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

Smoky Quartz and Amazonite Picking

Larger smoky quartz from this small pocket

These were some of the smoky quartz that would fall out of the pocket when I shook the tree roots. Some of the bigger quartz from the pocket

It has been a while since I’ve been up in the hills, but recently I _finally_ had a free day and I was able to hit the hills and prospect for some crystals.  This year has been somewhat slow for me so far, I’ve ventured up to dig for Amazonite and/or Smoky Quartz two times before and I had found just a small crystal or two in those days.  I also was prospecting way away from my normal places too, but you never know until you check it out!

This last outing, however, I went back to a spot I had luck with in years past as I wanted to dig down deeper.  I’ve been told by numerous folks that digging deeper around a seam or small pocket in the pegmatite often yields huge rewards, so I decided this was the day to expend some energy and find out.  I arrived at 6am and it was nice and cool so I started to trench out diagonally from where I had luck before.  I went about 3-4 feet deep working through some very hard rock to find nothing but gravel on the other side of the pegmatite.  I continued elongating the trench and was able to find some peg that was looking okay but it was producing nothing but hard work.  After 5 hours of digging I decided that down was not the source at this point and started to fill in the large hole.

One thing I also wanted to try at this spot was to follow the peg past where it appeared to pinch out when I was onto crystals in years past, so I went about 10-15 feet beyond in the general direction of the seam and started another probe hole.  Immediately I was pulling quartz chunks out but none with euhedral sides; they appeared to be float as they were in the deep organic matter.  I went down about 3 feet and finally started to hit the pegmatite!  It continued and I was happy to see it!  I trenched it for a while perpendicular to the peg and was pulling crystals out in the past, some some graphic peg appeared but nothing at all with facets.  The peg was rather thin at this point and nothing was in the gravel below.  I ended up with my trench into the roots of a tree and since there were no positive signs I decided to give the tree a break and not damage any of the roots.  So I filled in that hole and took a break as that was another 2 hours of hard work!

Double Terminated Smoky Quartz

This was the other quartz crystal in the center of the pocket. Neat double terminated crystal that is completely gemmy inside! Love that root beer smoky color!

Heart of the pocket

Heart of the pocket, double terminated crystal all cleaned up.

While eating lunch and taking a break, I noticed a rock that was on the other side of my tree that appeared to be buried pretty deep.  After eating I tried to pull it out but it wouldn’t give.  Interesting that on its side there appeared to be some quartz chunks so I got out the pick and dug it out.  It definitely had better shape than any of the peg I was in before lunch, so I started to dig around it.  The next rock had some green and I knew I was in the right spot.  In just a little while I was in the start of a seam with some nice smaller partially euhedral quartz and amazonite shards.  The peg was definitely different than the one I dug in previously so I continued uphill.

About a foot further down and up hill the peg opened up a little and in that opening I started to get more green shards of microcline and a larger quartz chunks.  One of the first quartz pieces I found was what looked like a tip of a larger crystal.  I see this all the time and I realized that I likely had a really big crystal in store up hill!  It was nearly at the other side of the seam/pocket, so it had fallen downhill several feet in the seam which was very interesting…Upon hitting a stump of an old burnt out tree I then discovered the small pocket.  Unfortunately my phone died and I didn’t have my regular camera so I can’t share any pictures of the digs, but as I dug through the large roots crystals started to appear.  The microcline was light amazonite and some crystals fit into the palm of my hand.  Upon shaking the roots crystals would fall into my hole below!  It was a quite fun pocket but it receded as quickly as it opened up.  Still I was able to get some good sized crystals and amazonite including a couple double terminated (one healed) smoky quartz.  I was dead tired by after 5pm (almost 12 hours digging) so I filled in all the holes completely and headed home.  Who knows, there could be more there (maybe dig down like the experts say?), I’ll have to check it out again some other time.

Colorado Amazonite Crystals

Uncleaned, straight from the Earth, some light colored Amazonite crystals

Amazonite

Soaked for a week in a hot oxalic acid bath, the powder blue color is nice–but no where as nice as the green further south.

Large smoky quartz with broken tip

As in nearly EVERY pocket I dig, I find a broken tip. This time, I was digging up hill and found the tip first. I knew that was a great sign and that I’d find its adjoining large crystal which made an exciting dig!

Smoky Quartz Cluster

Smoky quartz cluster that came out of the center of the pocket. Uncleaned.

Cleaned up cluster

Cleaned up smoky quartz cluster

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!

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…

 

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!

Topaz Prospecting in the Rockies

I was able to attend a Lake George Gem and Mineral Club field trip to a private claim near Tarryall Mountain, one of the premier Topaz Prospecting areas in Colorado!  The area is steep and rocky which makes a good hike; with the side benefit of having an outstanding view!  We ventured up the mountain and I started a good day immediately in finding a topaz laying in the ground on the hike up the hill, albeit very small.  Then just a few minutes later I found another clear topaz, this time larger and clear enough to be a cutter stone!

Small piece of topaz found on the hike up.

Small piece of topaz found on the hike up.

Alluvial clear topaz I found on the hike up the hill.

Alluvial clear topaz I found on the hike up the hill.  Good enough for a small cut gem!

Once settled in near the top of the hill, I started to dig in an area that was previously dug to try and figure out what to look for.  I know that Topaz forms in standard pegmatite like the smoky quartz and microcline/amazonite that I dig in the Pikes Peak Batholith, but I usually don’t dig in such rocky places.  I dug a little uphill and in between two large rocks about 3″ deep in the sand out popped another topaz! This is the first one I have ever “dug”; everything else has either been on the ground or from excavator diggings at the Dorris’ Topaz Mountain Gem Mine. I dug for several hours more in this location and only pulled out a gemmy smoky quartz which was under a large (probably 100+ lb) rock I pried away.

Started digging and immediately pulled this out of the loose gravel.

Started digging and immediately pulled this out of the loose gravel.  Definitely a cutter!

I proceeded downhill and started digging in more clay filled dirt.  I found a couple of smoky quartz (not very good ones however).  I was meticulously going through the clumps of clay and I found a topaz completely concealed in one.  This was the last topaz I found, but it was a fully euhedral crystal with a slight blue color.  It wasn’t gemmy like the others, but specimen quality!

This topaz was covered in red clay/mud and the only reason I found it was I was thorough in checking each clump of mud.

This topaz was covered in red clay/mud and the only reason I found it was I was thorough in checking each clump of mud.

Throughout the day I found some very small but ultra gemmy smoky quartz and Hunter found a topaz on the ground (during the rain which illuminated it) on the way out, so we both had a great day!  I used a screen all day long but that didn’t produce any topaz; luckily topaz when exposed from the ground typically “pops out” at you and it is obvious what you’ve found.  I did have the one covered in clay that did not “pop”, however, so obviously screens and working clay is still necessary when prospecting for topaz.

Small but gemmy smoky quartz crystals

Small but gemmy smoky quartz crystals

I have been invited to visit another private claim in the area later in July, so hopefully I’ll have some more “wild dug” topaz stories soon…and of course later this summer/fall I hope to find my first Devils head topaz too!

The finds of the day...all relatively small but my first "hand dug" topaz I've ever found!

The finds of the day…all relatively small but my first “hand dug” topaz I’ve ever found!

Gobbler Smoky Quartz part 2

Headed up to Devils Head Colorado in late May on a gorgeous spring day to test my luck with finding Smoky Quartz crystals.  I decided to visit a location I had luck with on Thanksgiving 2013 to see if the pegmatite continued on into a bigger pocket.

I started by digging more into the harder country rock directly behind where the pocket from last year pinched out.  I went about 5 feet (of hard rock digging) around that area and found nothing of interest.  Then I decided to head the other direction, which was piled with tailings and pegmatite rocks so I had some housecleaning to do.  Immediately upon getting below the surface I pulled out a microcline that looked good…probably less than 2 inches below ground.  I took another scrape with the shovel to remove sticks and top soil and a girthy 2 inch smoky popped out of the ground!  This is the closest pocket to the surface I have ever found, the pocket bottomed out about 4-5 inches deep!

I took some video pulling out medium sized smoky quartz from this small pocket.  As quickly as it started, it ended.  I dug for 5-7 feet more but determined that the pegmatite at that point would have been above the current ground level.  It was getting late and I was several miles from the car, so I buried the hole, packed up and hiked out.

Upon thinking about this more, I will pay another visit to this area and start prospecting down the hill for float that may have come out of the seam over the millions of years of erosion in this location (usually I find float and dig uphill towards the hopeful pocket). Never thought of doing this before so we’ll see if this twist on my normal routine pays out.  ???

This cluster was at the bottom of the pocket.  Note the back side where the graphic granite is obvious.  This is what you want to look for when digging test holes or while prospecting!

This small cluster was at the bottom of the pocket. Note the back side where the graphic granite is obvious. This is what I look for when digging test holes or while prospecting!  Curious on the light colored smokey in the center.

Some examples of the smoky quartz I found (still to be cleaned)

Some examples of the smoky quartz I found (still to be cleaned).  The right most is the one with the broken tip.  Interestingly, so far this year each pocket/seam I’ve hit has one (and only one) nice smoky with a broken tip….in each case I have found it near by.  Interesting…

Devil’s Head weekend pickin’ camping trip

My buddy Terry introduced me to Devil’s Head locality back in 2009 through his friend Bill, who is a long time Picker all over Colorado.  Thanks to Bill I’ve had a ton of fun pickin’ here!  We’ve been wanting to meet up for years but one thing or another has prevented it from happening, until now!  Terry and I took a Friday off of work and headed up to Devil’s Head first thing in the morning.  There was a fresh snow earlier in the week and we figured there would be some left in the shady spots; but not enough to ruin a good weekend camp trip.  Well, there was a little more snow than we thought, about 3-4″ in the road going in, but it was supposed to be a gorgeous weekend so we decided a little snow wouldn’t hurt us.

I had all the camp spots scouted out in the area and there was one I always have been fond of, and luckily because of the early season and Friday morning (and covered in snow!) it was available.  All these campsites are first come first serve.  We parked and Terry started to set up camp while I dug snow away from where we wanted our tents.

Bill brought a friend Cliff who was a first time picker and they met us later that evening. The day was gorgeous and we had a wonderful weekend camping trip.  We picked two days, one day at a spot that I have had luck in the past and one that Bill had luck with many years back.  At my spot we found some crystals but nothing super.  The second day I bumped into a small seam of small, root beer gemmy crystals.

It was a great weekend and Bill had some useful tips that he shared from his decades of experience.  I went up the following weekend to finish up a spot but didn’t have any luck. Overall, a wonderful camping weekend early in the season, and a beautiful view from our campsite.  Also, some nice smaller gemmy crystals to bring home.

Campsite was awesome; needed a little snow shovelling though.

Campsite was awesome; needed a little snow shovelling though. NOTE: The snow proved very handy to keep our beer cold!

View of the Pikes Peak Batholith and Pikes Peak!

View of the eastern Pikes Peak Batholith and Pikes Peak!

View towards the west

View towards the west

Wonderful view of Pikes Peak

Wonderful view of Pikes Peak each morning

Boogie found this under a fallen tree.  I didn't see what kind of bird it was; but the eggs were the same size as chicken eggs.

Boogie found this under a fallen tree. Believe it was a grouse.

Devil's Head small seam

Devil’s Head small seam…most are gemmy root beer colored smoky quartz.

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