Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Day at the Mineral Museum in Golden Colorado

The rocks and crystals seemingly came alive at the Colorado School of Mines and Geology in Golden, CO. Since rock hounding is nearly impossible this time of year I decided to check out the Colorado School of Mines. This is a real Colorado jewel for anyone interested in geology and it’s free! We were fortunate to go on a day when no school children were visiting so it was quiet and we got to speak with the curator, Dr. Geller. He was very cordial and invited me back another time for a guided tour. The museum hosts mineral displays, fossils, gemstones, meteorites and mining artifacts including a simulated mining cave. The 2nd floor is the main floor with 75% of the displays. The 1st floor is reached from the 2nd floor and houses fossils as well as some minerals. There is also a gift shop on the 1st floor with donated specimens selling from $1 to $1000. The main floor host a mix of minerals and crystals about 50% from Colorado and the rest from around the world. Since my interest is primarily in Rock hounding the Rockies I spent nearly an hour examining the Colorado section of minerals and crystals. There are also outdoor displays of fossils and various geological points of interest, but that was covered in snow this day. The museum is about 1.5 hours from Colorado Springs and well worth a visit.

So here are some pictures of Colorado crystals that one doesn’t often get to see. Of course I am partial to Pikes Peak Batholith crystals like smokys, fluorite and amazonite.

So lets take a look at some of the smokys they had on display. There were a couple bigger smoky crystals from other parts of the world, but I decided to concentrate on Colorado minerals for this post on my blog. 

A case could be made for the white quartz overgrowth enhancing this specimen

Exquisite smoky with fluorites surrounding the base 

A Colorado collection is incomplete without one of these

Beautiful Amethyst 

Nearly 2ft high smoky quartz crystal!



Everyone wants one of these elusive combos




The last group of pictures show the varied colors of amazonite found in the Lake George Intrusive of Park and Teller counties, Colorado. Of course this is only a sample of what's at the Museum. There is topaz, fluorite and many other worldwide minerals including gold.
Pea green example of microcline

Very pale large amazonite crystal
Blue-green amazonite plate with smokies and manebach twin perched on top
White-capped amazonite with smoky quartz crystals

Light blue amazonite plate with smokys and cleavelandite



Monday, December 15, 2014

300+ Smoky Quartz Crystals in 1 day at Lake George, CO!

Crystals piling up by the dozens, excavation in background
Thinking the cold weather and frozen ground were here to stay I packed up my rock hounding equipment a few weeks ago. This past week the temps have been near 60F for several days, so my rock hounding buddy and I decided to head out and check the pegmatites at Lake George. When we got to one of our normal sites the ground was quite frozen, down to a depth of nearly 18 inches. The frozen ground made prospecting almost impossible. I thought I might try a southerly facing slope to see if that was any better and sure enough, the ground was completely thawed out. I found some white quartz dribbling down the hill and decided to follow it up the slope. The white quartz was fairly small and without faces, but I still followed it about 50ft up the hill. Suddenly along a rock I found a large piece of white quartz with several faces on it. I decided to dig the surface and see what was there. Bob joined me and we dug about 10 feet up the hill finding more quartz pieces with faces. As the sun was going down we both started unearthing smoky quartz pieces and even a few whole crystals. Everything we found was just an inch or two below the surface. Since the following day promised to be just as nice with no wind, sunny and temperatures in the 50Fs, we stopped and planned to return the following day to continue our search up the hill for the source of the quartz. Here is a short video from the following day showing quartz crystals coming out of the newly discovered pocket

video
Next visit found us back at the site digging up hill through the scree. We kept finding pieces of crystals and some nice floaters, so we were encouraged to continue the dig. Within a half hour larger crystals began to show up with more frequency and the pocket was discovered. Red dirt and mud surrounding multiple crystals made this pregnant pocket one of the largest I’ve ever found. Crystal after crystal kept popping out the dirt and while I kept hoping for some plates.
Plate showing a couple smoky crystals with lots of mud

Nice sized plate with a few 3"crystals should display well once cleaned
I was a little surprised at the number, size and completeness of the crystals. I spent 3 hours digging out crystals and finally did manage to find a few plates (pics above). The crystals mostly measured 2-4 inches. Near the back of the pocket was a fairly large quartz blow, so I will eventually go back (next spring) and tear that out to make sure nothing is hiding in the back of the pocket. Next up is cleaning the crystals. There were over 300 crystals not including the plates. I left about 30 crystals behind as they were too broken up to bother with. I gave my digging partner Bob 85 crystals and brought the rest home. I think I had about 40 pounds of crystals on my back to carry down the mountain that day. Next up is sorting, putting a few together and cleaning. I'll try and get a few pictures of the cleaned crystals in a couple weeks from the date of this post.  See you in 2015!

Prospectors on the Weather Channel (Season 3)

“Ridin’ the Pain Train” or an Over-hyped Tornado and Ne’er-do-wells (Ep 1)

Well we start the season with one calamity after the next. While not excusing claim-jumping or high-grading the TV personalities somewhat invite trouble by being on TV and over-hyping their finds. Prospecting has always been secretive. The destruction of Busse’s and Hall’s equipment was despicable and there is no reason for it. It was nice to see the Busse’s find nice colored aquamarine crystals. The fact that someone moved the claim marker on Duane Hall’s claim suggests to me he has a disagreement with a fellow claim holder who believes Hall may have over-staked his site, though tampering with claim markers is a federal crime. I think Joe Dorris has a lot of interest in his topaz claim by ne’er-do-wells too. Joe’s claim sits along a well-traveled county road and is easily accessible. He told me one day he expects to find a crushed body or two on his claim due to high-graders digging under the unstable granite boulders. The Dorris’ did find some nicely terminated topaz. The narrator spoke of Joe’s topaz claim as being near Lake George, while in reality it is in the Tarryall Mtns near the town of Tarryall. Amanda and Travis got turned away from Mt Antero but did find some crystals elsewhere. I noted the couple was talking about the dangers of the mountain road while driving without seatbelts. If the truck rolls they will be flung from the cab and crushed. Not sure their crystals were worth hundreds of dollars either. High priced smoky crystals must be gemmy and lustrous with undamaged/sharp points. With gemmy being the inside and lustrous the exterior. Amanda’s crystals did not appear to have a good luster.
The whole tornado event was quite over-hyped, but most of the show is make believe anyway. The facts of when the tornado hit and where were modified for the show. The trees the tornado (F-0), took down were mostly dead or extremely weakened from the Hayman fire and subsequent drought. The actual tornado damaged a couple of house trailers in Lake George and took down a number of trees. As a meteorologist by trade I checked out the path of the storm and coordinated my analysis with the National Weather Service Pueblo Office. The track of the tornado was about 2 miles through Lake George and into the National Forest. The storm occurred on Sunday at 12:30 PM. The Prospector’s show talked about that storm threatening Amanda and Travis during the following night--didn’t happen. There may have been a storm that threatened the duo, but it was not the storm that produced the tornado. I mentioned to Joe that the storm knocked a few trees down near his Klondike Cowboy claim (he had no idea), the tornado was nowhere near his Ute claim where the track hoe was parked… of course without stretching the facts a bit there would be no viewer interest.
So we start the season with ne’er-do-wells, an over-hyped tornado and ridiculously overpriced crystals. I think I’ve seen this show before… maybe several times before.

“Poppin Rocks” or Nothing New Under the Sun (Episode 2)

I liked the title of the show. While I’ve been prospecting for 5 years I’ve never seen this popping rock phenomena, but it is believable. It’s always nice when they mix a bit of science into the show. The point Dorris made about Jack Buckner had some historical interest for me as well. Duane Hall and his pocket of smoky quartz crystals reminded me of some of the junk I’ve found this fall. I thought it was odd Hall was following aquamarine fragments and he was sure there was a pocket of aquas behind the boulders. Once Duane found some smoky quartz his whole theory was forgotten and not another mention was made of aquamarine. I would say he was working in an extremely dangerous, borderline crazy excavation considering how unstable the mountainside is.  At least he was the one taking all the risks as the newbs looked on. He found one ugly smoky quartz specimen and recognized it as such. I think hog turd would have been an apt description for that rock. Nobody will give them the quoted $400-$500 for the junk they found unless they’ve been out in the sun too long. Perhaps next episode will show Hall pulling out aquamarine, there must be a pocket there somewhere due to all the nearby float he was finding

Cardwells have 16 claims, wow! I guess he’s the Joe Dorris of Mt Antero. Even though Cardwell’s ancestor originally put the road in, it is not a private road. While I wouldn’t object to the work he did on the road, I’m not sure what the Forest Service would say. I would say he did very well indeed to have taken that track hoe up the mountain in 1 day… now he has to find some crystals, I guess stay tuned for that. Narrator kept mentioning Fretterd’s secret Agnus Dei claim. Anybody who wants to locate Fretterd’s claim can do so by doing a little research. I won’t give it away, but the claim is in his girlfriend’s name. The mere fact that it is a claim means you can look it up. The Agnus Dei has about 8 claims filed all around it by a guy from Denver. Thanks to the show a large area of Cameron’s Cone is now claimed and off limits for others. Oops I’ve already given too much away. Rich does find good stuff on the Agnus Dei. I really liked the smoky plates.

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.
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
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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)
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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
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8" Double Terminated Smoky In Pocket
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If Only This Smoky Hadn't Been Hooded With Crappy Quartz!
Nope, not a Gwindel
Scepter with two terminations
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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