Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Orthoclase Crystals Near Mosquito Pass

Top of Mosquito Pass used by stagecoaches long ago
Just west of Mosquito Pass and east of Leadville, Colorado is a fairly well known area for finding twinned orthoclase crystals. I had been to this site many years ago on a club field trip and thought it might make for an interesting diversion to an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) trip my digging partner had planned. While orthoclase crystals don’t excite me too much, the fact that many of the crystals are penetration twins (Carlsbad) makes them desirable for the mineral collector. http://www.uta.edu/faculty/mattioli/geol_3313/Feldspar_Twinning.pdf 
We drove through Fairplay, CO, parked the vehicle and headed up the east side of the pass on ATVs. The visibility was somewhat restricted due to fires in western Washington, Idaho and Montana, but better than the last few days. There were many things to see including wildlife, abandoned mines and friendly people along the 4-wheel drive road.
Marmot warming up
As we crested the pass my foggy memory cleared of where the exact crystal site was and we motored down the pass quickly reaching the old dig site. I reread some material by Voynick, 1995, Colorado Rockhounding to help refresh my memory of the location. The twinned orthoclase crystals can be found in quartz monzonite porphyry outcrops. Near the digs you can see host rock with the orthoclase crystal indentations in them. The ground was also scattered with what appeared to be pea-size or smaller octahedral quartz crystals that had weathered out of the host rock. We dug into the side of an old dig and found the occasional crystal weathered out of it's host rock. No pockets of crystals here, but time and a little determination yielded results.
Digging area
 We only spent a little over an hour at the site but did find a few collectible crystals. I read that Carlsbad twinned orthoclase crystals up to 2” can be found so after finding one double terminated crystals of 3” I figured I could do no better and it was time to continue our ATV fun. My digging partner generously provided the transportation and made for a very enjoyable day. This particular site is more easily accessed by 4-wheel drive vehicle from Leadville but either way you go to this 12,000Ft dig site be mindful of your 4-wheel abilities, altitude and the changeable weather.
Some dendritic manganese patterns on the crystals

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Elusive Quality Amazonite at Lake George

Large Smoky fragment with more up the hill
The smoky fragments were fairly large and had no coating of secondary material. Looked like I might be on to something. Soon I began to find more concentrated quartz fragments and then some pegmatite leading me right toward a dead tree. Sure enough the closer I got to the base of the tree the better the specimens got. Keeping my fingers crossed and taking a few pictures I put my pick axe and rock hammer away and proceeded cautiously with a borrowed scratcher.
Pocket starting to show itself at the base of a dead tree
I lost my scratcher the last time out so I had borrowed one from my digging partner Bob prior to setting out. It's crystal time! While I found over 50 crystals only 4 or 5 were big enough for me to consider as display pieces. We'll see how they clean up, but they seemed pretty clean right out of the pocket.
Nice smoky, albeit small with microcline
I finished this pocket and then poked around in the area a little more to see if the pegmatite extended further up the hill with pockets. Find nothing and since it was about 1PM I decided I better get to my initial objective of the amazonite area. I had found some float amazonite the previous week but not the source. This day I had enough time to find the source and dig out some pegmatite. While the crystals were of good color so far they have been very small. Time was up this day but I will continue the dig soon and hopefully find a pocket of amazonite
Wild flowers are everywhere this year due to rains
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Small Crystal Pockets at Lake George in June

I’ve found a number of crystals and small pockets in the last few weeks, but nothing really memorable. We have saturated one area, but never would I say I’ve found it all. Hoping that recent rains had eroded a crystal or two away from underlying pegmatites I’ve been prospecting some fairly steep slopes. While following a few telltale signs of float quartz I haven’t been able to find a large pocket worthy of mention. Here is a picture of some of my finds from the month of June. There some microcline, amazonite, smoky quartz and even some goethite.
Typical small stuff
Still that is what rock hounding is, sometimes you find something really great, but most of your time is spent hiking and poking around rocks looking for signs of crystals.
My nephew was sure that a pocket was under this rock, but not even his youth and determination could budge this behemoth
Float crystal will often lead you to a previously discovered pocket further up the hill rather than a new find. The area around Lake George has been dug quite extensively. If I find shards of crystals within 15 feet of a previously dug pocket I usually move on guessing the quartz shards I’m finding came from that dig. Still I give the area a once over and sometimes I get lucky and find something the previous digger missed. My digging partner Bob had a pretty good score doing just that! After digging around the roots of a tree he determined to check out a dig about 15 feet up the slope from him. After cleaning out the old dig he hit the pegmatite. The previous digger dug up to the pegmatite and then quit and left the harder work to Bob. Bob tore into the pegmatite and noted the pegmatite had small anhedral crystals growing out of it. As he pulled down some of the pegmatite he hit a seam of quartz with mud. Just behind the pegmatite was a fairly large pocket! Bob pulled out microcline crystal after crystal, some of these were larger than his fist and well formed. He was hoping for amazonite, but no blue color was noted. Next he turned his attention to the quartz seam. He found a number of large quartz crystals and even a crystal plate, but unfortunately the smokys were covered in a secondary deposit of white quartz (not desirable).  Still Bob took home about 40lbs of crystals and hopefully got something for his efforts.

At the very least he got to enjoy finding crystals where someone else had given up the hunt! Sometimes these kinds of crystal are the sweetest :-)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Rockhounding Between The Trees At Lake George Colorado and another large Bevino

Working between the jumble of trees
Despite the conflagration at Lake George over 12 years ago (Hayman Burn), trees remain standing and create problems for those who wish to rock hound. I would have thought that by now most of the burnt out trees would have fallen but that is not the case. There are always leaners to be wary of and fallen trees intertwined with others that are just too big and heavy to move but must be worked/dug around. The biggest trees always fall where you want to dig. Such was the case this day when trees seemed to hamper my every effort. By the end of the day I was rewarded. It is also nice to see more wildlife returning to the rejuvinated forest. Here is a nervous elk which I guess has nothing to worry about until hunters return in September.
Elk on the run
I had my sights set on a certain area, but never made it there as is often the case. Too much interesting stuff on the hike in. I stopped a couple of times and poked around looking for pegmatite. One spot I was sure was just roll down quartz that had washed down into a depression, but upon further examination it proved to be a source of in-place pegmatite with small crystals. I followed the pegmatite for about an hour with little to show for my efforts, so I moved on. It's always difficult to leave a spot you've put some time into especially when you are finding crystals, but these crystals were so few and small that I decided to resume my journey up the hill. On the way up the hill I stopped at my "Big Kahuna" pocket(see 28 Sept 2013 post)  I had buried several smoky shards in the debris of that pocket and since that find I have started tumbling smoky pieces for sale. I finished digging up about 20 broken but gemmy smoky crystals and moved on. Mother Nature tested us once again today with grapul, hail and cold conditions, but I moved on through the hail and stairmaster of trees that was in front of me.
Within 5 minutes the sun was back out and I was digging in another interesting spot still not even half way to my intended destination. I ended up spending the rest of the day there. There was a small dig that showed considerable amounts of whitish/grey quartz scattered about so I dug into it and expanded that old hole. As I dug up the hill I noted quartz pieces tended to be found lower in the scree so I guessed there might be a pegmatite buried further up the hill. After digging about 6 feet up the hill and down maybe 3 feet following the quartz I hit some smoky quartz shards with my rock hammer. I put down my rock hammer and pick and commenced scratching though the scree and almost immediately hit a mud seam with a layer of pegmatite above it and diorite below the seam. The mud seam had some malformed crystal pieces in it and was only about an inch in height but I following the seam between the layers of pegmatite and diorite for about 5 feet. After taking down the sidewall to my right for the third or fourth time I noted the side wall had a seam of quartz. The quartz seam angled down towards my mud seam. Intersecting features like these often lead to a pocket and sure enough the quartz seam angled right into the mud. Microcline crystals started popping up as the mud seam grew in width. The area I was digging has amazonite shards scattered over the surface everywhere but it was just my luck to find microcline. Shortly afterwards I hit some nearly whole smoky quartz crystals so I gave my digging partner a call and he became the photographer and helped dig the scree away from the tree.
Note pile of microclines in foreground, here I'm holding a smoky quartz crystal
 As I continued to dig, my migraine headache of the night before began to return so I called it a day and will return another time to see if this is a good gem producing pocket or not.

Day 2: I returned to this dig and determined to give the pocket area another hour or two. As I resumed digging Bob said "you're never going to get that tree out of there" well, that was just the encouragement I needed to pick up the tree Paul Bunyon style and heave it to one side. I kept digging and things kept looking promising, so I carried on til days end.
Smoky quartz crystal engulfed in sticky pocket mud
 During the process I primarily found microcline... oh why couldn't they be blue?!  I also found some smoky quartz crystals, but they were not the highly prized products I'm used to finding up at Lake George.
The sticky mud made extraction of crystals an extremely slow process
The last hour of this day I zeroed in on large area of mud near the bottom of the pocket as there appeared to be a rather large mircocline crystal there... and what a microcline it is! Normally I don't collect mircocline, but this day I made an exception. After an hour of carefully digging around this crystal I was finally able to coax it out with zero damage. Microcline crystals can be twinned as either Bevino, Mannebach or Carlsbad twins named after the city in Europe that they were first discovered, This large Bevino microcline crystal makes it very collectible as opposed to just a run-of-the-mill microcline crystal.
Large Microcline "in situ"
The above microcline is a Bevino!
Top down view of the Bevino Crystal

Continuation of the dig down and underneath a quartz seam produced more microcline crystals and a few poorly formed smoky quartz crystals. After working on this peg and digging about 5 feet down I decided the effort wasn't worth the reward and called it quits for this pocket (site).



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pegmatites at Lake George CO

We checked out a new area last week at Lake George, but didn't believe we would find many crystals as the area was quite dug up. First thing we did was examine the debris from the older digs, since the diggings looked promising we gave it a try. We prospected the area and found many of the older digs were extremely shallow. Bob dug into a quartzy area that had been dug by others while I hit an area down the hill. The older dig I focused on went straight up the hill, while the dig Bob investigated was shallow and circular. I expanded the old trench-like dig in a SE direction while Bob dug his quartz dig deeper. Almost immediately after digging into my dig I found crystal pieces and mud. Note the changing color of the dirt around the crystal below (sign of a pocket). Things looked very promising so I called Bob over to take a look at a fairly large crystal nestled in the pocket. I kept my fingers crossed as I hoped the point would not be damaged.
Fingers crossed in hope of a good crystal (the termination/point makes the crystal
Much to my dismay as I pulled the crystal out of the pocket I noted it was damaged :-(  The crystal never properly terminated but its crown was filled with what appears to be manganese. I wasn't sure this specimen was worth taking home, but the crystal might prove interesting and it would certainly be a challenge to clean.  I took home a few crystals from this dig, but most were broken. Bob continued to dig deeper into the quartz. Our mentor always told us if at first you don't succeed dig deeper!  Well, Bob kept digging and after 4 feet down he started to find some real smoky gems
Bob's got a nice 5" smoky quartz crystal (among others in background)
Bob found a lot of calcite overgrowth on his crystals, but a little muratic acid will take care of that.
We returned to this area a few days later and again checked out some surface quartz that upon further examination only appeared to be scratched through. Bob again started digging a 4 foot hole and sure enough there were prized smoky crystals at the bottom. I started lining up the digs and noticed they followed a northwest  to southeast line confirming an underlying pegmatite. I decided to dig my own 4 foot hole along that nw-se line and was soon pulling out my own crystals albeit small fry. We'll probably trench this entire underlying pegmatite which appears to run for about 75 feet (We shall see). I found some surface amazonite fragments, so that will also help further the hunt. Later in the day I was scratching around on the surface and found a pocket near the surface as well. This pocket only yielded a couple of keepers but the area continues to yield crystals and certainly merits a return visit.
Crystal shards in the pocket... not much else unfortunately
I too found crystals, but mine were only 1 inch in length while Bob dug out some 4 inch beauties

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two pockets of Crystals at Lake George

Snow still on the Tarryall Mountains about 10km north of Lake George
Snows continue to fall in the mountains but at least the ground is now thawed out. Many of the southern and western slopes are snow free, so its time to hunt crystals! Spring in the Rockies is fickle with snow one day and flowers bursting forth the next day.
Pink cactus flowers popping out in the April sunshine
So my rockhounding partner and I set forth to see what we could find. I followed some quartz float up a hill and as I pursued it, I noted it thinned out to almost nothing six feet up the slope. I dug my pick axe in and soon was pulling out quartz crystals. I called Bob over and he helped me move a rather large rock and I continued to dig out the pocket for another hour.
You can see some of the smoky quartz appearing in the crystal pocket
Unfortunately most of the crystals were damaged. Bob was digging nearby. He suspected a shallow dig was not very aggressively dug, so he went down the hill and redug the surface and ran into a pocket that someone else had missed. Bob found several crystals as well but many of his were damaged too. Still a very good day as we kept busy finding crystals.
Bob's had enough of this pocket and is leaving a rather large pile of fractured crystals behind. Bob's pocket also yielded some interesting calcite conglomerations which I took home and will try and clean. So far I've applied Super Iron Out and will continue for a week or so to see how they're cleaning up. Hopefully some pictures on that later.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Another Season Begins!

After not having much time to go crystal hunting between work and bad weather I planned to go rock hounding with my prospector friend Bob to see what we could find. We had planned to go 10 days prior, so despite a rather formidable weather forecast we decided to check out the terrain at Lake George.

I told Bob I may just stay in the truck and drink coffee and eat a bearclaw as the the forecast was for a high temperature of 39F with a 50% of rain or snow... ugh. About the time we got to Lake George, CO the snow began falling. We tried to get back towards our Club's claim, but after several runs up the hill and some rather unnerving slides back down we gave up and parked the vehicle.
Roads were slick and icy

I had told Bob a slope on the claim looked fairly untouched and was covered in fairly good quartz sign, so we gave it try. Bob and I both followed the quartz shards up the hill to a somewhat exposed pegmatite. Where I dug, the pegmatite was shallow and unproductive; however, Bob's dig was quite a different story and he soon started pulling out smoky quartz crystals.
Maybe some termination issues but a nice sized crystal
Unfortunately many of the crystals were broken, but Bob still got a few keepers. After finishing the majority of the dig Bob started wrapping his crystals while I crawled in his excavation as a pinch hitter and found a small seam of clay for myself and got a few crystals of my own.
Gemmy!
While the crystals I found were small, they all had good luster and were gemmy. When finished we filled in the dig and threw a few rocks over the site, so that it blended in fairly well with the surroundings. I believe there is more to be found along that particular pegmatite. In couple of weeks weather permitting we will give it another try, but 34F, windy with snow is not my kind of rock hounding weather.