Wayne Mills, 72, has had an interest since he was a kid. It started with his Uncle Tom, who was the Chief Geologist for Kaiser Aluminum.  “I visited him when I was 12 and he gave me a shoebox full of minerals,” Mills said. “I was determined to learn the chemical formulas of the minerals.”

His father traveled often in the Southwest and would bring back rock specimens for Mills. His love of minerals and rocks grew over the years and in the 1970s he started attending rock and mineral shows and eventually joined the Southern California Paleontology Society.

He’s so into minerals that he told the woman he had been dating, “if you find [a sea biscuit], I just may marry you” when they went on a field trip with the Paleontology Society.

It took a while, but she saw something sticking out of the ground. They started digging and found a sizable sea biscuit. A year later, they were married. They are no longer married, but Mills still has the sea biscuit, which is also called rhyncholampas gouldi, a small puffy echinoid — in the family that includes sea urchins, sand dollars, sea biscuits and starfish. The sea biscuit has a similar five-way symmetry to its cousin, the sand dollar, but has more of a pebble shape.

When he moved to Arroyo Grande in January 1979, he went to work at Diablo Canyon in Quality Assurance/Quality Control.“I think that’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever worked,” Mills said.

He then went to work for Caltrans in 1984 and worked there until he retired in 2009. In addition to his job as an Environmental Engineer, he was the District Paleontology Coordinator and Archaeological Technician on more than 34 projects.

He joined the Orcutt Mineral Society in 1994, serving as president five times and being the bulletin editor for four years, as well as holding several other jobs. “After a while I started presentations,” Mills said. “That’s another fun thing, talking to the youths and getting them interested in geology.”

He goes to local schools and gives presentations to elementary school children. He is also involved in the Kids Pebble Club, which is part of Santa Lucia Rockhounds in the North County. The Rockhounds meet the third Monday of the month at Templeton Community Center and the children are taken to a separate area for their own program.

In his role with the Orcutt Mineral Society, Mills spearheaded planning for the club’s 50th annual Rainbow of Gems Show that happened in 2017. He is also the treasure chest chair for the society’s annual gem show; the next one will take place August 3 through 5 at Nipomo High School.

Rocks and mineral aren’t the only buried treasure than Mills pursues.

 Mills’ Arroyo Grande home is surrounded by his collections of rocks, minerals, cacti and succulents. Some of his rocks, minerals and fossils are hundreds of thousands and millions of years old. Inside his house, there are displays in every room showing off his rocks and minerals. He also has binders full of coins, most of which he found by metal detecting. He’s working on collecting a coin from every country in the world. Most of which he’s gotten by metal detecting.

“I think I’m half way there,” Mills said. The continent he needs the most coins for is Africa.

Mills spends about 50 hours a month metal detecting. He goes metal detecting anywhere he can and when he travels he takes his metal detector, a Whites MXT, with him. He even took a trip to the Bahamas in order to get all 50 items on the Central Coast Treasure Hunters Society’s scavenger hunt. The hunt lasts four months and each person that finds all 50 items receives a silver dollar. It was Mills’ first hunt and one of the items was to get coins from four different countries so he decided the way to do that was to go to other countries. He visited several different countries in the Caribbean.

“I was amazed no one said anything,” Mills said about metal detecting on the beach in Cozumel, Mexico. “I went down to the beach and went between the people. It was a cool experience.”

In addition to getting a silver dollar for finding all items, silver dollars are also given for interesting finds in the following categories: coin, jewelry, artifacts, silver and everything else, called “show and tell.”

Mills likes silver dollars and has quite a collection of those that he adds to through winning them in the scavenger hunts and through the coin club. “I’ve been going to different places and finding interesting things,” Mills said. “It’s amazing what you can find underground.”

He even found an earring when metal detecting at a local school. When talking to a neighbor at a block party, she mentioned losing her earrings at the school she works at. He brought out some of the treasures he’s found and one of her earrings was among them. He’s also found an engagement ring that he reunited with its owner.

Mills’ favorite treasure that he’s found is a $100 Australian coin that is one ounce of pure gold currently worth $1,320, which he found in Morro Bay State Park.

Though he’s been retired for the last nine years, he has done several archeological digs in the area and plans to do more in the future.

Coming up this month, Mills will again take up his role as the “Rock Doc” at the Santa Lucia Rockhounds annual Rock and Gem Show happening on April 21 and 22 at the Paso Robles Event Center.

As Rock Doc, he staffs a table during the two-day event identifying rocks, fossils and minerals that attendees bring to him.

“I can usually come up with [something], but there are varieties that elude me,” Mills said. “I don’t pretend to be an expert, I just have an enthusiasm for the subject.”

Mills is an active retiree and enjoys a range of other hobbies on top of treasure hunting. He has a collection of replica Native American artifacts — many are Chumash — he made himself out of soapstone.

“Part of the reason I got interested in this was in the early 1900s people from France and other places were interested in Chumash artifacts and took them out of the area,” Mills said.

About Santa Lucia Rockhounds’ 27th annual Rock & Gem Show

The 27th annual Rock & Gem Show will take place Saturday, April 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Paso Robles Event Center in the Estrella Building. Admission is $5 per adult and free for kids under 16 and active military personnel.

The event will showcase exhibits, dealers, and demonstrators that feature rocks, minerals, fossils, artisan crafted jewelry, and other lapidary materials. This year’s event will call special attention to Jasper, an opaque type of quartz found locally and all over the world.

In addition to over 35 dealers, this year’s activities and demonstrations include:

  • Rock cutting and polishing: one guest will be selected to help every hour
  • Diamond testing: find out if that stone you have is a real diamond
  • Sphere-making
  • Faceting
  • Gold panning
  • Dinosaur presentation by Richard Wade at 1 p.m. both days
  • Rock Doc: bring in that unknown rock or mineral to have it identified
  • Kid’s treasure hunt and free gift just for attending
  • Vote on your favorite exhibit
  • Geode-cracking
  • Rock stacking
  • Fundraising drawing

The Santa Lucia Rockhounds is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and educate the public on the study of geology, mineralogy and the lapidary arts. In addition to adults and kids programs, the club hosts collecting and educational field trips. The Santa Lucia Rockhound Club is a member of the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies.

For more information about the event or information on joining the club, community members can contact Tina Clark at 805-305-0246 or go to slorockounds.org.

Heather Young

Heather Young is a freelance writer specializing in travel, wine, food and feel-good stories about people doing good in their communities and world. Find her on Instagram @travelswithheatheryoung