Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Fluorite at Lake George (Jun 2009)

As winter has set in here in Colorado I will blog about prior finds starting chronologically with 2009. This way you get to see more of my collection and antics while I make sure everything gets documented and relive past glories.
Fluorites with Phantoms

It was in June 2009 that my rock hounding partner Bob and his wife joined me and my wife for a rockhounding adventure. Bob and I had scouted out an area and knew there was easy stuff to find which was just right for the ladies. While the ladies dug the surface, Bob and I hit some old digs near the area. Bob was rewarded first with a number of well-formed 2-3 inch crystals. The ladies were also finding crystals and small plates. I continued excavating a shallow dig and soon hit pegmatite with some mud. I recall being somewhat surprised that after removing all the debris in the old dig there was pegmatite and mud at the apparent bottom. I dug out a few of the bottom rocks and found they were plates with small crystals on them. I continued to dig down and then hit many more plates with small fluorites. Each one of the fluorites had phantoms, or fluorites within fluorites. While most of the fluorites were small and on matrix I found one fluorite that was really sharp and clean with some size. This was my favorite specimen from 2009.
Gemmy Penetration Twin Fluorite
I was really proud of it and brought the specimen to our Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society's Crystal Club. I got somewhat discouraged when a club member remarked that they had better stuff laying around in their back yard than what I had brought in. My opinion of that person diminished somewhat, but I realized some folks are more competitive than others and a new person finding nice stuff might seem competative to them. This dig and find was memorable in that all 4 of us all found crystals at this site. We worked this site a few more times and found goethite, fluorite and smokys. A couple years later we returned to the site and found that someone else liked what they saw as well and trenched a large area. Judging by the size of the crystal fragments littering the ground we missed a lot that they found.  We hadn't claimed the area and hoped it was remote enough for us to return to and dig more crystals but someone else had other ideas.
Crystal Flat, you'll see some larger smoky's given to me by Bob and some Goethite. Need to clean these sometime

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review of prior year digs at Lake George (May 2009)

Now that winter has arrived and the digging season is over I thought I might recall some of my prior digs that occurred before I started this blog and relive past glories. Prior to documenting my finds in this blog I kept a written record so I will rely on that to refresh my memory of the events. I also documented some of the digs with pictures, so I will have an adequate source to add a few posts.

I began to get really interested in digging for crystals in 2008. I attended our local Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society (CSMS) attended a few field trips and became a member of the CSMS crystal group. While I never found much on those field trips, the trips did help me learn how and where to dig as well as meet a few knowledgeable people. These experts encouraged my efforts by answering my questions, pointed out a few things on field trips and even welcomed me into their homes. In the fall of 2008 a 79 year old gentlemen (Ray Berry) asked me if I would like to go rock hounding with him. He had been rock hounding for over 30 years, so I didn’t even think twice about going. Ray cautioned me that the terrain was uneven and may be a little tough going, I figured I could keep up with a 79 year old. Not only did Ray show me what to look for and how to dig, but he also showed me a large area pretty much fallow as far as prospecting goes and I had all I could do to keep up with him that day. I spent the next 3 years digging in the areas he showed me and found a few other adjacent sites as well. I don’t recall finding much of anything until 2009, but that’s when the experience, training and investment in time began to show some dividends. One of the nuggets of wisdom Ray passed on to me was always check out where others have dug, see how far they dug and what the inside of an old pocket looks like. Did the prior prospector follow the quartz and clean out the whole pocket, or did he miss something?  By the way nobody always gets it all.
My first crystal plate (Smoky Quartz and Fluorite)

One spring day I was traveling along a two-track road when I noticed another road branching off into the woods. This road was marked by the Forest Service, but it was almost overgrown with grasses. I headed down to the end of the road and noted some digs on a hill nearby. I check for claims, saw none and began to explore the area. There were numerous digs but all appeared old with weeds and grasses growing in the long ago dug out pits. I scratched through some of the piles of debris and found one area that looked promising with many broken smoky quartz pieces and some pretty well formed plates. I did a little research on the area at the county court house and found the area was not claimed, so I invited my new friend (Bob) and his wife to meet me near the area. I easily found the site back, met up with my friends and I began cleaning out the old dig. The chunks of cast off pegmatite and broken quartz crystals suggested somebody found something fairly good. It took me about an hour to dig out the debris in the old dig. I then started pulling away the pegmatite or sidewall that surrounded the old pocket. This was one of the first times I had ever dug out someone else’s old dig, but what better way to learn? After an hour or so I hit a small seam in the pegmatite that opened up to reveal some ½” crystals (not great but something)… if the previous digger missed this who knows what else they overlooked. I kept pulling down the sidewall until I got to the south corner of the dig. I pulled down a few rocks and bingo, yellowish mud and smoky quartz crystals. The crystals were still quite small, but they were attached to pegmatite which made them desirable to me. As I was digging out the debris in this secondary pocket I started to find pseudo cubes of fluorite. I almost didn’t recognize the rocks as fluorite, but the weight of them was a sure give away. The fluorites were etched and barely resembled crystals. I continued on. Suddenly a large grouping of pale green fluorite was in front of me, maybe a dozen in all. I tried to carefully extract the entire plate with fluorites, but the pegmatite was too crumbly and fell apart as I tried to carefully extract it from the pocket. Still I got some really interesting plates with pale green fluorite. Every time I found a fluorite I raised it up with a hurrah. I think my digging buddies were getting tired of me, but it was my first descent find ever! I dug out the rest of the pocket, returned to the site probably 4 or 5 more times, but never found anything like that first visit, and so I was hooked.

I went into my rock vault and found the crystals from that particular pocket and here are some of them!
Nice 360 degree cabinet specimen

10 intergrown fluorites on the plate approximately 5 inches across

1.5 inch penetration twinned fluorite (somewhat etched, but not unusual for Lake George)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

End of Season Rock Hounding at Lake George Updated: 6 Nov

Started out the day with a rather innocuous controlled burn by the Forest Service. By afternoon the winds had picked up and shrouded our digging area in smoke. I decided to quit after I started coughing due to smoke. My production this day gave me no real excuse to continue on.
Smoke from controlled burn moving towards me

While I've found a couple pockets in the last couple of weeks I really don't have much to show for my efforts. It's not unusual to get skunked from time to time, but it is unusual for me to find fairly large pockets and get little in the way of collectible crystals. The crystals have been broken, hooded and etched. I thought I had some good amazonite at one dig, but when I began cleaning the crystals I realized they were sprinkled with fluorite (see previous post). Fluorite can etch microcline and these microclines (var amazonite) were deeply etched (read ugly). Next dig I found a few small smoky quartz crystals and that was it. Third dig I found a few amazonite crystals, but only one was collectible.
Not much to show for 2 pseudo pockets and 10hrs of work!
The fourth dig in the last 3 weeks found me digging in a pocket of quartz and microcline crystals. The ground around the area was sprinkled with smoky quartz shards and bright blue amazonite pieces from nearby digs. When I brought my crystals home and began cleaning these newly found specimens I found the quartz was nearly all hooded or broken and the microcline was just that... microcline, no amazonite. I don't mean to complain, it is great to get out and find things, I just wish my efforts were rewarded with more consistently collectible specimens. Anyway here is an account of my latest adventure. 
As I mentioned it was a bit smoky and that only increased during the day. I had done a bit of prospecting and found an older dig that stopped at a fairly large rock. Rocks and trees slow me down, but they rarely stop me. Many of the older digs we encounter have dead trees as part of their perimeter. Most of these trees are dead and rotten due to the Hayman fire, so a little push of encouragement brings the trees to the ground. The rocks are another matter. If the rock is firmly embedded in the soil I will dig around it. If it's a roll down rock/boulder from above I usually don't bother. This particular 200+lb rock was solidly anchored to the ground on the northern edge of the end of the dig. I reasoned that since most pegmatite run north south in this area there might be a chance the previous digger stopped at the rock even though the pegmatite may continue on under it. I dug away the ground around the rock and then got above the rock and eased it out with a push from my legs. The rock rolled about 3 feet down the hill and gave me enough room to inspect the area. Sure enough after a few shovels of dirt, pegmatite appeared and the dirt began to take on a reddish tint a sign of iron infused clay ahead.
Note the contrast in color
I also begin pulling out rather large broken crystal fragments about 1 foot below the surface.
Nice sized crystal chunks appearing
I reasoned there must be a pocket up the hill, maybe beyond the position of the aforementioned boulder. I decided to expand my dig left and right and make sure I didn't miss anything. You'll see in the picture some pegmatite, perhaps collapsed wall and the clay material that often covers crystals.
Time for me to get disappointed. I kept pulling out quartz pieces and most of it appeared hooded. It's somewhat difficult to tell in the field with pocket mud coating the crystals, but they didn't look good. I continued digging out crystals when Bob showed up. Bob started doing a little field cleaning to the crystals and confirmed my suspicion that a lot of the crystals were junk. I continued on and Bob dug a little too helping me excavate the pocket. While I have not finished the dig due to time, I will probably return at some point hoping things improve (usually never do) with this pocket. The picture below shows a 3 inch hooded smoky quartz crystal from this latest pocket. Well a couple days later I got back at it. Bob has a theory that there is always at least one good crystal per pocket. I took the top down around the dig and began again pulling out broken crystals. As the side wall ahead of me began to firm up, I thought I might be reaching the end of the pocket. Suddenly some fairly large nice quartzy shapes began to appear. I carefully dug around the quartz and called Bob over to have a look. This may be that one crystal that pays off for my time and effort. While it is double-terminated and 8 inches long it too is a disappointment due to overgrowth. Still it's better than ice crystals. I wrapped up the crystal and continued the dig until the end of the day. Are there more hooded crystals there yet? Probably. Tommorrow is another day and hopefully I'll have more success, but it is getting late in the digging season. I guess this is my "Double Terminated Halloween" pocket. It was quite ghastly.
An example of the latest finds... at least its double terminated
8" Double Terminated Smoky In Pocket
If Only This Smoky Hadn't Been Hooded With Crappy Quartz!
Nope, not a Gwindel
Scepter with two terminations

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another Pocket of Crystals at Lake George CO

As I'm writing this I have a pocket of crystals waiting on me up at Lake George. The site is fairly remote, so I'm not too worried about losing it to another prospector. The crystals are also not great so far, so the crystals can wait a day or two.
Clay covered pocket material

Handwashed amazonite...acid next!
 We were in an unprospected area, at least not dug in several years, so I thought Bob and I might have a chance of finding something good. White quartz was dribbling down the hill in various places, so I chose one area and followed the quartz up the hill. As I followed the quartz up the hill I picked up a broken crystal or two so I knew there was pegmatite producing crystals somewhere above me. As I climbed the hill the float or surface quartz diminished to almost nothing, so I started to take a real close look at the surrounding rock. One rock in particular caught my attention. The rock was firmly fixed in the ground (not roll down) and it had a lot of surface crystallization sometimes called "rice rock" due to the small formed crystals in the host rock appearing no bigger that grains of rice. I split this rock with me pick axe and pulled it out of the ground. I noted a few quartz shards underneath the rock, so I figured the host pegmatite was nearby if not directly underneath me, so I commenced digging. Right away I hit Zindwaldite.
Scraper pointing to plate of  Zindwaldite with amazonite beneath, note purplish color of pocket clay 
Now zindwaldite is not an accepted mineral term these days so lets just call it mica and move on. Mica is a sign of mineralization, so I continued digging. Soon I hit a piece of pegmatite that had quartz, cleavelandite and microcline. Using the spit field test method I noted the microcline was in reality amazonite though pale. I set my pick axe aside and moved to my rockhammer and scratcher. No sense in busting up crystals with my pick axe. I moved slowly at first, but determined everything I was finding was float and in fairly bad shape (cleaved) so I got more aggressive with my rock hammer til I hit better material. Soon I dug into some purplish clay and the number of crystal pieces increased so I assumed I was finally in the pocket.
Purple clay/dirt identifies pocket
Still the material was not of great quality. All the smokys were damaged and while the amazonites were okay they were only pale blue/green color. Expanding the dig I discovered a large area of mica. I decided to spend some time carefully taking out the fragile mica to see if I could salvage a piece for a geologist friend of mine, he seems somewhat concerned (from a scientific perspective) that I rifle through the mica without caring to save any.
Chunk of Zinwaldite/Mica
After I got the majority of the mica out I noted a fairly large number of well formed amazonite crystals behind the spot where the mica had formed. My theory is that the mica was a late-comer to the pocket and formed in the open areas of the pocket where space permitted. Perhaps wherever the mica formed in the pocket is an indicator of excess pocket room and a large enough void for better/larger amazonite crystals to form. So I guess my theory for this pocket is that mica means a large void, which means bigger and better crystals... time will tell. As it was getting time to go home I asked Bob to keep digging out the pocket while I wrapped what I had.
Bob found a nice crystal and let me know there was a lot of mica/
zindwaldite still deep in the pocket, so if my theory is right there should be a lot more crystals down there. Stay tuned for next weeks addendum to this report.

Second Vist: I returned to the pocket and dug it out. There were some new ice crystals, but they are tough to save this time of year ;-)
Little bit of snow today
I found a few well-formed amazonite specimens to add to my collection though the quartz crystals I found were very disappointing. I continued the dig until I was over 5 feet down and about 6 feet into the hillside.
Nearly 6 Feet down and done... time to fill it in
 In order to continue I would have to take nearly 6 feet of overburden down, or 6x4x2 feet of dirt and rock down and shovel it out to continue forward. One cubic yard of dirt weighs about 1ton. I’ve never had much luck with purplish sparkly mud that happened to envelop this particular pocket. I believe the purple indicates an infusion of manganese which has correlated to poor quality specimens for me in the past. I decided to discontinue the dig as the effort was not worth the prize as the pocket had narrowed down considerably from its original size of about 1ft high by 4ft across to about 6inches high by 10inches across. Maybe somebody in a few years will stumble across the dig and want to put the work into it and get a few crystals… not me.
Couple specimens in the back of the pocket for somebody else
So it’s time to find another pocket before the snow flies. Hopefully the next one will have better material.
I pulled out about 90 collectible specimens. Upon hand-washing some of the crystals I noted some fluorite clinging to the sides of the amazonite, so hopefully the crystals will clean up better and prove more interesting than first blush.
Cleaning is done: below are some of the amazonite crystals cleaned (best I can do). I tried a couple acids and a little bead blasting but you can only do so much. The amazonite were etched considerably by the fluorite in the pocket. The fluorite filled in some of the etched holes on the amazonite which makes the amazonite look dirty as well.
Largest amazonite here is about fist-size

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Clear Quartz from the Idarado Mine

Is it still rock hounding if you enter a store and fine a nice specimen from a mine that is closed and will never reopen again and purchase that specimen, or is that just adding to your collection? If you don't want to read about crystals from the Idarado Mine, read no further.
Mt Uncompaghre from near an Idarado Mine Shaft
The fall colors this year in SW Colorado were spectacular. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be professional photographers. I stopped at one of the openings to the Idarado Mine to take some fall foliage pictures. When I got into the town of Silverton CO I noted a number of well formed quartz crystal plates for sale. Inquiring of the owner, she said she had purchased them from an elderly gentlemen as he needed money to supplement his meager retirement income. When I asked the sales lady where crystals came from she said the Black Bear Vein of the Idarado Mine... well, that cinched it, I needed a plate. The sales lady wouldn't budge on price, and even wanted to jack-up the price of the specimen I had picked out. Finally I asked to see the owner and quickly had a rapport with her since she knew what I was talking about when examining the crystals. I had my eye on two specimens, but when negotiations with the owner broke down, I bypassed the plate with a 5" double terminated crystal and opted for the 8" crystal grouping below. I preferred the aesthetic appeal of the structure of the one pictured more than the plate with the large double terminated single crystal. As the owner wrapped my specimen she made me feel even better about my purchase when she mentioned just last week she had to mail a similar, but larger $7500 specimen to a buyer in Texas. I don't have that kind of money to spend on crystals, but a dropping a Grant or two on a nice crystal or two throughout the year is doable.
8" Quartz Crystal Plate from the Black Bear Vein of the Idarado Mine

The Idarado opened up many mines in Red Mountain District and made them successful again. In the1880’s there was a mining boom on Red Mountain Pass. The Yankee Girl Mine was the most famous. This early mining boom was mostly over by the mid 1890’s. Later, in 1943, the Idarado mine leased its property to the US Government to reopen the Black Bear mine through the Treasury Tunnel. The tunnel went for 5 miles from the top of Red Mountain Pass though the mountains, to Telluride. The Idarado mined minerals for World War II. Minerals from the mine were made into metal for making planes, ships and tanks.

The mine, present day
Picture by Ty Edder
In 1945 the Treasury Mill was rebuilt to mill lead, zinc, and copper ore. In 1946, a new crusher was installed at Idarado to increase ore production. By 1947, the Treasury Tunnel to Telluride was complete. In 1954, a big fire burned the Idarado buildings and they were rebuilt. By 1956, a new mill was built near Telluride. Red Mountain mill was shutdown. Idarado kept mines in Ouray going.
by Ty Edder 

For more information on the Idarado Mine see:

Amethyst/Quartz at Creede, CO

Well, now that I've got your attention the specimen above came from Brazil, but there is amethyst in Colorado, just not the big geode chunks exhibited at most rock shops. I have run across an occasional pale amethyst quartz crystal while rock hounding at Lake George, CO; however, personally I have never run across anything much bigger than a 1/2" crystal. I've also found what we in Colorado call onegite. Onegite is quartz with goethite inclusions which give it a sometimes purple appearance or amethystine look. I've also heard of geodes found in Colorado with pale amethyst enclosed, but have not pursued those. This past week I took a color tour of SW Colorado and recalled our Rock Club had a guest lecturer who owned a mine near Creede, CO that has amethyst. 
Colorado fall eye candy
After seeing a brochure advertising this claim the "Last Chance" I decided to check it out. Amethyst is associated with galena, sphalerite and chalcopyrite in an amethyst vein in the Creede district, on West Willow Creek.
 The  specimens consist of small pale pinkish-purple crystals interlayed with milky quartz and often in banded form called "sowbelly agate". There are also pockets of euhedral crystals, but they are few and far between. According to the owner of the Last Chance, only 2 pockets of crystals have ever been found in his mine going back to the first find in 1923. Creede was initially established as a silver mining town, with a very rich mining history, but you can google that information for yourself.
I called Jack the owner prior to setting out and he advised not arriving until noon as there was still some snow and ice on the dirt roads leading to his claim.
Self portrait of Jack in wood carving
Jack was not really open for business this last day of Sept, but he was eager to show me around and open his museum. I had planned to do a little rockhounding on the piles of  rock downhill from his mine, but thought better of that due to the snow and ice. I had my wife along and when she heard Jack had some amethyst jewelry for sale I knew she would buy something. I also thought I might be able to get Jack to throw in a bit of amethyst rough. After some negotiating we finally arrived at a price for a ring with some sowbelly agate rough thrown in. Jack selected a couple pieces he had sitting near his work-site and was quick to point out the specks of silver included in the specimens. While I didn't exactly get to rockhound this day, I met Jack a memorable personality, I got some amethyst rough I can work on, and my wife was happy with an amethyst ring.
10" slab of sowbelly agate (specks are silver inclusions)
1.5" Amethyst pendant created by me!

A couple days later on the way home from our trip we stopped at an out of the way rock shop. The owner had some amethyst crystals covered in calcite which did not appear to be gemmy.  She was selling the crystals for $4 lb, so I bought a couple and will see what they turn out to be
One of the Amethyst crystals with calcite removed... not gemmy, but a nice lusterous 2.5 inch crystal

Another rock shop specimen, terminated but oddly zoned like a piece of  sowbelly agate, 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Following The Crystal Float at Lake George

Crystal Mass on Boulder
Today was set aside for prospecting as I had cleaned out my latest pocket. I revisited one spot where I had found hooded quartz, but after double-checking that site I decided it was time to move on. I walked for about 2 miles picking away at some of the white quartz I saw along the way. Nothing much interested me until I found a white quartz crystal. I looked up the hill and soon found a small broken smoky crystal, soon the quartz with faces started to multiply and I figured I would soon be digging out a pocket. I looked up the hill and saw no discernible digs, so figured I would keep prospecting up the hill until I hit pay-dirt. I was working along a large boulder to my left and soon came upon a small rock ledge in front of me as I bypassed the rock ledge I immediately ran out of quartz. So either the pocket was under the rock ledge or crystals had collected on the downhill side of the ledge. I looked again up the hill, no digs. Then the boulder to my left caught my eye. About 10 feet up the boulder someone had been chiseling quartz crystals out of the rock.
Small Vugs With Hidden Crystals
As a rookie I had tried this a few times but mostly came up with fractured crystals. I inspected the area hoping for topaz in the rock and after searching a couple voids decided to move on. I was glad not to have spent a lot of time digging at this spot and decided to leave the crystal-bearing rocks to someone else who may chance upon it to take a few pictures.
Goethite In A Vug

I pretty much got shut out this day, but I enjoyed the late cool summer day by getting in a rather strenuous hike.