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 ( that you will be using. For other states, search the BLM website at  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!).


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.


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!

Obliq Museum: Roland Super JX-10 Restoration

In the early 1990’s I was in my first band called Neurotricity.  My band partner had an amazing synthesizer studio and the heart of the studio was the Roland Super JX-10 synthesizer.  We used that synth for both sounds and also central MIDI control for recording into the computer.  I have fond memories of using that synthesizer.

Throughout my synth hunting over the last 20+ years I have kept an eye open for this synth to pick up for my studio.  I had a lead on a beat up one several years back, but the person wanted more than I thought it was worth given its condition as it had been gigged a lot.  Several years ago I found a Roland JX-8P with a PG-800 programmer and I picked that up.  The JX-8P is basically 1/2 of a Roland Super JX-10 and I’ve been enjoying the synth, especially programming it with the PG-800 accessory; it is difficult (but not impossible) to program in the little window and alpha-dial that this vintage of synthesizer provided.  I was content with this JX-8P and figured if I found a JX-10 that would be great; but didn’t think I’d ever run across one so I had the next best thing.

Several months ago I happened upon a Roland Super JX-10 in excellent shape.  The person I bought it from never gigged with it; it was basically a home studio toy that had been put away in a closet for many years while the owner explored other hobbies and interests.  There was one dead key, but otherwise it was fully functional.

In researching what it would take to fix the dead key, I came across several really great websites that explored the Super JX-10; there was one that caught my eye–Fred Vecoven’s site–where he reversed engineered the firmware and rewrote it fixing bugs and added new features.  One of the features was an arpeggiator, and I decided I must upgrade my JX-10!

The video below shows how I fixed the keyboard contact and how I installed the new firmware.  With the PG-800 and the new firmware, this Roland Super JX-10 is a beast of a synthesizer that I can already tell will provide tons of enjoyment in sound design!

The Making of Acid LuAu

On December 12th we released the latest Obliq Recordings record.  This was the inaugural 7″ in a series of four celebrating the Earth’s wobble by my latest project, Chillout Enforcement Crew.  We have been wanting to release  a flexible record or lathe cut for a while, and so this idea hit me.  Why not do another floppy diskette release?

For those not in the know, back in 2000 my other project Multicast released Sympathen, a limited edition of 300 7″ records in a retro floppy diskette–the single from our forthcoming LP Rural Sessions.  That time was the height of electronic music distribution, and the unique packaging sold this release out immediately; mostly to Europe.  We really had fun with the design of that release, so I decided to research to see if we could pull that off again, this time in a very limited run.

I looked around for the contact information from the manufacturer of the 8″ floppy diskettes (they were new from a firm still making them for mainframes, but they were trash from being tested for Quality Assurance, so I worked a discount!), but I couldn’t get a hold of that firm anymore.  I ended up finding a vintage computer collector on Etsy that had some for sale.  Luckily he was cool as I told him about our project and he sent me four different manufacturers in quantity of 25 each!  Perfect for our “Earth’s Wobble” four seasons theme.  They also came with cool original blank sleeves so I could print upon them!

For the design, I downloaded some free fonts with an arcade style vibe.  I ordered some small labels and laser printed the design on them.  I used one label for the diskette label (like old-school diskettes had) and then another for the back of the picture disk record.  I used a rubber stamp that we made for the original floppy release so we could have some consistency between the 17 years between releases on our label.  I decided to stamp on the sleeve and also on the back of the record.  Finally I found a nice gold outlined sticker tab at a local craft shop for the write protection, which will seal the record inside the floppy and retain the 80s vibe I was looking for.

Looking forward to the next three releases, all earmarked for 2018!

Construction begins. Cutting out the download code coupons.

Started assembling, but haven’t stamped the sleeves.

Letting the stamp dry.

Closeup of the drying records

Stamping the sleeves!

Package with all the sides showing

The finished stack. Ultra limited to 25 copies!

Capturing Lightning on a Cell Phone

Lightning is one of the things I look forward to most during Spring and Summer months!  I love photography and have been able to get some nice lightning strikes normally with my digital SLR camera.  Lightning on a cell phone isn’t that difficult, however, assuming you have some know-how and a more advanced camera app on your phone.  There is certainly luck involved, but a little technical knowledge and a cell phone with advanced options can allow you to catch Mother Nature’s natural fireworks!

Firstly, safety is most important.  Being on a porch or anywhere outdoors is unsafe. Being under a tree is unsafe.  Being next to a fence is unsafe.  Being close to metal underground piping is unsafe.  I think you get the point!  The safest place to photograph lightning is inside of a house (through the window) or in a vehicle with the windows up.  You don’t get wet that way either!  

Lightning photography is dangerous and lightning isn’t very forgiving (i.e. is deadly), so please be safe!  

The key to capturing lightning, given you can’t predict when it will occur, is to open the exposure on the camera so you can capture several seconds at a time.  Only certain phones allow for this, but newer Android phones seem to be leading the way–it is called “Pro Mode”.  Different phones have different options in Pro Mode:

  • Being able to open the exposure for several seconds is helpful
  • Lowering the ISO and/or aperture (f-stop) to let less light in is usually helpful, especially if it is still dusk
  • Because the camera is taking in light for a longer period of time, there is no way a human can hold the camera still, so you will need to place it on a window ledge, the ground, or something else to keep it absolutely still
  • Focus for lightning needs to be exact.  Usually your subject is (better be) far enough away that you can choose manual focus and set to infinity.

My Samsung Note 5 camera allows for control of the focus, ISO and Exposure, so I lowered the ISO to the lowest setting (not Auto), changed to manual focus and set to infinity, and chose 4 second exposures.  I then positioned the camera on the ground and/or window pane so it would be absolutely still and repeatably pushed the trigger.  If you have a rapid fire mode, this could work instead of the longer exposure as well.

Arrows (from left to right) show Pro Mode ISO, Exposure and Focus setting options.

Pro mode ISO settings

ISO at its lowest setting; tells the “film” to absorb the least amount of light (and noise) which is needed because the lightning is so bright.  If you’re finding that the lightning isn’t showing up, increase this setting to allow more light to be captured.

Pro Mode focus settings

Focus is set to infinity. Mountains is infinity and flower is macro–or up close.  Most lightning is (better be) far enough away to be considered “infinity” distance.  

Pro mode exposure settings

Exposure can go up to 10 seconds on this camera, or as quick as 1/24000th of a second.  Since lightning is so quick, all this setting is for is to make it easier to capture the lightning by having the exposure open for longer periods of time in between when you have to fire the shutter.  Great since you have no idea when it will happen. 

TIP!  Lightning tends to occur (rule of thumb, definitely not scientific) at regular intervals, so i often count the amount of seconds between each bolt.  Once I get within 1-2 seconds of when it “should” occur, I open the shutter.  I also just continuously trigger the shutter so it is open most of the time.

So now that the setup is out of the way, here are some examples of lightning I caught and some tips and tricks.

Here I had the camera placed on a light post. Notice the focus of the foreground is not tight, this is because there is too much movement in the camera over the 4 seconds the shutter is open.

Again, too blurry of a picture due to the unsteady placement of the phone.

So I switched to the sidewalk which was much more sturdy.  I also used my shoe to give something to lean against to make it more sturdy. Now the foreground is in better focus.  Lightning is still far enough away to be outside, and to not be too bright to photograph.  

Lightning still far enough away (about 10 seconds between bolt and thunder) to not completely blow out the amount of light the bolts produce. Cloud to Ground bolts will most always be brighter, as in the case with the left both that found its ground.

This anvil crawler didn’t strike ground and wasn’t too bright to be captured.

Okay, these are getting too close, not only is it dangerous but you don’t get good pictures. With the ISO setting at its lowest it is allowing the least amount of light to be captured, but still it is too much. If you had an f-stop aperture setting you’d want to close the shutter letting less light in (closing the aperture is increasing the f-stop number, by the way)…but this is a limit of my cell phone’s camera.

This one is a good capture, although it is getting a little too close for comfort, time to head inside!


Luckily the window was tinted a bit, or this would have been way too much light. This was just a few blocks away. The window pane and window allowed for very sturdy aids to keep the camera steady. Although in cases like this, the only light captured by the phone is coming from the lightning, so at that instant in time is the only time there was light, so sturdiness isn’t as important because I don’t have any other light sources in the field of view.

Since I was focused on infinity, the rain on the window didn’t really obscure the subject of the photo. You an see the raindrops as hexagon white blobs in the upper/center part of the photo.

Obliq Museum: Korg Triton Restoration

I have been wanting a Korg Triton synthesizer since they were released in 1999.  At that time I had a Korg Trinity which we used heavily, as you may have heard in our Multicast tracks.  The Triton has a built in sampler and expansion available for MOSS functionality (Korg Prophecy engine), which I’m now on the market for! 

I found a Triton on Craigslist but it had some issues.  The price was right so I went ahead and took the challenge of hopefully being able to find the issue and then fix it.  I know that Triton parts are getting hard to find since it was discontinued.  It has the two memory cards and also the EXB-PCM04 Dance Extreme expansion board.  So an awesome setup once I get it fixed!

More restoration stories can be found here

Korg Triton

Korg Triton as it was when I brought it home, you can see the issue with the one “E” key

Korg Triton Power

Here is the sketchy power. The whole assembly was broken and the power button was gone.

The person I bought it from was a vet and this synth had seen the desert and likely many other places upon this earth!  It likely brought joy to many, so the karma is good!  The plastic buttons and modulation joystick assembly were all heavily discolored, likely due to sitting in intense sunlight for a long period of time. There is no way to fix the plastic discoloration issue without replacing all those pieces, which would be very expensive (if you could find the parts) and given that is cosmetic I’m not overly concerned.  Part of the character of buying a used synthesizer!

Here were the problems that I diagnosed that needed fixed:

  1. Power assembly was completely broken, but still worked
  2. E Key was broken
  3. Something in the I/O boards were broken causing the touchscreen to now work properly
  4. Several screws were missing and/or were not seated properly (cosmetic)

The big issue was the touchscreen issue.  You couldn’t choose the drop-down menu (upper right) which rendered the synth very unusable.  Upon troubleshooting this I found that it was a slider issue.  The likely culprit was the Value slider.  I found a replacement slider online but I wasn’t sure it was just the slider.  I cleaned the slider but it still didn’t work, so I assumed it was the slider but I wanted to find a replacement of the 2085 control board if possible.

I found all the parts for the power assembly new at Keyboard Kountry (check them out, they have a great stock of replacement parts for Tritons and other keyboards).  I also bought a replacement set of screws since some were missing and others were slightly stripped.  Nice that they offered this!  They also had the “E” key for a great price.

The 2085 board was a different story…there were no boards available on the internet that I could find, except one I found in Austria on eBay.  I’ve had mixed results buying used parts on eBay in the past, but the seller had a good feedback rating and said it was 100% working, so I took a chance and purchased the board.  It took 2 weeks to arrive.

Here are the boards after I removed them. The upper right is the jack board, the upper center is the 2085 human interface board and the lower tray holds the CPUs.

The keyboard assembly, the bottom (with floppy drive attached) and main control board still attached to the chassis.

Reference photos showing the headphone jack connection (there are two small sockets on the jack board that are the same, so I wanted to be sure to remember what went where)

Reference photo showing the wiring of the jacks and wiring harnesses

Triton motherboard wiring

Reference photo of the main motherboard wiring

The parts came in within a couple of weeks, and I started to do the repair and reassembly work.  The power assembly was simple, two screws and a simple plug into the power supply PCB.  That took 5 minutes and now works like a charm!

Triton Power Supply Assembly

Power assembly showing the jack into the PCB. Simple replacement; nice to find a full assembly with button at Keyboard Kountry!

Triton Power

Power looks much better and is safe!

To replace the broken key, you have to remove the keyboard assembly entirely, which is a bit of effort!  At the top of the keys there is a plastic clip that sits along the entire assembly. Sliding this off, you now have room to slide the key upwards and it will pop right out. Putting the new key in is the same, in reverse.  Then re-position the clip and you’re good to go!  

Replacing Keys

Most keyboards are similar to this, there is a plastic “clip” that sits on the back edge of the keyboard assembly, removing this provides a small amount of space that allows enough room to slide the keys back and they will pop out

Triton broken key

This shows the broken key from the back, the plastic guides should be showing like the other white keys; those were busted off and the key needed replaced

Broken vs New "E" Key

If you are missing a key entirely, you MUST make sure you get that metal insert–this replacement key didn’t come with one so I got lucky that I already had it!  Without this metal piece the key will not work properly. If you are replacing the key like I am, you transfer this metal to the new key. Notice the broken plastic guides that render the key useless

The most difficult part of the reassembly was the wiring.  I noted this and added some tape with reference letters to help me remember where the harnesses attached to.  Note that the wiring is “just long enough” to reach its destinations, so that also helps with reassembly, as does the different amounts of wires in the sockets/jacks–only a couple were the same size and coupled with the wire length being exact it made it easier to know what went where.  But given there are a lot of wiring, reference shots and labeling as you disassemble are always a good idea!  

Headphone Jack

There are two small audio connectors on this jack board. I highlighted here (in red) the headphones jack that runs to the front, lower left, of the unit.

Now the Korg Triton is fully functional!  Awesome!  The sounds are killer and I’m just starting to play with the synthesis engine!  The unit was pretty dirty so i scrubbed it down and was able to pull off some of the grime; but unfortunately there are many scratches that are more than skin deep and again that is the “character” you get when buying synthesizers second hand!  

Overall this restoration project consumed about 8 hours of time and parts cost a little over $100.  Parts are getting difficult to find, however, and so even if the synth isn’t “vintage” it may still be a difficult restoration project…note to self!  I got lucky on this one that I was able to procure all the parts immediately without having to put together repetitive web searches like I’ve done for other classic synthesizers in the past!

Here are some great resources for the Korg Triton:


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 +.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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!


Digitizing Records

I purchased a Tascam handheld recorder about a month ago so I can record my live sets, environmental recordings, and for digitizing records for listening to in the car.  The model is DR-40e.  The E is the “enhanced” processor feature according to the Guitar Center rep I talked to on the phone; although there is no real documentation of what this really benefits me anywhere on the net that I can find, and the rep was clueless.  It was a good deal, and it is a stellar recorder so far from my limited usage of it.  Good battery life so far, although I bought the power supply for it to save on batteries!

The Tascam DR-40e is my new recorder. So far I really like it; I've recorded records, a couple of live sets, and some environmental sounds with the built in microphones. Sound great!

The Tascam DR-40e is my new recorder. So far I really like it; I’ve recorded 25 records, a couple of live sets, and some environmental sounds with the built in microphones. Sounds great!

I pulled a random assortment of new and old records and have been listening to them in their entirety while recording them.  This has been a really fun process.  My card had accumulated 25 records so I figured it was time to dump the WAV files onto my computer and process them for digital listening.

Collage of the records I digitized this round.

Collage of the records I digitized this September and October.

Here is my workflow that so far is working pretty well…

  1. Record the vinyl onto the Tascam DR-40E recorder
  2. Pull the WAV files over to my computer
  3. In Sony’s Sound Forge software, load the file and normalize it once (to peak value, so no compression occurs) to get good levels.  I go in and mark the beginning and end of each track; delete the unwanted sections
  4. In Sound Forge, once the tracks’ beginning and ending points are marked, I simply double click inside of that region and it is selected.  I then <CTRL><V> (cut) and <CTRL><E> (paste to new).
  5. Now that I have the track isolated, a scan it for any pops or clicks and take care of those if necessary.
  6. I then normalize to peak values again.  This will give me the hottest possible sound.
  7. I save in a folder with a standard filename.  The folder name is Artist – Title – Catalog Number – Year.  The filename is Track Number – Song Title.  These go in a wavs subfolder.  I get the proper filenames and catalog numbers and images from
  8. I delete the original sound file and go to the next one.
  9. Once I have all the albums edited, I can go in and create MP3s for lossy listening; I typically use MP3s for portable devices to save space and given there is a significant amount of ambient noise in “portal environments”, so lossy isn’t that big of deal.
  10. I drag the WAV files into CD-EX, a great ripping and encoding software using the LAME encoder.  Old school but it works great.
  11. I then drag the MP3s into MP3Tag, I like this program for consistently tagging MP3s.  I select the entire album, use the auto-convert feature to snag the track number and song title, I add the Artist, Album and Year manually (using copy/paste form Discogs if there are special characters).  I then drag the cover art into the program and save the files.
  12. I end up with lossless WAV files (someday I may convert to FLAC, but right now I don’t care about space for lossless) and MP3 files with consistent tagging.

All of this does take a while, of course the recording of the records is real-time; and then I processed 25 records (mostly EPs) in about 3 hours.  Not too bad.  Now that I have the Tascam DR-40e figured out and a process refined, I’m going to pick some of my favorite records that I have never seen digitized files and continue the process!

Here is the first round of 25 records using this new workflow…

Here is the list of records that I digitized. Gonna start listening to them in the car tomorrow!

Photographing the Blood Red Super Moon

Man I just love the sound of that (the Blood Moon), kinda gothic and fitting around fall as Halloween approaches! During this orbit, the full eclipse was at a nice time where most folks could enjoy it; which is awesome because everyone should enjoy these celestial events, IMHO! My kids finally got to see it due to the early time. Here is the blood red super moon!

Entering eclipse

Assuming no cloud cover and available where I live, I always watch these eclipse events and usually pull the camera out and photograph them. In the recent past events I noted having trouble dialing in the setting for photographing the event, especially getting the blood red part in focus and alternatively the bright partial moon in focus. My goal this time, other than enjoying the entire event, was to dial in the settings and process so next time I can focus on some more creative elements of photography and not so much of the technical stuff.

Entering eclipse

Moon entering eclipse

Because I tend to forget stuff that I don’t use often, I figured I’d document my findings which would at least serve me for future events. As a bonus, hopefully this is helpful to others that want to photograph these type of events and maybe haven’t known how to do it. Finally, I’m hoping that someone with much more experience and skills than I could also chime in and provide some suggestions for my next attempt!

Exiting full eclipse

As the moon was starting to come out of full eclipse

A couple of quick tips I use whenever doing low-light photography:

Tripod. I most always use a tripod in low light. I configure such that I don’t have to bend over or position myself around the legs, simple ergonomics! I put the “V” on the legs spread so I’m in the middle of it (hmmm…); and extend the height so I don’t have to bend over or stand on my tip-toes. You need the tripod as you can’t hold the camera still enough to capture the low light and stay in focus.

Supermoon - long exposure

Blurry due to too long of exposure

Focus. This is still one of the harder parts for me because focusing all the way out with the camera lens is never going to give sharp focus. Focus depends on the temperature and other environmental factors. I tend to use auto-focus if I have a light source far away, and then I turn off auto-focus and fine tune from there using my eye in the viewfinder, and then taking pictures and reviewing the zoomed digital screen. Many times I don’t have a big enough bright source so it is just trial and error.

Image Stabilization. Turn that bad-boy off. There is a slight vibration when in use that will give you less focus. Image Stabilization isn’t needed for tripod work so it always gets turned off.

Remote trigger. This is a wired remote that allows me to trigger the shutter (and lock it, if doing time lapse) without touching the camera or tripod setup. I recommend these so you don’t have to touch the camera when taking the picture at all; which more often than not causes some blur in my photos. This has a really small adapter so do this in the light (cell phone flashlight apps are good for this).

Super moon total eclipse

Total blood moon eclipse

Now to the camera’s configuration. With low-light situations, especially a lunar eclipse which lacks light by definition, you want to capture as much light as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible. A problem is we’re on a moving object (yes, the earth is rotating) and so open exposure will result in blurred photos if open too long. My rule of thumb for stars (when shooting meteorites) is 8 seconds max. When shooting severe weather (clouds and such) in low light it is about 4 seconds max. For the moon in crisp focus since there is tremendous detail, I’m shooting for the smallest exposure possible. Below is a picture when the exposure is too long, notice the stars starting to trail and the moon being blurry.

I always shoot in Manual Mode. Note that this mode isn’t available only just DSLRs, my daughter’s trusty (and inexpensive) point and shoot Canon also has a manual mode and tripod mount and can take great low-light photos! There are three standard adjustments that all are interrelated that I work with (note these are my layman definitions, for more scientific and precise information, you should check out other sources):

a) Shutter speed governs how long is the shutter open and letting light in.
b) Aperture or f-stop is how big does the shutter open up, letting in more (or less) light while the shutter is open.
c) ISO is how fast the “film speed” is, which in DSLR terms how quickly the light is absorbed onto the photograph.
d) This is not configurable, but the lens speed is how much light your lens can let through quickly, or how expensive is your glass. Rule of thumb, the more expensive, the quicker!

Because I have too many hobbies I’m limited to what I can spend, so a fast (expensive) lens is not an option for me at this time, so I get a slow lens and have to work with the other configurable factors. A faster lens will let more light in by default allowing more optimal camera configurations.

Back to my goal, I need to let in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time, so I typically go with the lowest f-stop setting my lens allows and I adjust the exposure and ISO.

Because I want to let the earth move as little as possible while the shutter is open, my goal is as fast shutter speed as possible.

Because I want crisp and sharp pictures, I need to balance with the lowest ISO setting possible (higher ISO absorbs more light which is great, but also absorbs noise “pixelating” your picture). Here is a pretty noisy photo taking with a very high ISO (3200), you can see the graininess in the moon. Are those dots around the moon stars or noise? I believe stars but noise looks basically the same!

Fully Eclipsed Super Moon

Supermoon fully eclipsed, a little grainy due to higher ISO

There are really two phases to the moon eclipse, when it is partially eclipsed with the sun’s reflected light and our shadow on the surface; and when it is fully eclipsed and very dim. As the moon is entering/exiting the eclipsed state, I often want to get the blood red part in focus but also the bright reflective part in focus too.

red moon

Starting to come out of full eclipse, slower shutter speed

half eclipsed

About half way eclipsed

I was able to dial it in last night such that I could make one adjustment and capture both of my goals as it was entering/exiting the eclipsed phase. I am using a Canon EOS T2i with Canon 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 lens. My f-stop was 5.6 at 300mm and my ISO was mainly 800 or 1600. I would switch between 1/4 second for the blood red perspective and 1/1000 second (or even faster as it got less eclipsed) for the bright perspective. Simply switching the shutter speed back and forth I was able to capture both perspectives of the eclipse!

light bulb moon

Reminds me of a light bulb, faster shutter speed gathering both red and lit eclipsed moon

almost done with eclipse

Nearly done with the eclipse

What a fun night, and wonderful celestial event! Next up, October 8, 2015 the Draconids meteorite shower, and then October 21-22 is the Orionids! Can’t wait!