So a rockhounding buddy called me and suggested we road trip to Gem-o-rama this year. I purchased a halite plate at a rock show years ago and while researching where it came from I came upon Gem-o-rama and chalked it up as something to do in the future; but given its a road trip to California from Colorado I never got serious about planning a trip.
Having a friend to go with and a road trip adventure offer; this was a game changer and got me engaged in the concept! I checked with work and home and everything worked out, so I took Kirk up on his offer and joined him on this adventure! I am so glad I did!
The road trip part of the trip was spectacular; I’m put that in a different blog post with tons of pictures, so make sure and check it out too.
This year was the 75th annual Gem-o-rama event; yes it has been happening for 75 years! It is hosted each year by the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society and their experience is definitely noteworthy. The whole gem show and field trips are very professional and extremely organized, especially when you see how many folks the event can accommodate!
The events are very family friendly! There were tons of kids of all ages including many boy scout troops. I loved hearing the kids all having a fantastic time, joyous when they found jewels, and angry when their sibling stole their jewels! This event appears it is a favorite for the SoCal crystal hunting crowds due to the proximity of the Los Angeles area. We only met another from Colorado there; and he currently was residing in California, so it is a day-trip type of deal for many families.
The event is broken up into four field trips. The first trip is Friday afternoon and is a dealer collecting trip for halite plates. Because of the elongated drought, many of the lakes are not good for finding the halite crystals and plates; but the Searles Valley Minerals plant have created and nurtured a spot that is perfect for crystals; and from what we heard this year’s halites from this field trip were the best ever recovered. This excursion is intended for mineral dealers and is quite expensive (although a bargain if you are collecting for resale). This trip is on the 2017 flyer, but details like price has not yet been disclosed.
The crystals here are formed as the water accumulated during the wet season (winter) evaporates during the dry summer heat. As the water evaporates the brine solution becomes more concentrated with minerals. The first and most abundant mineral to precipitate is halite. Borax, hanksite and even the rarer sulfohalites are formed. The crystals form under the surface of the dry lake beds, so they need to be extracted by various physical means which creates collecting opportunities for the Saturday’s field trips.
The first field trip for rockhounds is on Saturday morning. It is the Mud trip (lots of details in this link). Folks with the Gem & Mineral Society and Searles Valley Minerals have extracted mud that is full of hanksite crystals and spread this mud over a dry lake bed for the collectors to collect in. These piles are at most a foot deep. There are plenty of crystals all buried in black smelly mud that will get all over your clothes, so take overalls and/or boots or clothes that are throw-away.
Since the minerals of this area are water soluble, it is important to rinse them with the ultra concentrated brine pulled up from the depths of the lake. At this field trip they have troughs of brine available, a truck with brine (if you bring your own containers) and there is also brine for sale (while supplies last) at the general store back in Trona.
Kirk and I found an open spot in one of the mud piles and started digging. Right away Kirk found some really nice clusters and I was pulling out some smaller (but still nice sized) single hanksites. Before I knew it I had a 5 gallon bucket full of rocks; and there was still plenty of real-estate to go through, so I realized I needed to be more selective–a common problem I have when digging crystals.
About half way through the field trip I came across a large sized crystal. Kirk stated that I had a Cheshire Cat grin on my face as I slowly pulled out this hanksite crystal from the mud. The sticky mud made a sucking “sluuuuuurp” sound as it became detached from the sea of mud. I was in awe as this crystal was huge and very well formed. Kirk stated it looked like a football, so it was dubbed “The Football”! I would have taken pictures, but I was covered in the black sticky mud and I didn’t want to touch anything that I didn’t want to be a mess, so the only picture of the dig is what I took on the car ride in, above.
We spent too much time digging through the mud and didn’t leave enough time to fully scrub down the crystals in the brine troughs, so we left the somewhat muddy crystals in a bucket. While waiting for the next field trip in the parking lot of the Gem & Mineral show, we bought some brine and scrubbed them down before the mud was completely dry. The remainder of the cleaning for me occurred at home. I used a scrub brush, dental pick and spot gun to clean the crystals.
Some hanksite crystals were truncated and elongated “barrel” shaped in singles, and the clusters were all complex and each one unique! I saw many very large crystals and clusters being cleaned up after this dig!
The next field trip was Saturday afternoon and it was the Blow Hole Trip. As you will read in this link, they drill holes about 30-40 feet down in the lake bed and then push some explosives down and detonate to loosen a bunch of crystals. Then they push out the crystals with high pressure air pumped down into the hole which pushes the liquids and crystals out onto the surface for collectors to rummage through.
Collecting here is EXTREMELY easy; the crystals are all just laying all over the ground (see video below) in proximity to the drilled holes. The eight or so holes are extracted before the field trip begins so folks can start collecting as they arrive. They do put on a demo and extract crystals with their specialized drilling truck and everyone can grab “fresh” crystals as well. The video shows this field trip.
The crystals we found on Saturday were awesome. The hanksite wasn’t as big on the Blow Hole trip as it was the Mud Trip, and didn’t come in as large of plates. The hanksite had several crystal shapes which you can see below. Most were double terminated and had either a point, a flat bottom, or both point and flat terminations on the ends.
We found borax and some halite crystals and plates. I had read the sulfohalite octahedral crystals were rare, so once I got my eyes adjusted to them I was able to find some of these as well.
Kirk had read that these crystals will fluoresce in UV light, so when I got them home and cleaned up I checked that out. I’m using a cheapo UV LED light I bought off of ebay, and they lit up bright lime green! These pictures I took were in the total darkness except that UV light, with an four second open exposure to capture the fluorescence.
On Sunday morning the last field trip took us to the lake beds to find halite plates which the area is world renowned for. These are a bit of work and require some picks and/or heavy wrecking bars to bust through the dense surface to find the crystals on the underside. Under the surface growing from the top were halite plates and berkeite plates. See video for the berkeites extraction.
The pink/red color in the halites are from halobacteria which produces a red carotenoid pigment. The deeper red color is highly desired.