The 2016 Summer Crush Pocket

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!

Quartz Pocket Schematic

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!  

Quartz Cluster

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!

Quartz Cluster

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!

Quartz Cluster

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.  

Dave Digging

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.  

Fluorite

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!

truncated octahedron

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.

Large Quartz Crystal

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.  

Fluorite

This was part of the large chunk of fluorite–the part that didn’t fully disintegrate when I was washing off the pocket mud!

Quartz Points

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!

Prospecting hole

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. 

Hole

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!

Excavation

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.  


Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Fluorite Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point

Quartz Points

These were some of the large crystals I pulled out right before the pocket pinched out.

Quartz Points Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Cluster Quartz Plate Quartz Cluster Quartz Cluster Microcline Cluster Quartz Cluster Quartz Point Quartz Point

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.

Prospecting Tips and Hints

Last year I published an article How to Find Crystals that detailed some of the techniques I use and general prospecting tips, hoping to give several tips and hints to aid in expediting the learning curve of digging crystals.  I’ve gotten some great feedback from that article and appreciate all the comments.

tn_OneTwoPocket-00643

One of the things I tried to cover in that blog posting was what to look for on the surface and how to know if you are in a good spot and should continue digging, or bury the hole and continue the prospecting elsewhere.  I knew it would be difficult to share that experience, as I’m still learning myself and it’s one of those things you can read about all day long but you don’t “get it” until you actually can see and experience how it is done.  The pictures and text in that article were helpful I feel; but it still left me with questions after reading it–knowing that I had a plan for this year’s prospecting trips…

That blog posting was just the first of many postings I plan to do sharing what I’ve figured out on finding pegmatite crystals.  I was able to get out digging late this spring and my goal was to take some video while I was on the hunt, hopefully showing what I look for on the surface and what I look for as I follow the pegmatite trail to the crystals (assuming I find crystals, which many times I don’t)!  This video hopefully will provide some tips and hints of what works for me in the toughest part of the process, the initial prospecting and test holes.

Unfortunately due to leaving the camera in the sun too long, the pocket extraction video was corrupt, but the good stuff from a prospecting perspective was saved showing progress as I was hunting for the pocket.  You’ll see that demonstrated in the video below.

I would love your feedback, questions and suggestions.  I plan to do other videos showing different techniques.

The small crystal pocket I eventually hit I’m calling the OneTwo.  It was mainly Microcline crystals, most were Carlsbad twinned!  On these, once cleaned up, opposite faces had a blue tint of Amazonite to them; not as deep of green color as you find elsewhere in the region, but still really nice and a lot of fun.  The smokey quartz I found all had secondary coatings of a darker colored quartz which will be very difficult to remove.

Amazonite

Interesting cluster of Amazonite / Microcline joined at a ~45 degree angle.

Amazonite Carsbad Twin

Carlsbad twinned Amazonite (light blue) with a small amount of cleavelandite sprays.

Carlsbad Amazonite

Nice little pair of Carlsbad twinned Amazonite with a bit of cleavelandite.

tn_OneTwoPocket-00668

These are the largest crystals from the pocket, each about 3.5 inches tall. They had to be repaired as they came out in 3 pieces, the cap to the larger crystal was cleaved off and the two crystals had been separated and were found about a foot from each other in the pocket.

smokey quartz

Smoky Quartz showing the secondary quartz growth. These have been soaked in a heated chemical bath for several weeks and look at lot better than they originally did; but this is as far as I will clean them as the quartz underneath is not worth the effort.

tn_OneTwoPocket-00679

Some of the nicer twinned amazonites from the OneTwo pocket.

Smoky Quartz

Examples of the coated smoky quartz from the OneTwo. The larger crystals are nearly 3 inches long.  There were mostly microcline crystals in the pocket; which is opposite of what I typically find in the region.

Super Iron Out Crystals

Most crystal-digging people know Super Iron Out as a great solution for taking iron oxide staining off of crystals.  I typically use SIO as my first cleaning bath for most of my crystals and jump into the acids later if the stains are stubborn.  This winter I was cleaning a small micro-quartz cluster in the (cold) garage and was amazed to find my cluster gained another crystal during cleaning.

Micro-quartz cluster

Micro-quartz cluster without the SIO crystal

I must have saturated the small amout of cleaning bath and when the temperature lowered the SIO crystal began to form!  The next day it turned from clear to super brittle white; and was falling all over, so I put it back in solution and cleaned more crystals with it!

Super Iron out Crystal

Super Iron out is typically used to clean crystals, but this time I grew a cool crystal!

tn_SIO_Crystal05_Lg

Another angle showing the really interesting growth patterns. I have a UV LED lamp shining on it to give some contrast.

How to Find Crystals Using Different Types of Prospecting Techniques

I often get asked “How do you find crystals you have posted?”.  Which techniques to use is a very subjective question, but certainly there are standard ways of prospecting for pegmatite crystals here in Colorado.  I will try to cover some of the techniques I use in this blog post.

UPDATE:  I have posted another blog post showing examples of these techniques here.

It has taken me years of prospecting, tons of reading, and networking with other prospectors and rock clubs to figure out what I’ve learned to find crystals so far, so I’m hoping that if you are new to this hobby this article can help expedite the learning curve and take away some frustration…i.e. not coming home empty handed as often!  Note that I sometimes STILL come home with nothing to show (and I keep even the littlest crystals)…I think of it like fishing, sometimes the fish simply aren’t biting.  My other hope is that folks having successful techniques can share their wisdom so I and others can continue to learn (the comments on this article is a great place, hint hint !!!).
Note I am self-taught and have no formal geology schooling or experience, so my descriptions in this article may be scientifically inaccurate; the goal of this article is not to explain the science as much as for tips to helping you learn to find crystals!  Of course the science is helpful and very interesting, if you have anything to share or correct (or have further questions), please leave comments, I would love to hear your techniques, opinions and knowledge on the subject!

That's how you find crystals!

Hitting a crystal pocket gives you a tremendous high! This was my first crystal pocket!

How to Find Crystals

There are three standard ways I prospect when searching for crystals; I may use only one way on any given day, or may use all three:

  1. Searching the tailing piles of other digs
  2. Finding float and following it
  3. Digging in the source pegmatite

Prospecting Tailing Piles

When I’m prospecting I always check out old and new digs.  There are several reasons for this–to learn what the other prospector was into when (presumably) they find crystals themselves, to perhaps continue where the previous prospector didn’t go, and to search through their tailings to ensure the weather didn’t reveal something that was missed or discarded!

How to find crystals, this time a mt antero phenakite and aquamarine

Mount Antero double terminated Phenakite my son found laying on the surface, would have been great to have more of that aquamarine attached!

If the prospector was into a pocket or seam of crystals, they may have had mud or iron coatings on the crystals so the prospector tossed aside because they couldn’t see the sides or simply missed it…it happens, I’ve gone back to my digs before and found incredible crystals that I somehow missed!  After a good rain or season of snow Mother Nature may help to reveal crystals that were left behind!  This is the easiest form of prospecting.  I also find that some prospectors are not interested in “boring” or imperfect crystals; another person’s trash may be my treasure!  I have found many great crystals by searching the tailings of previous digs!

Tips include

  • to find crystals it helps moving around the pile to get a reflection of sunlight from a flat shiny surface of a crystal…you should train your eyes to focus on any flat sided rock
  • getting down closer to the ground for a different perspective; I find many crystals this way that I missed standing up
  • look for color, some crystals are coated with iron-based minerals and may look rusty
  • poking around the sides of the hole to see if the prior prospector left part of the pocket
  • looking for float from the pocket (talked about further below)
  • dig through the tailings to see if other crystals are slightly buried

Finally there is a lot to learn from studying what others were into.  This is how I’ve done much of my learning.  What did the rocks they were pulling out look like (note to self, keep an eye out for these signs in my holes)?  Are there other digs along the hillside along the same “zone” that I should also check out?  What did the other person see that kept them digging?  The bigger the prospector’s hole the more likely they found something good (otherwise that is a lot of effort for nothing), so explore those big holes/trenches for sure!

Milky Quartz and Fluorite, crystals i find in the dumps

This Milky Quartz and Fluorite plate was found discarded by the original miner on the dumps, cleaned up it is awesome, good enough for me!  Just wish I could find the other material which made this trash in comparison!

Fluorite Crystals I find looking through tailings

These Fluorites were covered in pocket mud and then again in dirt. Always examine “dirt balls” !!! Needs some more cleaning, but examples of what you can find in the dumps.  Fluorite and other crystals are heavier than other rocks, so pay attention to the weight of the rocks you are extracting!

Prospecting Float

First of all, what is float?  It took me a while to get my head around this concept.  My definition of float is simply any rocks or crystals that have weathered out of their original location — in other words Mother Nature has moved them via some process over time.

What could have moved the crystals?  Glaciers, wind, rain, etc.  Glacial movement is pretty easy to spot on the crystals, because they are broken, cleaved and/or have rounded corners like they’ve been in a rock tumbler.  These crystals have been potentially moved long distances and there may be no correlation in where the crystals are located to where they originated from–in other words they may be randomly displaced and you may not find other related crystals around them.  However I have found several times that pockets were moved (relatively) together by glaciers and there are concentrations of crystals that are completely worn in a somewhat small of an area.

Float Quartz Crystals

Float coated smoky and milky quartz crystals found in a 10 foot diameter area about 6 inches under the ground.  The left smoky is ~10 cm.

Wind and water (and ancient glaciers too) are common forces that move crystals from their original location in the seams/pockets they were grown in.  Over the hundreds of millions of years (or perhaps just thousands, or even last month’s torrential rains?) the land has been eroded and the original locations of the crystals may have been partially or completely eroded away.  If on a hill, the crystals are likely displaced downhill as they are eroded out of their original pocket.  If on a flat area, crystals can disperse radially away from the pocket (which may at one time long ago been above you).

One misconception that I originally had about float was that the crystals would be laying atop the ground easy for the prospector to see.  It took me a while to realize that float can be (and often is) buried.  The layer of topsoil / organic matter is a recent addition to the ground (decomposed plants, trees, etc) in the perspective of geologic time.  Most often I’ve discovered float that is buried in the boundary between the top soil and the granite gravel layers which can be visible or buried many feet deep.  Note that with the hundred plus years of prospecting occurring in popular areas, it is very unlikely you’ll find crystals on the surface; but there is still plenty of float to be discovered!

Now that we’ve reviewed what float is in theory, how does one utilize this float concept to actually find crystals?  When I find good signs on the ground I dig test holes (more about what are good signs in a minute).  I try to dig deep enough so I’m at (or below) the boundary layer between the topsoil/organic matter and the gravel–the steeper the hills the likely this layer will be more shallow.  I will also dig about a foot or sometimes two deeper to see if what I’m seeing at the surface continues in situ underground–signs of a pegmatite outcropping.

As I continue to explore the source of the float, I will dig an area of several feet in diameter, left and right, up and downhill.  If I continue to find signs, then I will follow those signs in whatever direction they lead me, which typically trends uphill.  The hope is that this investigation leads you to the originating crystal pocket or seam still in the pegmatite rock!

If there are no signs on the surface but the area in general looks or “feels” good, or if I’m feeling lucky, I dig test holes in best-guess locations and if I find nothing interesting within a 2-3 foot diameter, I move on to another spot.

I have also seen videos of folks using dowsing rods–the concept is they loosely hold L shaped rods in each hand and as they walk over an area with a crystal the rods will move. I keep thinking I should try this but I have no experience nor have done any research on this technique yet.  Chime up in the comments if you’ve had success with this method!

Following Float when prospecting

A float dig. I was following signs up the hill (probably 10 feet here) digging only about 3-7 inches deep.  Notice the pile of dirt on the right, this makes it ultra fast to fill in the hole once I’m done…literally 2 minutes.  I often backfill the hole as I’m following the float.  Notice the rocks on the surface above my digging, these are what you want to see, but in this case they are likely from another dig up the hill as they are not partially buried like Mother Nature would do.

What are good signs to follow?  What do you look for on the surface to start digging there? How long do you follow the trail of good signs when they are not panning out?  Well, that IS the trick, these are all the million dollar questions of prospecting!  I’m still perfecting this myself and likely will be forever, but for now my answer is many things.  Here is where joining up with a Crystal Club or digging with other prospectors is very helpful.  I have found that even though I’ve read a ton on the topic and talked to many experienced prospectors, I didn’t really “get it” until I’ve gone and and moved some rock and dirt–experienced it; sometimes it even takes many times before what I’ve read or been told clicks.  That said, however, I’ll try to give you some tips and rules of thumb based on what I look for.

You are looking for the following, above and/or below the surface as float or in situ:

  • Anything with flat sides.  Train your eyes to see flat surfaces; having flat surfaces means there was enough room for the rocks to start to crystalize which is evidence of a crack, seam or pocket in the host rock.  Finding flat sided rocks is integral in the hunt for crystals.
  • Quartz.  Pegmatites are partially composed of quartz, so you are looking for chunks of quartz either by themselves or mixed with Microcline / Feldspar.
  • Microcline.  Like quartz above, microcline or amazonite is a good sign.
  • Graphic Granite.  Granite by definition is composed of small crystals of quartz and feldspar. Pegmatite is when the crystal sizes get to a certain size.  Graphic granite / pegmatite is where these crystals get bigger TOGETHER.  Often in just one rock sample you’ll see the crystal size increase from one side to the other!  (see image below).  This sometimes means you are getting closer to where the crystals can grow better (i.e. a pocket).
  • Combinations of above.  This means that all the right ingredients of a pegmatite seam are floating out of somewhere.
  • Crystals.  If you’re finding whole crystals or multiple sides, well, you’re there! Congratulations!
Example of graphic granite

Here are some good examples of graphic granite from one of my digs. Notice the quartz crystals getting bigger in size and consistent through the rocks.  Click the image for a larger picture with more detail.

Good signs when prospecting

These pieces of quartz are great signs with many sides–but none are totally faceted which tells me they came out of massive granite.  Also notice the microcline.  Follow these!

Good signs when prospecting

Example of a good mix of quartz on feldspar, almost (but not quite) starting to look like a plate of quartz crystals. The upper quartz has a several flat sides! This chunk definitely kept me on the hunt!

One other technique I use digging float uphill is when pulling out quartz or microcline chunks I leave them on top of my tailings pile close to the spot I found them.  If I’m not finding the source of the float or lose track of the good signs (or when I take a water break), then I’ll often step back, take a break and review what I’m finding from a distance (which is possible because I left my findings consistently in sight on top of the tailings). This technique will let me analyze my current prospecting situation from a different perspective. While analyzing the rocks as I have dug up the hill, I will also analyze the surrounding hillside for clues like other digs, surface rock, contour, etc. Sometimes I get overzealous in my digging and forget this simple step-back-and-analyze step which can be really helpful in minimizing the search for the source of the float!

Another way to find crystals using the “float technique” is to start at someone else’s dig and start to explore around (if a flat area) and downhill of that prospect/hole.  It’s likely that there is float around or below that pocket that someone else has done all the hard work and located for you!  Many times the crystals are really nice and have just rolled down the hill a little bit!!!  The original prospector was only interested in the pocket material and left all the easy float finding to someone else!  I’ve found some really nice crystals using this technique!

Prospecting Pegmatites

Of course, the best place to dig is in crystal pockets.  This is where the crystals will likely be the best quality and most plentiful (but not always, ask any experienced prospector and they will tell you stories of hours/days of work in fabulous looking pockets with junk, crushed or no crystals).  Whether you happen upon a seam or pocket in the pegmatite using float prospecting techniques, or you find the peg right away and dive in, this is the goal of prospecting–to hit the mother lode!

First, a little bit of theory from what I have discovered in the field and also from reading and talking to other prospectors.  I think of pegmatites as basically a lava flow of harder rock that when forming had the right (and larger) concentrations of minerals we are searching for.  Because it is a flow, it often will be long and extend across or into the hillside and will often be somewhat straight.  This is helpful to know as you often can follow the pegmatite as it trends in a somewhat straight direction across the hillside.

If the conditions were right at that instant of time millions and millions of years ago, you have highly mineralized fluid that was flowing through the cracks in the rocks.  If there was room in the host rock’s cracks then it would give the fluid a chance to crystalize in that “open space” in the rocks. Because we’re talking about an extended “flow”, the pegmatite can open up (i.e. crystals!), then pinch out, and follow that pattern again and again along faults or cracks over its length.  You sometimes see this play out when following the pegmatite getting pocket after pocket along the length of the peg!  This is something to remember as a previous prospector may have found a great pocket but didn’t finish it or follow it as it opened up into even a larger pocket along the length of the original flow!

The great Blue Cap Productions video on Rhodochrosite at the Sweet Home Mine in Alma Colorado details that pockets were often found at the intersection of faults.  I have found this to be true in some cases with pegmatites pockets I’ve found, as two pegmatites intersected there was a pocket.  Additionally, Joe Dorris of Glacial Peak Mining has documented that when the pegs bend they often form pockets (which were eddies during the liquid phase?).   This is also something I’ve experienced and definitely keep an eye out for.

Pegmatite is currently often surrounded by gravel or dirt.  Over geologic time, the surrounding rock may have decomposed into gravel while the harder, more mineralized material is still in place.  So once you are upon the pegmatite you’ll likely know its boundaries by gravel. Knowing this, I don’t spend much time when digging test holes if there is just gravel, but if there are chunks of peg, quartz or microcline then I continue as I may be digging into a pegmatite; and if I was into the peg and then enter into just gravel, I change my direction as I likely have found a border of the peg.  When finding bigger chunks of rock, ensure they are pegmatite and not just solid granite.  You won’t find many crystals if you are not in the pegmatite!

Note that have seen instances where all the surrounding rock is completely gone leaving just a trail of crystals in the gravel or dirt!  So again none of these techniques is absolute each and every time!

I categorize the peg in a couple of ways, as described above (chunks) and also as solid masses (this digging takes the most effort). Sometimes I get into a peg that is still holding together as more massive rock and there is a seam sandwiched between top and bottom plates of granite.  In that seam, especially when it has the opportunity to widen, I sometimes find small pockets of crystals.  Following these openings the trail of crystals sometimes dives deeper; and that is where things can get interesting as you may be into a pocket.  Note that these chunks of pegmatite can be quite large and heavy, requiring pry bars and even chisels and hand sledge hammers to extract, so ensure you are employing safe leverage and lifting techniques (a hurt back doesn’t allow one to dig for many crystals) and always wear eye protection!  In these cases I follow the peg in all directions as the crack/seam may be rather long and wide but not very thick, but eventually it could widen and form a pocket.  Here is a video example of this (these are HD video, so change the resolution if you have the bandwidth!).

So these are the techniques that I am currently using to find crystals.  I am fairly successful in finding some crystals, but finding the great crystals or pockets is still somewhat elusive to me!  My thought is it’s all about moving dirt and rock to maximize the chance of getting lucky. Comparing it to the lottery, you have to play to win! Regardless, employing these techniques has brought me success and hopefully will aid in your success too!  As stated before, I would love to hear your techniques and ideas in the comments or by emailing me; I’m looking for any ways to improve!

Here are some videos showing me finding crystals out of a pegmatite pockets or seams. Pay attention to what is surrounding the areas with crystals as that is what you will be targeting when you dig!  Additionally, I have accumulated a playlist of people extracting crystals from around the world, you’ll want to check it out!

For more articles on my prospecting adventures click here.

You should also check out the other blogs I follow with great information about prospecting in Colorado:

Wish you good fortune as you find crystals!

2015 Denver Gem and Mineral Shows

Was able to break away from our busy schedule and make a trip to Denver for a couple of the Denver Mineral Shows. As always we head to the Merchandise Mart for Zinn’s show as this is where all the display cases are. I have included many photos from these cases as there were some outstanding specimens on display this year. We also went to the Colosseum Show. I find that I don’t buy too many minerals, especially ones that I can find locally here in Colorado. Instead, I tend to focus spending my money on literature, display mounts and tools. I bought a subscription to the Mineralogical Record and man these are amazing journals! I suspect, although pricey, I’ll be a subscriber for a while. In the January/February 2015 issue on the fantastic Pederneira Mine in Brazil I learned much about pegmatites, some information relevant to where I dig!

Here are some of the cool minerals displayed in the specimen cabinets at the main show. Obviously a small selection as there were tons (literally) of beautiful and amazing minerals on display, just some that caught my eye. Many are Colorado or close-to Colorado specimens, a bit of scouting as I may pay a visit to those localities in the upcoming years!

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Crystal TV

Crystal TV

All Action!!! No Drama!!

 

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!

Looking forward to a fun Rockhoudning Season!

Pikes Peak Batholith Colorado Amazonite Colors

I have found Amazonite now in several locations throughout the Colorado Pikes Peak Batholith.  After soaking many pieces of amazonite in acid for about 3 months to try and pull some of the iron oxide staining out of the crystals I got to wondering if finds from different locations in the Pikes Peak Batholith zone were consistent.  Regarding the iron oxide staining, I have had varied success with this winter’s cleaning; some the staining is embedded deep into the stones.

Amazonite is crystallized feldspar microcline with trace amounts of Lead (Pb) giving the green color, normally microcline is a pinkish/salmon color and up on Mt Antero is it white. There are a couple of examples of white capping and white striping (inclusion of orthoclase) shown here which I’m excited to have–the Amazonite in the Smithsonian museum is completely white capped/striped coming from the Two Point Claim–which is incidentally immediately between the Smoky Hawk and April Fools–the claims where I have gotten most of my Lake George stones. Amazonite and Smoky Quartz combos are highly sought and somewhat valuable. There are a couple of combos in the center of this picture from finds in the Lake George area.  Although I have found many smoky quartz and some Amazonite at Devils Head, only a few combos have been unearthed.  I can see why the combos are sought as they have been rare for me too.

There definitely is a different intensity of color throughout the different zones of the Pikes Peak Batholith.  You can see that the darkest (most desirable) color is from the Lake George area in Teller County, although I have found some paler color in that area, I have not found any pink microcline. The few pieces I have from the Wigwam district in Jefferson County are lighter green but have fantastic crystal formations; I have also found pink there. The Devils Head variety is more bluish and definitely paler, but many of the stones I have found have signs of the white capping/zoning in the crystals; most of the microcline at Devils Head is pink for me. I have some Amazonite from the Pine Creek area which is more green than Devils Head but still paler than Lake George.

Amazonite Colors

A comparison of amazonite color from throughout the Pikes Peak Batholith of Colorado (click for larger image)

I have not yet searched out the entire list of known locations for Amazonite throughout the Pikes Peak Batholith, so someday perhaps my color observations can be more thorough.  The following map is an arial view (courtesy Google Maps) of the areas I have searched and locations are color coded to match the above specimens.  Would love to hear your experiences, knowledge and thoughts on the topic in the comments!

Pikes Peak Batholith Amazonite location map

Pikes Peak Batholith Amazonite location map

Dia De Los Muertos Crystal Pocket (Updated with Video)

As always, clicking the image brings up a larger version, and you can review my other rockhounding adventures here.

Dia De Los Muertos Smoky Quartz Pocket

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…

Microcline Smoky Quartz Plate

One of the many interesting smoky quartz/microcline combo plates from the pocket

Smoky Quartz / Microcline plate

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!

Smoky Quartz from pocket

Not yet soaked in acid, smoky quartz with phantoms and healed terminations

Dia De Los Muertos Crystals

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.

El Nariz Quartz Crystal

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 cluster showing phantom

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!

Phantom Quartz

This quartz was smashed ages ago and shows the phantom crystal up close and personal

Gemmy Smoky with Phantom

Gemmy Smoky with Phantom

Gemmy quartz with phantom

Gemmy quartz with phantom

Gemmy Quartz with Phantom

Gemmy Quartz with Phantom prior to the acid bath

Smoky Quartz with Phantom

Smoky Quartz with Phantom

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 / Healed Quartz

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz with Phantom

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

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!

Virgin Bath Overlook looking south

Devils Head’s Virgin Bath Overlook looking southwest!

Prospecting Topaz near Pilot Peak

I was invited to prospect Topaz with an experience prospector, James, on his Topaz Claim near Pilot Peak about half way between Tarryall and Lake George, Colorado. Pilot Peak is likely one of the best Topaz localities in Colorado!  I have found topaz in this area before and was excited to learn more about prospecting topaz in the hopes that I can utilize this information to find that elusive stone in my favorite collecting areas around Devil’s Head.

Looking towards Pilot Peak, this area is jammed pack of claims. The only one (periodically) open to the public is the Topaz Mountain Gem mine.

Looking towards Pilot Peak, this area is jammed pack of claims. The only one (periodically) open to the public is the Topaz Mountain Gem mine.  On the eastern face of these peaks is the Lost Creek Wilderness.

Here are some links to prior topaz days around this area:

We started the day finding the claim’s corner points (and posts, which are required on all active mining claims) and James showed me some areas of interest that he had in his earlier prospecting trips.  The first spot we happened upon was where there were nice signs of pegmatite on the surface, some rocks had quartz with flat sides which is always a great sign!  We dug here for a little while but couldn’t find anything interesting in the area. We dug uphill a little ways but still nothing similar to what we found on the ground. Perhaps this was a little seam left over from long ago  that was then above the surface level and has been sitting on top of the ground since?  Perhaps we just missed the small area?  Regardless, nothing was found in this area although I definitely feel that the area is worth more consideration and putting down test holes.

Float that was worth checking out.

Float that was worth checking out.

Some "sides" in the pegmatite in the float that is a great sign

Some “sides” in the pegmatite in the float; that is a great sign

In another spot we found a seam of finer grained granite (aplite) with some pegmatite. Following the aplite seam around we found a couple of spots that opened up; one into a small pocket (that someone before us had cleaned out).  Although we didn’t find anything worth keeping, it was great to see these signs.  I also experienced that pounding with chisel into granite is a lot of hard work!

 Seam with pegmatite. We found nothing, but did some screening of the dirt around this.

Seam with pegmatite. We found nothing, but did some screening of the dirt around this.

Small pocket in the seam.

Here was the small pocket (with iron/red dirt). This vein flowed for about 100 feet.

Solid granite with pegmatite seam

Pegmatite lined this solid granite boulder, once part of the massive granite outcrop. White quartz with no signs of crystals.

We did quite a bit of hiking around the 20-acre claim area, which includes steep terrain filled with bushes and aspen trees, boulders big and small are everywhere.  There was a lot of up and down traversing the claim and by the end of the day we were exhausted, good news is it was awesome exercise!  The greatest part of climbing these hills was the magnificent views–part of the fun when prospecting the Colorado Rocky Mountains!

Cool cliffs in this area

Cool cliffs in this area

Looking south west towards the South Platte River

Looking south west towards the South Platte River

Large balance rock

Large balanced boulder!

Cool balanced rocks

Cool balanced rocks

Looking East. The Front Range is out there somewhere...

Looking East. The Front Range is out there somewhere…

Again thanks to James for all the information and fun day on his claim!  I learned quite a bit about topaz prospecting!