Spring brings a variety of colors to the Swannanoa Valley. Rhododendrons bloom in a variety of eye-popping shades, the Spring Beauty does what its name implies, and this year in Black Mountain even the rocks are getting in on the act.
As the weather warms up and people seek to soak in the sun, rockhounding, with a twist, has become the chosen activity for countless folks around the Valley.
Members of the Facebook group Black Mountain Rocks, which was created by Christine Lucas on April 5, post pictures of rocks they’ve painted before hiding them around town. The group has picked up nearly 1,300 members in six weeks.
“A few months ago I noticed my hometown (Quilcene, Washington) had started a similar page,” she said. “I checked to see if Black Mountain had one and it didn’t.”
Fellow Black Mountain resident Jen Chapman was visiting her hometown in Martin County, Florida, and found there was a similar group there as well. The group had over 20,000 members.
“I was visiting my brother and he was into it when I got there,” she said. “It’s such an easy way to put a smile on someone’s face. It’s almost like a form of therapy and it’s so much fun.”
She called Lucas, who had already been painting and hiding rocks in recent days before forming the Facebook group, and suggested she create one in Black Mountain.
“So, Black Mountain Rocks began,” Lucas said. “We’ve probably painted over 200 pounds of rocks.”
The appeal of Black Mountain Rocks is broad. Some people, like Lucas and Chapman, enjoy the craftsmanship of painting the rocks. After multiple coats of paint as a base layer, anything from patterns, to inspirational words, to colorful, elaborate drawings are added. Then the rocks are sealed to protect them from the elements.
"We take painting the rocks very seriously," Chapman said.
Then they're hidden, which is an art unto itself.
"I know for mine the nicer the rock the harder I make them to find," Lucas said. "But I've placed some right on the sidewalk in plain view too."
One of Chapman's most popular rocks are painted to look like ninjas. She hides them out of sight like their real-life counterparts.
"My ninjas are never easy to find," she said of the small, smooth stones painted black with two exposed eyes on the front and a sword on the back. "I hide them really well."
Painting and hiding rocks is fun for some, with many of the Black Mountain Rocks sharing their latest creations on the page, but finding a rock with an intricate painting or an inspirational quote can be quite an experience as well.
A rock depicting the solar system was painted by Chapman, who posted a picture of it on the Facebook page before hiding it near the Swannanoa River. After several people asked if the rock was still out there, she checked and found it was gone. She received a private message from a woman who did not want to post the find on Facebook, but was very appreciative of Chapman's efforts.
"She thanked me for painting and hiding the rocks and said looking for them had gotten her out of the house after having a rough few months," Chapman said. "She loved the solar system rock and said she might not want to part with it, but she had been painting rocks since and was planning to hide those. I told her 'you don't have to go hide it, you can keep it if you want, it's yours."
Others have had similar experiences, according to Lucas, who took one of the yellow emoji-inspired rocks painted by her daughter, Hannah, and hid it near her work.
"This lady came into the store in tears and her car had broken down, and she lived, I think in Massachusetts," Lucas said. "She came back a few minutes later crying even more and she had found one of Hannah's rocks. She said 'this is the silliest little thing, a rock with a smiley face, but it made my day so much better.'"
That woman told Lucas she wanted to hide that rock in her hometown once she returned. She's not the only one. A similar group was started in Knoxville, Tennessee on May 17 after a visitor discovered one of the creations from Black Mountain Rocks on a recent trip. He shared three rocks with the local group that he planned to hide after returning home.
The group has become so popular that Lucas, Hannah and Chapman all hide their rocks at night, because "if we're spotted the rocks will be gone in a few seconds," Hannah said.
Lucas estimates that around half of the people in the group are participating in some aspect of Black Mountain Rocks.
"Our only rule is to keep it PG," Lucas said. "We want everyone to have a chance to enjoy this and we don't want any negativity involved."
With the summer coming and families looking for activities they can do as a unit, Lucas believes that the popularity of Black Mountain Rocks is just beginning.
"I love to create, I carve pumpkins in the fall for people," Lucas said. "Anything I can do that allows me to be creative is like a stress relief for me, but I run out of ideas. (Black Mountain Rocks) provides another creative outlet for me and I can use the rocks to express myself."