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!

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!

Rockhounding Wigwam, Jefferson County Colorado

June 8, 2014.  I had the opportunity to visit a private claim with the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club in this famous Colorado locality in spring 2014.  The area and drive to the locality is beautiful; a stretch through the Hayman Fire burn area which occurred on this same date twelve years prior in 2002.

Wigwam area is in the heart of the Hayman Fire burn area.  This is 12 years later (to the day).

Wigwam area is in the heart of the Hayman Fire burn area. This is 12 years later (to the day).

Hayman burn area, June 2014.

Hayman burn area, June 2014.

The area is typical pegmatite digging; although it is several feet deep.  I ended up digging a few test holes but found no peg and only found float type material that didn’t pan out.  I started checking out natural washed tailings from previous digs and noted there was some amazonite in a certain area, so I started to dig in that general area.  After a while I started seeing stepped/parallel growth on top of quartz chunks mostly anhedral with some faces.  I tuned into where these were running finding a general seam and out popped some amazonite and quartz crystals that were really cool, in the soil no more than 8″ deep.  That seam pinched out but I came home with some really unique crystals.

The first crystal I found in this spot which prompted me to spend 5 more hours in this area!

The first crystal I found in this spot which prompted me to spend 5 more hours in this area!

Cool capped quartz with multiple growth periods, terminated on both ends.  Before the acid bath.

Cool capped quartz with multiple growth periods, terminated on both ends. Before the acid bath.

After the acid bath.

After the acid bath, about 3 inches long.

 

Awesome shaped amazonite euhedral crystal!

Awesome shaped amazonite euhedral crystal, about 4 inches wide!

My second visit was to see if I missed this seam going in any other direction.  After digging many hours I didn’t find any further remnants of the seam but in the general area there were many types of crystals–some partial amazonite crystals, some more quartz chunks with parallel type growth which in some cases grew bigger as the seam opened up slightly, and more clear quartz growths on other crystals or host rock.  I even found a fluorite crystal!  I pulled out very few euhedral crystals but there were some amazonite and milky quartz.

Awesome parallel growth crystal cluster from Wigwam locale.

Awesome parallel growth crystal cluster from Wigwam locale.

Shard of quartz with parallel growth tip.

Shard of quartz with parallel growth tip.

Awesome parallel growth where the seam opened up just a little bit allowing larger crystals to form.

Awesome parallel growth where the seam opened up just a little bit allowing larger crystals to form.

Cool clear fluorite!

Cool clear fluorite!

 

I call it "The Right Foot", awesome unique crystal!

I call it “The Right Foot” (due to it being found in the rightmost foot of my dig, among other obvious reasons), awesome unique quartz crystal!

It was fun to meet other members of the club and to visit this locality I’ve been meaning to pay a visit for years!

Great article on Devils Head Topaz

I found this several years ago and just came across it again recently.  This is an old article on the Mineralogical Society of America’s web site about a Topaz dig at Devils Head.  This is from American Mineralogist journal from 1945.

It talks about dig(s) during the summer of 1934 of Edwin Over and Arthur Montgomery. The article is technical and shows detailed drawings and crystallography of the Topaz they found at this locale.

http://www.minsocam.org/ammin/AM20/AM20_354.pdf

All of the journal is posted online here and free through 1999.

A few takeaways…

  • it is noteworthy that the pockets especially rich in iron are poor in topaz (pg 355)
  • Within the pockets the microcline masses reach 6 or 8 inches in greatest dimension; well-formed crystals are relatively rare and they do not exceed a size of two inches
  • Quartz occurs in smoky crystals, in most cases slender and distorted

I have yet to find Topaz at Devils Head, but most of the larger smoky quartz I find is as they describe.

July Rockhounding

July was a good month for Rockhounding for us; we did only a couple of trips, however, due to a busy summer with many other fun things on the weekends!  Both of my July trips were to Joe Dorris claims; the first was a makeup trip to the Topaz Mountain Gem Mine (originally with the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, but with the Littleton club on this make up day) and the second was the famous Smokey Hawk claim with CSMS.  Both were in the Lake George area.  If you are interested in visiting either claim, contact Joe or Krystle.  Here is information on Visting the Topaz Mine.

The Smokey Hawk trip was a lot of fun; I found a bunch of small chips of really great colored Amazonite.  Joe stated that they had just opened a small pocket of incredible colored Amazonite but most of it was crushed.  He was thinking chemistry must have played a role in the color and condition of the Amazonite.  Perhaps we’ll see more in this year’s Prospector’s show.

I had recently tumbled some Amazonite chips I found in prior trips to the Smokey Hawk, so I decided to hit the tailings pile and see what I could find in the “trash” mounds.  Others went up to the hills and did some prospecting, and some did quite well (see Kevin’s Rockhounding blog).  I dug through rocks at the base of the piles (the stones tend to roll down to the bottom) and also walked around the piles themselves.  Although I didn’t find anything super spectacular from an Amazonite perspective, I did find many really dark blue/green colored chips, many with a face or two intact.  I also found a couple of larger chunks.

Dark rich colored Amazonite from the Smokey Hawk claim

Dark rich colored Amazonite from the Smokey Hawk claim

I was able to find a couple of nice Smokey Quartz crystals as well.  Most had a small flaw or two (mostly small chips).  I did find this Goethite crystal.  I’ve seen these in pictures with Amazonite/smokey quartz clusters.  I think these are great crystals; always funky but definitely pronounced crystal structure!  I’ve found 4 or 5 like this over the years; this one is one of the best!

Goethite crystal

Limonite after Stibenite crystal

The find of the day, however, came near the end of the day as a thunderstorm was encroaching on our fun!  I was digging in the tailings pile where there were some small funky Smokey Quartz clusters that a fellow club member turned me onto.  There was a small pocket embedded in an excavator bucket load that had some interesting items in the pocket mud/clay.  After rinsing when I got home, most ended up being pink microcline clusters, but one was a awesome gemmy Fluorite.  In the tailings nearby was also this small Fluorite cluster!

Back of gemmy Fluorite

Back of gemmy Fluorite

The back side of this was interesting as it appeared to be somewhat etched away from an original growth/phantom.  The color and gemminess of the stone is wonderful!

Gemmy Fluorite - a couple of fractures but clear and purple!

Gemmy Fluorite – a couple of fractures but clear and purple!

Near this I also found a small Fluorite cluster; what was interesting is the shape of the central crystal in this cluster…I will need to talk to an expert as this doesn’t appear to be normal shape for Fluorite.

Small Fluorite cluster

Small Fluorite cluster

In late July I took the kids to visit Krystle and the Topaz Mountain Gem mine.  Luckily it had a good rain in the days before the trip and we had significant luck just surface hunting.  As a matter of fact, only a couple small pieces came from our hard work digging all day!  My find of the day came as I was walking into the mine.  Along the entry road was a eroded area from the rains that had this awesome blue topaz stone just laying there on the surface, on a pedestal of dirt that was about to collapse due to erosion…just waiting for me to pluck it from the ground.  This picture doesn’t do it justice because it is very clear and you can mainly see the back side through the stone; but it is awesome to hold and stare into, and beautiful blue!

Alluvial Blue Topaz - 80 carat

Alluvial Blue Topaz – 80 carat

I wandered around with the kids but their eyes just weren’t finding the shapes and glass within the mud.  I pulled out several small chips and a few small stones; most were not cutters or specimens; but it was good that I was finding Topaz!  I dug for 5-6 hours in one of the piles left by the excavator and found only a super small chip and sherry stone which could cut into a 1-2 carat faceted stone…not sure if I want to do that or not…

Hunter and Daphne had a system figured out which was great.  Hunter was digging a hole in the top of the pile to create a volcano.  As he excavated dirt from that hole he slid it down a chute where Daphne was going through the dirt looking for Topaz.  Seemed like an efficient system; and they were making a volcano that later in the day was going to spit out Topaz all over for us to collect!  Unfortunately they didn’t find any Topaz with their system, but Hunter did find a really nice Smokey Quartz!

Hunter digging for Topaz while making a Volcano

 

Daphne sifting through the volcano core's dirt...

Daphne sifting through the volcano core’s dirt…

 

Hunter’s smokey with Topaz at the Sherry stone and blue to show the colorsOther than the Sherry this was the only other stone I found digging

The smokey was very dirty and we didn’t know until we got home that it had some topaz on it; so Hunter and Daphne were both really bummed they didn’t score a Topaz today. I told them both to just do what was the most successful and wander around and look for them on the ground. Daphne was done but Hunter decided to take my advice. A little while later he came running towards us; I knew he must have found something! He did; an awesome Topaz! All in all, it was a great day at the topaz mine.

Here are some of the other stones that I found.

Sherry stone and blue to show the colors

Sherry stone and blue to show the colors

On the way to the mine I purchased a vintage Synthesizer from a family in Florissant.  When I told her where we were going for the day; she stated she lived right in the area of the mine for many years.  She told me a story that the original homesteader Matakat used to grow potatoes on the land and often found topaz in them when harvesting!  Great lore for the area!

Other than the Sherry this was the only other stone I found digging

Another shot of Hunter's topaz

Another shot of Hunter’s topaz

 

I am looking forward to the rest of the summer and fall as I have many trips planned, including several locales that I have not been to before!  Stay tuned…

Adventures at Topaz Mountain Gem Mine, May 2013

One of my topaz from today's digs...

It’s always a fun adventure to visit the Dorris Family’s Topaz Mine here in Colorado. They allow the public to come by and dig several times per year as well as most of the Rockhounding clubs as well. Due to the late snow this spring this was the first dig, May 25th, 2013. I rounded up a group of adults and kids and we made the bright and early trek to the mine.

Joe and Krystle were telling us that they are working their way uphill a bit on their claim and that the stones are not as frequent as they have been in the past. I have been visiting for several years and I concur, although it seems (just an unscientific observation) that the stones that are being found are getting a bit larger. Perhaps that is not the case…

Anyway, we started digging on some fresh piles that were pretty wet and within about an hour I found my first topaz. It was completely covered in mud; usually they pop out and look gemmy/glassy and are very easy to spot; but this morning due to the conditions was different–making it more difficult to go through as much dirt as in the past.

People digging at the mine

People digging at the mine

Meanwhile, they were also working a section of the mine with the heavy machinery.  Was cool to watch the big machines at work!

 

Big machines at work getting new piles to go through!
It is beautiful up here in the Rocky Mountains in spring time!  Here I am raking through my part of a pile…
Me raking for topaz
My friend Jim wanted to try out digging for Topaz and brought his daughter who is friends with my son.  My daughter Daphne also brought a friend that was in my Rockhounding enrichment class at the Larkspur Elementary school.  There were several other kids digging as well; unfortunately they didn’t find all that much topaz; again I think luck had some to do with it but also the amount of dirt one must go through as well.  They did have a blast though!
Jim and the kids attacking their pile of dirt

We ended up getting our days fill about 2:00 and drove home, made a pit-stop and had had some orange cream soda and a beer at Bierwerks in Woodland Park, and headed home to sift through the bags of dirt.  Here is where the kids got to find and keep some wonderful stones….and they wondered why they had to dig all day when it was this easy!!!

Sifting through our bags of dirt; the kids did quite well!

Sifting through our bags of dirt; the kids did quite well!

All in all, another wonderful day at the Topaz Mountain Gem Mine!  I should have at least one more trip, probably more, back there this summer.  Looking very much forward to it!

 

Here are what my kids found at the mine (the larger one is one of the many found in the bags of dirt!).  Makes me think of some of the lamer parts of the Prospectors show on Weather Channel… guns and gems…

My kids findings...gems and brass

My kids findings...gems and brass

 

My findings from digging all day…

My findings from today!

Nice smokey quartz; double-terminated; a cutter!

Nice smokey quartz; double-terminated; a cutter!

The best cutter stone I found at the Topaz Mountain Gem Mine

The best cutter stone I found

Cute blue faceted gem!  Small but beautiful!

Cute blue faceted gem! Small but beautiful!

Finally, the best for last.  One of the first time diggers there pulled this beast from the ground.  It was absolutely spectacular.  Joe stated that this stone was one of the best (upper 1%) stones he has pulled out of the claim; and is likely one of the best ever found in Colorado.  Unfortunately the person that found it didn’t get to keep it (obviously!) as it was destined for the Dorris personal collection!  This stone was (I’m guessing) 600 carats and nearly flawless.  It didn’t hurt that it was Sherry and Blue bi-color!  Looking at this stone was mesmerizing, every angle had a different look and “feel” to it.  A special day to witness this being pulled from the ground next to us, and to view a stone of this caliber!

Absolutely gorgeous monster topaz found today!

Absolutely gorgeous bi-color monster topaz found today!

Bi-color Incredible Topaz found today

Bi-color Incredible Topaz found today

Monster Topaz - Showing the facets, perfectness, and sherry color

Monster Topaz - Showing the facets, perfectness, and sherry color

Thanks to Harold Alexander for some of the mine pictures, and thanks to Krystle Velasco/Joe Dorris for letting us take pictures of the mine’s wonderful mega-stone!

2012 Colorado Topaz

This year was a great year for topaz; my family and I had a couple of wonderful days with the Dorris family at the Topaz Mountain Gem mine.  See previous posts (1, 2) for details on these trips.  On May 5th I found a really nice (300 carat!) beautiful blue specimen topaz that Joe suggested I have his son professionally clean and seal some of the fractures using pressure treatment.  I went ahead and took advantage of this and the crystal came back just beautiful.  I’m not sure how many fractures were actually sealed as it is still fractured up; but the color is wonderful and crystal clean (probably where the term is derived?)!

Cleaned 300 carat blue topaz crystal cleaned, pressure treated and ready for the cabinent!

I am very happy with the results, well worth the investment!

I am also very pleased with the cut topaz that came back from Joe’s cutter in China.  These take a while to process, but well worth the wait.  This year was about 4 months quicker than last year as well; so I was pleasantly surprised to see these just after the new year!

I found a really nice sherry stone and had it cut.  Joe thought that for sure one nice stone could be cut; but potentially 2.  Was surprised to see three stones were cut from this!  Here is the original stone:

And here are the cut stones it produced:

Bi-color sherry stone.  Simply beautiful!

 

The right stone was the surprise; it had some inclusions which are really beautiful.  The left gem was from another clear stone I found in July; these will make a nice pair on some piece !!

The right stone with hematite or iron oxide inclusions is from the Sherry Stone

Back side!

And another smaller stone was cut from the large stone.  Here are a couple of other stones I received, a total of 30 carats for 2012!

Beautiful gem from 2012!

My daughter is in love with these stones and is now re-energized to spend the day digging for stones soon!  Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to go back several times again in 2013!  And I hope I finally dig an elusive stone at Devils head this upcoming year!

More Devilshead – July 2012

Only been a couple of times thus far this summer; hope to make it up a few more times.  I went back to the spot from July 13th as something told me I missed something; and missed something I did.  I ended up finding a very light smokey that I thought was topaz at the top of the seam; but further downhill there was more to be uncovered!  All crystals were very black (morion) and attached to nothing just sitting in the dirt.  There were two seams; one right underground and another about a foot or 18 inches deep.  The crystals and parts were pretty etched but it was a nice seam…found two small topaz as well!   I dug that area up and I’m pretty confident that I got everything…learned a lot with this area about how to prospect and dig as I missed the main seams on the first day.

I love the multi-color capped Microcline crystal!

I'm pretty sure this is Topaz; not a crystal per-se; I've never seen this before!

Finally, everything found on the second day at this location near Topaz Point Picnic Area…which by the way has a terrific view of the Pikes Peak Batholith area!

Found some wonderful crystals today! Morion Smokey Quartz, multi-colored capped Microcline, and Topaz!

Topaz Mine: July 7th with early monsoon

Had the opportunity to go on another open dig this year at the Topaz Mountain Gem Mine operated by Glacier Peak Mining.  As many know we’ve had some serious drought this year and has aided to many forest fires.  We have gotten some relief with an early monsoonal flow pattern with the weather and have had several days of heavy rain; one day which was at this mine.  I got there at 8:30 and a few people were already there.  We all were just walking (crawling) around and looking for topaz that were laying on the top of the soil that had been washed off; in the early morning sun they were pretty easy to spot.  I found several small fragments and others found some killer stones just laying on the surface; but after about 30 minutes of combing the area I decided to start digging…because that is what I do.

I had to move off a muddy layer (about 4-6 inches) on a pile to get to dry gravel to be able to start raking.  The first 90 minutes or so was simply to get “set up”.  I did not find anything raking so I tried my hand at sifting.  I was going through a lot of material but still nothing!  So I decided to start working like I do when I dig for Smoky Quartz and Amazonite and use a shovel and scrape small amounts off into a hole and watch the dirt as it falls.  I immediately started having luck with this technique and found a nice stone.  So I did this in combination with raking and sifting the rest of the day and found a good stone about every 45 to 60 minutes.  I had a great day; this is uncommon to find so many nice stones but I was moving through a lot of dirt too–which I found is the key.

I found the following topaz next; it was a shiny object in the wall of the hole I was digging.  This one was cool because it appeared it had grown around a Smoky Quartz crystal originally.  It had several fractures and would not be a cutter; but it is beautiful none-the-less.  Of course, holding it is memorizing and the picture doesn’t do it justice!

This beautiful specimen had great facets and indentation from a smoky quartz.

I continued and found a couple of more stones; one that *may* be a cutter.  It started to sprinkle and you could hear the mean thunder echo through the valley of storms that were forming and passing directly to our Northwest; I assumed we’d have rain and the day would be cut short so I didn’t want to stall and take lunch so I kept digging.  About 3:00 or so I dug into a another nice clear topaz that had mostly faceted sides.  It is simply beautiful and although it could be a nice cut stone I’m going to have a hard time giving it up for cutting as it is just too spectacular as Gaia produced it!

This is a spectacular faceted clear topaz!

The sun went away behind the storm clouds and it started to get darker as the storm clouds bellowed and became more dense.  I kept thinking “just one more” and I’ll be done; you know how that usually goes!  I decided since a few folks were still there I’d continue as long as I could.  A bolt of lightning struck withing 1/2 mile and I decided it was time to go; but immediately after I was shook by the bolt a found the find of the day.  What a perfect ending to such a fun and lucky day!  It was a 105 carat sherry stone.  This stone also had remnants of being grown against other crystals and it had a nice area that was fracture free and likely could be cut.  Upon checkout, Krystle didn’t want to give this stone up but luckily I took some extra cash and she was gracious enough to let me have it!  I definitely will get this cut and will post a picture when I receive it…it *will* be beautiful!

Fantastic Sherry Topaz

One other great part of the day is that I was able to find many smoky quartz crystals too; a couple were large points and one really nice crystal!  All in all, was one incredible day at the mine; I met a couple of really great folks and hopefully will get the chance to dig there again this year!  Krystle was correct; I did have a productive day (and year so far for that matter!); hopefully future visits will yield one or two of these and I’ll call it a successful day!

Found some great smoky quartz points today too

This pile includes stones from the bag of topaz I purchased as well; the kids got to sift through the bag when I got home!

Topaz Mountain Gem Mine - July 7th, 2012 Open Dig! I did quite well!