Been trying out the new Macro lens to see if I can get used to when to use which aperture setting. Since it was a beautiful spring day, I walked around the yard with the lens experimenting on different subjects.
What a beautiful (probably smog enhanced) sunset at my friends house here in Larkspur. Wasn’t focusing too much on photos (more on just chilling after a tough couple of weeks) but was able to capture several with a 55mm prime f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens.
The theme of this post is erosion. On a recent trip to Las Vegas I was able to have some fun taking pictures from 30k+ feetwith my Note5 and the Instagram filters!
The desert can be a harsh place, but it is full of colorful beauty! My cab driver stated there are towns that are emerging from the depths of Lake Mead, he stated it is 320 feet below normal! Anyhow, here to the wind, rain, snow and natural weathering processes!
February 3rd 2017 was a cold, brisk morning in Larkspur. We had a good fog all night and the temperature went down to 15 degrees in the morning. I started my daily journey toward the megalopolis while dawn was just unfolding and I felt the urge to turn around to grab my camera. It was beautiful out!
So, I turned around and went back home and grabbed the camera. Along the first 5 miles of my route I stopped many times and took some photos. I then was treated to an elk herd that was in plain view so I stopped and watched them for a while.
A fun start to my drive to work! As always these photos are previews, click on the photo for a larger version.
This summer was great, but different than previous, for picking and rockhounding. My club field trip availability was limited–I led two trips and was able to make only one other. I went to Gem-o-rama in California with a rockhound buddy (see other blog post for that adventure). The remainder of my rockhounding trips this summer revolved around a pocket I uncovered during one of the club field trips I went on. I didn’t get out nearly as many times as I have in previous years; but the times I did get out were all high quality, extremely fun and productive! 2016 I would say it was a very successful season!
NOTE: As always, click on the pictures for a HD version. Trust me, it’s worth it! The videos are all available in HD as well.
On my third club field trip of the year I hit into a pocket that consumed 5 days of hard and thrilling work in the following month. It was the biggest crystal pocket I’ve ever found and had some really interesting and amazing crystals. It took me until the very last day of digging to think of the proper name for this pocket…over the month I continually thought about the pocket and realized I had a crush on it…and most of the crystals were damaged due to ancient violence, so I figured the name “Crush” described the experience perfectly!
It all started with a test hole about a meter from the pocket. From others’ experience in this area I knew that crystal pockets tended to be rather deep, so all my test holes need to go at least 1/2 meter deep. When the hole was about a meter diameter, I started to see a shift in color of the soil to a darker brown so I followed it–it was a subtle sign, but something “different” is often what leads you on the crystal trail! Not too much further I started to get into small chips of quartz which quickly turned into a layer of small quartz chips. These chips had no faces or flat sides. Breaking through that layer I entered a zone of darker material and started finding crystal faces. I was in the top of the pocket!
This whole top and side of the pocket (along most of its length, except the ends) was softer clevlandite/feldspar material with large chunks of quartz buried here and there within; these quartz plates had beautiful secondary growth clear quartz all over one side, but in this layer nothing was fully euhedral. This layer of the pocket was about 10-25 centimeters thick and produced some nice plates of parallel growth clear quartz.
I continued to follow this trend horizontally (to bottom and right in the above diagram) until I reached the end of the pocket material — I was back into normal top soil-dirt and gravel underneath. That is when I started to excavate straight down. It was just a few minutes and then I hit extremely red pocket dirt/mud material which is the tell-tale sign of a crystal pocket! For the rest of the day I continued to pull out more of the same type of secondary growth plates and individual crystals with secondary overgrowth. Some really neat and unique crystals!
I thought I was nearing the end of the pocket at this time, so I buried the hole and packed up for the day knowing I’d come back in a few days, excavate the hole, and finish it off. It turned out not going the way that I planned…
Given the pocket was trending downwards, my plan for the second day was to remove the overburden over the deepest part of the hole and also widen the hole so I could continue picking crystals starting with a large crystal I already partially uncovered. Its good to have a plan, but its also good to be flexible! As I was mucking, I noticed that there was more of the pocket heading the other way (i.e. in the direction of the picture taker in the above shot). I ended up focusing on that direction for the entire day as the pocket continued, and got better (!!), in the opposite direction than I originally planned!
The pocket continued as described with the crystal plates at the top and side; but as I progressed I noticed that the floor of the pocket had a layer of larger more well formed crystals and finally microcline at the bottom before it ended up gravel. So I was now seeing the entire dimension of the pocket, about 2/3 meter tall and 1/2 meter wide.
An hour or so later, in the center of the pocket, the red mud/clay turned to purple in a couple of spots; that is when I started to find some small fluorite crystals. These fluorites were a truncated octahedron shape, kinda like a soccer ball. They started out really small (~1 cm) in single crystals but then out came out in small plates. A 1/4 meter further, along the side wall of the pocket, the fluorites started to get rather large, up to 8 cm. At the same time the bottom of the pocket had a couple of large quartz crystals.
The pocket didn’t show any signs of stopping, and all of a sudden it was dark. The nearly full moon was illuminating the ground through the trees. I was exhausted but needed to fill in the hole. So I started that tedious process and a little while later realized I was surrounded by coyotes…they must have killed something because they were screeching and barking in all directions! The whole experience made me think Edgar Allen Poe…the evening ended with the soundtrack of me filling in a large hole by the moonlight…what is going on in them woods after dark?
So as many of you that pick crystals know; when your into the crystals and have to leave a pocket, you continuously think about the pocket while waiting for your next trip! I’m no different and since I knew it was going to be a week before I could head back up, I couldn’t help but go through the fantasy scenarios and put together a plan of attack for that next trip. My plan was to excavate the far end of the pocket I was in day 1, taking out the overburden, widening the hole and pulling out the large crystal that was “stuck” and generally seeing how long that side of the pocket continued. Then, if I extinguished that side of the pocket, I would dig a new hole on the left side (again see diagram above) and meet up with where I left off after day 2. This would be less work by minimizing the mucking and centering the next portal along a new section of the pocket!
I had my plan and was able to take a day off of work a little over a week later. I decided I’d head up after work and set up camp, do the mucking of the hole and then go to sleep; waking up at the crack of dawn and start plucking crystals on my day off. Ended up getting a later start then I planned and it was dark by the time I arrived. I lit the lantern, set up camp, and then started the mucking which took a while. Of course, my plan was flawed because there is no way I can expose a crystal and not try to remove it! So I ended up working on the pocket until 2 am when my headlamp batteries started to dim! I then watched a meteorite shower and hit the sack.
The next morning I went down and continued with that side of the pocket until it pinched out. I was able to remove several large crystals (seen in the video) and behind these crystals the pocket pinched out. I hit nothing for the next 1/2 meter so I felt I reached that end of the pocket. After taking a break I started with phase two of my plan. I hit the end of my day 2 digs a couple of hours later and was back into the crystals. Once back into the pocket I was able to pull out a large chunk of fluorite along the side of the pocket (top side in the diagram). The fluorite came out in many pieces (totaling ~30 cm long, 5 cm tall and 5 cm wide). This was exciting because the fluorites were continuing to getting bigger the more I went in this direction! However, that was the last fluorite I found in the pocket. This large chunk was EXTREMELY brittle and broken up and much of it ended up disintegrating when I tried to rinse it off with water.
As you can see in the picture, it was awkward and difficult to go to the bottom of the pocket with that overburden there, so on day 4 I removed it. I then spent the remainder of that day taking out the bottom of the pocket and following it further. This section of the pocket started to change from the consistent topography I was getting used to. The top of the pocket had less of the softer clevlandite/feldspar than before and was more interlocked quartz and pegmatite. The number of crystals on the top was significantly less than before; the ones that I found were more euhedral and still coated with secondary growth. This side seemed to be where the most violence had occurred because there was a lot of damage to most of the crystals. The clay was also harder and pulling the crystals out without damaging them further made progress considerably slower. There was no more fluorite found on this side of the pocket.
The fifth day ended up being the final day. I was able to pull out a couple more really nice crystals as the pocket started to dive under a pegmatite rhine. The crystals below this point were no longer coated with secondary growth and all were intergrown and not fully euhedral. Many were still large. Once the pocket started to dive downward, the sides of the pocket were difficult digging and the crystals weren’t the quality to pursue further. The pocket had finally pinched out! I decided to throw in the towel and celebrate the amazing crystal pocket I had unearthed!
Cleaning these crystals has been a chore. They had many phases of growth, first the smoky quartz, then a layer of albite, then a layer of iron oxide, then a layer of clear secondary growth quartz, then another layer of iron oxide and clay. Cleaning these requires a chemical bath and then mechanical cleaning, repeating over and over due to the tremendous amounts of facets that each crystal has. Because there is a layer of iron oxide under the clear quartz, the crystals are somewhat “spotted” with red and white that can’t be removed from under the clear quartz. In some instances they beg to be cleaned more, but then you realize that the staining is all under the clear quartz.
The amount of facets are amazing and each piece, regardless of how little or large–they are all unique! I will probably leave some pieces uncleaned as they will look better that way; while others I’ll spend the winter cleaning. It takes about 2-3 weeks per batch of crystals to get them clean enough for my liking (several iterations of chemical then mechanical cleaning), so it is a slow and labor intensive process. But a day playing with crystals is better than a day at work, that’s for sure! This will add some fun throughout the entire winter!
Here is a gallery of some of the crystals and plates that I found.
Road Trip to Gem-O-Rama 2016
As always, click on any image for a much larger HD version, and note all the video is HD so adjust your settings. The crystals of Gem-O-Rama 2016 are in this separate blog post.
My prospecting buddy Kirk suggested we road trip to Gem-O-Rama this year for its 75th anniversary. I have always wanted to make that event, but for the last several years have not wanted to hassle with coordinating a trip. Having someone to go with was a game-changer for me, and I was able to take off of work and home life to make this happen.
We decided that camping would be fun and definitely the cheapest route, so we packed up our stuff knowing the days would be warm in the desert and nights would likely be cold. We also packed up appropriate prospecting equipment.
We started off the trip with Colorado’s first snow. As luck would have it, the snow was most intense when we planned to leave, and the drive was a bit dicey until the sun came up! Our goal was to make it to Valley of the Gods in SW Utah (the actual destination was kept secret…little did I know that Kirk had spent quite a bit of time in the SW and had some amazing routes for us on the road trip!)
After leaving South Park the roads cleared up and we had a pleasant drive. Kirk had made the longest playlist of cool tunes I think I’ve ever heard; I don’t know if it ever repeated. We discovered we have many similar interests in synth-based music and I met my match when it comes to 80’s band trivia!
Valley of the Gods
I love this part of our country! I had not been to Valley of the Gods, likely because I don’t frequent German travel websites (this must be a popular place for Germans to tour the US because we met a lot of German tourists in this area). The beauty of the SW Utah desert is world famous!
It was getting late in the afternoon and I figured we must be staying in this general area. Kirk told me to find Moki Dugway on the map, I said whaaat? But eventually I found it on the map as we traversed Moki Dugway, a hidden road along a cliff wall onto the top of the mesa. Moki Dugway led to a mesa that jets out over the San Juan River and overlooks Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley. It is one heck of a gorgeous place to camp, that’s for sure!
Day #2’s Leg
We woke up, got a bite to eat and then headed out. We stopped at Goosenecks State Park which Kirk stated the last time he was there it was not a State Park. We parked and took in the amazing bends of the San Juan River.
After that we went through Monument Valley and continued through Page, AZ where the Glen Canyon Dam for Lake Powell was located.
Zion National Park
Zion is an amazing place, and the word is out. In 2015 it was the 6th most visited National Park. We were a little behind in our itinerary so we didn’t have much time to stop but the views and geology as we drove through were awesome!
We continued through the barren landscapes and went through Las Vegas on Friday afternoon at sunset, which is rush hour. Note to self, take the newly built bypass on the north side on the way home! South of Vegas heading toward Los Angeles we witnessed a solid line of cars heading the other way into the City of Sin! Not being a huge fan of Las Vegas, I’d have to admin this was my second best trip there; we went straight through without stopping! (the best was on the way home when we took the bypass loop and didn’t go through it at all, lol)!
Our destination was Trona Pinnacles in the Searles Valley, where we’d camp for two nights while we were picking crystals at Gem-O-Rama during the day. We got to Trona Pinnacles after dark and the moon was setting as we found a place to camp. Trona’s landscape consists of around 500 tufa (calcium carbinate) spires making it look like an alien landscape. Actually, it was just that in the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier among many other hollywood blockbusters!
These tufa features were created long ago (10 to 100 thousand years ago) when calcium carbonate groundwater seeped into the bottom of large inland lakes that were present at that time. The calcium rich groundwater and the alkaline lake water created these deposits, the lakes drained, and we’re left with the Trona Pinnacles.
Here is a cool time lapse I did from the front door of the tent looking west. This was a 4+ hour capture using my 14mm f2.8 lens with 330+ open exposure shots.
The 75th Annual Gem-O-Rama 2016
Wow, what an amazing event. I have detailed this event is a separate blog post. I will say that the crystal digging was very simple and easy, and the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society put on one heck of an extravaganza! It’s nice for a change being able to drive right to the spot and pick crystals with minimal effort! It was extremely well organized and very family friendly. Here is the flyer for 2017, you should think about going!
The return trip home
We finished with the halite collecting field trip on Sunday around noon and headed home. On the way we visited the ghost town of Rhyolite as we traversed through the 99 degree Death Valley (remember we started our trip at 29 degrees). We stayed in Mesquite in a stinky motel and progressed through central Utah meeting up with I-70 which from there was a straight shot home.
Gold was discovered in 1904 in the hills around Rhyolite, and in 1905 the town was formally established and platted. As many of the gold rush towns of western America, the town was in a boom mode and growth was swift. Just several years into the boom of the town, however, several economic events including the San Francisco earthquake squelched the investment in Rhyolite’s mines. By 1908 Rhyolite’s population was peaking at around 8,000, but the mines were beginning to fail due to lack of investment or lack of production. By 1910, residents moved as more and more financial hardship hit the town. By 1919, the Post Office was closed.
What amazes me if that in 15 years the town went from nothing, to nearly 10,000 residents, back to nothing. Much of the infrastructure of the town was moved to the nearby town of Beatty, so at least resources were re-purposed. Today Rhyolite is a interesting town of ruins, with the train depot currently being restored.
So a rockhounding buddy called me and suggested we road trip to Gem-o-rama this year. I purchased a halite plate at a rock show years ago and while researching where it came from I came upon Gem-o-rama and chalked it up as something to do in the future; but given its a road trip to California from Colorado I never got serious about planning a trip.
Having a friend to go with and a road trip adventure offer; this was a game changer and got me engaged in the concept! I checked with work and home and everything worked out, so I took Kirk up on his offer and joined him on this adventure! I am so glad I did!
The road trip part of the trip was spectacular; I’m put that in a different blog post with tons of pictures, so make sure and check it out too.
This year was the 75th annual Gem-o-rama event; yes it has been happening for 75 years! It is hosted each year by the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society and their experience is definitely noteworthy. The whole gem show and field trips are very professional and extremely organized, especially when you see how many folks the event can accommodate!
The events are very family friendly! There were tons of kids of all ages including many boy scout troops. I loved hearing the kids all having a fantastic time, joyous when they found jewels, and angry when their sibling stole their jewels! This event appears it is a favorite for the SoCal crystal hunting crowds due to the proximity of the Los Angeles area. We only met another from Colorado there; and he currently was residing in California, so it is a day-trip type of deal for many families.
The event is broken up into four field trips. The first trip is Friday afternoon and is a dealer collecting trip for halite plates. Because of the elongated drought, many of the lakes are not good for finding the halite crystals and plates; but the Searles Valley Minerals plant have created and nurtured a spot that is perfect for crystals; and from what we heard this year’s halites from this field trip were the best ever recovered. This excursion is intended for mineral dealers and is quite expensive (although a bargain if you are collecting for resale). This trip is on the 2017 flyer, but details like price has not yet been disclosed.
The crystals here are formed as the water accumulated during the wet season (winter) evaporates during the dry summer heat. As the water evaporates the brine solution becomes more concentrated with minerals. The first and most abundant mineral to precipitate is halite. Borax, hanksite and even the rarer sulfohalites are formed. The crystals form under the surface of the dry lake beds, so they need to be extracted by various physical means which creates collecting opportunities for the Saturday’s field trips.
The first field trip for rockhounds is on Saturday morning. It is the Mud trip (lots of details in this link). Folks with the Gem & Mineral Society and Searles Valley Minerals have extracted mud that is full of hanksite crystals and spread this mud over a dry lake bed for the collectors to collect in. These piles are at most a foot deep. There are plenty of crystals all buried in black smelly mud that will get all over your clothes, so take overalls and/or boots or clothes that are throw-away.
Since the minerals of this area are water soluble, it is important to rinse them with the ultra concentrated brine pulled up from the depths of the lake. At this field trip they have troughs of brine available, a truck with brine (if you bring your own containers) and there is also brine for sale (while supplies last) at the general store back in Trona.
Kirk and I found an open spot in one of the mud piles and started digging. Right away Kirk found some really nice clusters and I was pulling out some smaller (but still nice sized) single hanksites. Before I knew it I had a 5 gallon bucket full of rocks; and there was still plenty of real-estate to go through, so I realized I needed to be more selective–a common problem I have when digging crystals.
About half way through the field trip I came across a large sized crystal. Kirk stated that I had a Cheshire Cat grin on my face as I slowly pulled out this hanksite crystal from the mud. The sticky mud made a sucking “sluuuuuurp” sound as it became detached from the sea of mud. I was in awe as this crystal was huge and very well formed. Kirk stated it looked like a football, so it was dubbed “The Football”! I would have taken pictures, but I was covered in the black sticky mud and I didn’t want to touch anything that I didn’t want to be a mess, so the only picture of the dig is what I took on the car ride in, above.
We spent too much time digging through the mud and didn’t leave enough time to fully scrub down the crystals in the brine troughs, so we left the somewhat muddy crystals in a bucket. While waiting for the next field trip in the parking lot of the Gem & Mineral show, we bought some brine and scrubbed them down before the mud was completely dry. The remainder of the cleaning for me occurred at home. I used a scrub brush, dental pick and spot gun to clean the crystals.
Some hanksite crystals were truncated and elongated “barrel” shaped in singles, and the clusters were all complex and each one unique! I saw many very large crystals and clusters being cleaned up after this dig!
The next field trip was Saturday afternoon and it was the Blow Hole Trip. As you will read in this link, they drill holes about 30-40 feet down in the lake bed and then push some explosives down and detonate to loosen a bunch of crystals. Then they push out the crystals with high pressure air pumped down into the hole which pushes the liquids and crystals out onto the surface for collectors to rummage through.
Collecting here is EXTREMELY easy; the crystals are all just laying all over the ground (see video below) in proximity to the drilled holes. The eight or so holes are extracted before the field trip begins so folks can start collecting as they arrive. They do put on a demo and extract crystals with their specialized drilling truck and everyone can grab “fresh” crystals as well. The video shows this field trip.
The crystals we found on Saturday were awesome. The hanksite wasn’t as big on the Blow Hole trip as it was the Mud Trip, and didn’t come in as large of plates. The hanksite had several crystal shapes which you can see below. Most were double terminated and had either a point, a flat bottom, or both point and flat terminations on the ends.
We found borax and some halite crystals and plates. I had read the sulfohalite octahedral crystals were rare, so once I got my eyes adjusted to them I was able to find some of these as well.
Kirk had read that these crystals will fluoresce in UV light, so when I got them home and cleaned up I checked that out. I’m using a cheapo UV LED light I bought off of ebay, and they lit up bright lime green! These pictures I took were in the total darkness except that UV light, with an four second open exposure to capture the fluorescence.
On Sunday morning the last field trip took us to the lake beds to find halite plates which the area is world renowned for. These are a bit of work and require some picks and/or heavy wrecking bars to bust through the dense surface to find the crystals on the underside. Under the surface growing from the top were halite plates and berkeite plates. See video for the berkeites extraction.
The pink/red color in the halites are from halobacteria which produces a red carotenoid pigment. The deeper red color is highly desired.
Been awhile since I have experienced late night lightning, but I was awake and in luck tonight, Aug 28th, 2016. We had taken a trip to the Arkansas River valley in southern Colorado to buy Pueblo peppers and visit the state fair where my kids had participated at the State level in 4-H earlier in the week. After a fun but long day we came home and I started peeling the skins off of our many bushels of peppers; this usually goes well into the night! Just as I was finishing bushel #1, there were flashes in the sky; at first I thought it was a car going by but to my delight a storm was passing by to our south.
The insects were having a symphony in the front yard and the only man-made noise was a train passing by a 1/2 mile or so away (lots of squeaks and metal on metal scrapes) so I recorded some of the ambience while enjoying it. Meanwhile the lightning was becoming more frequent, so i jumped in the car and headed for vistas out of the trees. I ended up driving about 5 miles south of Larkspur and sat on top of a hill overlooking the Spruce Meadows Open Space at Greenland and watched the show.
I enjoy taking pictures of lightning with power lines, and these were carrying a lot of electricity so I figured it would be perfect foreground for lightning shots. Given it was raining and the lightning was fairly close, I decided to shoot from within the truck. I have been getting better at holding the camera fairly steady with the iris open, these were 6 second shots at ISO 800, f/11, focus at infinity. I was using a wide angle lens.
To remove the rain from the windshield I need to have the wipers on; sometimes there are drops in the shot but that goes with the territory; not much I can do about that given it is raining. Luckily the lightning is so quick and otherwise it is dark (no light) so most of the shots you don’t see the wipers. Then it is just a waiting game, reviewing the pictures to ensure the field of view is what is expected. Unfortunately the lightning was infrequent, about 90 seconds apart, so I got a lot of black pictures I had to delete later.
As always, click on the photo for a larger size.