Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Rock Hounding at the Denver Mineral Show

While the Denver Mineral Show is primarily at the Denver Merchandise Mart there are other venues running at nearly the same time. There is the Denver Coliseum as well as a couple other dealers set up at local hotels and other spots. My wife and I decided to make a day of it and drove to Denver to see the show. First I visited one of my supply guys who has storage flats and display boxes for minerals, he also sells some crystals and minerals. Fred is a bit off the beaten path and last time I was there he had received a number of Herkimer diamonds but had not priced them. He had shown me a piece of opalized petrified wood that he liked last time I visited--something I have in abundance back home--so I decided next time I went to Denver I could trade some of my petrified wood for some boxes.  The timing was finally right and I ended up getting hundreds of boxes in trade and a discount on one of his larger hoppered Herkimer diamonds for a piece of polished petrified wood and some cash. I was happy with my boxes and Herkimer and he was delighted with his petrified wood.
Hoppered Herkimer

My next stop was a hotel where one of the actors in the Prospector’s Show was selling his minerals. I have a pretty good relation with some of these guys and showed them some of the minerals I found this past year. To my surprise they wanted to purchase some of my Carlsbad twin microclines mentioned in post 8/30/2016. Evidently Carlsbad twins are sought after and hard for them to keep in stock. So I had a productive meeting and then finally arrived at the Denver Merchandise Mart.
The Denver Show is a bit overwhelming with over 300+ dealers. Prior to getting started I ran into one of our club members who was helping host the show and she gave me a quick run-down of the event. I told my wife I would be good for 2 hours and that would probably be it for me. She was fine with that and made her way to the wholesale jewelry section. I sought out a dealer who makes quartz crystal twins. Dr Klipov makes crystals primarily for optical and electronic applications but also dabbles in twinned crystals that collectors seek (perhaps these are lunchbox specials from the lab). Dr Klipov said that it takes over 9 months to create these crystals in the lab and no discounts would be made for these specimens (ok then). The quality and twinning of these crystals were irresistible to me so I plunked down $50 and made a purchase. I’m not a big fan of lab created crystals but I think one or two is okay in my collection. 

 While browsing I met a fellow rock-hound from Lake George, CO who to my surprise has a claim next to mine. He was selling off some of his collection and was in good spirits as sales were brisk. As I strolled through vendors booths I kept my eye out for Herkimer diamonds to see how good a deal I got on my purchase and all the Herkimers I saw were three times more expensive and of poorer quality than the one I purchased. My deal for boxes and a Herkimer just keeps getting better
My wife loaded up on jewelry and seemed happy with her purchases and I forged a couple new friendships and felt I made a couple of good deals. Back to rock hounding the Rockies next week!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Crystal Hunting at Devil’s Head Colorado

View of Devil's Head looking east
My digging buddy Bob and I go to an area near Devil’s Head along the front range of the Rocky Mountains once a year or so. This region is known for topaz and large smoky quartz crystals. After rock hounding a few times up at Devil’s Head I believe the name comes from the fact that the devil messes with every crystal I find there. Almost every crystal I find in this region has issues. The quartz crystals are either broken or have a lot of white quartz overgrowth and I think the Devil got away with most of the topaz long ago. 
We got an early start to rock hounding this day and were somewhat surprised at the number of vehicles parked along Rampart Range road. Most of the vehicles have ATV trailers so perhaps these are early season hunters or folks just out for one last vacation before winter sets in. Bob had a spot he had dug last year and I decided to do a little prospecting. I noticed a tree nearby had a lot of quartz at its base so I decided to poke around that a bit and see what I could find. Almost immediately I started finding quartz crystals. Unfortunately the smoky quartz crystals were hooded with milky white quartz which makes them unattractive and somewhat uncollectable. Still I pressed on hoping there might be a pocket with better quality crystals up the slope. I found a rather interesting alligator skinned quartz piece and hoped for better. After a couple hours of digging I hit some larger pieces of pegmatite and reddish dirt. Red dirt is often a sign of iron leaching out of a crystal pocket and such was the case again today. I discovered about a 4 foot long lenticular pocket. Most of the host pegmatite was damaged and no crystal plates were found. All the crystals in the pocket also have milky white quartz hodding them.
Lots of hooded quartz crystals
As I neared the edge of the pocket I started to uncover clunky heavier material that I hoped might be topaz. As I examined the first couple of pieces I quickly realized they were fluorite and pressed on. Some of the fluorite in the pocket were fairly well preserved while other fluorite I found down the hill from the pocket had internal fractures and a lot of grooves or heavy etching on them.
Somewhat unsightly fluorite( a little cleaning may help) :-(
I found about 100 quartz crystals of mostly poor quality up to 6 inches in length and about a dozen beat up fluorite with the largest being about tennis ball size. There were shattered pieces of smoky quartz crystals in excess of 6 inches but they were either poorly formed or entirely shattered. While I didn’t get any crystals to donate to the Smithsonian today I still had fun discovering a quartz crystal pocket along with some large fluorite. For me a great deal of the fun is in the finding of the crystals and not in the cleaning or even displaying the crystals, still a few better formed crystals could have made this an outstanding pocket.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coyotes howl a welcome to a good day of rock hounding at Lake George, CO

Another beautiful day in the Colorado Rocky Mountains near Lake George. Temperatures have fallen a bit as we edge towards fall making digging in the sun a little more tolerable. I decided to take one of the younger club (CSMS) members with us today (17 years). I met Dallas at our Club picnic and never ran into anyone so enthusiastic about rock hounding. After the picnic he spent 2 hours at my house looking at my personal collection and would have stayed longer but I eventually shooed him away with a box full of give-away specimens. Seeing as he has a true interest in rock hounding and appeared to have some basic knowledge I invited him to go on a daytrip out to L George with Bob and me. In anticipation of his visit I prospected a few possible digging sites and marked a couple pegmatites that appeared promising. While I always want my guests to have a memorable experience it’s mostly in Mother Nature’s hands and luck of the draw as to what we do or do not find. Despite my suggestion to carpool, Dallas insisted on driving his father’s car to the site though he had second thoughts once he traversed the roads.  As we neared the site two coyotes gave us the old stink eye in the middle of the road and then thought better of challenging a couple SUVs. The coyotes looked very healthy and have probably been feasting on the flock of turkeys we saw a couple weeks ago.
Mountain Coyote Cr: Alfred Viola
We got to the site safely enough, outfitted Dallas with a pick axe and rock hammer and made a beeline to the first pegmatite on my list. I suggested we dig together and soon we were hitting float crystals from the pegmatite I had marked. Dallas found some nice floaters while I slammed into a pocket. The pocket contained many pale amazonite and smoky quartz crystals. Some of the crystals look good, unfortunately the amazonite is quite pale.
Nice gemmy, lustrous smoky cleaned of pocket mud

Pale amazonite still needs a touch of cleaning to remove iron staining
As Dallas and I finished up our site the coyotes began to howl and so I called Bob, my rock hounding partner, on our radios to make sure he wasn’t the coyote’s lunch and where he was digging. I found him at the top of the claim digging up 1”smoky quartz crystals. He was more generous than I with Dallas and gave him about 50 crystals and then gave up his spot as well. I moved on to my other marked spot and was quickly digging out small plates of microcline and smokys. Most of the plates were of marginal quality and size, but I took some of them home and shared the rest. Dallas had a good time and declared he was probably carrying at least 20 pounds more down the mountain than either Bob or me. I suggested he could lighten his load by leaving some crystals behind and he thought that was a good one. I hope Dallas learned a bit about how to find crystals and will one day give someone else a few pointers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

First Snow of the Rockhounding Season (Updated w/ microcline pics)

Courtesy Cog Railway top of Pikes Peak, CO
We found a fairly productive crystal area on a claim out at Lake George, CO which has been producing smoky quartz crystals, twinned microclines and an occasional faint colored amazonite. I had found one pocket of crystals at this site and my prospecting partner had also found some collectible material. Digging uphill we were finding small plates of microcline and smokys as well as some single crystals.  While most of the crystals were on the small side there were some interesting Carlsbad twinned microcline.
Microcline var. Carlsbad with perthite

Microcline var. Carlsbad twinning with perthite
 A former officer of our club (CSMS) had moved to WY and wanted to trade some jade and opal for an outing to L. George.  Since Bob and I have known this WY cowboy for some time we agreed to take him along with no guarantees of finding anything.  The area we had recently located has several small pegmatites running very close to the surface which makes digging easy and finding crystals fairly likely.  We wanted to show our WY guest a good time so we took him to the area where we guessed we’d be able to find something collectible.
The first day was wet and we had to quit early, though we did find some float crystals the quality, amount and size were unmemorable. The weather was definitely not cooperating but we had another day to demonstrate our skills. We went back to the same spot and after prospecting and digging around for a few hours I found a spot with a small microcline crystal on the surface and several fine grained granite rocks (pegmatite) poking out of the ground nearby.  I suggested to the WY cowboy that we dig there. While he found some float smokys I hit a pocket just as thunder started to rumble. Watching the skies to the west and trying figure out how much time we had before the storm hit, I carefully extracted crystals from the pocket. While the lightning was getting closer I decided to let Bob my digging partner finish up the pocket while I packed what we had and prepared to scramble down the mountain. Normally it takes about 30 minutes to get back to our parking area but this day it probably only took 20 minutes. Just as we were reaching the vehicles the hail started to pour down. Hail in the mountains is often small but still intense. I was glad to be off the mountain and dry in my truck. The WY cowboy took home some nice crystals albeit mostly small and Bob and I made our way through the storm home while the WY cowboy went to NM to pick grapes.
Our third outing to the site at L. George promised early rain again but we still went out, returning to the same area and continuing our digs. Bob found a small pocket near the top of the hill and I continued working on the pegmatite I had discovered with the WY cowboy. Quartz crystals and microcline were shed from the top of the pegmatite and while I didn’t find another pocket I did dig up several smoky quartz crystals and a few half-dollar sized microclines some with Carlsbad twinning.  I’ve noted before that when an area produces something unique it often repeats that unique crystal abnormality whether it be twinning, quartz hooding, scepters or other abnormal crystal habit throughout the pocket or pegmatite; this area seems to have a predilection to produce Carlsbad twins.
Carlsbad twinned Microcline with a spot of Cleavelandite near the base
Thunder began even earlier than our last outing. We were once again at the top of a hill with another thunderstorm moving in.  This time I decided we would leave at the first sprinkle which pushed us off the mountain at 1PM.  No running down the mountain this time.  We got back to the truck, stopped off at a nearby coffee house and treated ourselves to an apple fritter and large coffee. I highly recommend the Donut Mill in Woodland Park, CO. The temperature outside had dipped to 47F as Pikes Peak got covered in a late summer snow.
My camera is broken, but I hope to get a new one soon and post a few pictures of the crystals we found. For the WY cowboy (Al) check your microcline for purple fluorite.  I found a couple of microcline crystals with rice-sized fluorites near their base in my hoard.
Some crystals from the last few outings, note microcline twins and smokys

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rockhounding amidst the Raspberrys at Lake George

We've moved on from our earlier rock hounding bonanza and tried another area rich with raspberrys. I think my wife might even like to go rock hounding at this site with more berries than one could eat. For some reason nearly every dig gets filled with raspberry plants within a couple years. Evidently the turned over soil and rock is very conducive to growing berries.
I'll leave these tasty morsels for the bears
Digging where others have dug in the past can often lead to good results.  I’m frequently drawn to old digs and dig on the margins or try to figure out a pattern to the excavations and determine the alignment of pegmatites. Once you know the general drift of pegmatites under the ground you can do some probing with a pick axe and follow the pegmatites searching for crystal pockets.

Today Bob and I hiked up to the top of a ridgeline and noted that there were a few digs with quartz float scattered around.  Bob had done a number of test digs in the area and determined the pegmatites run straight up the hill.  Bob had found some plates of crystals the previous week and so after doing some prospecting on another slope I joined Bob at the top. The weather was a little sketchy with thunder in the distance along with visible rain shafts so that became a concern for much of the day, though not a show-stopper. After poking around a bit I found a small clear crystal and noted a fairly large older dig nearby. Bob mentioned he had dug on the perimeter of the old dig and found some microcline.  After studying the ground around the old dig I noticed a fairly well formed smoky plate and decided I would dig a couple feet away from the old dig.  Rule #1 for prospecting is when you find smoky quartz shards or crystals it’s time to do some serious probing and search uphill from the float quartz for a crystal pocket. The scree was churned up a bit so I figured perhaps the previous digger had just missed a plate, but as soon as I put my pick axe in the ground smoky quartz and microcline crystals started popping up out of the ground.  Pretty odd I thought, maybe the digger was looking for amazonite or some other mineral and bypassed the quartz. I pulled out a number of smoky quartz crystals along with a few plates. Bob joined me digging out the site and was as perplexed as I on why/how the previous digger missed these crystals. Most of the crystals were within 6 inches of the surface. I followed the float crystals for about 3 feet and finally I ran into a solid piece of granite with a few pieces of quartz revealing the pegmatite wall and the end of this dig.
Smoky quartz, well-formed carlsbad twinned microcline and cleavelandite were found in this pocket

On a sour note mother nature hit me with some large hail last month and caused about $25,000 in damage to my home. Fortunately insurance will cover the bulk of the damage. My neighbor had all 4 of his vehicles totaled
This 2 inch hailstone was all too common in our neighborhood. The largest I recorded was 2.75 inches that's 7cm!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Amazonite and Smokys at Lake George -- A summers worth of fun! (Updated 26 Jul)

Bob and I had been having some luck in a fairly remote area so we headed back there this day. It takes about 40 minutes to walk to our spot but a hillside along the way seemed unexplored. Each time I approach an area I try to do it from a slightly different angle, that way I can prospect some new territory on my way to my planned destination. This particular day I prospected up some hills on a rather circuitous path to our site. Bob stayed in the valley on a more direct line to our destination. I never got to the destination that day.
As I was walking along a hillside I noted a little blue poking out of the ground. I carefully looked the area over and determined the blue amazonite fragment was in a slight water run… who knows where that could have come from? Of course the most obvious choice is right there despite the water run. Maybe the water run just uncovered the tip of the pocket. I poked around a little bit and hit more pegmatite and some plates with amazonite and smoky quartz crystals.
Fresh out of the ground, first piece I found at the site
The water run was slight enough to uncover some scree and expose the pegmatite and crystals but not significant enough to wash much material down the hill. After digging a couple of hours I felt guilty and went in search of Bob at our initial destination. Bob was busy digging and finding some noteworthy crystals on his own, so he wished me luck and I went back to my dig. Best dig of the year and best find I had made thus far. I cleaned out several small plates, a few solo smoky crystals and a number of single amazonite crystals. The amazonite was very difficult to remove as it was coated in pocket mud and was very fragile.
Fresh out of the ground combo

Specimen above cleaned up a bit

Nicest combination plate of the lot 12+ complete crystals!

Ready for display!!!

I spent that day and the next working the pocket. I managed to get a little over 2 flats of crystals from this pocket so it was a very nice find!

After finishing up the pocket I prospected below the site hoping to find a few float crystals. I found some nice float crystals as well and decided to come back another day. If there is one pocket there, maybe there are more. I went back home and examined my finds. I noted that the roll-down crystals or float were different than the smokys I had found in the pocket. Most of the float crystals below the pocket grew out of white quartz and went from white to smoky, while the smokys in the pocket were all just black all the way to their growth points out of the pegmatite. I deduced there must be at least one other pocket on that hill. How right I was! While first pocket was the only nice combination smoky/amazonite pocket I found on this hillside.  
Digging through some float we found another pocket with smokys
Bob and I extracted crystals from well over a half dozen more pockets on that hill. While none of the crystals were large (> 6”), they were gemmy and lustrous.
Nice size to these, between 3-6"
The next pocket we found was split between us and consisted of smoky quartz crystals. I had followed quartz float about 40ft up the hill and determined it stopped nearly 50ft below the original pocket (above). Both Bob and I dug in where we found the last surface float and had to dig nearly another 10 feet to find the pocket. Of course there was float under the soil leading us to that pocket.
We probably pulled out 500+ crystals from this area.
Nicest smoky quartz cluster in the pocket and hillside for that matter 4x4x5"
We also found quartz with goethite inclusions (onegite), amazonite, green fluorite, goethite and smokys.
Onegite with a purplish hue (Amethyst)
Onegite with a yellowish hue (Citrine)

It was very rewarding to find an area undiscovered by anyone else and pull out beautiful crystals from billion year old undisturbed pockets. Hurrah, what a rock hounder's paradise!

Update1: I continue to find a lot of pegmatites and associated minerals on this hill. Goethite and associated "onegites" continues to be quite plentiful. The amazonite has dwindled off, but we are still finding pockets with smoky quartz crystals although they are smaller than some of our initial finds... the fun goes on
A nice cleaned flat of smoky quartz crystals, excellent luster (mostly 1-3")

Many onegites here (quartz with goethite inclusions)

Some of my favorite smokys, lustrous, gemmy and slender (2.5")

Friday, June 17, 2016

Three Pockets of Crystals at Lake George

While I found 3 pockets of crystals in one day, another visitor to Lake George did not fare as well as me. For some reason a driver with 4-wheel drive capability and nearly bald tires decided he could go off road and use his vehicle to dig up crystals(probably not). Personally I use a pick and shovel to find crystals and not my $20K vehicle ;-). The owner of this vehicle won’t be going anywhere until he gets a tow out of the mess he dug himself into. There is always something new to see at Lake George and it’s not always minerals.
Glad this wasn't me, dude will probably have to drop $400 to a tow truck to get himself out of this remote predicament

Back to prospecting… I had a bit of a dry spell the last few times out but made up for it with a 3 pocket day. The first pocket was near the top of a hill down the slope from someone else’s dig. I was pretty sure the float I was finding was from the previous dig but when I dug down I hit red dirt/clay and surmised there was a second pocket down the hill from the prior discovery. The pocket contained some nice specimens of smoky quartz crystals. The second pocket branched off the first and formed within the same pegmatite as the first pocket, I thought the second pocket would be better than the first as there was a lot of well-formed quartz with the second pocket but not a lot materialized into collectible crystals with the second pocket. The third pocket was some distance from the other pockets and was more interesting with smoky crystal plates, double terminated smokys some goethite, fluorite and some baveno twinned microcline. The goethite was quite massive with some blading but also showed some minor occurrences of attaching itself to the smoky plates. The smoky plates had some nice size and were quite numerous.
Fresh out of the ground after a 1 billion year wait for me to dig em up
Well I ran out of time to finish the third pocket but I will get after it on my next visit to Lake George.

Day 2: Got back to Lake George just as our latest heatwave is beginning. Just means an extra 32oz of fluids and a little more sleep for me. Anyway back at the dig I continued to dig up small plates and goethite. Many of the plates turned out to be combinations of specimens with fluorite and goethite clinging to the quartz crystals or matrix. This should be quite a time consuming cleaning project, but I'm definitely up for the challenge.
My wife said this looked like a dead fish

Fluorite front, goethite behind, iron stained smokys and microcline makes for a very busy mineral plate

Hopefully in a couple of months I will post some after cleaning pictures.
Examining the "dead fish" (pic above) in some detail gave me pause to think about how all these mineral deposits took place on the quartz crystal. After examining the specimen with my microscope it appears that after the quartz crystal was formed it broke, rehealed a little and then some fluorites were deposited on the quartz. Subsequent to that occurence a layer of iron was deposited on the quartz to include the goethite which coated just about everything including the initial fluorites. After the goethite formed there was a secondary hydrothermal infusion of fluids which formed the yellowish fluorites and then I dug it all up :-). I better be careful or I will transform my interests into micromounts or paragenetic mineral analysis or worse yet learn some geology terms.