Creating a prospecting map

I try to keep a pulse on the mining claims in the areas I dig and I keep a prospecting map with me to help understand where I can and cannot look for crystals.  I’ve met folks that are really fair when they find someone digging on their claim; and I’ve also met folks that were really angry.  Note that taking crystals off of someone else’s claim without prior written permission is theft, and you can be arrested and prosecuted by the County Sheriff. 

Although claims are supposed to be well marked–here in Colorado with 6 posts–you may not see the posts easily or the posts may be down or missing.  It’s not very fun wandering around all day looking for corner posts to know if you can dig in the spot you found; so save yourself the time and energy and build yourself a prospecting map!

I recently updated and created a couple prospecting maps of areas I frequent and thought I’d share some map creation tips as it is a fairly simple process and all the work can be done from the privacy of your own home.  As an example of the level of effort required, one area I mapped had about 25 claims and it took about 4 hours total to produce a prospecting map; and now that I’ve created a streamlined process (which I’m sharing with you), it will take considerably less effort next time!

The process I use consists of a few steps, all which can be done in the comfort of your home:

  1. Go to the BLM website and use their interactive 100K map to identify the claims in the area you are interested in
  2. Take notes on the relevant claim information in your prospecting area
  3. Email the BLM office with the claims you need further detail on and pay for scanned copies
  4. Go through the Location Certificates and transfer the claims’ boundaries to your prospecting map

Using the BLM website’s Interactive Map to find Mining Claims

NOTE:  You can click on any image to view it enlarged.

Here is the link for the BLM Colorado Interactive Map (https://www.blm.gov/maps/frequently-requested/colorado/gis-datasets) that you will be using. For other states, search the BLM website at blm.gov.  The first thing I do is turn on the layers helpful in displaying mining claims (these will overlay on top of the existing map).  You may find yourself turning these on and off as you interact with the map and application; play with it and use the application as it is most ergonomic for you.

Use the “Stacked Papers” icon (located in the upper right corner of the map) to bring up the Layer List controls and choose these two options:  Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and the Active Mining Claims (you’ll need to scroll down through the list).  When done choosing your layers you can click the “Stacked Papers” icon again to close the Layer List.  Toggle as necessary.

BLM Interactive Map

I always turn on the PLSS and Active Mining Claims  layers as these will help me quickly find claims in the area I’m mapping.

The next step is to drill into the area you want to investigate.  I found that this workflow worked the best for me:  1) Turn on Active Mining Claims layer, 2) drill into the map to the area of interest then 3) Turn on the PLSS layer and finally 4) Hide the Layer List. This is just what I preferred, choose whatever works best for you!

Let’s look at Devils Head as it is a popular spot due to its proximity to Denver and Colorado Springs.  Devils Head is just west of Larkspur in the center of the state, so I found Larkspur on the map and started to click that area to zoom in.  Assuming you have Active Mining Claims layer active, as you drill in you will start to see a pink boxed area surrounded by green on the overlays.  The pink area is the Active Mining Claims layer.  Let’s drill into the Virgin’s Bath locality.  You may want to remove the Active Mining Claims layer while you drill in and then turn it back on so you can use the switchback in the road as a reference point that is obscured by the pink layer.

Virgin's Bath Map

I’ve drilled into the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality and turned on the PLSS (black & purple gridlines) and Active Mining Claims (pink) layers

Understanding the Public Land Survey System as it relates to Mining Claims

Before moving forward, it is important to understand in general the implementation of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).  At the foundation of this survey framework there is a single initiation point for the survey; the east/west line going through this point is termed the Baseline, the north/south line is the Principle Meridian.  The entire survey “coordinates” are relative to this initial survey point and two lines.

A Township is a 36 square mile area (6 x 6 mile) box of land on the map and is referenced North or South of the Baseline.  A Range is a vertical column of Townships that is referenced East or West of the Principle Meridian line.  So in our forthcoming example of Devils Head, the Township/Range is T9S R70W, meaning 9 Townships south of the established Baseline, and 70 Townships west of the established Principle Meridian line.

Townships are further divided into 36 Sections (each a mile square).  A combination of Township, Range and Section will take you to any square mile of land that has been surveyed using the PLSS framework.  Finally, to get to the scale that Mining Claims are relevant within, a Section is subdivided into four quarter-Sections, each 1/4 mile, or 160 acres; these are referred to Section # and NE, NW, SE or SW.

Claims are documented at the quarter-Section scale and everything you will be doing with your prospecting map should be consistent with this scale.  Each claim’s Certificate of Location (COL) documentation will be referencing the quarter-section(s) they reside within.  So for our example, the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality, we’re interested in mining claims within the Township 9S, Range 70W and Sections 16, 20, 21, and 28 and the associated quarter-Sections.  Refer to the screen capture below to see all these coordinates on the map.  This PLSS layer on the BLM Interactive Map, if you zoom in far enough, breaks quarter sections into another 4 quarters; but claims do not go to that level of detail (thankfully, its already complex enough!).

BLM PLSS Map

This scale of the BLM Colorado Interactive Map shows the quarter-Sections, further divided into quarters but we will focus on the Quarter Sections.  The boxed quarter section in this map is Township 9S, Range 70W, Section 16, quarter-Section 16SW.

Researching which claims are in a quarter-Section

To get information for all the claims in the this locality, we’ll need to examine all the quarter-Sections in pink; in this case 10 total quarter-Sections.  For this example, we’ll use the quarter section 16SW and for each of the other nine quarter-Sections you will follow the same process.

Active Claims Header

Here is the pop-up box detailing the layer information, in this case Active Mining Claims.  Note that although it says there are 7 documents to display, only 3 claims are in this quarter section

As shown above, clicking anywhere in the quarter-Section will trigger a pop-up box detailing all the layer information (in this case Active Mining Claims) you’ve selected.  You’ll use the back and forth triangle controls in this box to advance through all the information on the Active Mining Claims within this quarter-Section.  I write down the CMC Case Number and Claim Name for each of the claims I require further detail for.

BLM Information

Here is the important information you will need for the BLM office, record the CMC # and the Claim Name.  Click this picture to enlarge as there is a lot of information displayed.

It is important at this point to note that we are looking at 160 acre quarter-Sections.  Lode claims are typically 20 acres or less, so you cannot find the exact location of the claim using this interactive map!  There is only one way to find the exact boundaries of claims, which is through the Certificate of Location (COL) document, detailed below.

Continue with this process throughout all the quarter-Sections in your prospecting area and write down all the CMC#s and associated Claim Names.  This will give you all the information you need to request the Certificate of Location documentation from the BLM or County Recorder’s offices.

Knowing a little bit about the filing process of a claim may help at this point.  The process of filing a claim says to file with the County Recorder’s Office first, then file with the BLM Office.  The BLM Office is what assigns the claim case number (CMC#), and often the COL document at the county lacks the CMC#, but does have the required claim name and the quarter-Section survey information.  I have another blog post that describes getting information from the County Recorder’s Office.  The official COL document is stored at the BLM office, so read on for the simple process of gathering this information from the BLM.

Acquiring the Certificates of Location from the BLM Office

You can get the claim’s Location Certificate from the BLM office by either visiting the office or by email.  If you visit the office they can make paper photocopies of the COL (Certificate of Location) which is cheaper than scanning (both will cost you an nominal amount, photocopies were $0.15 per page, scans $0.30 per page–January 2018 prices).  You could also take pictures with your phone or camera of these documents for free, assuming you are physically at the BLM office.  If you do the email route your only choice is obtaining the COL in electronic PDF format.

Here is what you do…

Send an email to CODOCKET@BLM.GOV, note that this is the email address specifically for the Colorado Office; inquire with the BLM by phone if you are researching somewhere else.  In the subject say you are requesting Mining Claim COL information.  In the email be sure to include your phone number so they can call you for credit card information–best practice is to not email your payment information.  Then include all the CMC#s and Claim Name information you are looking for and ask for the Certificate of Location document.

I found it was helpful to tell them I was creating a prospecting map so they know exactly what I was doing and they can ensure I got all the proper information.  Some of the maps I discovered in the COL document are beyond confusing–how people can file this way I don’t know–but the staff at the BLM office helped me by providing additional information for these couple of confusing cases because I told them my purpose.

I submitted my email inquiry on a Friday morning and I received my email of COL PDF attachments the following Monday, so super-quick turn-around in my opinion!  I don’t know if they have a standard turnaround time guarantee, I suppose it depends on how busy they are, vacation schedules, etc; you may ask them expected turnaround time in your email if you are in a hurry.

Creating your Prospecting Map

When you receive the scans from the BLM Office (or from the County Recorder’s office), you then can transpose the claim boundaries from the Certificate of Location (COL) document into your prospecting map.  This takes a little time as each person filing the claim may have surveyed their claim and submitted their map a little differently.  They key to make this an easy process is to ensure your destination map has PLSS survey points on it.

Preparing your Maps

If you are using Google Earth as your prospecting map, there is a PLSS overlay available and you may find that helpful; here are the BLM’s instructions for using it.  I use both Google Maps and paper topo maps to generate my prospecting maps, and neither has PLSS coordinate systems.  So to simplify this process I had to add PLSS coordinates onto my maps before I started.  Here is how i did it.

I opened up the BLM Colorado Interactive Map with only the PLSS layer turned on and found a point where a road (could be a stream, a valley, etc) intersected with the PLSS quarter-Section corner.  I then found and marked that quarter-Section point on my maps–my paper topo map with a pen “dot” and my Google Maps with a marker.  Knowing that a section is a mile on each side, and thus a quarter-Section is a 1/4-mile, I used a ruler on the paper map to create coordinate “dots” at 1/4-mile increments North/South and East/West of my original point.  I now had a quarter-Section PLSS coordinate system on my paper map.  On Google Maps, I did the same, except using their distance tool and markers.  It took me a while to figure this out but it sped up the process significantly having PLSS on all maps!

Another tip, I felt I needed to make some decisions on the accuracy required for my prospecting map. This is a personal preference decision.  I figured I need to know a general claim boundary on my prospecting map, not the exact corner post spots.  In the field, if I’m close to a claim on my map and I want to prospect, then I’ll search for the corner posts to ensure I’m not trespassing.  The purpose of my map is to generally plan where I intend to prospect.

Transposing the COL claim boundaries to your prospecting maps

I learned this from experience, so here’s another tip to think about before you start.  At first I added claim boundaries in the CMC# order; which is how they defaulted when I saved them in my folder.  I was bouncing all over my map which I found slow and tedious.  I found it much quicker and more accurate to pull up the trusty BLM Interactive Map again and loop through each claim a quarter-Section at a time.  I’d open and plot the COL’s by location rather than its number.  This let me get familiar with each quarter-Section of the map and plotted all claim boundaries for that area of the map before moving to the next quarter-Section.  It also helped when claims spanned quarter-Sections.

The standard way claims are surveyed is to first start with a known “tie point”, which by convention should always be something of the known PLSS survey framework, i.e. a corner point of a quarter-Section.  Then you use a measurement of degrees and distance from that tie point to one of the claim corners which is known as the claim’s corner point #1.   Then you further describe the outline of your claim in words, and also on a quarter-Section map.  Typically lode claims are 20 acres with dimensions of a 1500 feet by 600 feet in a parallelogram (typically rectangle); but the claim’s area can be smaller or it can be diagonal so ensure you read the description and look at their map.

COL Map

This map on the Claim’s Certificate of Location shows the claim’s borders, in this case it spans 4 quarter sections (16 SE and SW, 21 NE and NW). Remember you are looking at the quarter section scale!  It also shows the tie-point (stated as the shared corner of Sections 16,15,21,22) which is part of the PLSS survey framework.

Claim COL wording

The survey wording will tell you the tie point, how to get from that tie point on the PLSS survey framework to the claim’s corner #1, and then describes how to navigate the perimeter of the claim.

Using your Prospecting Map

Now you have a map you can take with you and help guide you in the field.  Note that the claimant is required to plant 6 corner/side posts securely in the ground to clearly mark the boundaries of their claim.  Sometimes the claim owner will neglect to do this, or vandals remove the posts, or the posts simply fall down for whatever reasons.  Regardless, it is the rock hound’s responsibility to know the claims in the area they are prospecting and to not mineral trespass on those claims. But no worries because you have a prospecting map!

One other consideration is that new claims are filed all the time, there is processing time at the BLM, and claims are periodically closed.  Unfortunately, as soon as you have created a prospecting map is it is likely outdated. How I deal with this is the night before I head out prospecting, I dive into the BLM’s Interactive Map and verify the claims filed are the ones I have on my map–if there are changes I note this on my map.  When I’m prospecting I also keep an keen eye on the landscape looking for posts; even if it is a place I recently have been, things could have changed since the last time I was there.  Finally, I update my prospecting maps several times a year and grab the new COLs using the outlined process above.

Good luck out there!

Wyoming Solar Eclipse

Wyoming Solar Eclipse.  August 21, 2017.  We knew the crowds would be large, we knew the traffic would be bad, but we had to go anyway…it was just too close to miss.  August 21st brought the total solar eclipse through the middle of Wyoming.  My sister, dad and I decided to witness it first hand.

Wyoming Eclipse

My family stayed with my folks that weekend, they live on the Colorado side of the Wyoming border up near Red Feather Lakes.  The plan was for my sister to come up and meet my dad and I near the Wyoming border on 287.  We’d carpool from there.  The target was south of Casper on BLM land, staying clear of the I-25 corridor.  There we’d be in the center of the shadow for the longest totality without the crowds.

We drove on Wyoming 487 and there was a good amount of traffic so we jumped off onto Wyoming 77 and was just looking for a nice spot with a good view.  Just so happened we hit the Shirley Ridge which had an amazing 360 view, and only two other cars were there.  We got there a couple of hours early.

Eclipse Roadtrip Map

Here was our target area. We jetted over to 77 once we realized the popularity of 487.

Since we were early, we set up our cameras and then I started wandering around looking at rocks.  There were agates and jaspers laying everywhere!  Cool.  So a rock hound and celestial road trip together!  Can’t beat that!

Shirley Basin Agates and Jaspers

Agates and Jaspers were everywhere.

For the photography buffs out these, here was my setup.  I had a Sony Alpha with 2x teleconverter and 70-200mm lens zoomed.  That gives me 400mm, and then I used APS-C mode on the camera to give me another boost to 600mm.  My dad had purchased a solar viewing film and I had that taped on the lens hood with painters tape to not leave residue.  All of this was on a tripod which was a lot of weight, but luckily the mirrorless cameras are light in comparison and it didn’t get too windy so I felt we were safe.

Photography Setup

The setup, my Sony Alpha (covered with a cloth to prevent overheating in the direct sun) with a solar filter taped to the hood.  On the screen it shows a picture of the eclipse at about 75%.

My plan was to take pictures every 3 minutes both coming into and leaving the eclipse and then during totality I would remove the lens hood, refocus, and take shots at different settings to capture all the different features of the totality.  All of this worked except one thing, I realized about half way into the waning of the eclipse that I was out of focus.  I didn’t realize that my focal point was the film several inches off of the end of the lens (affixed to the lens hood).  So I didn’t focus correctly getting many of the waning shots.  Oh well, rookie mistake.

taken from mreclipse.com

Taken from the Mr. Eclipse article on photographing eclipses, this is an amazing article that everyone interested should read!

Leading up to the totality the birds and crickets started to sing and make noise as if it was dusk.  There were no trees so we didn’t see the kaleidoscopic effect that others saw which would have been amazing.  It also got considerably cooler, fast, and the winds started to blow adding to the chill factor.

Start of Eclipse Chill Out

My dad Alex and sister Kristy chilling out as the Eclipse was starting.  You can see all the people that got at this site after we did; but we were all very comfortably spaced out.

During totality it was a scramble, I was taking many shots with different settings per Mr. Eclipse‘s chart above and then I sat the camera down and just observed.  What was cool was the 360 degree view we had, and the 360 degree color spanning the horizon!

Solar Eclipse moon shadow

During totality, looking NE towards Casper-ish. You can see the shadow of the moon in the clouds! That was really one of the coolest things about the eclipse is watching the shadow progress across the horizon.

Sun before the eclipse started

Here is the sun at the start of the eclipse. You can see some spots.

Final picture before totality

Here is one of the last shots I took before removing the lens hood with the filter affixed. From the next several minutes I explored different settings and took a bunch of pictures. Focus was a bit of a challenge as infinity was blurry.

Solar Eclipse corona

Here is a picture of the corona. Taken at f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO-100 at 600mm.

Final picture total totality

This was the last picture I took without the filter. f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO-100 @600mm.

Diamond Ring Solar Eclipse Totality

Here is the “diamond ring” feature of the totality. I’m pretty satisfied how this one turned out!

Chalk Cliffs, Shirley Basin, Wyoming

Here were the chalk cliffs which was the only feature on the horizon that is on google maps.

The trip home wasn’t too bad, although there was about an hour backup on 487 because of the stop sign in Medicine Bow at US 287.  But the state troopers had that engineered well and traffic slowly flowed through and no-one had to completely stop.

You can see the line of cars, looks like ants, on the horizon. This was no where near as bad as I-25 was. Good choice to my sister and dad on this route!

horny toad

We found this little horny toad lizard wondering around.

The Leo Pocket – Large Colorado Smokey Quartz

The season of Scorpio often brings good luck to me in the Colorado Rockies, and this year I was treated with a special find (large quartz crystals)!  As most rock hounds probably experience, as you gain experience you think of old places you’ve dug and the potential for those spots still producing crystals now that you know what you didn’t during the original dig.

Leo Pocket Point

This otherwise drab (likely microcline) rock was coated with secondary crystal points. Really interesting growth pattern too.

There was a spot I found many years ago where I found a couple of floater crystals that were so-so and I abandoned that dig site prospecting for lusher areas.  I have always wondered, what if I dug deeper in that spot?  I didn’t think I dug deep enough but I always wondered if it would be worth the effort to try that area again as it was a bit of a hike with several steep hills.  So I have been thinking about this spot now and again over the years and I finally decided to prospect that area again.

In early November I went out on a crisp morning and found myself in the area of this dig.  I wasn’t having any luck prospecting, so I decided what the hell, I need to resolve this once and for all, so I hiked back to that spot.  I reclaim all my digs and after many years away they have grown back the ground cover and looked good, which was pleasing.  I ended up digging in the area that I had long thought about, and within about 30 minutes starting hitting some signs.

The area had some large rocks and as I dug around them I started to see some darker coloration, which ended up being pegmatite.  Digging into that started to produce some flats and faces and it wasn’t long before the first crystal popped out, maybe a foot underground and in a peg seam.  After the initial crystal I started to see the seam open up and then experienced some harder clay.  Only once have I hit a really thick clay, but I could tell right away that experience was happening again.

Leo Pocket plate

This plate came out in 3 pieces which is repaired above.  The main part of the plate was at the top of the pocket, as seen in the video. The left crystal had sunk to the bottom of the pocket after it was shattered off, you can see me pull it out in the video immediately before I pulled out the larger healed crystal toward the end.  The upper right piece was also at the bottom of the pocket.  It pays to save all pieces and parts.

Working in the clay requires metal tools, there is no way you can get it out with your fingers or even wooden material.  I have a dulled screwdriver just for these times.  I started to pull out quartz crystals but they were all heavily overgrown with a brownish, sharp milky quartz-type crystal.  It wasn’t coming off, that’s for sure, and I thought perhaps it would require a little soaking o loosen up the overcoating.  So I continued to dig and starting pulling out some really nice crystals, but it was VERY slow going and somewhat tedious on the fingers and wrists due to the clay.

As I continued to dive down with the pocket, the clay got thicker and the crystals got bigger!  It finally ended up where there were many large crystals all at the bottom of the pocket.  I could tell the pocket collapsed because I found bits and pieces of broken crystals in between these larger ones that matched up to crystal parts I was finding at the top of the pocket.

The crystals all have several stages of growth.  Most are coated with a brownish quartz like coating.  I could tell there was microcline in the pocket, but it appears to have all been corroded away and the replaced on all the smokey quartz throughout the pocket.  Must have been some acidic stuff in the pocket during its creation!

Leo Pocket Point

This crystal is typical of almost all crystals in this pocket. Multiple layers of additional growth on the original smokey quartz. It is very difficult to remove–this has been soaking in SIO baths for a while, and a water gun does nothing. I will attempt mechanical means as soon as I get that available to me. But the crystal is GEMMY inside!

Needless to say, these crystals are going to be VERY difficult to clean.  Super Iron Out has pulled some of the coating off; leaving behind a harder, sharp layer of quartz type coating.  I was able to shine a light through the side of a quartz, and the big crystals I found are all typically very gemmy inside–at least those I could peer into.  So I am looking into an abrasive solution to help make some of these large, beautiful smokey quartz crystals shine!

This was one of the largest pockets I have found, definitely the largest by far this year.

If you have any tips to help me clean these, I’d love to hear your suggestions.  Note that I put a couple of crap crystals in a beaker of fully concentrated muriatic acid and it did clear the brown off, the quartz-like coating did not get touched.

Leo Pocket micro crystals

This was on a very small piece that I am not sure why I brought home…typically if in question it comes home to get a rinse. It was covered with tiny crystals as seen in this macro shot!

Gem-o-rama 2017

There were many rumors that Gem-o-rama was done after the 75th year, but seeing a flyer for year #76 got my hopes up for attending in 2017 again with Kirk.  But, the work schedule wasn’t looking like it was going to cooperate so I had written off going this year.

The week before Kirk calls me and says he still wants to go, but on a compressed schedule.  I was able to take a day off of work last minute and we were locked in for another road trip and gem collecting extravaganza.  I’ll detail the road trip in other blog posts (it was a lot of driving–thank you Kirk–and a ton of fun).  But this article will talk about the event itself.

We learned a lot at last year’s field trips and so we had a strategy going into this year.  For the mud trip, I was focused on Hanksite complete crystals and/or clusters.  I ended up leaving a lot of crystals that I found, many were probably nice, but it was nice having mostly great ones to clean this year instead of a bunch of so-so ones–the strategy paid off!

Cleaning these does take some effort.  This year we bought a couple more liters of brine from the store for cleaning which was needed.  We both brought dental picks and a variety of firmness and size of brushes which also sped up the cleaning process.  We brought newspaper to wrap the crystals in, and zip-lock baggies to seal in the moisture for the drive back home.  I brought paper towels which was a mistake as it stuck to the crystals if they fully dried, so newspaper next time for sure.  For cleaning, a bucket is too big except if you find a monster cluster, so we brought hard plastic throw-away containers from the grocery store which conserved brine and make it easier to access.

Hanksite Cluster

This is the El Grande Hanksite cluster I found. Notice the white residue all over it, that has to be scraped off with a dental pick. Each facet will require a full cleaning. It sits like this in the cabinet waiting for a more ambitious weekend (which it will take, probably 15-20 hours)!

Hanksite Cluster

The medium Hanksite cluster from the mud dig. Every face had to be scraped which took about 4 hours, and really sore hands and wrists. It was worth it!

Instead of spending a bunch of time cleaning at the site of the mud dig, we just did a quick scrub, especially on the clusters, which left more time for digging.  Note there were more people this year than before, and it took longer to drive to the mud site, so less time actually searching for crystals.  After the mud field trip we got back in line in Trona, ate lunch, and then a much deeper cleaning of the crystals.  The goal is to get most of the mud off of the crystals.  We then wrapped them while they were wet and sealed them in zip-lock containers.  This helps considerably to have them still moist after the road trip home for the final cleanup.  If the crystals dry up, then you’ll need to scrape every face to get the top layer of dried hanksite off, which is more effort.

Hanksite Cluster

The second field trip on Saturday was the blow-hole trip.  We learned last year that the hanksite crystals were neat from this dig as there were basically three types we want, all double-terminated.  Barrels with flat ends, one side flat and the other side pointed, and both sides pointed.  But, the hanksites from this dig are not as big or cool typically as the mud dig.  My focus was to find Sulfohalites, interesting Borax, Halite cubes and clusters; also potentially hanksites if they were awesome.

Watching the demo of blowing crystals out of the ground was cool; but this year I decided to just focus on collecting as much as possible.  Again, even though we were in what we thought was a good place in line, we ended up going out of the way to the blow hole spot and it ate some time out of our collecting–but what are you gonna do?  We dug in an area that was about 3-5 inches deep of crystals that had piled up.  Once sitting in the right direction to get the best sun reflections off the crystals (and out of the shade of the body and hat) we were able to make quick work of sifting through the crystals.  I had a small 2-gallon bucket and just tossed the crystals in there; except for the small ones I put in individual 3×3 inch baggies that I brought.  This was to ensure the little crystals, or nice ones, didn’t get damaged in the bucket.

This was the last field trip for the day so I didn’t spend any time cleaning crystals at the field trip site.  After dinner, we drank a beer, chatted and cleaned into the night.  I wrapped the wet crystals in wet paper towels and put them in zip-lock baggies once cleaned.  Some that were fully cleaned I applied mineral oil to with a brush.  Eventually all crystals except the Halite plates would get mineral oil since we live in a very dry climate.

Sulfohalite with Phantom

Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Hanksite with Phantom

Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Variety of sulfohalites

Variety of sulfohalites

Halite cubes

Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal

Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation

Borax crystal

Borax crystal

 

Borax crystal

Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together

Borax

Borax crystal

The final field trip was on the salt lakes on Sunday morning.  We learned last year that the crystals grown on shelves, typically where there is running brine or on the edge of brine pools.  Right away we were finding larger plates but with small crystals.  I was digging in the pools and Kirk found a spot (right where everyone was walking by to get further out into the lakes) digging in the ditch at the edge of the lake.  This ended up being the best spot and I joined him after a while.  We pulled out so many cool plates of medium sized pink halite clusters from this area.  We just feel along the edge of the ditch and you could feel the cube crystals with your fingers, then carefully extract the plates by either pulling up, or using a pick and breaking the plate in the size you want.  The one problem was, we didn’t have enough space in the car to bring a ton of plates home, so we ended up giving many away to passers by–which in itself was a lot of fun!

Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate

For the trip home, I discovered last year that if you pack them in your salty clothes (you get pretty wet digging) they make the trip well.  I packed them in a 5 gallon bucket on top of my zip-lock baggies of other crystals from the previous digs.  I also brought a couple of beach towels this year to wrap the plates in.  The dealers there utilize either produce boxes or hard plastic storage boxes you get at the hardware store.  These come out clean, so just a rinse in the ditch and leave them out to dry is all that is needed before you wrap them in cloth.  I only had a couple break apart on the way home, having them secured in the bucket was safe.  I do not use mineral oil on the halite plates but do use it for the other crystals.

Again, a wonderful trip filled with fun!  This time Kirk’s boys got to join us.  Hopefully there will be many more Gem-o-rama trips in the future!

 

Colorado Crystals – The Boogie Pocket

Crystal digging time has been limited this summer, however I was able to make it out several times this fall having several successful days!  This day in late September I was able to find a fun smokey quartz and light amazonite pocket.  There was an antler my dog found that he enjoyed all day long; the cool part is where he found it!  Investigating the area he led me to showed some promising signs on the surface.  I dug a few test holes and eventually found a crystal pocket!  I feel it thus is appropriate that I named the pocket after him (his name is Boogie)!

Beginning of Boogie Crystals Pocket

Boogie chawing on a an antler near my test hole, which ended up in a couple small pockets

At the point of the antler, there was a few quartz and feldspar chunks laying on the ground.  Digging a test hole there, I found a couple of pieces of float pegmatite within the first 5 inches so I followed the float peg up the hill.  Its always a good sign when you can follow a path of float rocks up a hill, especially if there are euhedral sides, which in this case there were not any flats.  A short while (maybe 5 feet) later uphill the peg stopped showing up at the float level.  Often this sudden stoppage of float material means that whatever was producing the float is back downhill.

Going back down the hill a few feet, I dug deeper and found more peg!  Following that led me to the host peg which started maybe 8 inches below the surface. It looks like I found the source!!!  Now, hopefully the peg chunks will start having flat faces and become more crystallized ending in a seam or a pocket!

In this hole, digging down, I was able to hit the bottom of the peg seam where it turned into crumbles of granite gravel.  Going up hill I ended back into gravel, so I feel I found the girth of this pegmatite seam.  That said, nothing interesting was presenting itself, yet…

Next, I followed the peg from side-to-side.  Within about 30 minutes I found a few nice terminated quartz crystals and a few smaller pieces.  This is documented in the first few minutes in the video, below.  The quartz ended as soon as it started, however, and I ended up on a fruitless dig in that direction for about an hour longer…that is typical of me, when I find crystals I go in that direction for an extra long time just to be sure; someday I’ll figure out when to stop earlier…or not.

Next step was to take a break and eat lunch.  After looking at what I had dug and the size of the pegmatite from different perspectives I figured there was only one choice, to stay on this peg which had produced quartz crystals and dig the other way.  Soon after digging that way I was pulling out some quartz and microcline with sides, and finally some microcline crystals.  This is where the video continues.

The pocket contained a lot of chunks of microcline/light blue amazonite but none were fully euhedral, until the very end which contains a big 5″ crystal in three pieces.  Many of the crystals were good size and had many faces.  All were heavily coated in iron oxide. I did find some quartz too, especially in the center and lower parts of the pocket.  The quartz had interesting staining, all having a secondary coating of grey/white quartz on their tips, and then on 3 of the faces horizontal lines of the same secondary coating while on the other three faces heavily iron oxide stained.  They all had similar coatings and stain patterns which I found interesting!

The find of the day was a smokey quartz and cleavelandite combo, a 4-5 inch smokey quartz with excellent patterns in the secondary coatings and staining, and a 5″ wide light amazonite crystal at the bottom of the pocket.

cleavelandite and quartz

Cleavelandite and Smokey Quartz combo with mica sprinkled around it. The quartz has a secondary coating of quartz.

Almost all the quartz had a secondary coating of milky quartz on top and the amazonites and microclines were heavily coated with iron oxide.  There was a very large 5″ amazonite at the bottom of the pocket which was in three pieces, but they fit back together nicely.  All have been in the cleaning bath for a while and have yet to clean up to my liking, except a few in which the staining adds to the color and character!  I’m working on abrasive methods and hopefully will have cleaner pictures to show soon.

large amazonite crystal

Large amazonite (light blue) found at the bottom of the pocket in 3 pieces. Undergoing a lengthy super iron out bath.

Light amazonite with mica

Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.

Smokey Quartz pair

Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps

Quartz point overgrowth

A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.

largest boogie smokey

Largest smokey quartz from the pocket. I’m done cleaning it as I really like the lines and their parallelism to the crystal faces. This is shown in the video.

 

The 2016 Summer Crush Pocket

This summer was great, but different than previous, for picking and rockhounding.  My club field trip availability was limited–I led two trips and was able to make only one other.  I went to Gem-o-rama in California with a rockhound buddy (see other blog post for that adventure). The remainder of my rockhounding trips this summer revolved around a pocket I uncovered during one of the club field trips I went on.  I didn’t get out nearly as many times as I have in previous years; but the times I did get out were all high quality, extremely fun and productive!  2016 I would say it was a very successful season!

NOTE:  As always, click on the pictures for a HD version.  Trust me, it’s worth it!  The videos are all available in HD as well.

On my third club field trip of the year I hit into a pocket that consumed 5 days of hard and thrilling work in the following month.  It was the biggest crystal pocket I’ve ever found and had some really interesting and amazing crystals.  It took me until the very last day of digging to think of the proper name for this pocket…over the month I continually thought about the pocket and realized I had a crush on it…and most of the crystals were damaged due to ancient violence, so I figured the name “Crush” described the experience perfectly!

Quartz Pocket Schematic

Here is a _very_ rough drawing of the pocket.  Note I have little artistic skills, lol!  You can see where I entered in the upper right. The crystal pocket measured about 4 meters long, 0.6 meter  diameter and the bottom was 1.5 meters underground.  

It all started with a test hole about a meter from the pocket.  From others’ experience in this area I knew that crystal pockets tended to be rather deep, so all my test holes need to go at least 1/2 meter deep.  When the hole was about a meter diameter, I started to see a shift in color of the soil to a darker brown so I followed it–it was a subtle sign, but something “different” is often what leads you on the crystal trail!  Not too much further I started to get into small chips of quartz which quickly turned into a layer of small quartz chips.  These chips had no faces or flat sides.  Breaking through that layer I entered a zone of darker material and started finding crystal faces.  I was in the top of the pocket!  

Quartz Cluster

The first crystal plate/cluster I pulled out of the top of the pocket.  I’d say that is a good sign of things to come!  

This whole top and side of the pocket (along most of its length, except the ends) was softer clevlandite/feldspar material with large chunks of quartz buried here and there within; these quartz plates had beautiful secondary growth clear quartz all over one side, but in this layer nothing was fully euhedral.  This layer of the pocket was about 10-25 centimeters thick and produced some nice plates of parallel growth clear quartz.  

I continued to follow this trend horizontally (to bottom and right in the above diagram) until I reached the end of the pocket material — I was back into normal top soil-dirt and gravel underneath. That is when I started to excavate straight down.  It was just a few minutes and then I hit extremely red pocket dirt/mud material which is the tell-tale sign of a crystal pocket!  For the rest of the day I continued to pull out more of the same type of secondary growth plates and individual crystals with secondary overgrowth.  Some really neat and unique crystals!

Quartz Cluster

This was the largest plate I pulled out on the first day. The flow of the crystals is evident, this is about 30 cm wide.  Note that the crystals change direction in the middle of the plate so they are pointing toward each other.  I’m sure there is a reason for this, hit me up in the comments if you know why that would be!  You’ll want to click on this image for a close up!

Quartz Cluster

This is a really interesting crystal, I love the large terminated crystal surrounded with the smaller parallel growth, and then the different type of cluster growth at the bottom, first small then larger–all of this on the same plate!  Also, the crystals at the very top are pointing down and immediately they reverse.  

Dave Digging

Thanks to Matt who was also on the field trip for taking this shot; I was back filling the hole as I progressed down.  I was still only about 1/2 way through the depth of the pocket here.  What an awesome day!

I thought I was nearing the end of the pocket at this time, so I buried the hole and packed up for the day knowing I’d come back in a few days, excavate the hole, and finish it off.  It turned out not going the way that I planned…

Given the pocket was trending downwards, my plan for the second day was to remove the overburden over the deepest part of the hole and also widen the hole so I could continue picking crystals starting with a large crystal I already partially uncovered.  Its good to have a plan, but its also good to be flexible!  As I was mucking, I noticed that there was more of the pocket heading the other way (i.e. in the direction of the picture taker in the above shot).  I ended up focusing on that direction for the entire day as the pocket continued, and got better (!!), in the opposite direction than I originally planned!

The pocket continued as described with the crystal plates at the top and side; but as I progressed I noticed that the floor of the pocket had a layer of larger more well formed crystals and finally microcline at the bottom before it ended up gravel.  So I was now seeing the entire dimension of the pocket, about 2/3 meter tall and 1/2 meter wide.  

An hour or so later, in the center of the pocket, the red mud/clay turned to purple in a couple of spots; that is when I started to find some small fluorite crystals.  These fluorites were a truncated octahedron shape, kinda like a soccer ball.  They started out really small (~1 cm) in single crystals but then out came out in small plates.  A 1/4 meter further, along the side wall of the pocket, the fluorites started to get rather large, up to 8 cm.  At the same time the bottom of the pocket had a couple of large quartz crystals.  

Fluorite

This is one of the larger fluorite crystals I pulled out, definitely the largest on the second day. Note that the square sides do not have any coatings; but the other sides have a purple coating. Really interesting!

truncated octahedron

This is an example of a truncated octahedron.  The fluorite crystals I found were very close to this, however only a few of the smaller ones were completely euhedral.  The larger ones were about 1/2 of what is shown here.

Large Quartz Crystal

This is the large quartz that was sitting on the bottom of the pocket. Three of the sides were covered in the secondary growth terminating with larger crystals at the top.  It had a small cluster of fluorite on the right side, which was the direction where I was pulling out the fluorite mini-soccer balls.  This was the largest crystal that came out of the pocket although it wasn’t euhedral!  

The pocket didn’t show any signs of stopping, and all of a sudden it was dark.  The nearly full moon was illuminating the ground through the trees.  I was exhausted but needed to fill in the hole.  So I started that tedious process and a little while later realized I was surrounded by coyotes…they must have killed something because they were screeching and barking in all directions!  The whole experience made me think Edgar Allen Poe…the evening ended with the soundtrack of me filling in a large hole by the moonlight…what is going on in them woods after dark?  

So as many of you that pick crystals know; when your into the crystals and have to leave a pocket, you continuously think about the pocket while waiting for your next trip!  I’m no different and since I knew it was going to be a week before I could head back up, I couldn’t help but go through the fantasy scenarios and put together a plan of attack for that next trip.  My plan was to excavate the far end of the pocket I was in day 1, taking out the overburden, widening the hole and pulling out the large crystal that was “stuck” and generally seeing how long that side of the pocket continued.  Then, if I extinguished that side of the pocket, I would dig a new hole on the left side (again see diagram above) and meet up with where I left off after day 2.  This would be less work by minimizing the mucking and centering the next portal along a new section of the pocket!   

I had my plan and was able to take a day off of work a little over a week later.  I decided I’d head up after work and set up camp, do the mucking of the hole and then go to sleep; waking up at the crack of dawn and start plucking crystals on my day off.  Ended up getting a later start then I planned and it was dark by the time I arrived.  I lit the lantern, set up camp, and then started the mucking which took a while.  Of course, my plan was flawed because there is no way I can expose a crystal and not try to remove it!  So I ended up working on the pocket until 2 am when my headlamp batteries started to dim!  I then watched a meteorite shower and hit the sack.

The next morning I went down and continued with that side of the pocket until it pinched out.  I was able to remove several large crystals (seen in the video) and behind these crystals the pocket pinched out.  I hit nothing for the next 1/2 meter so I felt I reached that end of the pocket.  After taking a break I started with phase two of my plan.  I hit the end of my day 2 digs a couple of hours later and was back into the crystals.  Once back into the pocket I was able to pull out a large chunk of fluorite along the side of the pocket (top side in the diagram).  The fluorite came out in many pieces (totaling ~30 cm long, 5 cm tall and 5 cm wide).  This was exciting because the fluorites were continuing to getting bigger the more I went in this direction!  However, that was the last fluorite I found in the pocket.  This large chunk was EXTREMELY brittle and broken up and much of it ended up disintegrating when I tried to rinse it off with water.  

Fluorite

This was part of the large chunk of fluorite–the part that didn’t fully disintegrate when I was washing off the pocket mud!

Quartz Points

These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out on the right side.  The crystal in the center is about 18 cm in diameter, has a lot of healed terminations, and fits perfectly with the other crystal that was found nearby in the pocket (see video)!  These crystals do have damage–as most crystals did in this pocket (hence the pocket’s name)–but still was a thrill to find!

Prospecting hole

The hole after day 3, again back filling (on the right) to minimize the mucking efforts.

As you can see in the picture, it was awkward and difficult to go to the bottom of the pocket with that overburden there, so on day 4 I removed it.  I then spent the remainder of that day taking out the bottom of the pocket and following it further.  This section of the pocket started to change from the consistent topography I was getting used to.  The top of the pocket had less of the softer clevlandite/feldspar than before and was more interlocked quartz and pegmatite.  The number of crystals on the top was significantly less than before; the ones that I found were more euhedral and still coated with secondary growth.  This side seemed to be where the most violence had occurred because there was a lot of damage to most of the crystals.  The clay was also harder and pulling the crystals out without damaging them further made progress considerably slower.  There was no more fluorite found on this side of the pocket. 

Hole

After day #4, I added the wooden dam so I didn’t have to worry about the other side of the hole continuously filling in while I was mucking and working the pocket.  I had started filling the hole before I took this picture, the bottom is another 1/3 meter buried.  

The fifth day ended up being the final day.  I was able to pull out a couple more really nice crystals as the pocket started to dive under a pegmatite rhine.  The crystals below this point were no longer coated with secondary growth and all were intergrown and not fully euhedral.  Many were still large.  Once the pocket started to dive downward, the sides of the pocket were difficult digging and the crystals weren’t the quality to pursue further.  The pocket had finally pinched out!  I decided to throw in the towel and celebrate the amazing crystal pocket I had unearthed!

Excavation

Here are the last crystals I pulled out before it got too uncomfortable to dig and the quality wasn’t worth pursuing any longer. The end of an amazing pocket!

Cleaning these crystals has been a chore.  They had many phases of growth, first the smoky quartz, then a layer of albite, then a layer of iron oxide, then a layer of clear secondary growth quartz, then another layer of iron oxide and clay.  Cleaning these requires a chemical bath and then mechanical cleaning, repeating over and over due to the tremendous amounts of facets that each crystal has.  Because there is a layer of iron oxide under the clear quartz, the crystals are somewhat “spotted” with red and white that can’t be removed from under the clear quartz.  In some instances they beg to be cleaned more, but then you realize that the staining is all under the clear quartz.

The amount of facets are amazing and each piece, regardless of how little or large–they are all unique!  I will probably leave some pieces uncleaned as they will look better that way; while others I’ll spend the winter cleaning.  It takes about 2-3 weeks per batch of crystals to get them clean enough for my liking (several iterations of chemical then mechanical cleaning), so it is a slow and labor intensive process.  But a day playing with crystals is better than a day at work, that’s for sure!  This will add some fun throughout the entire winter!

 

Here is a gallery of some of the crystals and plates that I found.  


Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point

Quartz Points

These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out.

Quartz Points Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Microcline Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point

Gem-o-Rama 2016 Road Trip

Road Trip to Gem-O-Rama 2016

As always, click on any image for a much larger HD version, and note all the video is HD so adjust your settings.  The crystals of Gem-O-Rama 2016 are in this separate blog post

My prospecting buddy Kirk suggested we road trip to Gem-O-Rama this year for its 75th anniversary.  I have always wanted to make that event, but for the last several years have not wanted to hassle with coordinating a trip.  Having someone to go with was a game-changer for me, and I was able to take off of work and home life to make this happen.

We decided that camping would be fun and definitely the cheapest route, so we packed up our stuff knowing the days would be warm in the desert and nights would likely be cold.   We also packed up appropriate prospecting equipment.  

Itinerary

Here is the first leg of the trip. California or Bust !!!

We started off the trip with Colorado’s first snow.  As luck would have it, the snow was most intense when we planned to leave, and the drive was a bit dicey until the sun came up!  Our goal was to make it to Valley of the Gods in SW Utah (the actual destination was kept secret…little did I know that Kirk had spent quite a bit of time in the SW and had some amazing routes for us on the road trip!)

slick roads

Roads were very slick west of Denver all the way through South Park. Kenosha Pass was re-opened as we were embarking…we saw why!

After leaving South Park the roads cleared up and we had a pleasant drive.  Kirk had made the longest playlist of cool tunes I think I’ve ever heard; I don’t know if it ever repeated.  We discovered we have many similar interests in synth-based music and I met my match when it comes to 80’s band trivia!  

Utah Roads

Guest lodging

One has to be careful when traveling this area of the country–we narrowly escaped this attack!

Durango Oaks

The aspen were almost done and the oaks were starting to turn.

Valley of the Gods

I love this part of our country!  I had not been to Valley of the Gods, likely because I don’t frequent German travel websites (this must be a popular place for Germans to tour the US because we met a lot of German tourists in this area).  The beauty of the SW Utah desert is world famous!

Valley of the Gods

Two episodes of the BBS program Dr. Who were filmed in Valley of the Gods.  You never know when Daleks would be around the bend…

Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods

Moki Dugway

It was getting late in the afternoon and I figured we must be staying in this general area. Kirk told me to find Moki Dugway on the map, I said whaaat?  But eventually I found it on the map as we traversed Moki Dugway, a hidden road along a cliff wall onto the top of the mesa.  Moki Dugway led to a mesa that jets out over the San Juan River and overlooks Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley.  It is one heck of a gorgeous place to camp, that’s for sure!

Moki Dugway

Valley of the Gods

Moki Dugway

This is the view from our campsite at the end of the road that Moki Dugway dropped us on. This is looking east back towards Colorado over Valley of the Gods.

Moki Dugway Sunset

The sunset was beautifully colored as there was a fire burning west of us. It was obvious were were under a major flight corridor as we saw planes throughout the evening and night!

Monument Valley

Our view of Monument Valley to the South, with the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west.

Moki Dugway - Evas Point

The camp on the top of a cliff! It got quite chilly up there that evening!

Moki Dugway Moon

Monument Valley

Moki Dugway

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, with the start of the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west, from Moki Dugway.

Moki Dugway Milky Way

The sky was clear and the stars were awesome. We saw several shooting stars but no satellites, which we both thought was pretty strange given how clear and dark the night’s sky was!

Moki Dugway Milky Way

I did catch a Moki Dugway shooting star (and airplane)!

Moki Dugway

Kirk enjoying breakfast on Friday morning!

Evas Point

Looks like we camped at Eva’s Point, so said the sign affixed to this old tree. I wonder who Eva was and how many times she posted her favorite spots in the desert southwest?

Day #2’s Leg

We woke up, got a bite to eat and then headed out.  We stopped at Goosenecks State Park which Kirk stated the last time he was there it was not a State Park.  We parked and took in the amazing bends of the San Juan River.

Goosenecks State Park

After that we went through Monument Valley and continued through Page, AZ where the Glen Canyon Dam for Lake Powell was located.  

Monument Valley

Page power plant

Page Arizona power plant

Zion National Park

Zion is an amazing place, and the word is out.  In 2015 it was the 6th most visited National Park.  We were a little behind in our itinerary so we didn’t have much time to stop but the views and geology as we drove through were awesome!  

Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park

We continued through the barren landscapes and went through Las Vegas on Friday afternoon at sunset, which is rush hour.  Note to self, take the newly built bypass on the north side on the way home!  South of Vegas heading toward Los Angeles we witnessed a solid line of cars heading the other way into the City of Sin!  Not being a huge fan of Las Vegas, I’d have to admin this was my second best trip there; we went straight through without stopping!  (the best was on the way home when we took the bypass loop and didn’t go through it at all, lol)!

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

This was our view from camp at Trona Pinnacles.

Our destination was Trona Pinnacles in the Searles Valley, where we’d camp for two nights while we were picking crystals at Gem-O-Rama during the day.  We got to Trona Pinnacles after dark and the moon was setting as we found a place to camp.  Trona’s landscape consists of around 500 tufa (calcium carbinate) spires making it look like an alien landscape.  Actually, it was just that in the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier among many other hollywood blockbusters!  

These tufa features were created long ago (10 to 100 thousand years ago) when calcium carbonate groundwater seeped into the bottom of large inland lakes that were present at that time.  The calcium rich groundwater and the alkaline lake water created these deposits, the lakes drained, and we’re left with the Trona Pinnacles.

Trona Pinnacles

Looking east from camp at some of the pinnacles at the crack of dawn.

Trona Pinnacles

Looking at camp from the base of the pinnacles near us.

Trona Pinnacles

On the top of the pinnacles during pre-dawn looking north towards Trona and the Searles Valley Mineral plants.

Trona Pinnacles

Camp from the top of the pinnacles.

Trona Pinnacles

Campers on the other side of the pinnacles from us.

Trona Pinnacles

Here is a cool time lapse I did from the front door of the tent looking west.  This was a 4+ hour capture using my 14mm f2.8 lens with 330+ open exposure shots.

The 75th Annual Gem-O-Rama 2016

Wow, what an amazing event.  I have detailed this event is a separate blog post.  I will say that the crystal digging was very simple and easy, and the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society put on one heck of an extravaganza!  It’s nice for a change being able to drive right to the spot and pick crystals with minimal effort!  It was extremely well organized and very family friendly.  Here is the flyer for 2017, you should think about going!  

Searles Valley

One of the Brine Lakes mined by the Searles Valley Mineral Plant.

The return trip home

We finished with the halite collecting field trip on Sunday around noon and headed home. On the way we visited the ghost town of Rhyolite as we traversed through the 99 degree Death Valley (remember we started our trip at 29 degrees).  We stayed in Mesquite in a stinky motel and progressed through central Utah meeting up with I-70 which from there was a straight shot home.

Rhyolite, Nevada

Gold was discovered in 1904 in the hills around Rhyolite, and in 1905 the town was formally established and platted.  As many of the gold rush towns of western America, the town was in a boom mode and growth was swift. Just several years into the boom of the town, however, several economic events including the San Francisco earthquake squelched the investment in Rhyolite’s mines.  By 1908 Rhyolite’s population was peaking at around 8,000, but the mines were beginning to fail due to lack of investment or lack of production.  By 1910, residents moved as more and more financial hardship hit the town. By 1919, the Post Office was closed.  

What amazes me if that in 15 years the town went from nothing, to nearly 10,000 residents, back to nothing.  Much of the infrastructure of the town was moved to the nearby town of Beatty, so at least resources were re-purposed.  Today Rhyolite is a interesting town of ruins, with the train depot currently being restored.  

Rhyolite Bottle House

Tom Kelly built his bottle house in 1906 and then raffled it off. Note that the bottles do not show inside the house; the only light is from the traditional windows.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Recycling bottles did exist!

Rhyolite

One of the iron doors of the jail house built in 1907.  

Rhyolite

The Porter Brothers’ store was erected in 1906. They sold everything from food to automobiles!

Rhyolite

Cook Bank. Built in 1908 for $90,000. It was the tallest building in town, 3 stories plus basement. The vaults were in the center and the 2nd and 3rd floors were business offices.

Rhyolite

This building was state of the art having steam heating, electric lights and marble floors.

Rhyolite

Porter Brothers’ building, with dust trail from approaching vehicle!

Rhyolite

The Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot, erected in 1909.

Rhyolite Rhyolite Rhyolite

Rhyolite

Rhyolite

Sign advertising Rhyolite station, with “Rhyolite Ghost Casino” painted on top.

Rhyolite

Looking into the front of the Jail

Rhyolite

Nevada Sunsets

Beatty

The irony here is terribly funny. This is “The Dream” resort in Beatty, NV. They must have run out of funding after they got the sign up, because the sign is all that exists of this resort.

Nevada Sunsets

Sunset on Sunday night in the middle of nowhere!

Mesquite

Sunrise in Mesquite

Utah

Some of the landscape as we progressed through Utah.

Utah

Utah

Gem-O-Rama 2016

So a rockhounding buddy called me and suggested we road trip to Gem-o-rama this year. I purchased a halite plate at a rock show years ago and while researching where it came from I came upon Gem-o-rama and chalked it up as something to do in the future; but given its a road trip to California from Colorado I never got serious about planning a trip.

Having a friend to go with and a road trip adventure offer; this was a game changer and got me engaged in the concept!  I checked with work and home and everything worked out, so I took Kirk up on his offer and joined him on this adventure!  I am so glad I did!

The road trip part of the trip was spectacular; I’m put that in a different blog post with tons of pictures, so make sure and check it out too.  

dry brine lake

Here is an example of the brine lake that the Searles Valley is known for.  This one had all dried up

This year was the 75th annual Gem-o-rama event; yes it has been happening for 75 years!  It is hosted each year by the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society and their experience is definitely noteworthy.  The whole gem show and field trips are very professional and extremely organized, especially when you see how many folks the event can accommodate!  

The events are very family friendly!  There were tons of kids of all ages including many boy scout troops.  I loved hearing the kids all having a fantastic time, joyous when they found jewels, and angry when their sibling stole their jewels!  This event appears it is a favorite for the SoCal crystal hunting crowds due to the proximity of the Los Angeles area. We only met another from Colorado there; and he currently was residing in California, so it is a day-trip type of deal for many families.  

The event is broken up into four field trips.  The first trip is Friday afternoon and is a dealer collecting trip for halite plates.  Because of the elongated drought,  many of the lakes are not good for finding the halite crystals and plates; but the Searles Valley Minerals plant have created and nurtured a spot that is perfect for crystals; and from what we heard this year’s halites from this field trip were the best ever recovered.  This excursion is intended for mineral dealers and is quite expensive (although a bargain if you are collecting for resale).  This trip is on the 2017 flyer, but details like price has not yet been disclosed.

The crystals here are formed as the water accumulated during the wet season (winter) evaporates during the dry summer heat.  As the water evaporates the brine solution becomes more concentrated with minerals.  The first and most abundant mineral to precipitate is halite.  Borax, hanksite and even the rarer sulfohalites are formed.  The crystals form under the surface of the dry lake beds, so they need to be extracted by various physical means which creates collecting opportunities for the Saturday’s field trips.

brine lake

Searles Valley brine lake

canon

These cannons shoot randomly to deter the birds from landing. They also have recordings (quite vivid and scary) of birds in pain playing to deter fowl from landing and facing death in the brine lakes.

stalatites

As the water evaporates the level of the lakes retreat.

Brine Crystal

Brine crystal. Tapping it makes the coolest “tink” sound!

The first field trip for rockhounds is on Saturday morning.  It is the Mud trip (lots of details in this link).  Folks with the Gem & Mineral Society and Searles Valley Minerals have extracted mud that is full of hanksite crystals and spread this mud over a dry lake bed for the collectors to collect in.  These piles are at most a foot deep.  There are plenty of crystals all buried in black smelly mud that will get all over your clothes, so take overalls and/or boots or clothes that are throw-away.  

The Mud Dig at Gem-o-rama

These are the piles of mud that host a ton of large hanksite crystals

Since the minerals of this area are water soluble, it is important to rinse them with the ultra concentrated brine pulled up from the depths of the lake.  At this field trip they have troughs of brine available, a truck with brine (if you bring your own containers) and there is also brine for sale (while supplies last) at the general store back in Trona.  

Kirk and I found an open spot in one of the mud piles and started digging.  Right away Kirk found some really nice clusters and I was pulling out some smaller (but still nice sized) single hanksites.  Before I knew it I had a 5 gallon bucket full of rocks; and there was still plenty of real-estate to go through, so I realized I needed to be more selective–a common problem I have when digging crystals.  

About half way through the field trip I came across a large sized crystal.  Kirk stated that I had a Cheshire Cat grin on my face as I slowly pulled out this hanksite crystal from the mud.  The sticky mud made a sucking “sluuuuuurp” sound as it became detached from the sea of mud.  I was in awe as this crystal was huge and very well formed.  Kirk stated it looked like a football, so it was dubbed “The Football”!  I would have taken pictures, but I was covered in the black sticky mud and I didn’t want to touch anything that I didn’t want to be a mess, so the only picture of the dig is what I took on the car ride in, above.  

We spent too much time digging through the mud and didn’t leave enough time to fully scrub down the crystals in the brine troughs, so we left the somewhat muddy crystals in a bucket.  While waiting for the next field trip in the parking lot of the Gem & Mineral show, we bought some brine and scrubbed them down before the mud was completely dry. The remainder of the cleaning for me occurred at home.  I used a scrub brush, dental pick and spot gun to clean the crystals.  

Some hanksite crystals were truncated and elongated “barrel” shaped in singles, and the clusters were all complex and each one unique!  I saw many very large crystals and clusters being cleaned up after this dig!  

hanksite

Very large single hanksite crystal. I’m showing its translucence in the Colorado sun, and also the top complex faces of the crystal.

hanksite

This is the “barrel” form of hanksite, which is in the Hexagonal crystal system. Note both ends of this double terminated crystal are flat.

hanksite

Double terminated (pointed on both ends) hanksite crystal.  Notice the etchings, I washed this one off with water as an experiment and in the few seconds it came in contact, you can see the etching.

hanksite combo dt

Double terminated hanksite with both pointed end and flat end

hanksite

Hanksite cluster from the mud dig

hanksite

The next field trip was Saturday afternoon and it was the Blow Hole Trip.  As  you will read in this link, they drill holes about 30-40 feet down in the lake bed and then push some explosives down and detonate to loosen a bunch of crystals.  Then they push out the crystals with high pressure air pumped down into the hole which pushes the liquids and crystals out onto the surface for collectors to rummage through.  

Collecting here is EXTREMELY easy; the crystals are all just laying all over the ground (see video below) in proximity to the drilled holes.  The eight or so holes are extracted before the field trip begins so folks can start collecting as they arrive.  They do put on a demo and extract crystals with their specialized drilling truck and everyone can grab “fresh” crystals as well.  The video shows this field trip.

The crystals we found on Saturday were awesome.  The hanksite wasn’t as big on the Blow Hole trip as it was the Mud Trip, and didn’t come in as large of plates.  The hanksite had several crystal shapes which you can see below.  Most were double terminated and had either a point, a flat bottom, or both point and flat terminations on the ends.  

We found borax and some halite crystals and plates.  I had read the sulfohalite octahedral crystals were rare, so once I got my eyes adjusted to them I was able to find some of these as well.  

sulfohalite

sulfohalite crystal cluster, this in normally in an octohedral form, this is about as big as they get I was told

sulfohalite

sulfohalite on borax

Borax with sulfohalite crystals

gemorama

The stash from day 1. Note that I had found a bunch more but left them behind. The crystals on these field trips are abundant!  On the left is the heavily concentrated brine (from the depths) we purchased to clean the crystals; if you use water they will etch–and if you even use salt water they will etch.  

Kirk had read that these crystals will fluoresce in UV light, so when I got them home and cleaned up I checked that out.  I’m using a cheapo UV LED light I bought off of ebay, and they lit up bright lime green!  These pictures I took were in the total darkness except that UV light, with an four second open exposure to capture the fluorescence.  

hanksite fluorescent

Note the sulfohalites on the bottom center just left of the big crystal. These were even more fluorescent!

hanksite fluorescent

The Football under UV light.

hanksite fluorescent hanksite fluorescent

On Sunday morning the last field trip took us to the lake beds to find halite plates which the area is world renowned for.  These are a bit of work and require some picks and/or heavy wrecking bars to bust through the dense surface to find the crystals on the underside. Under the surface growing from the top were halite plates and berkeite plates.  See video for the berkeites extraction.  

trona lakes

Example of heavily dug area (foreground) where halite plates were extracted. They were forming along a canal where shelves of salt precipitate formed

The pink/red color in the halites are from halobacteria which produces a red carotenoid pigment. The deeper red color is highly desired.  

halite cluster

Beautiful halite cluster from field trip #3.

halite

Beautiful pink halite plate

halite

Modified Halite plate

Berkeite plate

Berkeite plate.  I really got into these as they were deep red and just simply funky…

kirk

Kirk and the monster halite plate (too big to bring home)

dave gemorama

Dave holding the football by lantern light.

Watching the 2016 Perseids Meteorite Shower

This year has been a lot of fun watching meteorite showers, and Perseids 2016 did not disappoint.  I was able to watch the skies a week prior to the peak on the east side of the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, then again the night before, during and after the peak of the Perseids (peaked Aug 11, 2016).

The Perseids are created by the dust trail from comet Swift Tuttle as our orbit intersects with its debris each year.  This year was a special “outburst” year thanks to our cosmic friend Jupiter whose gravity altered the course of some debris last year; making way for a more dusty intercept on this year’s orbit for Earth!

In Colorado about a week before the peak, the days were socked in with clouds and some rain, but after midnight the clouds cleared out and provided a wonderful display of the stars and Milky Way over the Collegiate Peaks from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area south of Buena Vista Colorado.  Although I didn’t capture it as it was left of my field of view, I saw a massive fireball which I can only assume was a Perseids meteorite!  Several other meteorites I witnessed that night were likely Perseids.

Milky Way and Mt Princeton

Milky Way over Mt Princeton, with Mt Antero on the left. A small meteorite also captured!

I took this picture with Sony Alpha A7RII with Rokinon 14mm f2.8 prime lens.  Manual focus was set to infinity, f2.8 and exposure was 8 seconds at ISO 12800, obviously on a tripod.  I have found that opening the exposure over 8 seconds leaves a blur/trail with stars that I do not like, so I had to adjust the ISO to absorb more light.  I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom.

Star Trails

Star trails from several stills over Mt Princeton.

I thought this was a fun shot, it was a video capture of the stars including Milky Way using the A7RII Star Trails app.  This is a fun little app but I have not explored it deeply yet to discover if there are many creative uses for it other than the obvious.  A couple of satellites are also present streaking across the sky over each 8 second exposure.

Fast forward a little under a week, to the days around the peak of Perseids 2016.  Each of the nights here where I live near Larkspur Colorado it was cloudy and stormy before and after dusk.  But luckily each night all the storms moved off east and the skies cleared up in time for the moon to set and give great dark skies for viewing this “outburst” year.

I set up in my front yard pointing towards the south/western sky which is the largest portal I have through my trees.  I was able to witness many Perseids shooters and caught a couple in my field of view.

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

In the above photo, I took the 3 shots before and after the meteorite and stacked them in Photoshop.  A brief summary of the process that I’m still only beginning to use

  • Open all the photos as layers in Photoshop
  • Select all layers and then use the alignment feature of the stack
  • Create a Smart Object
  • Use the Smart Object / Stack Mode function and Median setting to combine all the light of the photos into a single picture

This is the first time I played with this workflow and will be exploring it further to fine tune the results, but i’m quite impressed of what Photoshop can do merging the light of several photographs; remember I only like to take up to 8 second exposures of the stars, so this gave me almost a minute worth of light.  I think that too many pictures will confuse the auto-alignment feature of Photoshop, I tried another experiment with 12 photos and the results looked horrible.  I have to play with this more (if you have any suggestions here, would love to hear from you in the comments!)

Perseid Colors

Amazing color on this closeup of a Perseids fireball caught on the eve of the peak.

I caught another amazing meteorite and did a digital crop to show the spectacular colors of Perseids meteorites!  This was the largest shooter I saw the eve prior to the peak.

Then came the peak, which again was forecast to be up to double of other years!  I set my alarm each hour after dark and went outside to witness the show, but it was very cloudy and even had a thunderstorm to our south.  I was getting bummed as by 12:30 we were still socked in with clouds!  At the 1:20 alarm, however, the sky was crystal clear; amazing what can happen in less than an hour here in the Colorado foothills! The sky stayed clear until dawn, when it got cloudy again.  Perfect timing, mother nature!

I typically count meteorites in two categories (that’s all I can keep track of that late in the night); one is total number and the second (I use my hands for this one) is for “large” meteorites.  Large ones are definitely not all fireballs, and is definitely subjective, but I like to remember how many ones I see that make me go “cool” or “wow”.  Here is the play-by-play I posted to facebook for each 30 minutes I was watching…

  • First 30 minutes, 54 shooters, 13 were large and several fireballs. Finally cleared up after a cloudy evening.
  • Next 30. Count now at 83, with 29 being large, the last two were fireballs. This half hour has had more larger ones per capita…
  • Next 30. 122. 39.
  • Next 30. 159. 51.
  • Next 30. 189. 66.
  • Last 30 minutes. 231. 87.

Given that I live in a forest and have a limited window into the night’s sky, I think this is an amazing number, one of the best I’ve seen in the many many showers I’ve watched! I caught about 50 of these on my camera, which is definitely the most I’ve ever caught, but due to the wide angle (14mm, Rokinon f2.8 prime lens) most were really small and overall uninteresting.  I did catch some spectacular fireballs in the field of view; but missed most which is par for the course.

Perseids Meteorite

Perseids shooter, very large (fireball) showing the Milky Way and wonderful colors as it burned up in our atmosphere!

Perseids and Milky Way

Perseids over the Milky Way

Perseids

This was the morning of the peak of Perseids 2016, this large fireball left a vapor trail for many minutes.  Extremely lucky that it stopped at the bottom of my field of view!  I was surprised that I actually caught this one!

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball.

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball!

Fireball vapor trail

Vapor trail immediately after the prior fireball, this lasted several minutes and was distorted as the upper atmosphere winds moved it irregularly.

The night after the peak I was exhausted, so I missed setting the alarm reminding me to get up in the early morning hours.  I did go out about 4:30 and saw a burst of about 15 in 15 minutes, 2 of which were “large” on my subjective scale…which surprised me on the morning after the peak!  My cell phone app states that the shower’s window is July 17th through August 24th, so there are surely many more nights to experience this year!

Rifle Falls State Park, Colorado

We love visiting Rifle Falls State Park in western Colorado, this is the fourth time we’ve stayed there.  Rifle Falls SP is north of Rifle and New Castle which are Interstate 70 towns, and is about 25 miles NW of Glenwood Springs Colorado.  It is a small park and is co-managed with Rifle Gap State Park several miles to the west.  There are tent camping sites along the small creek with a good amount of privacy.  Pull-in sites have electricity and will accommodate pop-ups to motor homes.  There is potable water available at several taps in the campsites.  There are a couple of non-flush bathrooms making those early morning trips convenient.

Beyond the campsites is parking and picnic areas at the main attraction, the three waterfalls.  Over the weekend the park was heavily visited, so we hung out at the very well shaded tent campsites with our chairs and feet in the creek, occasionally taking plunges in the pools of cold, refreshing Colorado stream.  In the evenings we hung out in the luxury of our friends pop-up camper and had a great campfire.

There are hikes around the tent sites, a loop around the falls, and a loop to the neighboring fish hatchery.  There are many caves along the falls loop where you can go inside and enjoy some darkness.  Nighttime boasts dark skies in the canyon.  Overall a fun multi-family camping experience!

Waterfalls at Rifle Falls

Rifle Falls State Park, Colorado

Middle waterfall

Middle waterfall on a longer exposure

Hidden cave

The limestone is full of caves

B&W Middle Falls

Black and White shot of the middle falls

Middle falls @ Rifle Falls

Middle falls @ Rifle Falls

Rifle Falls

Rifle Falls State Park, Colorado

Moon in the pond

Moon in the pond

Northern side of the Milky Way

Northern side of the Milky Way

Milky Way

Southern side of the Milky Way with some clouds

shooting star milky way

2 second shooter as the moon was rising.