Creating a prospecting map

I try to keep a pulse on the mining claims in the areas I dig and I keep a prospecting map with me to help understand where I can and cannot look for crystals.  I’ve met folks that are really fair when they find someone digging on their claim; and I’ve also met folks that were really angry.  Note that taking crystals off of someone else’s claim without prior written permission is theft, and you can be arrested and prosecuted by the County Sheriff. 

Although claims are supposed to be well marked–here in Colorado with 6 posts–you may not see the posts easily or the posts may be down or missing.  It’s not very fun wandering around all day looking for corner posts to know if you can dig in the spot you found; so save yourself the time and energy and build yourself a prospecting map!

I recently updated and created a couple prospecting maps of areas I frequent and thought I’d share some map creation tips as it is a fairly simple process and all the work can be done from the privacy of your own home.  As an example of the level of effort required, one area I mapped had about 25 claims and it took about 4 hours total to produce a prospecting map; and now that I’ve created a streamlined process (which I’m sharing with you), it will take considerably less effort next time!

The process I use consists of a few steps, all which can be done in the comfort of your home:

  1. Go to the BLM website and use their interactive 100K map to identify the claims in the area you are interested in
  2. Take notes on the relevant claim information in your prospecting area
  3. Email the BLM office with the claims you need further detail on and pay for scanned copies
  4. Go through the Location Certificates and transfer the claims’ boundaries to your prospecting map

Using the BLM website’s Interactive Map to find Mining Claims

NOTE:  You can click on any image to view it enlarged.

Here is the link for the BLM Colorado Interactive Map ( that you will be using. For other states, search the BLM website at  The first thing I do is turn on the layers helpful in displaying mining claims (these will overlay on top of the existing map).  You may find yourself turning these on and off as you interact with the map and application; play with it and use the application as it is most ergonomic for you.

Use the “Stacked Papers” icon (located in the upper right corner of the map) to bring up the Layer List controls and choose these two options:  Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and the Active Mining Claims (you’ll need to scroll down through the list).  When done choosing your layers you can click the “Stacked Papers” icon again to close the Layer List.  Toggle as necessary.

BLM Interactive Map

I always turn on the PLSS and Active Mining Claims  layers as these will help me quickly find claims in the area I’m mapping.

The next step is to drill into the area you want to investigate.  I found that this workflow worked the best for me:  1) Turn on Active Mining Claims layer, 2) drill into the map to the area of interest then 3) Turn on the PLSS layer and finally 4) Hide the Layer List. This is just what I preferred, choose whatever works best for you!

Let’s look at Devils Head as it is a popular spot due to its proximity to Denver and Colorado Springs.  Devils Head is just west of Larkspur in the center of the state, so I found Larkspur on the map and started to click that area to zoom in.  Assuming you have Active Mining Claims layer active, as you drill in you will start to see a pink boxed area surrounded by green on the overlays.  The pink area is the Active Mining Claims layer.  Let’s drill into the Virgin’s Bath locality.  You may want to remove the Active Mining Claims layer while you drill in and then turn it back on so you can use the switchback in the road as a reference point that is obscured by the pink layer.

Virgin's Bath Map

I’ve drilled into the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality and turned on the PLSS (black & purple gridlines) and Active Mining Claims (pink) layers

Understanding the Public Land Survey System as it relates to Mining Claims

Before moving forward, it is important to understand in general the implementation of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).  At the foundation of this survey framework there is a single initiation point for the survey; the east/west line going through this point is termed the Baseline, the north/south line is the Principle Meridian.  The entire survey “coordinates” are relative to this initial survey point and two lines.

A Township is a 36 square mile area (6 x 6 mile) box of land on the map and is referenced North or South of the Baseline.  A Range is a vertical column of Townships that is referenced East or West of the Principle Meridian line.  So in our forthcoming example of Devils Head, the Township/Range is T9S R70W, meaning 9 Townships south of the established Baseline, and 70 Townships west of the established Principle Meridian line.

Townships are further divided into 36 Sections (each a mile square).  A combination of Township, Range and Section will take you to any square mile of land that has been surveyed using the PLSS framework.  Finally, to get to the scale that Mining Claims are relevant within, a Section is subdivided into four quarter-Sections, each 1/4 mile, or 160 acres; these are referred to Section # and NE, NW, SE or SW.

Claims are documented at the quarter-Section scale and everything you will be doing with your prospecting map should be consistent with this scale.  Each claim’s Certificate of Location (COL) documentation will be referencing the quarter-section(s) they reside within.  So for our example, the Devils Head Virgin Bath locality, we’re interested in mining claims within the Township 9S, Range 70W and Sections 16, 20, 21, and 28 and the associated quarter-Sections.  Refer to the screen capture below to see all these coordinates on the map.  This PLSS layer on the BLM Interactive Map, if you zoom in far enough, breaks quarter sections into another 4 quarters; but claims do not go to that level of detail (thankfully, its already complex enough!).


This scale of the BLM Colorado Interactive Map shows the quarter-Sections, further divided into quarters but we will focus on the Quarter Sections.  The boxed quarter section in this map is Township 9S, Range 70W, Section 16, quarter-Section 16SW.

Researching which claims are in a quarter-Section

To get information for all the claims in the this locality, we’ll need to examine all the quarter-Sections in pink; in this case 10 total quarter-Sections.  For this example, we’ll use the quarter section 16SW and for each of the other nine quarter-Sections you will follow the same process.

Active Claims Header

Here is the pop-up box detailing the layer information, in this case Active Mining Claims.  Note that although it says there are 7 documents to display, only 3 claims are in this quarter section

As shown above, clicking anywhere in the quarter-Section will trigger a pop-up box detailing all the layer information (in this case Active Mining Claims) you’ve selected.  You’ll use the back and forth triangle controls in this box to advance through all the information on the Active Mining Claims within this quarter-Section.  I write down the CMC Case Number and Claim Name for each of the claims I require further detail for.

BLM Information

Here is the important information you will need for the BLM office, record the CMC # and the Claim Name.  Click this picture to enlarge as there is a lot of information displayed.

It is important at this point to note that we are looking at 160 acre quarter-Sections.  Lode claims are typically 20 acres or less, so you cannot find the exact location of the claim using this interactive map!  There is only one way to find the exact boundaries of claims, which is through the Certificate of Location (COL) document, detailed below.

Continue with this process throughout all the quarter-Sections in your prospecting area and write down all the CMC#s and associated Claim Names.  This will give you all the information you need to request the Certificate of Location documentation from the BLM or County Recorder’s offices.

Knowing a little bit about the filing process of a claim may help at this point.  The process of filing a claim says to file with the County Recorder’s Office first, then file with the BLM Office.  The BLM Office is what assigns the claim case number (CMC#), and often the COL document at the county lacks the CMC#, but does have the required claim name and the quarter-Section survey information.  I have another blog post that describes getting information from the County Recorder’s Office.  The official COL document is stored at the BLM office, so read on for the simple process of gathering this information from the BLM.

Acquiring the Certificates of Location from the BLM Office

You can get the claim’s Location Certificate from the BLM office by either visiting the office or by email.  If you visit the office they can make paper photocopies of the COL (Certificate of Location) which is cheaper than scanning (both will cost you an nominal amount, photocopies were $0.15 per page, scans $0.30 per page–January 2018 prices).  You could also take pictures with your phone or camera of these documents for free, assuming you are physically at the BLM office.  If you do the email route your only choice is obtaining the COL in electronic PDF format.

Here is what you do…

Send an email to CODOCKET@BLM.GOV, note that this is the email address specifically for the Colorado Office; inquire with the BLM by phone if you are researching somewhere else.  In the subject say you are requesting Mining Claim COL information.  In the email be sure to include your phone number so they can call you for credit card information–best practice is to not email your payment information.  Then include all the CMC#s and Claim Name information you are looking for and ask for the Certificate of Location document.

I found it was helpful to tell them I was creating a prospecting map so they know exactly what I was doing and they can ensure I got all the proper information.  Some of the maps I discovered in the COL document are beyond confusing–how people can file this way I don’t know–but the staff at the BLM office helped me by providing additional information for these couple of confusing cases because I told them my purpose.

I submitted my email inquiry on a Friday morning and I received my email of COL PDF attachments the following Monday, so super-quick turn-around in my opinion!  I don’t know if they have a standard turnaround time guarantee, I suppose it depends on how busy they are, vacation schedules, etc; you may ask them expected turnaround time in your email if you are in a hurry.

Creating your Prospecting Map

When you receive the scans from the BLM Office (or from the County Recorder’s office), you then can transpose the claim boundaries from the Certificate of Location (COL) document into your prospecting map.  This takes a little time as each person filing the claim may have surveyed their claim and submitted their map a little differently.  They key to make this an easy process is to ensure your destination map has PLSS survey points on it.

Preparing your Maps

If you are using Google Earth as your prospecting map, there is a PLSS overlay available and you may find that helpful; here are the BLM’s instructions for using it.  I use both Google Maps and paper topo maps to generate my prospecting maps, and neither has PLSS coordinate systems.  So to simplify this process I had to add PLSS coordinates onto my maps before I started.  Here is how i did it.

I opened up the BLM Colorado Interactive Map with only the PLSS layer turned on and found a point where a road (could be a stream, a valley, etc) intersected with the PLSS quarter-Section corner.  I then found and marked that quarter-Section point on my maps–my paper topo map with a pen “dot” and my Google Maps with a marker.  Knowing that a section is a mile on each side, and thus a quarter-Section is a 1/4-mile, I used a ruler on the paper map to create coordinate “dots” at 1/4-mile increments North/South and East/West of my original point.  I now had a quarter-Section PLSS coordinate system on my paper map.  On Google Maps, I did the same, except using their distance tool and markers.  It took me a while to figure this out but it sped up the process significantly having PLSS on all maps!

Another tip, I felt I needed to make some decisions on the accuracy required for my prospecting map. This is a personal preference decision.  I figured I need to know a general claim boundary on my prospecting map, not the exact corner post spots.  In the field, if I’m close to a claim on my map and I want to prospect, then I’ll search for the corner posts to ensure I’m not trespassing.  The purpose of my map is to generally plan where I intend to prospect.

Transposing the COL claim boundaries to your prospecting maps

I learned this from experience, so here’s another tip to think about before you start.  At first I added claim boundaries in the CMC# order; which is how they defaulted when I saved them in my folder.  I was bouncing all over my map which I found slow and tedious.  I found it much quicker and more accurate to pull up the trusty BLM Interactive Map again and loop through each claim a quarter-Section at a time.  I’d open and plot the COL’s by location rather than its number.  This let me get familiar with each quarter-Section of the map and plotted all claim boundaries for that area of the map before moving to the next quarter-Section.  It also helped when claims spanned quarter-Sections.

The standard way claims are surveyed is to first start with a known “tie point”, which by convention should always be something of the known PLSS survey framework, i.e. a corner point of a quarter-Section.  Then you use a measurement of degrees and distance from that tie point to one of the claim corners which is known as the claim’s corner point #1.   Then you further describe the outline of your claim in words, and also on a quarter-Section map.  Typically lode claims are 20 acres with dimensions of a 1500 feet by 600 feet in a parallelogram (typically rectangle); but the claim’s area can be smaller or it can be diagonal so ensure you read the description and look at their map.


This map on the Claim’s Certificate of Location shows the claim’s borders, in this case it spans 4 quarter sections (16 SE and SW, 21 NE and NW). Remember you are looking at the quarter section scale!  It also shows the tie-point (stated as the shared corner of Sections 16,15,21,22) which is part of the PLSS survey framework.

Claim COL wording

The survey wording will tell you the tie point, how to get from that tie point on the PLSS survey framework to the claim’s corner #1, and then describes how to navigate the perimeter of the claim.

Using your Prospecting Map

Now you have a map you can take with you and help guide you in the field.  Note that the claimant is required to plant 6 corner/side posts securely in the ground to clearly mark the boundaries of their claim.  Sometimes the claim owner will neglect to do this, or vandals remove the posts, or the posts simply fall down for whatever reasons.  Regardless, it is the rock hound’s responsibility to know the claims in the area they are prospecting and to not mineral trespass on those claims. But no worries because you have a prospecting map!

One other consideration is that new claims are filed all the time, there is processing time at the BLM, and claims are periodically closed.  Unfortunately, as soon as you have created a prospecting map is it is likely outdated. How I deal with this is the night before I head out prospecting, I dive into the BLM’s Interactive Map and verify the claims filed are the ones I have on my map–if there are changes I note this on my map.  When I’m prospecting I also keep an keen eye on the landscape looking for posts; even if it is a place I recently have been, things could have changed since the last time I was there.  Finally, I update my prospecting maps several times a year and grab the new COLs using the outlined process above.

Good luck out there!

Wyoming Solar Eclipse

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.

Wyoming Eclipse

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.

Eclipse Roadtrip Map

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!

Shirley Basin Agates and Jaspers

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.

Photography Setup

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

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.

Start of Eclipse Chill Out

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!

Solar Eclipse moon shadow

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.

Sun before the eclipse started

Here is the sun at the start of the eclipse. You can see some spots.

Final picture before totality

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.

Solar Eclipse corona

Here is a picture of the corona. Taken at f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO-100 at 600mm.

Final picture total totality

This was the last picture I took without the filter. f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO-100 @600mm.

Diamond Ring Solar Eclipse Totality

Here is the “diamond ring” feature of the totality. I’m pretty satisfied how this one turned out!

Chalk Cliffs, Shirley Basin, Wyoming

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!

horny toad

We found this little horny toad lizard wondering around.

The Leo Pocket – Large Colorado Smokey Quartz

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.

Leo Pocket Point

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.

Leo Pocket plate

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!

Leo Pocket Point

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.

Leo Pocket micro crystals

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!

Gem-o-rama 2017

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.

Hanksite Cluster

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)!

Hanksite Cluster

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.

Hanksite Cluster

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 with Phantom

Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Hanksite with Phantom

Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Variety of sulfohalites

Variety of sulfohalites

Halite cubes

Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal

Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation

Borax crystal

Borax crystal


Borax crystal

Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together


Borax crystal

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!

Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate

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!


Colorado Crystals – The Boogie Pocket

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)!

Beginning of Boogie Crystals Pocket

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 quartz

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 crystal

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

Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.

Smokey Quartz pair

Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps

Quartz point overgrowth

A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.

largest boogie smokey

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.


St Peters Dome Fluorite

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.  

Pierre Shale Fossils

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!

Spanish Peaks

Looking SW over Pueblo towards the Spanish Peaks from the Bacculite Mesa.

Dave and Pierre Shale formations

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.

Bacculite spine

This is a bacculite tail that can flex, it is interlocked like vertebrae.

Here is what bacculites looked like. Taken from

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 imprtint

Shell imprint in shale.

Nymphalucina occidentalis

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

bacculite head

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.

Crystal photos

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!

This is a great healed crystal!


Crystal photography using a Macro lens

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.

Douglas County Libraries Colorado State of Mind

 Colorado State of Mind

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!

Colorado state of mind rockhound booth

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…