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.
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.
Here is the first leg of the trip. California or Bust !!!
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!)
Roads were very slick west of Denver all the way through South Park. Kenosha Pass was re-opened as we were embarking…we saw why!
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!
One has to be careful when traveling this area of the country–we narrowly escaped this attack!
The aspen were almost done and the oaks were starting to turn.
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!
Two episodes of the BBS program Dr. Who were filmed in Valley of the Gods. You never know when Daleks would be around the bend…
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!
This is the view from our campsite at the end of the road that Moki Dugway dropped us on. This is looking east back towards Colorado over Valley of the Gods.
The sunset was beautifully colored as there was a fire burning west of us. It was obvious were were under a major flight corridor as we saw planes throughout the evening and night!
Our view of Monument Valley to the South, with the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west.
The camp on the top of a cliff! It got quite chilly up there that evening!
Monument Valley, with the start of the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west, from Moki Dugway.
The sky was clear and the stars were awesome. We saw several shooting stars but no satellites, which we both thought was pretty strange given how clear and dark the night’s sky was!
I did catch a Moki Dugway shooting star (and airplane)!
Kirk enjoying breakfast on Friday morning!
Looks like we camped at Eva’s Point, so said the sign affixed to this old tree. I wonder who Eva was and how many times she posted her favorite spots in the desert southwest?
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.
Page Arizona power plant
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)!
This was our view from camp at Trona Pinnacles.
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.
Looking east from camp at some of the pinnacles at the crack of dawn.
Looking at camp from the base of the pinnacles near us.
On the top of the pinnacles during pre-dawn looking north towards Trona and the Searles Valley Mineral plants.
Camp from the top of the pinnacles.
Campers on the other side of the pinnacles from us.
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!
One of the Brine Lakes mined by the Searles Valley Mineral Plant.
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.
Tom Kelly built his bottle house in 1906 and then raffled it off. Note that the bottles do not show inside the house; the only light is from the traditional windows.
Recycling bottles did exist!
One of the iron doors of the jail house built in 1907.
The Porter Brothers’ store was erected in 1906. They sold everything from food to automobiles!
Cook Bank. Built in 1908 for $90,000. It was the tallest building in town, 3 stories plus basement. The vaults were in the center and the 2nd and 3rd floors were business offices.
This building was state of the art having steam heating, electric lights and marble floors.
Porter Brothers’ building, with dust trail from approaching vehicle!
The Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot, erected in 1909.
Sign advertising Rhyolite station, with “Rhyolite Ghost Casino” painted on top.
Looking into the front of the Jail
The irony here is terribly funny. This is “The Dream” resort in Beatty, NV. They must have run out of funding after they got the sign up, because the sign is all that exists of this resort.
Sunset on Sunday night in the middle of nowhere!
Sunrise in Mesquite
Some of the landscape as we progressed through Utah.
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.
Here is an example of the brine lake that the Searles Valley is known for. This one had all dried up
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.
Searles Valley brine lake
These cannons shoot randomly to deter the birds from landing. They also have recordings (quite vivid and scary) of birds in pain playing to deter fowl from landing and facing death in the brine lakes.
As the water evaporates the level of the lakes retreat.
Brine crystal. Tapping it makes the coolest “tink” sound!
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.
These are the piles of mud that host a ton of large hanksite crystals
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!
Very large single hanksite crystal. I’m showing its translucence in the Colorado sun, and also the top complex faces of the crystal.
This is the “barrel” form of hanksite, which is in the Hexagonal crystal system. Note both ends of this double terminated crystal are flat.
Double terminated (pointed on both ends) hanksite crystal. Notice the etchings, I washed this one off with water as an experiment and in the few seconds it came in contact, you can see the etching.
Double terminated hanksite with both pointed end and flat end
Hanksite cluster from the mud 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.
sulfohalite crystal cluster, this in normally in an octohedral form, this is about as big as they get I was told
Borax with sulfohalite crystals
The stash from day 1. Note that I had found a bunch more but left them behind. The crystals on these field trips are abundant! On the left is the heavily concentrated brine (from the depths) we purchased to clean the crystals; if you use water they will etch–and if you even use salt water they will etch.
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.
Note the sulfohalites on the bottom center just left of the big crystal. These were even more fluorescent!
The Football under UV light.
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.
Example of heavily dug area (foreground) where halite plates were extracted. They were forming along a canal where shelves of salt precipitate formed
The pink/red color in the halites are from halobacteria which produces a red carotenoid pigment. The deeper red color is highly desired.
Beautiful halite cluster from field trip #3.
Beautiful pink halite plate
Modified Halite plate
Berkeite plate. I really got into these as they were deep red and just simply funky…
Kirk and the monster halite plate (too big to bring home)
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.
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
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.
Carlsbad twinned Amazonite (light blue) with a small amount of cleavelandite sprays.
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.
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.
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.