"We saw men with beards down to their belt buckles, and braided and dreadlocked beards, and flaming red beards and big bushy beards," Jackson says.
They were so impressed that they started taking photographs.
"Somebody said, 'What are you going to do with that?'" Jackson recalls. "Out of the blue, I said, 'We're going to start the National Beard Registry' — as a joke. As soon as I said it, my wife and I both went, click, 'That's a great idea.'"
Jackson, a 53-year-old computer programmer and Web developer at the University of West Florida, created a no-charge, just-for-fun Web site, www.nationalbeardregistry.org, that shows photos of more than 100 hirsute men and lists their hometowns, their ages and the ages and descriptions of their whiskers. Registrants also can include comments.
"If the good Lord had meant me to be clean-shaven I would not have been given testosterone!" writes Weaver Bloom, 46, of Guerneville, Calif., who has a full red beard.
William Sommerwerck, 45, of Renton, Wash., pictured with a long mixed-gray beard, says: "Just say 'no' to razors!"
The bearded can get on the registry by e-mailing a photo. Jackson also takes forms and a camera to music festivals to register beards on the spot.
Says Jackson: "We love any beard, but it's the outrageous, completely out-of-control, overgrown beard that we're really excited about."
Jackson is No. 15 on the registry with what he calls his "unemployment photo." Taken a few years ago, it shows him with a full dark beard. It now is trimmed back and flecked with gray.
Jackson, whose wife has never seen him without a beard, did not get a good growth going until age 40. At the time, Jackson, who plays the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, banjo and piano, was in a folk-rock band, the New Arkadelphians, and the musicians decided to grow beards.
"All of us had such different colors and shapes," Jackson says. "We started thinking about the beard as kind of a unique imprint of a person, kind of like the eye or the hand print, fingerprint or DNA."
Jackson practices yoga and his wife, Debra, teaches it. Some of their transcendental philosophy has carried over to the beard site. It says: "The National Beard Registry has been established to encourage men in all walks of life, from every continent, to resist conformity, corporate culture and androgyny by embracing the beautiful, unique and utterly personal habit of growing a full beard."
Not all registrants embrace that view, including one of Jackson's friends, Bruce Lawall, who has a full, medium-length mixed-gray beard.
"I just grew it because I got tired of shaving," says the 51-year-old potter from Berrydale. "I know plenty of perfectly conservative people that have beards at least as outlandish as mine. Contrary to my friend Jerry, I don't think having a beard has anything to do with your political outlook."
By Bill Kaczor