Gem-o-rama 2017

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.

Hanksite Cluster

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)!

Hanksite Cluster

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.

Hanksite Cluster

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 with Phantom

Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Hanksite with Phantom

Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Variety of sulfohalites

Variety of sulfohalites

Halite cubes

Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal

Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation

Borax crystal

Borax crystal

 

Borax crystal

Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together

Borax

Borax crystal

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!

Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate

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!

 

Gem-O-Rama 2016

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.  

dry brine lake

Here is an example of the brine lake that the Searles Valley is known for.  This one had all dried up

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.

brine lake

Searles Valley brine lake

canon

These cannons shoot randomly to deter the birds from landing. They also have recordings (quite vivid and scary) of birds in pain playing to deter fowl from landing and facing death in the brine lakes.

stalatites

As the water evaporates the level of the lakes retreat.

Brine Crystal

Brine crystal. Tapping it makes the coolest “tink” sound!

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.  

The Mud Dig at Gem-o-rama

These are the piles of mud that host a ton of large hanksite crystals

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!  

hanksite

Very large single hanksite crystal. I’m showing its translucence in the Colorado sun, and also the top complex faces of the crystal.

hanksite

This is the “barrel” form of hanksite, which is in the Hexagonal crystal system. Note both ends of this double terminated crystal are flat.

hanksite

Double terminated (pointed on both ends) hanksite crystal.  Notice the etchings, I washed this one off with water as an experiment and in the few seconds it came in contact, you can see the etching.

hanksite combo dt

Double terminated hanksite with both pointed end and flat end

hanksite

Hanksite cluster from the mud dig

hanksite

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.  

sulfohalite

sulfohalite crystal cluster, this in normally in an octohedral form, this is about as big as they get I was told

sulfohalite

sulfohalite on borax

Borax with sulfohalite crystals

gemorama

The stash from day 1. Note that I had found a bunch more but left them behind. The crystals on these field trips are abundant!  On the left is the heavily concentrated brine (from the depths) we purchased to clean the crystals; if you use water they will etch–and if you even use salt water they will etch.  

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.  

hanksite fluorescent

Note the sulfohalites on the bottom center just left of the big crystal. These were even more fluorescent!

hanksite fluorescent

The Football under UV light.

hanksite fluorescent hanksite fluorescent

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.  

trona lakes

Example of heavily dug area (foreground) where halite plates were extracted. They were forming along a canal where shelves of salt precipitate formed

The pink/red color in the halites are from halobacteria which produces a red carotenoid pigment. The deeper red color is highly desired.  

halite cluster

Beautiful halite cluster from field trip #3.

halite

Beautiful pink halite plate

halite

Modified Halite plate

Berkeite plate

Berkeite plate.  I really got into these as they were deep red and just simply funky…

kirk

Kirk and the monster halite plate (too big to bring home)

dave gemorama

Dave holding the football by lantern light.