There were many rumors that Gem-o-rama was done after the 75th year, but seeing a flyer for year #76 got my hopes up for attending in 2017 again with Kirk. But, the work schedule wasn’t looking like it was going to cooperate so I had written off going this year.
The week before Kirk calls me and says he still wants to go, but on a compressed schedule. I was able to take a day off of work last minute and we were locked in for another road trip and gem collecting extravaganza. I’ll detail the road trip in other blog posts (it was a lot of driving–thank you Kirk–and a ton of fun). But this article will talk about the event itself.
We learned a lot at last year’s field trips and so we had a strategy going into this year. For the mud trip, I was focused on Hanksite complete crystals and/or clusters. I ended up leaving a lot of crystals that I found, many were probably nice, but it was nice having mostly great ones to clean this year instead of a bunch of so-so ones–the strategy paid off!
Cleaning these does take some effort. This year we bought a couple more liters of brine from the store for cleaning which was needed. We both brought dental picks and a variety of firmness and size of brushes which also sped up the cleaning process. We brought newspaper to wrap the crystals in, and zip-lock baggies to seal in the moisture for the drive back home. I brought paper towels which was a mistake as it stuck to the crystals if they fully dried, so newspaper next time for sure. For cleaning, a bucket is too big except if you find a monster cluster, so we brought hard plastic throw-away containers from the grocery store which conserved brine and make it easier to access.
This is the El Grande Hanksite cluster I found. Notice the white residue all over it, that has to be scraped off with a dental pick. Each facet will require a full cleaning. It sits like this in the cabinet waiting for a more ambitious weekend (which it will take, probably 15-20 hours)!
The medium Hanksite cluster from the mud dig. Every face had to be scraped which took about 4 hours, and really sore hands and wrists. It was worth it!
Instead of spending a bunch of time cleaning at the site of the mud dig, we just did a quick scrub, especially on the clusters, which left more time for digging. Note there were more people this year than before, and it took longer to drive to the mud site, so less time actually searching for crystals. After the mud field trip we got back in line in Trona, ate lunch, and then a much deeper cleaning of the crystals. The goal is to get most of the mud off of the crystals. We then wrapped them while they were wet and sealed them in zip-lock containers. This helps considerably to have them still moist after the road trip home for the final cleanup. If the crystals dry up, then you’ll need to scrape every face to get the top layer of dried hanksite off, which is more effort.
The second field trip on Saturday was the blow-hole trip. We learned last year that the hanksite crystals were neat from this dig as there were basically three types we want, all double-terminated. Barrels with flat ends, one side flat and the other side pointed, and both sides pointed. But, the hanksites from this dig are not as big or cool typically as the mud dig. My focus was to find Sulfohalites, interesting Borax, Halite cubes and clusters; also potentially hanksites if they were awesome.
Watching the demo of blowing crystals out of the ground was cool; but this year I decided to just focus on collecting as much as possible. Again, even though we were in what we thought was a good place in line, we ended up going out of the way to the blow hole spot and it ate some time out of our collecting–but what are you gonna do? We dug in an area that was about 3-5 inches deep of crystals that had piled up. Once sitting in the right direction to get the best sun reflections off the crystals (and out of the shade of the body and hat) we were able to make quick work of sifting through the crystals. I had a small 2-gallon bucket and just tossed the crystals in there; except for the small ones I put in individual 3×3 inch baggies that I brought. This was to ensure the little crystals, or nice ones, didn’t get damaged in the bucket.
This was the last field trip for the day so I didn’t spend any time cleaning crystals at the field trip site. After dinner, we drank a beer, chatted and cleaned into the night. I wrapped the wet crystals in wet paper towels and put them in zip-lock baggies once cleaned. Some that were fully cleaned I applied mineral oil to with a brush. Eventually all crystals except the Halite plates would get mineral oil since we live in a very dry climate.
Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Sulfohalite octahedron cluster
Variety of sulfohalites
Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal
Borax crystal with hanksite
Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation
Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together
The final field trip was on the salt lakes on Sunday morning. We learned last year that the crystals grown on shelves, typically where there is running brine or on the edge of brine pools. Right away we were finding larger plates but with small crystals. I was digging in the pools and Kirk found a spot (right where everyone was walking by to get further out into the lakes) digging in the ditch at the edge of the lake. This ended up being the best spot and I joined him after a while. We pulled out so many cool plates of medium sized pink halite clusters from this area. We just feel along the edge of the ditch and you could feel the cube crystals with your fingers, then carefully extract the plates by either pulling up, or using a pick and breaking the plate in the size you want. The one problem was, we didn’t have enough space in the car to bring a ton of plates home, so we ended up giving many away to passers by–which in itself was a lot of fun!
For the trip home, I discovered last year that if you pack them in your salty clothes (you get pretty wet digging) they make the trip well. I packed them in a 5 gallon bucket on top of my zip-lock baggies of other crystals from the previous digs. I also brought a couple of beach towels this year to wrap the plates in. The dealers there utilize either produce boxes or hard plastic storage boxes you get at the hardware store. These come out clean, so just a rinse in the ditch and leave them out to dry is all that is needed before you wrap them in cloth. I only had a couple break apart on the way home, having them secured in the bucket was safe. I do not use mineral oil on the halite plates but do use it for the other crystals.
Again, a wonderful trip filled with fun! This time Kirk’s boys got to join us. Hopefully there will be many more Gem-o-rama trips in the future!
Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the Colorado State of MInd event sponsored by the Castle Rock branch of the Douglas County Libraries. A friend works there and asked if I could present the rocks and crystals I have found in the state. Sounded like a ton of fun, literally!
My bland booth, chock full of rocks
I worked the entire event, 5 hours, talking to very interesting adults and super cool (and many times very intelligent!) kiddos on crystals and rocks. Everyone could pick up the crystals and experience their beauty and geometry up close. I really enjoyed seeing the excitement of the kids faces as they explored the beautiful rocks, and enjoyed meeting like minded folks. I think many people were amazed of the cool gems that lay underground in literally our back yards!
Dave and library patron Carl Degolier. Kindly used with permission from DCL.
I talked about some useful information, so I thought I’d include that information here for reference…
I led a field trip with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to Devils Head today. Given that there were a lot of cars we parked in a popular area, one which has several claims surrounding it. Part of the responsibility of rockhounding is to know where claims are located and not to mineral trespass, so I put together a google terrain map with these claims on it so we were sure to understand where the claims were so we dug elsewhere. Many folks asked me how I did this, so I decided to detail the process here.
First off, it is important for anyone Rockhounding to understand the rules. Here are useful information links for Mining Claims and Rockhounding in the state of Colorado.
As you read above, part of staking a mining claim is to produce a Certificate Of Location (COL) and file with both the County Recorder’s office and the BLM. Part of this document is to record exactly where the claim is located, most of the time this includes a map that you can see the exact corner posts and perimeter. These documents are public record, and you can research and request copies of them for a small fee (or free as I will demonstrate) from either the BLM or the County of record. The BLM manages all mining claims on public land, so you will want to use their research tools to determine the status of any claim. Note that the LR2000 online website may not contain the latest and greatest information; so getting your information direct from the BLM is the best source.
I like to create a prospecting map so I know the vicinity of where these claims corner posts are (or should be, sometimes the claim owner does not have them marked). To do this is a 3-step process. Luckily Douglas County has their records available to search online, so you can get this information from the privacy of your own home–but most counties are not that advanced with their software yet.
Research which claims are active, this requires knowing the Meridian, Township, Range and Section where you are looking. Review this blog posting for more information on using the LR2000 online web application. For the popular Devils Head area “Virgin Bath”, this is
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.
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.
Interesting cluster of Amazonite / Microcline joined at a ~45 degree angle.
Carlsbad twinned Amazonite (light blue) with a small amount of cleavelandite sprays.
Nice little pair of Carlsbad twinned Amazonite with a bit of cleavelandite.
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.
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.
Some of the nicer twinned amazonites from the OneTwo pocket.
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.
Here are some of the petrified wood pieces that I picked up at my friend’s property in Northeastern Douglas County in Colorado this last weekend. The wood in Douglas County dates back up to 55 million years ago. To put this in perspective, the last phase of tectonic activity formed Rocky Mountains around 80-55 million years ago; so these are wood from the forests on the craggy, new Rocky Mountains! Interestingly, much more recently in time (about 100ish years ago), wood forested from the Palmer Divide was used to build cities like Denver. Forests have covered the land here in east-central Colorado for a long time!
So how did I find it, well, I just walked around and picked it up off of the ground, for the most part. It tended to be all together, so once I found something on the surface, I could search around that area and find more. I also tried digging some, and there was more under the surface as well.
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!
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:
Searching the tailing piles of other digs
Finding float and following it
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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:
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!
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, 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.
Uncleaned, straight from the Earth, some light colored Amazonite crystals
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.
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 that came out of the center of the pocket. Uncleaned.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!