecting-a-michigan-tradition
'Petoskey Stone': Michigan’s State Stone. August 17th, 2011. https://www.mackinac.org/15583
Leland Blue, A Way of Life in Northern Michigan By Adrienne Roberts. August 13, 2014.http://www.lelandmi.com/about/leland-blue-stones.html