The season of Scorpio often brings good luck to me in the Colorado Rockies, and this year I was treated with a special find (large quartz crystals)! As most rock hounds probably experience, as you gain experience you think of old places you’ve dug and the potential for those spots still producing crystals now that you know what you didn’t during the original dig.
This otherwise drab (likely microcline) rock was coated with secondary crystal points. Really interesting growth pattern too.
There was a spot I found many years ago where I found a couple of floater crystals that were so-so and I abandoned that dig site prospecting for lusher areas. I have always wondered, what if I dug deeper in that spot? I didn’t think I dug deep enough but I always wondered if it would be worth the effort to try that area again as it was a bit of a hike with several steep hills. So I have been thinking about this spot now and again over the years and I finally decided to prospect that area again.
In early November I went out on a crisp morning and found myself in the area of this dig. I wasn’t having any luck prospecting, so I decided what the hell, I need to resolve this once and for all, so I hiked back to that spot. I reclaim all my digs and after many years away they have grown back the ground cover and looked good, which was pleasing. I ended up digging in the area that I had long thought about, and within about 30 minutes starting hitting some signs.
The area had some large rocks and as I dug around them I started to see some darker coloration, which ended up being pegmatite. Digging into that started to produce some flats and faces and it wasn’t long before the first crystal popped out, maybe a foot underground and in a peg seam. After the initial crystal I started to see the seam open up and then experienced some harder clay. Only once have I hit a really thick clay, but I could tell right away that experience was happening again.
This plate came out in 3 pieces which is repaired above. The main part of the plate was at the top of the pocket, as seen in the video. The left crystal had sunk to the bottom of the pocket after it was shattered off, you can see me pull it out in the video immediately before I pulled out the larger healed crystal toward the end. The upper right piece was also at the bottom of the pocket. It pays to save all pieces and parts.
Working in the clay requires metal tools, there is no way you can get it out with your fingers or even wooden material. I have a dulled screwdriver just for these times. I started to pull out quartz crystals but they were all heavily overgrown with a brownish, sharp milky quartz-type crystal. It wasn’t coming off, that’s for sure, and I thought perhaps it would require a little soaking o loosen up the overcoating. So I continued to dig and starting pulling out some really nice crystals, but it was VERY slow going and somewhat tedious on the fingers and wrists due to the clay.
As I continued to dive down with the pocket, the clay got thicker and the crystals got bigger! It finally ended up where there were many large crystals all at the bottom of the pocket. I could tell the pocket collapsed because I found bits and pieces of broken crystals in between these larger ones that matched up to crystal parts I was finding at the top of the pocket.
The crystals all have several stages of growth. Most are coated with a brownish quartz like coating. I could tell there was microcline in the pocket, but it appears to have all been corroded away and the replaced on all the smokey quartz throughout the pocket. Must have been some acidic stuff in the pocket during its creation!
This crystal is typical of almost all crystals in this pocket. Multiple layers of additional growth on the original smokey quartz. It is very difficult to remove–this has been soaking in SIO baths for a while, and a water gun does nothing. I will attempt mechanical means as soon as I get that available to me. But the crystal is GEMMY inside!
Needless to say, these crystals are going to be VERY difficult to clean. Super Iron Out has pulled some of the coating off; leaving behind a harder, sharp layer of quartz type coating. I was able to shine a light through the side of a quartz, and the big crystals I found are all typically very gemmy inside–at least those I could peer into. So I am looking into an abrasive solution to help make some of these large, beautiful smokey quartz crystals shine!
This was one of the largest pockets I have found, definitely the largest by far this year.
If you have any tips to help me clean these, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Note that I put a couple of crap crystals in a beaker of fully concentrated muriatic acid and it did clear the brown off, the quartz-like coating did not get touched.
This was on a very small piece that I am not sure why I brought home…typically if in question it comes home to get a rinse. It was covered with tiny crystals as seen in this macro shot!
Crystal digging time has been limited this summer, however I was able to make it out several times this fall having several successful days! This day in late September I was able to find a fun smokey quartz and light amazonite pocket. There was an antler my dog found that he enjoyed all day long; the cool part is where he found it! Investigating the area he led me to showed some promising signs on the surface. I dug a few test holes and eventually found a crystal pocket! I feel it thus is appropriate that I named the pocket after him (his name is Boogie)!
Boogie chawing on a an antler near my test hole, which ended up in a couple small pockets
At the point of the antler, there was a few quartz and feldspar chunks laying on the ground. Digging a test hole there, I found a couple of pieces of float pegmatite within the first 5 inches so I followed the float peg up the hill. Its always a good sign when you can follow a path of float rocks up a hill, especially if there are euhedral sides, which in this case there were not any flats. A short while (maybe 5 feet) later uphill the peg stopped showing up at the float level. Often this sudden stoppage of float material means that whatever was producing the float is back downhill.
Going back down the hill a few feet, I dug deeper and found more peg! Following that led me to the host peg which started maybe 8 inches below the surface. It looks like I found the source!!! Now, hopefully the peg chunks will start having flat faces and become more crystallized ending in a seam or a pocket!
In this hole, digging down, I was able to hit the bottom of the peg seam where it turned into crumbles of granite gravel. Going up hill I ended back into gravel, so I feel I found the girth of this pegmatite seam. That said, nothing interesting was presenting itself, yet…
Next, I followed the peg from side-to-side. Within about 30 minutes I found a few nice terminated quartz crystals and a few smaller pieces. This is documented in the first few minutes in the video, below. The quartz ended as soon as it started, however, and I ended up on a fruitless dig in that direction for about an hour longer…that is typical of me, when I find crystals I go in that direction for an extra long time just to be sure; someday I’ll figure out when to stop earlier…or not.
Next step was to take a break and eat lunch. After looking at what I had dug and the size of the pegmatite from different perspectives I figured there was only one choice, to stay on this peg which had produced quartz crystals and dig the other way. Soon after digging that way I was pulling out some quartz and microcline with sides, and finally some microcline crystals. This is where the video continues.
The pocket contained a lot of chunks of microcline/light blue amazonite but none were fully euhedral, until the very end which contains a big 5″ crystal in three pieces. Many of the crystals were good size and had many faces. All were heavily coated in iron oxide. I did find some quartz too, especially in the center and lower parts of the pocket. The quartz had interesting staining, all having a secondary coating of grey/white quartz on their tips, and then on 3 of the faces horizontal lines of the same secondary coating while on the other three faces heavily iron oxide stained. They all had similar coatings and stain patterns which I found interesting!
The find of the day was a smokey quartz and cleavelandite combo, a 4-5 inch smokey quartz with excellent patterns in the secondary coatings and staining, and a 5″ wide light amazonite crystal at the bottom of the pocket.
Cleavelandite and Smokey Quartz combo with mica sprinkled around it. The quartz has a secondary coating of quartz.
Almost all the quartz had a secondary coating of milky quartz on top and the amazonites and microclines were heavily coated with iron oxide. There was a very large 5″ amazonite at the bottom of the pocket which was in three pieces, but they fit back together nicely. All have been in the cleaning bath for a while and have yet to clean up to my liking, except a few in which the staining adds to the color and character! I’m working on abrasive methods and hopefully will have cleaner pictures to show soon.
Large amazonite (light blue) found at the bottom of the pocket in 3 pieces. Undergoing a lengthy super iron out bath.
Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.
Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps
A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.
Largest smokey quartz from the pocket. I’m done cleaning it as I really like the lines and their parallelism to the crystal faces. This is shown in the video.
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)
We finally have Multicast’s 2016 album Multicaster available for sale at our bandcamp site.
There is a limited number of hand stenciled Iron Feather Journal #21 magazines available with our CD. Don’t delay on this as this is a one-time run and no other magazines will be produced once these are gone.
Here are the videos associated with the new album (some soundtracks to my adventures, some music videos):
Well, it is official, our new album is released! July 18th, 2016! The initial release is limited to Japan as an insert to the Iron Feather Journal magazine for the opening of the Sapporo Zine Festival in Hokkaido. We will be receiving a limited amount of magazines and will have a USA/World release in early September, the exact date is still to be determined.
As you wait for the next 6 weeks, you can preview the entire album here…
Front covers, both multi-color stenciled artwork!
IFJ / Multicaster back covers!
As the typical Multicast / Obliq Recordings way, we created each of the covers by hand. They are hand stenciled with recycled spray paint in multicolor! The Iron Feather Journal inserts are limited edition to 200, all hand-numbered. 100 will be released in Japan, 100 outside of Japan.
Multicaster album sleeves drying on the manufacturing line, by the river!
Here is what a spindle of 170 looks like!
Stack of Multicaster CDs.
Luckily my partner in crime, Cryptographics, is well versed at silk-screening and has the mass production process down! He first created a registration piece that was offset for the thickness of the cover. Then he created multiple stencils out of plastic to handle the ink. This project requires many stencils, one for each image on the cover that will have its own separate color. Thus, multiple iterations of paint and wait are required for the final cover to be complete!
Stencil registered with the first cover ready to go, as you can see all we do is move the left registration to the right side and we’re ready for the next image and colors.
Tasty ultra limited black cover gettings its second image sprayed
Here’s your first source for Crystal TV! All action with none of the drama!
I’m not sure how many of you like to watch excavations of crystals from the ground; but as an avid rockhound / picker I love to see crystals unearthed!!! I also learn from seeing it done, so I have been seeking out likeminded folks doing likeminded things!
Here is my YouTube playlist of videos of folks digging crystals from the ground including my own videos! If you have video(s) that should be included make sure you let me know!
As always, clicking the image brings up a larger version, and you can review my other rockhounding adventures here.
Daphne constructed this 2 .5 foot crystal skull from the smoky quartz of this pocket
Dia De Los Muertos is always a celebration, especially when finding a crystal pocket! On November 2 I ventured up to Devils Head locality with the hopes of finding some crystals. I was venturing into new areas and often I don’t find much when prospecting but today was a lucky day! I found some smaller pegmatite chunks on the surface and dug in the area; about 45 minutes into my digging I started to pull out some interesting microcline plates. I definitely was in a seam or pocket but there wasn’t any quartz crystals to be found….yet…
One of the many interesting smoky quartz/microcline combo plates from the pocket
One of many Smoky Quartz / Microcline plates from this seam
As I dug parallel to a larger pegmatite I tracked upon a small seam that started producing small smoky quartz crystals along with plates of microcline. The further I dug the larger and more abundant the crystals became. The pocket opened up a few times with some nice 5+ inch smoky quartz crystals and then would become smaller just to open up again. After about 10 feet of excavation no more than 18 inches under ground, I had found well over 200 crystals and clusters, and then the seam quickly pinched out. As with other seams and pockets, when you get into the crystals you tend to get many in a small space! I figure on average I was pulling out a couple of crystals per inch of excavation work!
Not yet soaked in acid, smoky quartz with phantoms and healed terminations
Many of the Dia De Los Muertos Crystals all cleaned up
One thing I noted while plucking the crystals from the ground is many were double terminated, probably close to 1/3 of the crystals from the pocket! Upon getting them cleaned up it became obvious that this crystal pocket had seen several growth periods and also a period of shift where several crystals were crushed and shattered. One of the largest 5″ crystals was missing its point which I found about a foot away along the seam. The tip didn’t fit perfectly because of the additional growth period on both the tip and the base crystal; but it was obvious they were once the same crystal though.
La Nariz – The gemmy smoky quartz cluster from the center of the pocket; I plan to visit again next year to see if the microcline plate this came off of is still there…I bet it is!
Smoky quartz cluster showing phantom
The multiple growth periods are evident in several ways. Firstly, many of the crystals have milky colored phantoms. This is the first time I found phantoms like this at Devils Head and they are truly spectacular. Multiple growth periods is additionally evident due to terminated healing where crystals that were once on the floor or ceiling were broken off (likely when the pocket shifted or collapsed) and then the end healed forming beautiful double terminated crystals. Many of these are healed with phantoms as well!
This quartz was smashed ages ago and shows the phantom crystal up close and personal
Gemmy Smoky with Phantom
Gemmy quartz with phantom
Gemmy Quartz with Phantom prior to the acid bath
Smoky Quartz with Phantom
Quartz with Phantom, after the Super Iron Out soak but before Phosphoric Acid bath
Cleaning took a while, although they were not heavily coated. I used Super Iron Out first for a couple of sessions, mechanically cleaned the crystals with my water gun in between, and then soaked them for two weeks (some took about 6 weeks) in a heated phosphoric acid bath. I did two or sometimes three sessions with the water gun between soaks.
Double Terminated / Healed Quartz
Double Terminated Smoky Quartz with Phantom
Double Terminated Smoky Quartz
A wonderful end to the season; I found some great crystals this year at Devils Head and look forward to prospecting some new areas next year!
I started by digging more into the harder country rock directly behind where the pocket from last year pinched out. I went about 5 feet (of hard rock digging) around that area and found nothing of interest. Then I decided to head the other direction, which was piled with tailings and pegmatite rocks so I had some housecleaning to do. Immediately upon getting below the surface I pulled out a microcline that looked good…probably less than 2 inches below ground. I took another scrape with the shovel to remove sticks and top soil and a girthy 2 inch smoky popped out of the ground! This is the closest pocket to the surface I have ever found, the pocket bottomed out about 4-5 inches deep!
I took some video pulling out medium sized smoky quartz from this small pocket. As quickly as it started, it ended. I dug for 5-7 feet more but determined that the pegmatite at that point would have been above the current ground level. It was getting late and I was several miles from the car, so I buried the hole, packed up and hiked out.
Upon thinking about this more, I will pay another visit to this area and start prospecting down the hill for float that may have come out of the seam over the millions of years of erosion in this location (usually I find float and dig uphill towards the hopeful pocket). Never thought of doing this before so we’ll see if this twist on my normal routine pays out. ???
This small cluster was at the bottom of the pocket. Note the back side where the graphic granite is obvious. This is what I look for when digging test holes or while prospecting! Curious on the light colored smokey in the center.
Some examples of the smoky quartz I found (still to be cleaned). The right most is the one with the broken tip. Interestingly, so far this year each pocket/seam I’ve hit has one (and only one) nice smoky with a broken tip….in each case I have found it near by. Interesting…