Gem-o-Rama 2016 Road Trip

Road Trip to Gem-O-Rama 2016

As always, click on any image for a much larger HD version, and note all the video is HD so adjust your settings.  The crystals of Gem-O-Rama 2016 are in this separate blog post

My prospecting buddy Kirk suggested we road trip to Gem-O-Rama this year for its 75th anniversary.  I have always wanted to make that event, but for the last several years have not wanted to hassle with coordinating a trip.  Having someone to go with was a game-changer for me, and I was able to take off of work and home life to make this happen.

We decided that camping would be fun and definitely the cheapest route, so we packed up our stuff knowing the days would be warm in the desert and nights would likely be cold.   We also packed up appropriate prospecting equipment.  

Itinerary

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!)

slick roads

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!  

Utah Roads

Guest lodging

One has to be careful when traveling this area of the country–we narrowly escaped this attack!

Durango Oaks

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!

Valley of the Gods

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…

Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods Valley of the Gods

Moki Dugway

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!

Moki Dugway

Valley of the Gods

Moki Dugway

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.

Moki Dugway Sunset

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!

Monument Valley

Our view of Monument Valley to the South, with the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west.

Moki Dugway - Evas Point

The camp on the top of a cliff! It got quite chilly up there that evening!

Moki Dugway Moon

Monument Valley

Moki Dugway

Monument Valley

Monument Valley, with the start of the smoke plume from the forest fire to our west, from Moki Dugway.

Moki Dugway Milky Way

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!

Moki Dugway Milky Way

I did catch a Moki Dugway shooting star (and airplane)!

Moki Dugway

Kirk enjoying breakfast on Friday morning!

Evas Point

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.

Goosenecks State Park

After that we went through Monument Valley and continued through Page, AZ where the Glen Canyon Dam for Lake Powell was located.  

Monument Valley

Page power plant

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!  

Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park

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)!

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

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.

Trona Pinnacles

Looking east from camp at some of the pinnacles at the crack of dawn.

Trona Pinnacles

Looking at camp from the base of the pinnacles near us.

Trona Pinnacles

On the top of the pinnacles during pre-dawn looking north towards Trona and the Searles Valley Mineral plants.

Trona Pinnacles

Camp from the top of the pinnacles.

Trona Pinnacles

Campers on the other side of the pinnacles from us.

Trona Pinnacles

Here is a cool time lapse I did from the front door of the tent looking west.  This was a 4+ hour capture using my 14mm f2.8 lens with 330+ open exposure shots.

The 75th Annual Gem-O-Rama 2016

Wow, what an amazing event.  I have detailed this event is a separate blog post.  I will say that the crystal digging was very simple and easy, and the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society put on one heck of an extravaganza!  It’s nice for a change being able to drive right to the spot and pick crystals with minimal effort!  It was extremely well organized and very family friendly.  Here is the flyer for 2017, you should think about going!  

Searles Valley

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.

Rhyolite, Nevada

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.  

Rhyolite Bottle House

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.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Recycling bottles did exist!

Rhyolite

One of the iron doors of the jail house built in 1907.  

Rhyolite

The Porter Brothers’ store was erected in 1906. They sold everything from food to automobiles!

Rhyolite

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.

Rhyolite

This building was state of the art having steam heating, electric lights and marble floors.

Rhyolite

Porter Brothers’ building, with dust trail from approaching vehicle!

Rhyolite

The Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot, erected in 1909.

Rhyolite Rhyolite Rhyolite

Rhyolite

Rhyolite

Sign advertising Rhyolite station, with “Rhyolite Ghost Casino” painted on top.

Rhyolite

Looking into the front of the Jail

Rhyolite

Nevada Sunsets

Beatty

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.

Nevada Sunsets

Sunset on Sunday night in the middle of nowhere!

Mesquite

Sunrise in Mesquite

Utah

Some of the landscape as we progressed through Utah.

Utah

Utah

Gem-O-Rama 2016

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.  

dry brine lake

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.

brine lake

Searles Valley brine lake

canon

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.

stalatites

As the water evaporates the level of the lakes retreat.

Brine Crystal

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.  

The Mud Dig at Gem-o-rama

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!  

hanksite

Very large single hanksite crystal. I’m showing its translucence in the Colorado sun, and also the top complex faces of the crystal.

hanksite

This is the “barrel” form of hanksite, which is in the Hexagonal crystal system. Note both ends of this double terminated crystal are flat.

hanksite

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.

hanksite combo dt

Double terminated hanksite with both pointed end and flat end

hanksite

Hanksite cluster from the mud dig

hanksite

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

sulfohalite crystal cluster, this in normally in an octohedral form, this is about as big as they get I was told

sulfohalite

sulfohalite on borax

Borax with sulfohalite crystals

gemorama

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.  

hanksite fluorescent

Note the sulfohalites on the bottom center just left of the big crystal. These were even more fluorescent!

hanksite fluorescent

The Football under UV light.

hanksite fluorescent hanksite fluorescent

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.  

trona lakes

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.  

halite cluster

Beautiful halite cluster from field trip #3.

halite

Beautiful pink halite plate

halite

Modified Halite plate

Berkeite plate

Berkeite plate.  I really got into these as they were deep red and just simply funky…

kirk

Kirk and the monster halite plate (too big to bring home)

dave gemorama

Dave holding the football by lantern light.

Watching the 2016 Perseids Meteorite Shower

This year has been a lot of fun watching meteorite showers, and Perseids 2016 did not disappoint.  I was able to watch the skies a week prior to the peak on the east side of the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, then again the night before, during and after the peak of the Perseids (peaked Aug 11, 2016).

The Perseids are created by the dust trail from comet Swift Tuttle as our orbit intersects with its debris each year.  This year was a special “outburst” year thanks to our cosmic friend Jupiter whose gravity altered the course of some debris last year; making way for a more dusty intercept on this year’s orbit for Earth!

In Colorado about a week before the peak, the days were socked in with clouds and some rain, but after midnight the clouds cleared out and provided a wonderful display of the stars and Milky Way over the Collegiate Peaks from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area south of Buena Vista Colorado.  Although I didn’t capture it as it was left of my field of view, I saw a massive fireball which I can only assume was a Perseids meteorite!  Several other meteorites I witnessed that night were likely Perseids.

Milky Way and Mt Princeton

Milky Way over Mt Princeton, with Mt Antero on the left. A small meteorite also captured!

I took this picture with Sony Alpha A7RII with Rokinon 14mm f2.8 prime lens.  Manual focus was set to infinity, f2.8 and exposure was 8 seconds at ISO 12800, obviously on a tripod.  I have found that opening the exposure over 8 seconds leaves a blur/trail with stars that I do not like, so I had to adjust the ISO to absorb more light.  I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom.

Star Trails

Star trails from several stills over Mt Princeton.

I thought this was a fun shot, it was a video capture of the stars including Milky Way using the A7RII Star Trails app.  This is a fun little app but I have not explored it deeply yet to discover if there are many creative uses for it other than the obvious.  A couple of satellites are also present streaking across the sky over each 8 second exposure.

Fast forward a little under a week, to the days around the peak of Perseids 2016.  Each of the nights here where I live near Larkspur Colorado it was cloudy and stormy before and after dusk.  But luckily each night all the storms moved off east and the skies cleared up in time for the moon to set and give great dark skies for viewing this “outburst” year.

I set up in my front yard pointing towards the south/western sky which is the largest portal I have through my trees.  I was able to witness many Perseids shooters and caught a couple in my field of view.

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

In the above photo, I took the 3 shots before and after the meteorite and stacked them in Photoshop.  A brief summary of the process that I’m still only beginning to use

  • Open all the photos as layers in Photoshop
  • Select all layers and then use the alignment feature of the stack
  • Create a Smart Object
  • Use the Smart Object / Stack Mode function and Median setting to combine all the light of the photos into a single picture

This is the first time I played with this workflow and will be exploring it further to fine tune the results, but i’m quite impressed of what Photoshop can do merging the light of several photographs; remember I only like to take up to 8 second exposures of the stars, so this gave me almost a minute worth of light.  I think that too many pictures will confuse the auto-alignment feature of Photoshop, I tried another experiment with 12 photos and the results looked horrible.  I have to play with this more (if you have any suggestions here, would love to hear from you in the comments!)

Perseid Colors

Amazing color on this closeup of a Perseids fireball caught on the eve of the peak.

I caught another amazing meteorite and did a digital crop to show the spectacular colors of Perseids meteorites!  This was the largest shooter I saw the eve prior to the peak.

Then came the peak, which again was forecast to be up to double of other years!  I set my alarm each hour after dark and went outside to witness the show, but it was very cloudy and even had a thunderstorm to our south.  I was getting bummed as by 12:30 we were still socked in with clouds!  At the 1:20 alarm, however, the sky was crystal clear; amazing what can happen in less than an hour here in the Colorado foothills! The sky stayed clear until dawn, when it got cloudy again.  Perfect timing, mother nature!

I typically count meteorites in two categories (that’s all I can keep track of that late in the night); one is total number and the second (I use my hands for this one) is for “large” meteorites.  Large ones are definitely not all fireballs, and is definitely subjective, but I like to remember how many ones I see that make me go “cool” or “wow”.  Here is the play-by-play I posted to facebook for each 30 minutes I was watching…

  • First 30 minutes, 54 shooters, 13 were large and several fireballs. Finally cleared up after a cloudy evening.
  • Next 30. Count now at 83, with 29 being large, the last two were fireballs. This half hour has had more larger ones per capita…
  • Next 30. 122. 39.
  • Next 30. 159. 51.
  • Next 30. 189. 66.
  • Last 30 minutes. 231. 87.

Given that I live in a forest and have a limited window into the night’s sky, I think this is an amazing number, one of the best I’ve seen in the many many showers I’ve watched! I caught about 50 of these on my camera, which is definitely the most I’ve ever caught, but due to the wide angle (14mm, Rokinon f2.8 prime lens) most were really small and overall uninteresting.  I did catch some spectacular fireballs in the field of view; but missed most which is par for the course.

Perseids Meteorite

Perseids shooter, very large (fireball) showing the Milky Way and wonderful colors as it burned up in our atmosphere!

Perseids and Milky Way

Perseids over the Milky Way

Perseids

This was the morning of the peak of Perseids 2016, this large fireball left a vapor trail for many minutes.  Extremely lucky that it stopped at the bottom of my field of view!  I was surprised that I actually caught this one!

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball.

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball!

Fireball vapor trail

Vapor trail immediately after the prior fireball, this lasted several minutes and was distorted as the upper atmosphere winds moved it irregularly.

The night after the peak I was exhausted, so I missed setting the alarm reminding me to get up in the early morning hours.  I did go out about 4:30 and saw a burst of about 15 in 15 minutes, 2 of which were “large” on my subjective scale…which surprised me on the morning after the peak!  My cell phone app states that the shower’s window is July 17th through August 24th, so there are surely many more nights to experience this year!