Wyoming Solar Eclipse. August 21, 2017. We knew the crowds would be large, we knew the traffic would be bad, but we had to go anyway…it was just too close to miss. August 21st brought the total solar eclipse through the middle of Wyoming. My sister, dad and I decided to witness it first hand.
My family stayed with my folks that weekend, they live on the Colorado side of the Wyoming border up near Red Feather Lakes. The plan was for my sister to come up and meet my dad and I near the Wyoming border on 287. We’d carpool from there. The target was south of Casper on BLM land, staying clear of the I-25 corridor. There we’d be in the center of the shadow for the longest totality without the crowds.
We drove on Wyoming 487 and there was a good amount of traffic so we jumped off onto Wyoming 77 and was just looking for a nice spot with a good view. Just so happened we hit the Shirley Ridge which had an amazing 360 view, and only two other cars were there. We got there a couple of hours early.
Here was our target area. We jetted over to 77 once we realized the popularity of 487.
Since we were early, we set up our cameras and then I started wandering around looking at rocks. There were agates and jaspers laying everywhere! Cool. So a rock hound and celestial road trip together! Can’t beat that!
Agates and Jaspers were everywhere.
For the photography buffs out these, here was my setup. I had a Sony Alpha with 2x teleconverter and 70-200mm lens zoomed. That gives me 400mm, and then I used APS-C mode on the camera to give me another boost to 600mm. My dad had purchased a solar viewing film and I had that taped on the lens hood with painters tape to not leave residue. All of this was on a tripod which was a lot of weight, but luckily the mirrorless cameras are light in comparison and it didn’t get too windy so I felt we were safe.
The setup, my Sony Alpha (covered with a cloth to prevent overheating in the direct sun) with a solar filter taped to the hood. On the screen it shows a picture of the eclipse at about 75%.
My plan was to take pictures every 3 minutes both coming into and leaving the eclipse and then during totality I would remove the lens hood, refocus, and take shots at different settings to capture all the different features of the totality. All of this worked except one thing, I realized about half way into the waning of the eclipse that I was out of focus. I didn’t realize that my focal point was the film several inches off of the end of the lens (affixed to the lens hood). So I didn’t focus correctly getting many of the waning shots. Oh well, rookie mistake.
Taken from the Mr. Eclipse article on photographing eclipses, this is an amazing article that everyone interested should read!
Leading up to the totality the birds and crickets started to sing and make noise as if it was dusk. There were no trees so we didn’t see the kaleidoscopic effect that others saw which would have been amazing. It also got considerably cooler, fast, and the winds started to blow adding to the chill factor.
My dad Alex and sister Kristy chilling out as the Eclipse was starting. You can see all the people that got at this site after we did; but we were all very comfortably spaced out.
During totality it was a scramble, I was taking many shots with different settings per Mr. Eclipse‘s chart above and then I sat the camera down and just observed. What was cool was the 360 degree view we had, and the 360 degree color spanning the horizon!
During totality, looking NE towards Casper-ish. You can see the shadow of the moon in the clouds! That was really one of the coolest things about the eclipse is watching the shadow progress across the horizon.
Here is the sun at the start of the eclipse. You can see some spots.
Here is one of the last shots I took before removing the lens hood with the filter affixed. From the next several minutes I explored different settings and took a bunch of pictures. Focus was a bit of a challenge as infinity was blurry.
Here is a picture of the corona. Taken at f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO-100 at 600mm.
This was the last picture I took without the filter. f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO-100 @600mm.
Here is the “diamond ring” feature of the totality. I’m pretty satisfied how this one turned out!
Here were the chalk cliffs which was the only feature on the horizon that is on google maps.
The trip home wasn’t too bad, although there was about an hour backup on 487 because of the stop sign in Medicine Bow at US 287. But the state troopers had that engineered well and traffic slowly flowed through and no-one had to completely stop.
You can see the line of cars, looks like ants, on the horizon. This was no where near as bad as I-25 was. Good choice to my sister and dad on this route!
We found this little horny toad lizard wondering around.
The season of Scorpio often brings good luck to me in the Colorado Rockies, and this year I was treated with a special find (large quartz crystals)! As most rock hounds probably experience, as you gain experience you think of old places you’ve dug and the potential for those spots still producing crystals now that you know what you didn’t during the original dig.
This otherwise drab (likely microcline) rock was coated with secondary crystal points. Really interesting growth pattern too.
There was a spot I found many years ago where I found a couple of floater crystals that were so-so and I abandoned that dig site prospecting for lusher areas. I have always wondered, what if I dug deeper in that spot? I didn’t think I dug deep enough but I always wondered if it would be worth the effort to try that area again as it was a bit of a hike with several steep hills. So I have been thinking about this spot now and again over the years and I finally decided to prospect that area again.
In early November I went out on a crisp morning and found myself in the area of this dig. I wasn’t having any luck prospecting, so I decided what the hell, I need to resolve this once and for all, so I hiked back to that spot. I reclaim all my digs and after many years away they have grown back the ground cover and looked good, which was pleasing. I ended up digging in the area that I had long thought about, and within about 30 minutes starting hitting some signs.
The area had some large rocks and as I dug around them I started to see some darker coloration, which ended up being pegmatite. Digging into that started to produce some flats and faces and it wasn’t long before the first crystal popped out, maybe a foot underground and in a peg seam. After the initial crystal I started to see the seam open up and then experienced some harder clay. Only once have I hit a really thick clay, but I could tell right away that experience was happening again.
This plate came out in 3 pieces which is repaired above. The main part of the plate was at the top of the pocket, as seen in the video. The left crystal had sunk to the bottom of the pocket after it was shattered off, you can see me pull it out in the video immediately before I pulled out the larger healed crystal toward the end. The upper right piece was also at the bottom of the pocket. It pays to save all pieces and parts.
Working in the clay requires metal tools, there is no way you can get it out with your fingers or even wooden material. I have a dulled screwdriver just for these times. I started to pull out quartz crystals but they were all heavily overgrown with a brownish, sharp milky quartz-type crystal. It wasn’t coming off, that’s for sure, and I thought perhaps it would require a little soaking o loosen up the overcoating. So I continued to dig and starting pulling out some really nice crystals, but it was VERY slow going and somewhat tedious on the fingers and wrists due to the clay.
As I continued to dive down with the pocket, the clay got thicker and the crystals got bigger! It finally ended up where there were many large crystals all at the bottom of the pocket. I could tell the pocket collapsed because I found bits and pieces of broken crystals in between these larger ones that matched up to crystal parts I was finding at the top of the pocket.
The crystals all have several stages of growth. Most are coated with a brownish quartz like coating. I could tell there was microcline in the pocket, but it appears to have all been corroded away and the replaced on all the smokey quartz throughout the pocket. Must have been some acidic stuff in the pocket during its creation!
This crystal is typical of almost all crystals in this pocket. Multiple layers of additional growth on the original smokey quartz. It is very difficult to remove–this has been soaking in SIO baths for a while, and a water gun does nothing. I will attempt mechanical means as soon as I get that available to me. But the crystal is GEMMY inside!
Needless to say, these crystals are going to be VERY difficult to clean. Super Iron Out has pulled some of the coating off; leaving behind a harder, sharp layer of quartz type coating. I was able to shine a light through the side of a quartz, and the big crystals I found are all typically very gemmy inside–at least those I could peer into. So I am looking into an abrasive solution to help make some of these large, beautiful smokey quartz crystals shine!
This was one of the largest pockets I have found, definitely the largest by far this year.
If you have any tips to help me clean these, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Note that I put a couple of crap crystals in a beaker of fully concentrated muriatic acid and it did clear the brown off, the quartz-like coating did not get touched.
This was on a very small piece that I am not sure why I brought home…typically if in question it comes home to get a rinse. It was covered with tiny crystals as seen in this macro shot!
There were many rumors that Gem-o-rama was done after the 75th year, but seeing a flyer for year #76 got my hopes up for attending in 2017 again with Kirk. But, the work schedule wasn’t looking like it was going to cooperate so I had written off going this year.
The week before Kirk calls me and says he still wants to go, but on a compressed schedule. I was able to take a day off of work last minute and we were locked in for another road trip and gem collecting extravaganza. I’ll detail the road trip in other blog posts (it was a lot of driving–thank you Kirk–and a ton of fun). But this article will talk about the event itself.
We learned a lot at last year’s field trips and so we had a strategy going into this year. For the mud trip, I was focused on Hanksite complete crystals and/or clusters. I ended up leaving a lot of crystals that I found, many were probably nice, but it was nice having mostly great ones to clean this year instead of a bunch of so-so ones–the strategy paid off!
Cleaning these does take some effort. This year we bought a couple more liters of brine from the store for cleaning which was needed. We both brought dental picks and a variety of firmness and size of brushes which also sped up the cleaning process. We brought newspaper to wrap the crystals in, and zip-lock baggies to seal in the moisture for the drive back home. I brought paper towels which was a mistake as it stuck to the crystals if they fully dried, so newspaper next time for sure. For cleaning, a bucket is too big except if you find a monster cluster, so we brought hard plastic throw-away containers from the grocery store which conserved brine and make it easier to access.
This is the El Grande Hanksite cluster I found. Notice the white residue all over it, that has to be scraped off with a dental pick. Each facet will require a full cleaning. It sits like this in the cabinet waiting for a more ambitious weekend (which it will take, probably 15-20 hours)!
The medium Hanksite cluster from the mud dig. Every face had to be scraped which took about 4 hours, and really sore hands and wrists. It was worth it!
Instead of spending a bunch of time cleaning at the site of the mud dig, we just did a quick scrub, especially on the clusters, which left more time for digging. Note there were more people this year than before, and it took longer to drive to the mud site, so less time actually searching for crystals. After the mud field trip we got back in line in Trona, ate lunch, and then a much deeper cleaning of the crystals. The goal is to get most of the mud off of the crystals. We then wrapped them while they were wet and sealed them in zip-lock containers. This helps considerably to have them still moist after the road trip home for the final cleanup. If the crystals dry up, then you’ll need to scrape every face to get the top layer of dried hanksite off, which is more effort.
The second field trip on Saturday was the blow-hole trip. We learned last year that the hanksite crystals were neat from this dig as there were basically three types we want, all double-terminated. Barrels with flat ends, one side flat and the other side pointed, and both sides pointed. But, the hanksites from this dig are not as big or cool typically as the mud dig. My focus was to find Sulfohalites, interesting Borax, Halite cubes and clusters; also potentially hanksites if they were awesome.
Watching the demo of blowing crystals out of the ground was cool; but this year I decided to just focus on collecting as much as possible. Again, even though we were in what we thought was a good place in line, we ended up going out of the way to the blow hole spot and it ate some time out of our collecting–but what are you gonna do? We dug in an area that was about 3-5 inches deep of crystals that had piled up. Once sitting in the right direction to get the best sun reflections off the crystals (and out of the shade of the body and hat) we were able to make quick work of sifting through the crystals. I had a small 2-gallon bucket and just tossed the crystals in there; except for the small ones I put in individual 3×3 inch baggies that I brought. This was to ensure the little crystals, or nice ones, didn’t get damaged in the bucket.
This was the last field trip for the day so I didn’t spend any time cleaning crystals at the field trip site. After dinner, we drank a beer, chatted and cleaned into the night. I wrapped the wet crystals in wet paper towels and put them in zip-lock baggies once cleaned. Some that were fully cleaned I applied mineral oil to with a brush. Eventually all crystals except the Halite plates would get mineral oil since we live in a very dry climate.
Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Variety of sulfohalites
Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal
Borax crystal with hanksite
Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation
Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together
The final field trip was on the salt lakes on Sunday morning. We learned last year that the crystals grown on shelves, typically where there is running brine or on the edge of brine pools. Right away we were finding larger plates but with small crystals. I was digging in the pools and Kirk found a spot (right where everyone was walking by to get further out into the lakes) digging in the ditch at the edge of the lake. This ended up being the best spot and I joined him after a while. We pulled out so many cool plates of medium sized pink halite clusters from this area. We just feel along the edge of the ditch and you could feel the cube crystals with your fingers, then carefully extract the plates by either pulling up, or using a pick and breaking the plate in the size you want. The one problem was, we didn’t have enough space in the car to bring a ton of plates home, so we ended up giving many away to passers by–which in itself was a lot of fun!
For the trip home, I discovered last year that if you pack them in your salty clothes (you get pretty wet digging) they make the trip well. I packed them in a 5 gallon bucket on top of my zip-lock baggies of other crystals from the previous digs. I also brought a couple of beach towels this year to wrap the plates in. The dealers there utilize either produce boxes or hard plastic storage boxes you get at the hardware store. These come out clean, so just a rinse in the ditch and leave them out to dry is all that is needed before you wrap them in cloth. I only had a couple break apart on the way home, having them secured in the bucket was safe. I do not use mineral oil on the halite plates but do use it for the other crystals.
Again, a wonderful trip filled with fun! This time Kirk’s boys got to join us. Hopefully there will be many more Gem-o-rama trips in the future!
Crystal digging time has been limited this summer, however I was able to make it out several times this fall having several successful days! This day in late September I was able to find a fun smokey quartz and light amazonite pocket. There was an antler my dog found that he enjoyed all day long; the cool part is where he found it! Investigating the area he led me to showed some promising signs on the surface. I dug a few test holes and eventually found a crystal pocket! I feel it thus is appropriate that I named the pocket after him (his name is Boogie)!
Boogie chawing on a an antler near my test hole, which ended up in a couple small pockets
At the point of the antler, there was a few quartz and feldspar chunks laying on the ground. Digging a test hole there, I found a couple of pieces of float pegmatite within the first 5 inches so I followed the float peg up the hill. Its always a good sign when you can follow a path of float rocks up a hill, especially if there are euhedral sides, which in this case there were not any flats. A short while (maybe 5 feet) later uphill the peg stopped showing up at the float level. Often this sudden stoppage of float material means that whatever was producing the float is back downhill.
Going back down the hill a few feet, I dug deeper and found more peg! Following that led me to the host peg which started maybe 8 inches below the surface. It looks like I found the source!!! Now, hopefully the peg chunks will start having flat faces and become more crystallized ending in a seam or a pocket!
In this hole, digging down, I was able to hit the bottom of the peg seam where it turned into crumbles of granite gravel. Going up hill I ended back into gravel, so I feel I found the girth of this pegmatite seam. That said, nothing interesting was presenting itself, yet…
Next, I followed the peg from side-to-side. Within about 30 minutes I found a few nice terminated quartz crystals and a few smaller pieces. This is documented in the first few minutes in the video, below. The quartz ended as soon as it started, however, and I ended up on a fruitless dig in that direction for about an hour longer…that is typical of me, when I find crystals I go in that direction for an extra long time just to be sure; someday I’ll figure out when to stop earlier…or not.
Next step was to take a break and eat lunch. After looking at what I had dug and the size of the pegmatite from different perspectives I figured there was only one choice, to stay on this peg which had produced quartz crystals and dig the other way. Soon after digging that way I was pulling out some quartz and microcline with sides, and finally some microcline crystals. This is where the video continues.
The pocket contained a lot of chunks of microcline/light blue amazonite but none were fully euhedral, until the very end which contains a big 5″ crystal in three pieces. Many of the crystals were good size and had many faces. All were heavily coated in iron oxide. I did find some quartz too, especially in the center and lower parts of the pocket. The quartz had interesting staining, all having a secondary coating of grey/white quartz on their tips, and then on 3 of the faces horizontal lines of the same secondary coating while on the other three faces heavily iron oxide stained. They all had similar coatings and stain patterns which I found interesting!
The find of the day was a smokey quartz and cleavelandite combo, a 4-5 inch smokey quartz with excellent patterns in the secondary coatings and staining, and a 5″ wide light amazonite crystal at the bottom of the pocket.
Cleavelandite and Smokey Quartz combo with mica sprinkled around it. The quartz has a secondary coating of quartz.
Almost all the quartz had a secondary coating of milky quartz on top and the amazonites and microclines were heavily coated with iron oxide. There was a very large 5″ amazonite at the bottom of the pocket which was in three pieces, but they fit back together nicely. All have been in the cleaning bath for a while and have yet to clean up to my liking, except a few in which the staining adds to the color and character! I’m working on abrasive methods and hopefully will have cleaner pictures to show soon.
Large amazonite (light blue) found at the bottom of the pocket in 3 pieces. Undergoing a lengthy super iron out bath.
Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.
Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps
A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.
Largest smokey quartz from the pocket. I’m done cleaning it as I really like the lines and their parallelism to the crystal faces. This is shown in the video.
I have been wanting to visit the St. Peter’s Dome fluorite locale for a while as I heard the fluorite was beautiful and plentiful. Friends Matt, David and I visited the location and it didn’t disappoint.
The location is accessible by a normal vehicle along the Old Stage Road where it meets Gold Camp Road coming out of Colorado Springs. If one is unsure of the last road to the mine, they can park at the St. Peter’s Dome parking area and walk the 200 yards to the mine dumps.
View of St. Peter’s Dome, Colorado Springs and the Palmer Divide from the mine.
Fluorite is everywhere.
Purple, green and white fluorite litter the ground.
There is a bunch of fluorite laying everywhere, mostly in small chunks. You can take a sledge and chisel and work some of the larger pieces if you so chose, but I just walked around and picked up a dozen or two smaller stones that looked like they had interesting color or marbling.
I have a flat lap so I took these stones and polished with a 150 lap. They look really nice all polished up (wet in this case), so I will continue to shape and then polish the stones.
I have long been wanting to explore the area known as Bacculite Mesa near Pueblo, Colorado searching for various fossils in the Pierre Shale deposits. This site is on private land but the land owner does allow clubs to visit on planned trips. This year I was able to make the field trip with the Canyon City and Lake George clubs.
The Western Interior Seaway had Colorado as the ocean floor around 70-80 million years ago. This was before the mountains were formed and all over Colorado there are fossils contained in Pierre Shale deposits. I have found pyrite and marcosite concretions in this general area coming out of the Pierre Shale. This is a rare and premiere location for fossils from this era of our geologic history!
Looking SW over Pueblo towards the Spanish Peaks from the Bacculite Mesa.
Thanks David for taking this picture of me and the Pierre Shale formations of Bacculite Mesa locality.
I carpooled with another fossil enthusiast David (thanks for the ride and company!) and we both had a great day and some amazing finds. David suggested hitting the back side of the collecting area and we found some great fossils in that area; but limited bacculites which was mainly on a different face of the mesa.
Collecting area we were in. Photo courtesy of David Gillard.
I found the bacculite fossils pretty much in every zone of these hills including on top, especially in the small ravines and in wash outs below the hills. I dug in a couple of spots that had quite a few rocks and fossils in the area, but didn’t find anything in-situ.
Various bacculites are common if you look through the alluvial slopes as they have weathered out of their host Pierre Shale and made their way down the hill. These multicolored bacculites are 4-6 inches long.
This is a bacculite tail that can flex, it is interlocked like vertebrae.
Here is what bacculites looked like. Taken from http://www.bhigr.com/media/photos/rplca/bacculites_grand.jpg
I found a couple spots where there was calcite (?) crystals in the fossils, like you see in the clams from Florida or septarian nodules. These were eroding out of harder rock and not the Pierre Shale, I’m assuming some kind of reef as the rock was full of imprints of fossil clams, shells and ammonites.
Shell imprint in shale.
Small clam Nymphalucina occidentalis
Weathered bacculite with shale matrix attached.
Unknown concretion, love the red/yellow/orange staining and patterns!
Little conglomerate ball, about an inch.
I love this triangle shell in a partial cube!
Calcite cluster, about 3 inches.
Veins of calcite mineralization
I believe this is the head of a small bacculite–which you can see protruding from the left side.
More calcite (?) crystallization
Bacculite with some of the iridescent patterns
Fossil clam with calcite mineralization
Some of the larger calcite (or barite?) crystals. These were beautiful amber color and translucent and in some spots gemmy. Up to an inch.
Prickly Pear Cactus were in bloom!
David found this bacculite head right away; preserved in matrix!
David’s ammonite fossil.
Cool color and design on this shale rock; about 4 inches.
Various clams and shells. Many have calcite cores.
Been cleaning some crystals and since I was playing with my macro lens I decided to do some crystal photography, both to play with technique but also to see up close where the cleaning still needs to occur.
Most of these crystals need a lot further cleaning; with all the facets and how stained they were to begin with; this will be a long process to get all of the staining out of the cracks.
Love the parallel secondary growth and all the facets.
Back side of the above crystal. Looks as if the original growth was a smoky, then two different growth periods.
Still has plenty more iron oxide staining to clean up, but love the colors on this fluorite chunk.
There is a lot pointing at you!
A pyrite double ball. Love the shapes and facets on these great crystals!
This is uncleaned, the pyrite was starting to tarnish when I extracted it; the colors are amazing!
As I’m experimenting with my new Macro lens and crystal photography. I am trying to figure out how to better shoot crystals using a macro lens, which I am really enjoying!
I have been cleaning some crystals in an Iron Out bath recently and thought I’d take some progress shots. These are crystals dug earlier this year and some last year. Here are some of the experiments.
These two both came out of the same area of the little seam I was in. Both had interesting secondary growth patterns! f11,1/100, iso400, 90mm
This one had small crystals growing in the overgrowth gap. Interesting etching as well. Needing a good depth of field for these macro shots. Manual focus, f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.
This crystal has some interesting faces in the overgrowth. Trying to capture the point and the faces in focus, so needing a deep depth of field. f11, 1/00, iso1000, 90mm.
Amazonite. f11, 1/100, iso125, 90mm
This crystal has some neat little gemmy sidecars. f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.
I love this side shot showing the color zoning in the crystal. Love the sawtooths at the top left! f20, 1/100, is0640, 90mm.
Side view of 1/2 of this crystal.
Was going for a shallow depth of field for this end crystal which shows the iron staining and multicolors this fluorite has to offer! f5.6, 1/100, iso100, 90mm
This is part of a much bigger fluorite crystal that disintegrated once I tried extracting it. But the apple green contrasting with violet is amazing! Background was the 12 inches of spring snow and the crystal was backlit by the morning sun. f3.2, 1/2000, iso100, -0.7 step, 90mm.
This is two of the three pieces I was able to salvage. They are still pretty stained with iron oxide, will continue giving a iron out bath. f9, 1/100, iso100, -.7step (oops), 90mm.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the Colorado State of MInd event sponsored by the Castle Rock branch of the Douglas County Libraries. A friend works there and asked if I could present the rocks and crystals I have found in the state. Sounded like a ton of fun, literally!
My bland booth, chock full of rocks
I worked the entire event, 5 hours, talking to very interesting adults and super cool (and many times very intelligent!) kiddos on crystals and rocks. Everyone could pick up the crystals and experience their beauty and geometry up close. I really enjoyed seeing the excitement of the kids faces as they explored the beautiful rocks, and enjoyed meeting like minded folks. I think many people were amazed of the cool gems that lay underground in literally our back yards!
Dave and library patron Carl Degolier. Kindly used with permission from DCL.
I talked about some useful information, so I thought I’d include that information here for reference…
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!
Here is a _very_ rough drawing of the pocket. Note I have little artistic skills, lol! You can see where I entered in the upper right. The crystal pocket measured about 4 meters long, 0.6 meter diameter and the bottom was 1.5 meters underground.
It all started with a test hole about a meter from the pocket. From others’ experience in this area I knew that crystal pockets tended to be rather deep, so all my test holes need to go at least 1/2 meter deep. When the hole was about a meter diameter, I started to see a shift in color of the soil to a darker brown so I followed it–it was a subtle sign, but something “different” is often what leads you on the crystal trail! Not too much further I started to get into small chips of quartz which quickly turned into a layer of small quartz chips. These chips had no faces or flat sides. Breaking through that layer I entered a zone of darker material and started finding crystal faces. I was in the top of the pocket!
The first crystal plate/cluster I pulled out of the top of the pocket. I’d say that is a good sign of things to come!
This whole top and side of the pocket (along most of its length, except the ends) was softer clevlandite/feldspar material with large chunks of quartz buried here and there within; these quartz plates had beautiful secondary growth clear quartz all over one side, but in this layer nothing was fully euhedral. This layer of the pocket was about 10-25 centimeters thick and produced some nice plates of parallel growth clear quartz.
I continued to follow this trend horizontally (to bottom and right in the above diagram) until I reached the end of the pocket material — I was back into normal top soil-dirt and gravel underneath. That is when I started to excavate straight down. It was just a few minutes and then I hit extremely red pocket dirt/mud material which is the tell-tale sign of a crystal pocket! For the rest of the day I continued to pull out more of the same type of secondary growth plates and individual crystals with secondary overgrowth. Some really neat and unique crystals!
This was the largest plate I pulled out on the first day. The flow of the crystals is evident, this is about 30 cm wide. Note that the crystals change direction in the middle of the plate so they are pointing toward each other. I’m sure there is a reason for this, hit me up in the comments if you know why that would be! You’ll want to click on this image for a close up!
This is a really interesting crystal, I love the large terminated crystal surrounded with the smaller parallel growth, and then the different type of cluster growth at the bottom, first small then larger–all of this on the same plate! Also, the crystals at the very top are pointing down and immediately they reverse.
Thanks to Matt who was also on the field trip for taking this shot; I was back filling the hole as I progressed down. I was still only about 1/2 way through the depth of the pocket here. What an awesome day!
I thought I was nearing the end of the pocket at this time, so I buried the hole and packed up for the day knowing I’d come back in a few days, excavate the hole, and finish it off. It turned out not going the way that I planned…
Given the pocket was trending downwards, my plan for the second day was to remove the overburden over the deepest part of the hole and also widen the hole so I could continue picking crystals starting with a large crystal I already partially uncovered. Its good to have a plan, but its also good to be flexible! As I was mucking, I noticed that there was more of the pocket heading the other way (i.e. in the direction of the picture taker in the above shot). I ended up focusing on that direction for the entire day as the pocket continued, and got better (!!), in the opposite direction than I originally planned!
The pocket continued as described with the crystal plates at the top and side; but as I progressed I noticed that the floor of the pocket had a layer of larger more well formed crystals and finally microcline at the bottom before it ended up gravel. So I was now seeing the entire dimension of the pocket, about 2/3 meter tall and 1/2 meter wide.
An hour or so later, in the center of the pocket, the red mud/clay turned to purple in a couple of spots; that is when I started to find some small fluorite crystals. These fluorites were a truncated octahedron shape, kinda like a soccer ball. They started out really small (~1 cm) in single crystals but then out came out in small plates. A 1/4 meter further, along the side wall of the pocket, the fluorites started to get rather large, up to 8 cm. At the same time the bottom of the pocket had a couple of large quartz crystals.
This is one of the larger fluorite crystals I pulled out, definitely the largest on the second day. Note that the square sides do not have any coatings; but the other sides have a purple coating. Really interesting!
This is an example of a truncated octahedron. The fluorite crystals I found were very close to this, however only a few of the smaller ones were completely euhedral. The larger ones were about 1/2 of what is shown here.
This is the large quartz that was sitting on the bottom of the pocket. Three of the sides were covered in the secondary growth terminating with larger crystals at the top. It had a small cluster of fluorite on the right side, which was the direction where I was pulling out the fluorite mini-soccer balls. This was the largest crystal that came out of the pocket although it wasn’t euhedral!
The pocket didn’t show any signs of stopping, and all of a sudden it was dark. The nearly full moon was illuminating the ground through the trees. I was exhausted but needed to fill in the hole. So I started that tedious process and a little while later realized I was surrounded by coyotes…they must have killed something because they were screeching and barking in all directions! The whole experience made me think Edgar Allen Poe…the evening ended with the soundtrack of me filling in a large hole by the moonlight…what is going on in them woods after dark?
So as many of you that pick crystals know; when your into the crystals and have to leave a pocket, you continuously think about the pocket while waiting for your next trip! I’m no different and since I knew it was going to be a week before I could head back up, I couldn’t help but go through the fantasy scenarios and put together a plan of attack for that next trip. My plan was to excavate the far end of the pocket I was in day 1, taking out the overburden, widening the hole and pulling out the large crystal that was “stuck” and generally seeing how long that side of the pocket continued. Then, if I extinguished that side of the pocket, I would dig a new hole on the left side (again see diagram above) and meet up with where I left off after day 2. This would be less work by minimizing the mucking and centering the next portal along a new section of the pocket!
I had my plan and was able to take a day off of work a little over a week later. I decided I’d head up after work and set up camp, do the mucking of the hole and then go to sleep; waking up at the crack of dawn and start plucking crystals on my day off. Ended up getting a later start then I planned and it was dark by the time I arrived. I lit the lantern, set up camp, and then started the mucking which took a while. Of course, my plan was flawed because there is no way I can expose a crystal and not try to remove it! So I ended up working on the pocket until 2 am when my headlamp batteries started to dim! I then watched a meteorite shower and hit the sack.
The next morning I went down and continued with that side of the pocket until it pinched out. I was able to remove several large crystals (seen in the video) and behind these crystals the pocket pinched out. I hit nothing for the next 1/2 meter so I felt I reached that end of the pocket. After taking a break I started with phase two of my plan. I hit the end of my day 2 digs a couple of hours later and was back into the crystals. Once back into the pocket I was able to pull out a large chunk of fluorite along the side of the pocket (top side in the diagram). The fluorite came out in many pieces (totaling ~30 cm long, 5 cm tall and 5 cm wide). This was exciting because the fluorites were continuing to getting bigger the more I went in this direction! However, that was the last fluorite I found in the pocket. This large chunk was EXTREMELY brittle and broken up and much of it ended up disintegrating when I tried to rinse it off with water.
This was part of the large chunk of fluorite–the part that didn’t fully disintegrate when I was washing off the pocket mud!
These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out on the right side. The crystal in the center is about 18 cm in diameter, has a lot of healed terminations, and fits perfectly with the other crystal that was found nearby in the pocket (see video)! These crystals do have damage–as most crystals did in this pocket (hence the pocket’s name)–but still was a thrill to find!
The hole after day 3, again back filling (on the right) to minimize the mucking efforts.
As you can see in the picture, it was awkward and difficult to go to the bottom of the pocket with that overburden there, so on day 4 I removed it. I then spent the remainder of that day taking out the bottom of the pocket and following it further. This section of the pocket started to change from the consistent topography I was getting used to. The top of the pocket had less of the softer clevlandite/feldspar than before and was more interlocked quartz and pegmatite. The number of crystals on the top was significantly less than before; the ones that I found were more euhedral and still coated with secondary growth. This side seemed to be where the most violence had occurred because there was a lot of damage to most of the crystals. The clay was also harder and pulling the crystals out without damaging them further made progress considerably slower. There was no more fluorite found on this side of the pocket.
After day #4, I added the wooden dam so I didn’t have to worry about the other side of the hole continuously filling in while I was mucking and working the pocket. I had started filling the hole before I took this picture, the bottom is another 1/3 meter buried.
The fifth day ended up being the final day. I was able to pull out a couple more really nice crystals as the pocket started to dive under a pegmatite rhine. The crystals below this point were no longer coated with secondary growth and all were intergrown and not fully euhedral. Many were still large. Once the pocket started to dive downward, the sides of the pocket were difficult digging and the crystals weren’t the quality to pursue further. The pocket had finally pinched out! I decided to throw in the towel and celebrate the amazing crystal pocket I had unearthed!
Here are the last crystals I pulled out before it got too uncomfortable to dig and the quality wasn’t worth pursuing any longer. The end of an amazing pocket!
Cleaning these crystals has been a chore. They had many phases of growth, first the smoky quartz, then a layer of albite, then a layer of iron oxide, then a layer of clear secondary growth quartz, then another layer of iron oxide and clay. Cleaning these requires a chemical bath and then mechanical cleaning, repeating over and over due to the tremendous amounts of facets that each crystal has. Because there is a layer of iron oxide under the clear quartz, the crystals are somewhat “spotted” with red and white that can’t be removed from under the clear quartz. In some instances they beg to be cleaned more, but then you realize that the staining is all under the clear quartz.
The amount of facets are amazing and each piece, regardless of how little or large–they are all unique! I will probably leave some pieces uncleaned as they will look better that way; while others I’ll spend the winter cleaning. It takes about 2-3 weeks per batch of crystals to get them clean enough for my liking (several iterations of chemical then mechanical cleaning), so it is a slow and labor intensive process. But a day playing with crystals is better than a day at work, that’s for sure! This will add some fun throughout the entire winter!
Here is a gallery of some of the crystals and plates that I found.
These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out.