Fourth of July Pictures

It has been a busy summer so far, lots of family activities and work projects have called for long hours.  On the fourth of July we headed to my folks house near Red Feather Lakes Colorado for some needed R&R; and for my daughter and mom to finish a 4-H project, her very ambitious quilt!  I took the camera and was able to catch timelapse video and some interesting pictures.  The video is forthcoming, but here are some of my favorite stills.  As always, images can be clicked for a larger perspective!

Their house had three outside lights and each day there were a variety of moths hanging out on the side of the house.  I’ve never seen thing large of a variety in one spot before.

Signoid Prominent Moth (Clostera albosigma)

Signoid Prominent Moth (Clostera albosigma)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

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St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

Fly on Columbine

Fly on Columbine. Colorado’s state flower and state pest! 🙂

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

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St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

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Boogie and the Big Poplar Sphinx Moth

Boogie and the Big Poplar Sphinx Moth

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

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Green Fly

Green Fly

Small-eyed Sphinx Moth (Paonias myops)

Small-eyed Sphinx Moth (Paonias myops)

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 Angulose Prominent Moth

Angulose Prominent Moth

White Furcula Moth (Furcula borealis)

White Furcula Moth (Furcula borealis)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

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Didn’t rain too much, but this storm put off a great rainbow!

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Tooks some photos of the quilting process.  Many will go on Daphne’s presentation and in her record book.

Daphne's first quilt on Grandma's quilting machine

Daphne’s first quilt on Grandma’s quilting machine

Mom's Pin cushion

Mom’s Pin cushion

Mom's fabric all sorted

Mom’s fabric all sorted

My son, my dad, and I took a drive up to Deadman Fire Watch Tower / lookout.

Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Rawah Wilderness

Rawah Wilderness from Dead Man fire watch tower

Crystal Lakes and Northern Colorado Front Range

Crystal Lakes and Northern Colorado Front Range from Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Old Deadman wooden tower base

Old Deadman wooden tower base

Lush green floor in the forest

Lush green floor in the forest

Interesting forest panorama

Interesting forest panorama

Larimer County meadow looking at the Rawah Wilderness

Larimer County meadow looking at the Rawah Wilderness

Deadman Creek valley

Deadman Creek valley

Reflect & Refract

Reflect & Refract

North Fork Cache de Poudre River

North Fork Cache de Poudre RiverJul

Locating Devils Head claims

I led a field trip with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to Devils Head today. Given that there were a lot of cars we parked in a popular area, one which has several claims surrounding it.  Part of the responsibility of rockhounding is to know where claims are located and not to mineral trespass, so I put together a google terrain map with these claims on it so we were sure to understand where the claims were so we dug elsewhere.  Many folks asked me how I did this, so I decided to detail the process here.

First off, it is important for anyone Rockhounding to understand the rules.  Here are useful information links for Mining Claims and Rockhounding in the state of Colorado.

As you read above, part of staking a mining claim is to produce a Certificate Of Location (COL) and file with both the County Recorder’s office and the BLM.  Part of this document is to record exactly where the claim is located, most of the time this includes a map that you can see the exact corner posts and perimeter.  These documents are public record, and you can research and request copies of them for a small fee (or free as I will demonstrate) from either the BLM or the County of record.  The BLM manages all mining claims on public land, so you will want to use their research tools to determine the status of any claim.  Note that the LR2000 online website may not contain the latest and greatest information; so getting your information direct from the BLM is the best source.

I like to create a prospecting map so I know the vicinity of where these claims corner posts are (or should be, sometimes the claim owner does not have them marked).  To do this is a 3-step process.  Luckily Douglas County has their records available to search online, so you can get this information from the privacy of your own home–but most counties are not that advanced with their software yet.

  1. Research which claims are active, this requires knowing the Meridian, Township, Range and Section where you are looking.  Review this blog posting for more information on using the LR2000 online web application.  For the popular Devils Head area “Virgin Bath”, this is
    1. Meridian:  6th Principal
    2. Township:  9S
    3. Range:  69W
    4. Section 21
  2. Once you have the claim owners information from LR2000, you can locate the COLs from the Douglas County Recorder’s website
  3. On this website, click on Documents and read and accept their rules. You will need to have a valid account, which is free, to view documents online; so you should go through the registration process.
  4. Choose Location Certificates as the document type and put in a reasonable date range.DouglasCountyRecords_LocationCerts
  5. From the search results, you can review or even download the COLs from this site.  To review, just click on the row, or add to the review list with the +.

LocationCerts_Example

6.  Within each document there is a map, you may need to refer to a topo map to know the Township/Range/Section, but from here you can see the claim boundaries.

7.  Print these out, or combine into a single “rough” prospecting map using Google Maps.

8.  When out prospecting you can use these maps to get the vicinity of the corner posts so you can find them and ensure you are digging on non-claimed areas.

Hope this was helpful.  Happy prospecting!

 

Prospecting Tips and Hints

Last year I published an article How to Find Crystals that detailed some of the techniques I use and general prospecting tips, hoping to give several tips and hints to aid in expediting the learning curve of digging crystals.  I’ve gotten some great feedback from that article and appreciate all the comments.

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One of the things I tried to cover in that blog posting was what to look for on the surface and how to know if you are in a good spot and should continue digging, or bury the hole and continue the prospecting elsewhere.  I knew it would be difficult to share that experience, as I’m still learning myself and it’s one of those things you can read about all day long but you don’t “get it” until you actually can see and experience how it is done.  The pictures and text in that article were helpful I feel; but it still left me with questions after reading it–knowing that I had a plan for this year’s prospecting trips…

That blog posting was just the first of many postings I plan to do sharing what I’ve figured out on finding pegmatite crystals.  I was able to get out digging late this spring and my goal was to take some video while I was on the hunt, hopefully showing what I look for on the surface and what I look for as I follow the pegmatite trail to the crystals (assuming I find crystals, which many times I don’t)!  This video hopefully will provide some tips and hints of what works for me in the toughest part of the process, the initial prospecting and test holes.

Unfortunately due to leaving the camera in the sun too long, the pocket extraction video was corrupt, but the good stuff from a prospecting perspective was saved showing progress as I was hunting for the pocket.  You’ll see that demonstrated in the video below.

I would love your feedback, questions and suggestions.  I plan to do other videos showing different techniques.

The small crystal pocket I eventually hit I’m calling the OneTwo.  It was mainly Microcline crystals, most were Carlsbad twinned!  On these, once cleaned up, opposite faces had a blue tint of Amazonite to them; not as deep of green color as you find elsewhere in the region, but still really nice and a lot of fun.  The smokey quartz I found all had secondary coatings of a darker colored quartz which will be very difficult to remove.

Amazonite

Interesting cluster of Amazonite / Microcline joined at a ~45 degree angle.

Amazonite Carsbad Twin

Carlsbad twinned Amazonite (light blue) with a small amount of cleavelandite sprays.

Carlsbad Amazonite

Nice little pair of Carlsbad twinned Amazonite with a bit of cleavelandite.

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These are the largest crystals from the pocket, each about 3.5 inches tall. They had to be repaired as they came out in 3 pieces, the cap to the larger crystal was cleaved off and the two crystals had been separated and were found about a foot from each other in the pocket.

smokey quartz

Smoky Quartz showing the secondary quartz growth. These have been soaked in a heated chemical bath for several weeks and look at lot better than they originally did; but this is as far as I will clean them as the quartz underneath is not worth the effort.

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Some of the nicer twinned amazonites from the OneTwo pocket.

Smoky Quartz

Examples of the coated smoky quartz from the OneTwo. The larger crystals are nearly 3 inches long.  There were mostly microcline crystals in the pocket; which is opposite of what I typically find in the region.

Phosphorescent Fluorite

Recently I dug some phosphorescent fluorite crystals, I don’t have a good UV source except for a cheapo LED lamp I bought from China, but I decided to give this a try. There was enough UV that some of the crystals did phosphoresce a blue/greenish color.  I’ve never checked out any of my crystals this way so it was awesome to see the illumination continue for well over a minute.  I wonder what a more powerful lamp would do?

I am still experimenting with what quality of the stones allows the phosphorescence. At first I thought that only the more gemmy of the crystals I found phosphoresce, but that isn’t true.  Some of the most gemmy crystals do not phosphoresce at all!

phosphorescent fluorite

Here is an example of a clear gemmy piece of Fluorite I found, it is pretty but does not phosphoresce.  

phosphorescent fluorite open exposure

Here are the fluorites phosphorescing. I charged them up with a cheapo UV LED lamp, then turned off the lamp and opened the exposure for 5 seconds in the pitch dark.  They were a bit more green than this picture shows.  They stayed illuminated for several minutes.

Super Iron Out Crystals

Most crystal-digging people know Super Iron Out as a great solution for taking iron oxide staining off of crystals.  I typically use SIO as my first cleaning bath for most of my crystals and jump into the acids later if the stains are stubborn.  This winter I was cleaning a small micro-quartz cluster in the (cold) garage and was amazed to find my cluster gained another crystal during cleaning.

Micro-quartz cluster

Micro-quartz cluster without the SIO crystal

I must have saturated the small amout of cleaning bath and when the temperature lowered the SIO crystal began to form!  The next day it turned from clear to super brittle white; and was falling all over, so I put it back in solution and cleaned more crystals with it!

Super Iron out Crystal

Super Iron out is typically used to clean crystals, but this time I grew a cool crystal!

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Another angle showing the really interesting growth patterns. I have a UV LED lamp shining on it to give some contrast.

Prospecting February

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.

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interesting quartz crystal coated with hematite giving a very sparkly luster to the stone.

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Large five inch smoky quartz float crystal. This one had a fracture and rehealed; must have busted during formation a billion years ago!

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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.

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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.

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I love the larger quartz crystals around the edge, and the elestial growth in the center!

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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.

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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!

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I love this fluorite, fairly gemmy and has some purple, otherwise clear. As you gaze into it, it sucks time from existence!

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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!

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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!

Palmer Divide Petrified Wood

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.

Still searching for the intact logs on this property like was found recently at the Cherokee Ranch in central Douglas County!  Anyone have any suggestions for lapidary treatment of petrified wood?

What a great find!

What a great find!

This was one of the larger pieces I brought home.  About 16 to 18 inches long.

This was one of the larger pieces I brought home. About 16 to 18 inches long.

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These red and orange pieces are just beautiful!

These red and orange pieces are just beautiful!

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Some of the pile, you can see the variety of color and agatized wood.

Some of the pile, you can see the variety of color and agatized wood.

I especially liked the color on this piece.

I especially liked the color on this piece.

This has the neat bark and also a view into the beautiful golden yellow wood.

This has the neat bark and also a view into the beautiful golden yellow wood.

How to Find Crystals Using Different Types of Prospecting Techniques

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 article.

UPDATE:  I have posted another article showing examples of these techniques here.

UPDATE:  I have posted another article explaining how to create your own prospecting map here.

UPDATE:  I have added videos of me picking crystals at the bottom of this article.

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!

That's how you find crystals!

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:

  1. Searching the tailing piles of other digs
  2. Finding float and following it
  3. 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!

How to find crystals, this time a mt antero phenakite and aquamarine

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!

Tips include

  • 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!

Milky Quartz and Fluorite, crystals i find in the dumps

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!

Fluorite Crystals I find looking through tailings

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!

Prospecting Float

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 Quartz Crystals

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!

Following Float when prospecting

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!
Example of graphic granite

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.

Good signs when prospecting

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!

Good signs when prospecting

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!

Prospecting Pegmatites

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:

Wish you good fortune as you find crystals!

 

2015 Denver Gem and Mineral Shows

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!

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Micro Smoky Quartz Pocket

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.

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.

Another gemmy smoky quartz

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!

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!

Neat tabby that was totally gemmy!

This one was odd; neat growth at the bottom of the tiny pocket!

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.

The smallest plate of smoky quartz I have ever found. Way smaller than the tip of my pinkie finger.

Microcline and Smoky Quartz

A piece of microcline crystal with a small seam of tiny smoky quartz