Crystal photography using a Macro lens

As I’m experimenting with my new Macro lens and crystal photography.  I am trying to figure out how to better shoot crystals using a macro lens, which I am really enjoying! 

I have been cleaning some crystals in an Iron Out bath recently and thought I’d take some progress shots.  These are crystals dug earlier this year and some last year.  Here are some of the experiments.

These two both came out of the same area of the little seam I was in. Both had interesting secondary growth patterns! f11,1/100, iso400, 90mm

This one had small crystals growing in the overgrowth gap. Interesting etching as well. Needing a good depth of field for these macro shots. Manual focus, f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.

This crystal has some interesting faces in the overgrowth. Trying to capture the point and the faces in focus, so needing a deep depth of field. f11, 1/00, iso1000, 90mm.

Amazonite. f11, 1/100, iso125, 90mm

This crystal has some neat little gemmy sidecars. f11, 1/100, iso1250, 90mm.

I love this side shot showing the color zoning in the crystal. Love the sawtooths at the top left! f20, 1/100, is0640, 90mm.

Side view of 1/2 of this crystal.

Was going for a shallow depth of field for this end crystal which shows the iron staining and multicolors this fluorite has to offer! f5.6, 1/100, iso100, 90mm

This is part of a much bigger fluorite crystal that disintegrated once I tried extracting it. But the apple green contrasting with violet is amazing! Background was the 12 inches of spring snow and the crystal was backlit by the morning sun. f3.2, 1/2000, iso100, -0.7 step, 90mm.

This is two of the three pieces I was able to salvage. They are still pretty stained with iron oxide, will continue giving a iron out bath. f9, 1/100, iso100, -.7step (oops), 90mm.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Phosphorescent Fluorite

Recently I dug some phosphorescent fluorite crystals, I don’t have a good UV source except for a cheapo LED lamp I bought from China, but I decided to give this a try. There was enough UV that some of the crystals did phosphoresce a blue/greenish color.  I’ve never checked out any of my crystals this way so it was awesome to see the illumination continue for well over a minute.  I wonder what a more powerful lamp would do?

I am still experimenting with what quality of the stones allows the phosphorescence. At first I thought that only the more gemmy of the crystals I found phosphoresce, but that isn’t true.  Some of the most gemmy crystals do not phosphoresce at all!

phosphorescent fluorite

Here is an example of a clear gemmy piece of Fluorite I found, it is pretty but does not phosphoresce.  

phosphorescent fluorite open exposure

Here are the fluorites phosphorescing. I charged them up with a cheapo UV LED lamp, then turned off the lamp and opened the exposure for 5 seconds in the pitch dark.  They were a bit more green than this picture shows.  They stayed illuminated for several minutes.

Prospecting February

Was able to pull off some winter prospecting this month!  Typically rockin’ season doesn’t start here in the Colorado Rockies until April timeframe, sometimes a bit later when the snow is all melted and the ground good and thawed. But this winter is a little different and I have been out prospecting several times since early February already! Yes, there is snow to contend with, but not enough to keep me indoors!

I was able to hit three different spots so far this winter.  All three spots had snow, but there was enough good southern exposed area to have limited snow and somewhat thawed ground.

The first prospecting trip I found signs of quartz and feldspar leading up a hill and followed it.  In several cases I found signs of other digging; good news is I was on the right trail; bad news I was on it after others were…but the signs were good and I suspect there are other areas to check out, so chalk this area up to needing another trip!

The second place I started finding some float about 6 inches under the surface. Heading uphill I was able to find several cool crystals (and many more quartz with faces) so I feel confident they did float downhill; but I haven’t found the source yet. Either the original pocket was above present day ground, or there is more searching to do.  I’m trusting the latter will yield results and plan to hit this spot again this spring.

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interesting quartz crystal coated with hematite giving a very sparkly luster to the stone.

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Large five inch smoky quartz float crystal. This one had a fracture and rehealed; must have busted during formation a billion years ago!

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This crystal is awesome, the best one I found. It is double-terminated with several coatings, one of white quartz and the other of hematite.

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Same crystal as above showing the double terminations and multiple growths.

The third area was one I have visited before, before long I was back into the pocket mud which was very sticky and messy!  I found some neat fluorite crystals and some rather odd and interesting quartz.  None of these have been properly cleaned but will show you the parallel growth and unique crystal clusters.

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I love the larger quartz crystals around the edge, and the elestial growth in the center!

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This quartz cluster were terminated everywhere (thousands of times), and differently terminated on both sides. Probably my favorite find of the day! This side has white quartz in parallel elestial growth patterns.

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This side had the one larger quartz crystal with the smaller points adjoining it. Can’t see it much here, but it has a tint of green throughout!

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I love this fluorite, fairly gemmy and has some purple, otherwise clear. As you gaze into it, it sucks time from existence!

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Several pyramid fluorites came out of the this spot. This is the smallest, and gemmiest…I immediately came up with this idea for a photograph, so I carefully wrapped this in newspaper and to my delight it was clear enough to pull off this shot! Fun!

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Got my itch to do some prospecting early this spring which was fun!  Look forward to heading up again here soon, hopefully!  Spring has not yet arrived!

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!

ello-optimized-1acce03b ello-optimized-5c22aa9c ello-optimized-6a4b9ef2 ello-optimized-8d01fe59 ello-optimized-32a491a4 ello-optimized-43d64232 ello-optimized-44b8eec2 ello-optimized-53d71202 ello-optimized-54be7804 ello-optimized-716a447b ello-optimized-1533cac9 ello-optimized-7668fee3 ello-optimized-32750161 ello-optimized-44018277 ello-optimized-a48f57d4 ello-optimized-a70218fc ello-optimized-ce662928 ello-optimized-e13f5825 ello-optimized-e32a89e4 ello-optimized-ecb07cfd ello-optimized-eccfe611 ello-optimized-ee1ed7fd

Devils Head Picking Field Trip

Went up to Devils Head with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to do some pickin’ today.  Last week the Fire Watch Tower / Campground area was hit with a EF0/EF1 tornado (max wind 90 mph, 500 yards long, 100 yards wide max) and is currently closed due to all the snapped trees.  Luckily we didn’t go to that area and could continue with the field trip.

We went to the area east of the Topaz Picnic Area, near the old topaz mine and claims.  I hadn’t had much luck in this area in the past, but it was good to hang out with like-minded folks and give it another try.  I prospected an area that was level on the hillside with many other digs (this area is heavily dug) about 40 feet away, and about 40 feet or so below a really old dig.  My goal was to either hope to find the pegmatite dike or perhaps find some float.

Immediately I found a clear quartz that was healed.  I had to look carefully because it was amazingly clear and gemmy like topaz, but the growth lines on the crystal faces were perpendicular to the axis through the point and it had a quartz shape, so no go on my first topaz at Devils Head.

Following Float

Dig area, following the float uphill

For those that often ask me what I’m looking for, this is something I didn’t find much online or in the books.  This technique is just what I’ve figured out and there could be much better ways to prospect, but this will at least give you something to try the next time you are up digging if you are looking for things to try…

I scrape off the top soil to see what is at the boundry of the top soil and gravel layers...or "float".

I scrape off the top soil to see what is at the boundry of the top soil and gravel layers…or “float”.

Quartz

Clear Quartz in the sunlight makes it look like Topaz…

I continued to dig uphill (in the picture above I ended about 10 feet above the trees at the top of the photo) and as I got close to the old dig the quartz started to get larger.  I was finding float, or quartz that is below the organic layer of dirt and above the gravel, or about up to 6 inches below the surface.  Once I hit the clear quartz I started to dig around that, and then when I hit the first double terminated crystal I was able to form a trajectory up the hill and continued in that general direction.  It took a little while to figure out the direction but once I did the area I had to prospect was smaller making the process quicker.

The double terminated smaller quartz was the second I found, and the larger double terminated quartz was the last I found at this location.  Not pictured are all the shaped pieces of quartz (but not fully euhedral) that kept me on the chase up the hill.

Float Quartz

Milky quartz crystals found while digging the float. The large one on the upper right was double terminated and so was the one in the lower left.  The two in the middle show gemmy smoky quartz under the milky coating.

double terminated quartz

Double Terminated crystal shows several periods of growth. Original was likely to the pegmatite ceiling or floor, then it broke off and was healed (you can see this clearly on the other face).

Other folks were also having luck so it was a great day, the folks next to me pulled out a nice 4 inch smoky quartz!  After my hole was filled in I got up to check out the finds of other folks, but most folks had already left, no wonder it had gotten quiet!  I chatted with one other person who was in a small pocket in a very large dig and he had some nice crystals too.

I decided to try another spot and started to dig again after having lunch.  Here I was able to find a small seam in harder pegmatite that produced some nice twin smoky quartz and some light blue amazonite crystal faces.

Overall a fun day pickin’ at Devils Head!

Smoky Quartz

Smoky Quartz found in second location.  The 4 crystals at the right were sidewall type crystals (the backs on a couple are not terminated).  They were all found in a seam of pegmatite, not a pocket with sand, so it took a while to excavate from the small area.

You can see the white overgrowth on the otherwise gemmy smoky quartz

You can see the white overgrowth on the otherwise gemmy smoky quartz

Devils Head Amazonite

Amazonite found in the second location. More bluish than traditional green in color.

One thing about Devils Head crystals is they almost always need a bath as they have iron oxide staining, especially the amazonite/microcline.  These photos above are of the crystals just rinsed of with water, showing exactly how they look when fresh out of the ground!  The photos below are after a week of heated oxalic acid bath.

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Soaked in a chemical bath for a week.  Still some staining, but looking nicer!

Soaked in a chemical bath for a week. Still some staining, but looking nicer!

Twin Smokies

Twin Smoky Quartz with lots of iron staining…needs a bath!  Looks like it could be gemmy!

Nice etched polka dot patterns!

Nice etched polka dot patterns on the point!

Smoky Quartz

Needs a good cleaning, but this Smoky Quartz is gemmy and also has some nice small crystal growth on the point.  The back side is also terminated..really close to being a double terminated crystal!

Love the little gemmy crystal on the termination

Love the little gemmy crystal on the termination

Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

It has been a while now that I have wanted to visit the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum in Golden, Colorado. I’ve read articles about it, heard it was awesome, and still never have ventured to the far west side of the Metro to pay a visit. Well, the time had come; my daughter had a Girl Scout event at the School of Mines earlier this year and while waiting for her event to finish the rest of the family went to the museum…and we’re glad we did! It did not disappoint; the local Colorado collections they had were outstanding!

What I liked most was the fact that they had similar specimens from popular Colorado localities that I have collected. In most all cases their examples of the mineral(s) were much better than I have, but in a few examples I have found similar quality specimens from the same localities. Because I have been to the same location as these were unearthed from; I also was able to definitively identify several specimens that I was only partially sure about!

There were also several specimens that I really like that I have not found that mineral anywhere yet; but they were so cool that I had to take a photo of it anyway. The museum is full of wonderful specimens — these pictures don’t do it justice; you have to *BE* there to truly grasp the magnitude of the beauty of these specimens, but hopefully the pictures get you itching to visit Golden on your next trip to the metro area!

Calcite and Pyrite

A person at the colosseum show a couple years ago had several of these for sale for cheap. I bought one in the same league than this!

Fluorite

Oklahoma Galena

Oklahoma Galena, this is an awesome specimen!  As a storm chaser I remember when Picher was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2008…what I didn’t realize is that it was a Superfund site and is one of the most toxic places in the US.  Picher is a modern day ghost town for a good reason!

Rhodochrosite Stalagmites

Rhodochrosite Stalagmites

NTM Zoelites

North Table Mountain Zoelites

Back in 2010 I was able to visit North Table Mountain on a field trip with the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society club.  This is on Jefferson County Open Space and there is no collecting usually allowed per their website; but the club had a permit which allowed us to collect.  We did find some great crystals as you will see in that blog post. Below are the fantastic zeolite crystal specimens they had in the museum.

NTM Thompsonite

North Table Mountain Thomsonite

North Table Mountain Chabazite

North Table Mountain Chabazite – We found an awesome vug lined with Chabazite during a NTM club fieldtrip!

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Quartz after Halite

This Quartz after Halite specimen is awesome!

Goethite after Pyrite

I love Goethite and Pyrite; this is the best of both!

Quartz after Fluorite

This Quartz after Fluorite is just amazing!

Fluorite

Fluorite. I found a similar piece at the Smoky Hawk mine during one of the club field trips.

Here is the similar (not as big but just as gemmy) fluorite I found at the Smoky Hawk mine.

Crystal Hill Amethyst

Crystal Hill Amethyst Cluster – I have yet to find Amethyst at this locality.

Bone

Petrified Spruce

Petrified Spruce

Petrified Wood

One of the various Petrified wood slabs they had on exhibit — Joshua Tree.

Petrified Wood

One of the various Petrified wood slabs they had on exhibit

 

Pickin’ Red Feather Lakes Quartz

My dad, son and I had the opportunity to go on a rockhounding club field trip with the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society as guests of the Flatiron Mineral Club to a set of private claims near Red Feather Lakes in Northcentral Colorado.  Red Feather Lakes is known for some of the best Colorado Amethyst found and also clear quartz, and a few miles north high quality industrial grade diamonds!  Today we were digging for Red Feather Lakes quartz.

Here are a couple of past expeditions to the RFL area:

There were a couple of claims that we could visit so we had a choice of what we wanted to do this field trip!  Some of us stayed at the first claim the claim owner walked us to in hopes of bigger quartz crystals and clusters (but much more effort) while others went to a smaller claim that had abundant smaller clear quartz crystals that were much easier to find.  Hunter and I chose the first claim with more digging effort and a longer walk while my dad chose to check out the other smaller claim, eventually coming back and getting the best of both worlds.

Hunter is not much of a digger and has a keen eye for float, so he set off right away and started scouting the claim.  Meanwhile, I love to dig so that I did.  I found a couple of crystals within the top foot of soil and found some quartz veins that didn’t produce anything noteworthy.  Hunter found a very nice float cluster right away bringing up everyone’s confidence that there is good stuff in the area.  Meanwhile, the trip leader, Charlotte, was no more than two feet next to me and started hitting nice crystals as she opened up a seam.

Hunter's quartz cluster.

Hunter’s quartz cluster.

Just after Hunter gave us all a jaw-dropping moment, I hit a nice phantom with white quartz with a secondary period of crystallization of clear quartz.  So the father and son duo were not skunked and finding crystals right away!  Cool!

Nice phantom white quartz under the secondary growth of clear quartz

Nice phantom white quartz under the secondary growth of clear quartz

Soon there after Charlotte started pulling out really nice crystals from her seam she was excavating.  I can’t image getting bored of pulling crystals out of a pocket, but Charlotte wanted to ensure that everyone had a chance to pull out some nice crystals showing her kindness and generosity as the trip leader.  So many of us took turns at pulling out crystals from her pocket! 🙂  I found a really nice double terminated cluster, but I had to give that to Charlotte as a memento from the pocket she discovered!  I pulled out some great points and a couple small clusters!

Uncleaned quartz crystal from Red Feather Lakes

None of the quartz has been cleaned yet; I have a handful that are in the acid bath queue.

Interesting crystal form

Interesting crystal form

Large quartz, I cannot find the two crystals that were once next to this.

Large quartz, I cannot find the two crystals that were once next to this as seen by the matrix bottom.  This was the last crystal I pulled from the seam as it was opening up into the main part of the pocket (of course we didn’t’ know that yet!)

Meanwhile my dad returned from the other claim with many nice small clear crystals.  It became his turn and he was able to pull crystals out as the pocket bottomed out.  He was able to keep several amazing clusters from the pocket that kept giving!

Red Feather Lakes quartz cluster

Wonderful cluster from near the end of the pocket. My dad extracted this and another similarly amazing cluster

Dad has some nice crystals and when he gets some photos I will upload them here.  Meanwhile, I took some shots before I left; he has a couple of nice pieces of matrix that hopefully he has the crystals to repair to make a couple more stellar clusters!

Great quartz crystals from Red Feather Lakes Colorado

Both amazing clusters, quickly washed with the garden hose.

Gotta love the fall colors while enjoying the forest and rockhounding in Colorado!

Gotta love the fall colors while enjoying the forest and rockhounding in Colorado!

All in all it was an incredibly fun day meeting many great folks from the Flatirons Mineral Club!  I hope to be able to dig with these folks again in the future!  Thanks to the owner of the claims for making this a fantastic rockhounding adventure in Colorado!

Red Feather Lakes Quartz

My turn at Charlotte’s Pocket pickin’ Red Feather Lakes quartz crystals.

 

Rampart Range Prospecting

Did some digging today on the Rampart Range area on the Northeast side of the Pikes Peak Batholith.  This location is known for mainly Smoky Quartz but also sometimes Amazonite and Topaz crystals.  I started off prospecting a new area and did not find much so I wandered off to an old pegmatite I have worked in the past and went further into the zone I had found some crystals in previous years.  I was lucky today and found many smokey quartz including a couple of small plates, and some weak colored and shaped Amazonite.

I originally came upon this area as I saw some loose pegmatite upon the ground that was somewhat graphic.  Graphic granite is where the crystallization gets more pronounced and starts to get shapes and facets on one or many sides.  I was pulling large (50+ pounds) chunks of pegmatite out of the ground and then I came upon a zone that was much smaller chunks of rock.  After pulling out a couple of pieces smoky quartz started to fall out and then I saw a ceiling plate with a crystal intact.  This plate was about 20 pounds so I left it; but I did bring home two plates intact and was able to find 5 crystals that fit back into place…which was worth the haul of these very heavy rocks to the car.

I plan to hit this site one more time as I want to ensure the pocket pinched out, which it appeared to do; but the previous seam of crystals I found along this pegmatite did the same thing, so it obviously opened up a couple times.

Part of the top plate of the small pocket.  This crystal had fallen off but I was able to repair it.

Part of the top plate of the small pocket. This crystal had fallen off but I was able to repair it.

Another view of the top plate in the main part of the pocket!

Another view of the top plate in the main part of the pocket!

This was along the bottom of the pocket

This was along the bottom of the pocket

These two were repaired back together

These two were repaired back together

I love the point on this one.

I love the point on this one.

Nice crystal

Nice crystal

This crystal is mostly gemmy inside.

This crystal is mostly gemmy inside.

Kinda odd facets, but awesome crystal.

Kinda odd facets, but awesome crystal.

Nice large crystal.

Nice large crystal.

Love this point!

Love this point!

Some of the repaired and larger crystals; many or gemmy

Some of the repaired and larger crystals; many or gemmy

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These are mostly gemmy

These are mostly gemmy

Smaller but gemmy crystals!

Smaller but gemmy crystals!

Part of the larger bottom plate near the center of the pocket.

Part of the larger bottom plate near the center of the pocket.

Some light colored Amazonite crystals.

Some light colored Amazonite crystals.

These will require a long soaking; but I kinda like them as is...

These will require a long soaking; but I kinda like them as is…