Was able to pull off some winter prospecting this month! Typically rockin’ season doesn’t start here in the Colorado Rockies until April timeframe, sometimes a bit later when the snow is all melted and the ground good and thawed. But this winter is a little different and I have been out prospecting several times since early February already! Yes, there is snow to contend with, but not enough to keep me indoors!
I was able to hit three different spots so far this winter. All three spots had snow, but there was enough good southern exposed area to have limited snow and somewhat thawed ground.
The first prospecting trip I found signs of quartz and feldspar leading up a hill and followed it. In several cases I found signs of other digging; good news is I was on the right trail; bad news I was on it after others were…but the signs were good and I suspect there are other areas to check out, so chalk this area up to needing another trip!
The second place I started finding some float about 6 inches under the surface. Heading uphill I was able to find several cool crystals (and many more quartz with faces) so I feel confident they did float downhill; but I haven’t found the source yet. Either the original pocket was above present day ground, or there is more searching to do. I’m trusting the latter will yield results and plan to hit this spot again this spring.
interesting quartz crystal coated with hematite giving a very sparkly luster to the stone.
Large five inch smoky quartz float crystal. This one had a fracture and rehealed; must have busted during formation a billion years ago!
This crystal is awesome, the best one I found. It is double-terminated with several coatings, one of white quartz and the other of hematite.
Same crystal as above showing the double terminations and multiple growths.
The third area was one I have visited before, before long I was back into the pocket mud which was very sticky and messy! I found some neat fluorite crystals and some rather odd and interesting quartz. None of these have been properly cleaned but will show you the parallel growth and unique crystal clusters.
I love the larger quartz crystals around the edge, and the elestial growth in the center!
This quartz cluster were terminated everywhere (thousands of times), and differently terminated on both sides. Probably my favorite find of the day! This side has white quartz in parallel elestial growth patterns.
This side had the one larger quartz crystal with the smaller points adjoining it. Can’t see it much here, but it has a tint of green throughout!
I love this fluorite, fairly gemmy and has some purple, otherwise clear. As you gaze into it, it sucks time from existence!
Several pyramid fluorites came out of the this spot. This is the smallest, and gemmiest…I immediately came up with this idea for a photograph, so I carefully wrapped this in newspaper and to my delight it was clear enough to pull off this shot! Fun!
Got my itch to do some prospecting early this spring which was fun! Look forward to heading up again here soon, hopefully! Spring has not yet arrived!
Here are some of the petrified wood pieces that I picked up at my friend’s property in Northeastern Douglas County in Colorado this last weekend. The wood in Douglas County dates back up to 55 million years ago. To put this in perspective, the last phase of tectonic activity formed Rocky Mountains around 80-55 million years ago; so these are wood from the forests on the craggy, new Rocky Mountains! Interestingly, much more recently in time (about 100ish years ago), wood forested from the Palmer Divide was used to build cities like Denver. Forests have covered the land here in east-central Colorado for a long time!
So how did I find it, well, I just walked around and picked it up off of the ground, for the most part. It tended to be all together, so once I found something on the surface, I could search around that area and find more. I also tried digging some, and there was more under the surface as well.
I often get asked “How do you find crystals you have posted?”. Which techniques to use is a very subjective question, but certainly there are standard ways of prospecting for pegmatite crystals here in Colorado. I will try to cover some of the techniques I use in this blog post.
UPDATE: I have posted another blog post showing examples of these techniques here.
It has taken me years of prospecting, tons of reading, and networking with other prospectors and rock clubs to figure out what I’ve learned to find crystals so far, so I’m hoping that if you are new to this hobby this article can help expedite the learning curve and take away some frustration…i.e. not coming home empty handed as often! Note that I sometimes STILL come home with nothing to show (and I keep even the littlest crystals)…I think of it like fishing, sometimes the fish simply aren’t biting. My other hope is that folks having successful techniques can share their wisdom so I and others can continue to learn (the comments on this article is a great place, hint hint !!!). Note I am self-taught and have no formal geology schooling or experience, so my descriptions in this article may be scientifically inaccurate; the goal of this article is not to explain the science as much as for tips to helping you learn to find crystals! Of course the science is helpful and very interesting, if you have anything to share or correct (or have further questions), please leave comments, I would love to hear your techniques, opinions and knowledge on the subject!
Hitting a crystal pocket gives you a tremendous high! This was my first crystal pocket!
How to Find Crystals
There are three standard ways I prospect when searching for crystals; I may use only one way on any given day, or may use all three:
Searching the tailing piles of other digs
Finding float and following it
Digging in the source pegmatite
Prospecting Tailing Piles
When I’m prospecting I always check out old and new digs. There are several reasons for this–to learn what the other prospector was into when (presumably) they find crystals themselves, to perhaps continue where the previous prospector didn’t go, and to search through their tailings to ensure the weather didn’t reveal something that was missed or discarded!
Mount Antero double terminated Phenakite my son found laying on the surface, would have been great to have more of that aquamarine attached!
If the prospector was into a pocket or seam of crystals, they may have had mud or iron coatings on the crystals so the prospector tossed aside because they couldn’t see the sides or simply missed it…it happens, I’ve gone back to my digs before and found incredible crystals that I somehow missed! After a good rain or season of snow Mother Nature may help to reveal crystals that were left behind! This is the easiest form of prospecting. I also find that some prospectors are not interested in “boring” or imperfect crystals; another person’s trash may be my treasure! I have found many great crystals by searching the tailings of previous digs!
to find crystals it helps moving around the pile to get a reflection of sunlight from a flat shiny surface of a crystal…you should train your eyes to focus on any flat sided rock
getting down closer to the ground for a different perspective; I find many crystals this way that I missed standing up
look for color, some crystals are coated with iron-based minerals and may look rusty
poking around the sides of the hole to see if the prior prospector left part of the pocket
looking for float from the pocket (talked about further below)
dig through the tailings to see if other crystals are slightly buried
Finally there is a lot to learn from studying what others were into. This is how I’ve done much of my learning. What did the rocks they were pulling out look like (note to self, keep an eye out for these signs in my holes)? Are there other digs along the hillside along the same “zone” that I should also check out? What did the other person see that kept them digging? The bigger the prospector’s hole the more likely they found something good (otherwise that is a lot of effort for nothing), so explore those big holes/trenches for sure!
This Milky Quartz and Fluorite plate was found discarded by the original miner on the dumps, cleaned up it is awesome, good enough for me! Just wish I could find the other material which made this trash in comparison!
These Fluorites were covered in pocket mud and then again in dirt. Always examine “dirt balls” !!! Needs some more cleaning, but examples of what you can find in the dumps. Fluorite and other crystals are heavier than other rocks, so pay attention to the weight of the rocks you are extracting!
First of all, what is float? It took me a while to get my head around this concept. My definition of float is simply any rocks or crystals that have weathered out of their original location — in other words Mother Nature has moved them via some process over time.
What could have moved the crystals? Glaciers, wind, rain, etc. Glacial movement is pretty easy to spot on the crystals, because they are broken, cleaved and/or have rounded corners like they’ve been in a rock tumbler. These crystals have been potentially moved long distances and there may be no correlation in where the crystals are located to where they originated from–in other words they may be randomly displaced and you may not find other related crystals around them. However I have found several times that pockets were moved (relatively) together by glaciers and there are concentrations of crystals that are completely worn in a somewhat small of an area.
Float coated smoky and milky quartz crystals found in a 10 foot diameter area about 6 inches under the ground. The left smoky is ~10 cm.
Wind and water (and ancient glaciers too) are common forces that move crystals from their original location in the seams/pockets they were grown in. Over the hundreds of millions of years (or perhaps just thousands, or even last month’s torrential rains?) the land has been eroded and the original locations of the crystals may have been partially or completely eroded away. If on a hill, the crystals are likely displaced downhill as they are eroded out of their original pocket. If on a flat area, crystals can disperse radially away from the pocket (which may at one time long ago been above you).
One misconception that I originally had about float was that the crystals would be laying atop the ground easy for the prospector to see. It took me a while to realize that float can be (and often is) buried. The layer of topsoil / organic matter is a recent addition to the ground (decomposed plants, trees, etc) in the perspective of geologic time. Most often I’ve discovered float that is buried in the boundary between the top soil and the granite gravel layers which can be visible or buried many feet deep. Note that with the hundred plus years of prospecting occurring in popular areas, it is very unlikely you’ll find crystals on the surface; but there is still plenty of float to be discovered!
Now that we’ve reviewed what float is in theory, how does one utilize this float concept to actually find crystals? When I find good signs on the ground I dig test holes (more about what are good signs in a minute). I try to dig deep enough so I’m at (or below) the boundary layer between the topsoil/organic matter and the gravel–the steeper the hills the likely this layer will be more shallow. I will also dig about a foot or sometimes two deeper to see if what I’m seeing at the surface continues in situ underground–signs of a pegmatite outcropping.
As I continue to explore the source of the float, I will dig an area of several feet in diameter, left and right, up and downhill. If I continue to find signs, then I will follow those signs in whatever direction they lead me, which typically trends uphill. The hope is that this investigation leads you to the originating crystal pocket or seam still in the pegmatite rock!
If there are no signs on the surface but the area in general looks or “feels” good, or if I’m feeling lucky, I dig test holes in best-guess locations and if I find nothing interesting within a 2-3 foot diameter, I move on to another spot.
I have also seen videos of folks using dowsing rods–the concept is they loosely hold L shaped rods in each hand and as they walk over an area with a crystal the rods will move. I keep thinking I should try this but I have no experience nor have done any research on this technique yet. Chime up in the comments if you’ve had success with this method!
A float dig. I was following signs up the hill (probably 10 feet here) digging only about 3-7 inches deep. Notice the pile of dirt on the right, this makes it ultra fast to fill in the hole once I’m done…literally 2 minutes. I often backfill the hole as I’m following the float. Notice the rocks on the surface above my digging, these are what you want to see, but in this case they are likely from another dig up the hill as they are not partially buried like Mother Nature would do.
What are good signs to follow? What do you look for on the surface to start digging there? How long do you follow the trail of good signs when they are not panning out? Well, that IS the trick, these are all the million dollar questions of prospecting! I’m still perfecting this myself and likely will be forever, but for now my answer is many things. Here is where joining up with a Crystal Club or digging with other prospectors is very helpful. I have found that even though I’ve read a ton on the topic and talked to many experienced prospectors, I didn’t really “get it” until I’ve gone and and moved some rock and dirt–experienced it; sometimes it even takes many times before what I’ve read or been told clicks. That said, however, I’ll try to give you some tips and rules of thumb based on what I look for.
You are looking for the following, above and/or below the surface as float or in situ:
Anything with flat sides. Train your eyes to see flat surfaces; having flat surfaces means there was enough room for the rocks to start to crystalize which is evidence of a crack, seam or pocket in the host rock. Finding flat sided rocks is integral in the hunt for crystals.
Quartz. Pegmatites are partially composed of quartz, so you are looking for chunks of quartz either by themselves or mixed with Microcline / Feldspar.
Microcline. Like quartz above, microcline or amazonite is a good sign.
Graphic Granite. Granite by definition is composed of small crystals of quartz and feldspar. Pegmatite is when the crystal sizes get to a certain size. Graphic granite / pegmatite is where these crystals get bigger TOGETHER. Often in just one rock sample you’ll see the crystal size increase from one side to the other! (see image below). This sometimes means you are getting closer to where the crystals can grow better (i.e. a pocket).
Combinations of above. This means that all the right ingredients of a pegmatite seam are floating out of somewhere.
Crystals. If you’re finding whole crystals or multiple sides, well, you’re there! Congratulations!
Here are some good examples of graphic granite from one of my digs. Notice the quartz crystals getting bigger in size and consistent through the rocks. Click the image for a larger picture with more detail.
These pieces of quartz are great signs with many sides–but none are totally faceted which tells me they came out of massive granite. Also notice the microcline. Follow these!
Example of a good mix of quartz on feldspar, almost (but not quite) starting to look like a plate of quartz crystals. The upper quartz has a several flat sides! This chunk definitely kept me on the hunt!
One other technique I use digging float uphill is when pulling out quartz or microcline chunks I leave them on top of my tailings pile close to the spot I found them. If I’m not finding the source of the float or lose track of the good signs (or when I take a water break), then I’ll often step back, take a break and review what I’m finding from a distance (which is possible because I left my findings consistently in sight on top of the tailings). This technique will let me analyze my current prospecting situation from a different perspective. While analyzing the rocks as I have dug up the hill, I will also analyze the surrounding hillside for clues like other digs, surface rock, contour, etc. Sometimes I get overzealous in my digging and forget this simple step-back-and-analyze step which can be really helpful in minimizing the search for the source of the float!
Another way to find crystals using the “float technique” is to start at someone else’s dig and start to explore around (if a flat area) and downhill of that prospect/hole. It’s likely that there is float around or below that pocket that someone else has done all the hard work and located for you! Many times the crystals are really nice and have just rolled down the hill a little bit!!! The original prospector was only interested in the pocket material and left all the easy float finding to someone else! I’ve found some really nice crystals using this technique!
Of course, the best place to dig is in crystal pockets. This is where the crystals will likely be the best quality and most plentiful (but not always, ask any experienced prospector and they will tell you stories of hours/days of work in fabulous looking pockets with junk, crushed or no crystals). Whether you happen upon a seam or pocket in the pegmatite using float prospecting techniques, or you find the peg right away and dive in, this is the goal of prospecting–to hit the mother lode!
First, a little bit of theory from what I have discovered in the field and also from reading and talking to other prospectors. I think of pegmatites as basically a lava flow of harder rock that when forming had the right (and larger) concentrations of minerals we are searching for. Because it is a flow, it often will be long and extend across or into the hillside and will often be somewhat straight. This is helpful to know as you often can follow the pegmatite as it trends in a somewhat straight direction across the hillside.
If the conditions were right at that instant of time millions and millions of years ago, you have highly mineralized fluid that was flowing through the cracks in the rocks. If there was room in the host rock’s cracks then it would give the fluid a chance to crystalize in that “open space” in the rocks. Because we’re talking about an extended “flow”, the pegmatite can open up (i.e. crystals!), then pinch out, and follow that pattern again and again along faults or cracks over its length. You sometimes see this play out when following the pegmatite getting pocket after pocket along the length of the peg! This is something to remember as a previous prospector may have found a great pocket but didn’t finish it or follow it as it opened up into even a larger pocket along the length of the original flow!
The great Blue Cap Productions video on Rhodochrosite at the Sweet Home Mine in Alma Colorado details that pockets were often found at the intersection of faults. I have found this to be true in some cases with pegmatites pockets I’ve found, as two pegmatites intersected there was a pocket. Additionally, Joe Dorris of Glacial Peak Mining has documented that when the pegs bend they often form pockets (which were eddies during the liquid phase?). This is also something I’ve experienced and definitely keep an eye out for.
Pegmatite is currently often surrounded by gravel or dirt. Over geologic time, the surrounding rock may have decomposed into gravel while the harder, more mineralized material is still in place. So once you are upon the pegmatite you’ll likely know its boundaries by gravel. Knowing this, I don’t spend much time when digging test holes if there is just gravel, but if there are chunks of peg, quartz or microcline then I continue as I may be digging into a pegmatite; and if I was into the peg and then enter into just gravel, I change my direction as I likely have found a border of the peg. When finding bigger chunks of rock, ensure they are pegmatite and not just solid granite. You won’t find many crystals if you are not in the pegmatite!
Note that have seen instances where all the surrounding rock is completely gone leaving just a trail of crystals in the gravel or dirt! So again none of these techniques is absolute each and every time!
I categorize the peg in a couple of ways, as described above (chunks) and also as solid masses (this digging takes the most effort). Sometimes I get into a peg that is still holding together as more massive rock and there is a seam sandwiched between top and bottom plates of granite. In that seam, especially when it has the opportunity to widen, I sometimes find small pockets of crystals. Following these openings the trail of crystals sometimes dives deeper; and that is where things can get interesting as you may be into a pocket. Note that these chunks of pegmatite can be quite large and heavy, requiring pry bars and even chisels and hand sledge hammers to extract, so ensure you are employing safe leverage and lifting techniques (a hurt back doesn’t allow one to dig for many crystals) and always wear eye protection! In these cases I follow the peg in all directions as the crack/seam may be rather long and wide but not very thick, but eventually it could widen and form a pocket. Here is a video example of this (these are HD video, so change the resolution if you have the bandwidth!).
So these are the techniques that I am currently using to find crystals. I am fairly successful in finding some crystals, but finding the great crystals or pockets is still somewhat elusive to me! My thought is it’s all about moving dirt and rock to maximize the chance of getting lucky. Comparing it to the lottery, you have to play to win! Regardless, employing these techniques has brought me success and hopefully will aid in your success too! As stated before, I would love to hear your techniques and ideas in the comments or by emailing me; I’m looking for any ways to improve!
Here are some videos showing me finding crystals out of a pegmatite pockets or seams. Pay attention to what is surrounding the areas with crystals as that is what you will be targeting when you dig! Additionally, I have accumulated a playlist of people extracting crystals from around the world, you’ll want to check it out!
For more articles on my prospecting adventures click here.
You should also check out the other blogs I follow with great information about prospecting in Colorado:
Was able to break away from our busy schedule and make a trip to Denver for a couple of the Denver Mineral Shows. As always we head to the Merchandise Mart for Zinn’s show as this is where all the display cases are. I have included many photos from these cases as there were some outstanding specimens on display this year. We also went to the Colosseum Show. I find that I don’t buy too many minerals, especially ones that I can find locally here in Colorado. Instead, I tend to focus spending my money on literature, display mounts and tools. I bought a subscription to the Mineralogical Record and man these are amazing journals! I suspect, although pricey, I’ll be a subscriber for a while. In the January/February 2015 issue on the fantastic Pederneira Mine in Brazil I learned much about pegmatites, some information relevant to where I dig!
Here are some of the cool minerals displayed in the specimen cabinets at the main show. Obviously a small selection as there were tons (literally) of beautiful and amazing minerals on display, just some that caught my eye. Many are Colorado or close-to Colorado specimens, a bit of scouting as I may pay a visit to those localities in the upcoming years!
I was able to head up to the hills again, twice in one weekend (albeit a long weekend) for about 4 hours on my way home from a camping trip, decided to prospect a little in a new area. I found some ground that looked promising, and out came some nice peg. I dug the peg for a while with no luck at all, but was persistent because it was too late to prospect out new ground for the day.
The smoky quartz crystals I found over about 45 minutes of carefully digging through the pegmatite.
Right before I gave up for the day I hit into a half baked clear quartz crystal; with no point and completely fractured; but with the flat sides and about 3 inch length I got renewed interest in this peg. I have found that clear quartz when digging for smokies sometimes is a sign that smoky quartz is nearby. I carefully dug for about 10 minutes more and a small gemmy smoky quartz crystal popped out.
Gemmy smoky quartz that started my renewed interest in this peg
It has been a while since I hit a small pocket, I actually like harvesting small crystals as it presents a challenge of being careful and clean in the hole. Many prospectors have no interest in anything of this size, but to me a crystal is a crystal regardless of size. 🙂 It is easy for the small crystals to be covered in dirt and swept away, so I had fun for the next 45 minutes or so meticulously pulling out tiny smoky quartz crystals!
I love how this crystal is irradiated only for part of the crystal, the rest is clear!
In one section of the peg there was some nice micro plates of quartz with crystals, but it finished as soon as it started and was tough digging as it was surrounded by very hard peg (I had to use a chisel and hammer and attack it around the pocket). I was able to pull out many gemmy smoky quartz before calling it a day. The peg continued on, so I suspect I can go back another day and continue to collect ultra small crystals. Some of these crystals were the smallest I’ve ever dug; so I was very happy with the day!
Neat tabby that was totally gemmy!
This one was odd; neat growth at the bottom of the tiny pocket!
The smallest plate of smoky quartz I have ever found. Way smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger.
A piece of microcline crystal with a small seam of tiny smoky quartz
Was able to break away from work so I took a vacation day and went up to Devil’s Head digging this last Friday. Been rough to get up there this year due to a busy schedule, but it was nice to be back out in the forest again.
I had a plan for this day–which I had been pondering upon over the last month while planning this trip. First thing I wanted to prospect an area that I remember looking promising a couple of years ago and if that didn’t pan out I wanted to dig some float on a very old dig I found that seemed pretty productive to the original prospector. If I got skunked with both parts of the plan I had a third option that was within a mile.
I stopped several times during my prospecting and checked out what looked to be good ground in many places. There was peg showing on the surface–both quartz, feldspar and combos–but the quartz was very striated, fractured and had no flat faces at all. I found many places along this steep hillside with the same situation, even though there was a lot of “good looking” signs on the surface. I ended up finding one rough point about the diameter of a nickel in one spot, but nothing otherwise. The hill was *very* steep and after nearly 4 hours I got tired of all the climbing and precarious hiking so I decided to give up on that area.
Stash of crystals I brought home from today’s “float dig”, all rinsed with water, none cleaned in chemical yet.
My second stop was about 1/2 mile away and was a old dig that someone obviously had success with as they had excavated a trench about 50 foot in length as they followed the pegmatite dike across the hillside. I could tell the dig was really old because the trench had naturally filled in most of the way and was looking pretty filled in. I believe this is why the Forest Service is okay with leaving holes unreclaimed as over time they naturally fill back in, although I still believe to fill in my holes as it takes a long time for nature to do it; and holes are simply an eyesore in our forest and potentially dangerous to animals!
My goal at this location was to see if I could find float or perpendicular seams coming out of the peg with some nice sized crystals (given the dig was fairly large). In other spots I have found my best crystals not in or under the pegmatite dike but rather coming out perpendicular to it in many spots in smaller peg seams. I also figured as I got into the old diggings I could possible see what the person was into–I always like to analyze others’ digs as this is a primary way I learn!
I started digging about 4-6 feet downhill of the old trench about 2-4 feet wide and a couple of feet deep. It was hard to tell if I was just digging in tailings or actual virgin ground below the trench, but soon I started finding crystal parts which narrowed my focus. Quickly I zoned in upon a small seam with microcline and smoky quartz crystals. Some were nice and I kept them; but most were only partially euhedral which was a sign of a smaller, tighter seam–even though some of the crystal parts were 5-7 inches long!
The crystals were organized to make me think this was not float (i.e. eroded crystals that eroded and rolled downhill from the pocket) as evidence of microcline and crystals next to each other and some red stained dirt. They definitely were in loose dirt and not harder rock. I followed this seam at a angle of about 30 degrees from straight downhill (I was on a very steep hill) for about 25-30 feet until it disappeared. The further downhill I went the smaller the crystals shards were, the less smoky in color and less frequent. The last 20 feet or so didn’t have anything worth keeping.
A nice euhedral microcline (right), microcline with mica, triple quartz cluster and double terminated smoky quartz were some of the nicer finds of the day.
As I made my way into the old trench from below I started hitting larger masses of pegmatite (like three feet deep), this was the original peg that the prospector followed across the hillside. The digger left many crystals along the bottom of that seam and had obviously found a crack in the peg that had crystals, which is where I often also find my crystals. The unfortunate thing was that the digger obviously used metal tools in this seam and most of the crystals he left attached to the bottom of that seam were damaged on their points. Obviously the digger was finding nice crystals because they didn’t care about the nice 2-3 inch ones they were damaging all along the bottom of the small pocket/seam. Moral of that story, don’t use metal tools in your pockets and take your time, unless you don’t care about the “little guys”!
Nice sized crystals with damage due to carelessness of the previous digger using metal tools in the pocket. You can guage the size by the soda can ring on the old table.
I dug until the sun was setting (beautiful sunset) and it started to sprinkle, since I had a heck of a hike (about a mile with some steep hills) back to the car I didn’t want to wait and have it get dark. As always, had a blast being out in the forest prospecting and was able to prove that–whether it is float or a perpendicular seam–there are sometimes crystals left behind by other prospectors and available if you put in the work from previous digs. This is definitely easier than prospecting good ground signs and striking into virgin ground, which likely will improve the chances of finding crystals quickly?
Went up to Devils Head with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to do some pickin’ today. Last week the Fire Watch Tower / Campground area was hit with a EF0/EF1 tornado (max wind 90 mph, 500 yards long, 100 yards wide max) and is currently closed due to all the snapped trees. Luckily we didn’t go to that area and could continue with the field trip.
We went to the area east of the Topaz Picnic Area, near the old topaz mine and claims. I hadn’t had much luck in this area in the past, but it was good to hang out with like-minded folks and give it another try. I prospected an area that was level on the hillside with many other digs (this area is heavily dug) about 40 feet away, and about 40 feet or so below a really old dig. My goal was to either hope to find the pegmatite dike or perhaps find some float.
Immediately I found a clear quartz that was healed. I had to look carefully because it was amazingly clear and gemmy like topaz, but the growth lines on the crystal faces were perpendicular to the axis through the point and it had a quartz shape, so no go on my first topaz at Devils Head.
Dig area, following the float uphill
For those that often ask me what I’m looking for, this is something I didn’t find much online or in the books. This technique is just what I’ve figured out and there could be much better ways to prospect, but this will at least give you something to try the next time you are up digging if you are looking for things to try…
I scrape off the top soil to see what is at the boundry of the top soil and gravel layers…or “float”.
Clear Quartz in the sunlight makes it look like Topaz…
I continued to dig uphill (in the picture above I ended about 10 feet above the trees at the top of the photo) and as I got close to the old dig the quartz started to get larger. I was finding float, or quartz that is below the organic layer of dirt and above the gravel, or about up to 6 inches below the surface. Once I hit the clear quartz I started to dig around that, and then when I hit the first double terminated crystal I was able to form a trajectory up the hill and continued in that general direction. It took a little while to figure out the direction but once I did the area I had to prospect was smaller making the process quicker.
The double terminated smaller quartz was the second I found, and the larger double terminated quartz was the last I found at this location. Not pictured are all the shaped pieces of quartz (but not fully euhedral) that kept me on the chase up the hill.
Milky quartz crystals found while digging the float. The large one on the upper right was double terminated and so was the one in the lower left. The two in the middle show gemmy smoky quartz under the milky coating.
Double Terminated crystal shows several periods of growth. Original was likely to the pegmatite ceiling or floor, then it broke off and was healed (you can see this clearly on the other face).
Other folks were also having luck so it was a great day, the folks next to me pulled out a nice 4 inch smoky quartz! After my hole was filled in I got up to check out the finds of other folks, but most folks had already left, no wonder it had gotten quiet! I chatted with one other person who was in a small pocket in a very large dig and he had some nice crystals too.
I decided to try another spot and started to dig again after having lunch. Here I was able to find a small seam in harder pegmatite that produced some nice twin smoky quartz and some light blue amazonite crystal faces.
Overall a fun day pickin’ at Devils Head!
Smoky Quartz found in second location. The 4 crystals at the right were sidewall type crystals (the backs on a couple are not terminated). They were all found in a seam of pegmatite, not a pocket with sand, so it took a while to excavate from the small area.
You can see the white overgrowth on the otherwise gemmy smoky quartz
Amazonite found in the second location. More bluish than traditional green in color.
One thing about Devils Head crystals is they almost always need a bath as they have iron oxide staining, especially the amazonite/microcline. These photos above are of the crystals just rinsed of with water, showing exactly how they look when fresh out of the ground! The photos below are after a week of heated oxalic acid bath.
Soaked in a chemical bath for a week. Still some staining, but looking nicer!
Twin Smoky Quartz with lots of iron staining…needs a bath! Looks like it could be gemmy!
Nice etched polka dot patterns on the point!
Needs a good cleaning, but this Smoky Quartz is gemmy and also has some nice small crystal growth on the point. The back side is also terminated..really close to being a double terminated crystal!
These were some of the smoky quartz that would fall out of the pocket when I shook the tree roots. Some of the bigger quartz from the pocket
It has been a while since I’ve been up in the hills, but recently I _finally_ had a free day and I was able to hit the hills and prospect for some crystals. This year has been somewhat slow for me so far, I’ve ventured up to dig for Amazonite and/or Smoky Quartz two times before and I had found just a small crystal or two in those days. I also was prospecting way away from my normal places too, but you never know until you check it out!
This last outing, however, I went back to a spot I had luck with in years past as I wanted to dig down deeper. I’ve been told by numerous folks that digging deeper around a seam or small pocket in the pegmatite often yields huge rewards, so I decided this was the day to expend some energy and find out. I arrived at 6am and it was nice and cool so I started to trench out diagonally from where I had luck before. I went about 3-4 feet deep working through some very hard rock to find nothing but gravel on the other side of the pegmatite. I continued elongating the trench and was able to find some peg that was looking okay but it was producing nothing but hard work. After 5 hours of digging I decided that down was not the source at this point and started to fill in the large hole.
One thing I also wanted to try at this spot was to follow the peg past where it appeared to pinch out when I was onto crystals in years past, so I went about 10-15 feet beyond in the general direction of the seam and started another probe hole. Immediately I was pulling quartz chunks out but none with euhedral sides; they appeared to be float as they were in the deep organic matter. I went down about 3 feet and finally started to hit the pegmatite! It continued and I was happy to see it! I trenched it for a while perpendicular to the peg and was pulling crystals out in the past, some some graphic peg appeared but nothing at all with facets. The peg was rather thin at this point and nothing was in the gravel below. I ended up with my trench into the roots of a tree and since there were no positive signs I decided to give the tree a break and not damage any of the roots. So I filled in that hole and took a break as that was another 2 hours of hard work!
This was the other quartz crystal in the center of the pocket. Neat double terminated crystal that is completely gemmy inside! Love that root beer smoky color!
Heart of the pocket, double terminated crystal all cleaned up.
While eating lunch and taking a break, I noticed a rock that was on the other side of my tree that appeared to be buried pretty deep. After eating I tried to pull it out but it wouldn’t give. Interesting that on its side there appeared to be some quartz chunks so I got out the pick and dug it out. It definitely had better shape than any of the peg I was in before lunch, so I started to dig around it. The next rock had some green and I knew I was in the right spot. In just a little while I was in the start of a seam with some nice smaller partially euhedral quartz and amazonite shards. The peg was definitely different than the one I dug in previously so I continued uphill.
About a foot further down and up hill the peg opened up a little and in that opening I started to get more green shards of microcline and a larger quartz chunks. One of the first quartz pieces I found was what looked like a tip of a larger crystal. I see this all the time and I realized that I likely had a really big crystal in store up hill! It was nearly at the other side of the seam/pocket, so it had fallen downhill several feet in the seam which was very interesting…Upon hitting a stump of an old burnt out tree I then discovered the small pocket. Unfortunately my phone died and I didn’t have my regular camera so I can’t share any pictures of the digs, but as I dug through the large roots crystals started to appear. The microcline was light amazonite and some crystals fit into the palm of my hand. Upon shaking the roots crystals would fall into my hole below! It was a quite fun pocket but it receded as quickly as it opened up. Still I was able to get some good sized crystals and amazonite including a couple double terminated (one healed) smoky quartz. I was dead tired by after 5pm (almost 12 hours digging) so I filled in all the holes completely and headed home. Who knows, there could be more there (maybe dig down like the experts say?), I’ll have to check it out again some other time.
Uncleaned, straight from the Earth, some light colored Amazonite crystals
Soaked for a week in a hot oxalic acid bath, the powder blue color is nice–but no where as nice as the green further south.
As in nearly EVERY pocket I dig, I find a broken tip. This time, I was digging up hill and found the tip first. I knew that was a great sign and that I’d find its adjoining large crystal which made an exciting dig!
Smoky quartz cluster that came out of the center of the pocket. Uncleaned.
Here’s your first source for Crystal TV! All action with none of the drama!
I’m not sure how many of you like to watch excavations of crystals from the ground; but as an avid rockhound / picker I love to see crystals unearthed!!! I also learn from seeing it done, so I have been seeking out likeminded folks doing likeminded things!
Here is my YouTube playlist of videos of folks digging crystals from the ground including my own videos! If you have video(s) that should be included make sure you let me know!
I have found Amazonite now in several locations throughout the Colorado Pikes Peak Batholith. After soaking many pieces of amazonite in acid for about 3 months to try and pull some of the iron oxide staining out of the crystals I got to wondering if finds from different locations in the Pikes Peak Batholith zone were consistent. Regarding the iron oxide staining, I have had varied success with this winter’s cleaning; some the staining is embedded deep into the stones.
Amazonite is crystallized feldspar microcline with trace amounts of Lead (Pb) giving the green color, normally microcline is a pinkish/salmon color and up on Mt Antero is it white. There are a couple of examples of white capping and white striping (inclusion of orthoclase) shown here which I’m excited to have–the Amazonite in the Smithsonian museum is completely white capped/striped coming from the Two Point Claim–which is incidentally immediately between the Smoky Hawk and April Fools–the claims where I have gotten most of my Lake George stones. Amazonite and Smoky Quartz combos are highly sought and somewhat valuable. There are a couple of combos in the center of this picture from finds in the Lake George area. Although I have found many smoky quartz and some Amazonite at Devils Head, only a few combos have been unearthed. I can see why the combos are sought as they have been rare for me too.
There definitely is a different intensity of color throughout the different zones of the Pikes Peak Batholith. You can see that the darkest (most desirable) color is from the Lake George area in Teller County, although I have found some paler color in that area, I have not found any pink microcline. The few pieces I have from the Wigwam district in Jefferson County are lighter green but have fantastic crystal formations; I have also found pink there. The Devils Head variety is more bluish and definitely paler, but many of the stones I have found have signs of the white capping/zoning in the crystals; most of the microcline at Devils Head is pink for me. I have some Amazonite from the Pine Creek area which is more green than Devils Head but still paler than Lake George.
A comparison of amazonite color from throughout the Pikes Peak Batholith of Colorado (click for larger image)
I have not yet searched out the entire list of known locations for Amazonite throughout the Pikes Peak Batholith, so someday perhaps my color observations can be more thorough. The following map is an arial view (courtesy Google Maps) of the areas I have searched and locations are color coded to match the above specimens. Would love to hear your experiences, knowledge and thoughts on the topic in the comments!