Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rock Hounding Not So Hidden Colorado Treasures

Recent Colorado Mineral Purchases

Hints of an early spring gave way to a wet cold weather pattern so prospecting has been put on hold for awhile. Still there are plenty of specimens to see and purchase in the state of Colorado.  An older friend of mine used to put parts of his collection up for sale. His collection spans decades of prospecting with excellent specimens at reasonable prices. I made an appointment with my friend to look at his collection and see what I could find. Many of the pieces I ended up purchasing were originally found anywhere from 10-45 years ago. While many of these pieces needed a little TLC and some touch-up cleaning I could tell there was a lot of potential in these specimens. I concentrated on his Colorado minerals and bypassed his thumbnails and other than Colorado pieces. Some of the specimens I purchased to add to my collection and others to resell. I spent well over 2 hours reviewing flat after flat of crystals. There was fluorite, goethite, amazonite, smoky quartz, cleavelandite and combinations--it was hard to pick and choose but I eventually settled on 20 favorite pieces and dropped a bit of coin. When choosing specimens I kept a number of things in mind which add up to an individual crystal’s overall appeal including: aesthetics of the piece, rarity, size, combinations of minerals in a specimen, quality of the piece to include luster, gemmyness, perfection and resale value. In the pictures below I will rate the quality of some of the pieces I purchased by their overall appeal on a scale from 1-5*. Obviously I wouldn't purchase specimens of really poor quality but this way you can see how someone values specimens. My prices are low retail. I have seen comparable pieces in stores with more than a 50% markup to those shown here. If you have ever watched the Prospectors Show, you'll note my prices are considerably lower than their inflated estimates.
Score of the day, despite overgrowth on smokys an aesthetic piece (Value $275)
If the Smokys had been cleaner this would have been a solid 5* (4*)
Rarity of specimen(onegite), complete (Value $45)
Nice 4* piece could probably use a little more cleaning

Combination of amazonite and smokys(rare) (Value $275)
Only 3* due to peripheral damage and paleness of amazonite

Double terminated and sceptered smoky(rare), large (Value $225)
Downgraded to 4.5* due to some scuffing on edges of smoky

Double Terminated (DT), Good size, lustrous and gemmy (Value $125)
5* DTs don't get much better than this

Nice aesthetic grouping, gemmy & lustrous (Value $35)
3.5* Some minor tip damage

Triple mineral combination (rare), high resale (Value $250)
4* Incomplete amazonite and smoky is not gemmy

Good size, luster, completeness, good color (Value $65)
4.5* Color is a little pale but solid specimen

Exceptional size, good color, aesthetics, complexity, completeness (Value $225)
5* Four complete interwoven amazonites VF!

Aesthetic grouping, luster, completeness (Value $85)
4* Color is a little pale and one central crystal appears cleaved

Rarity of combination(amazonite&cleavelandite)  (Value $165)
4* Nice group but amazonite is a bit pale

Large Specimen, aesthetic appeal, color  (Value $175)
4* Would be a solid 5* but piece has been repaired on cleaveage planes

Rarity of specimen(combo), (Value $125)
3.5* Amazonite is pale and one smoky has some regrowth damage

Complexity of specimen  (Value $75)
4.5* Overall nice piece but a little pale

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 Rock Hounding Begins at Lake George Colorado

Sunset over Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, CO
Enough snow and ice has melted so that I decided to give rock hounding a try in the Rocky Mountains. While areas above 10,000Ft still have plenty of snow the lower elevations around Lake George, CO have many open slopes for rock hounding. This year I hope to expand my prospecting to include more areas outside of Lake George and find other crystals besides smoky quartz, amazonite, microcline, fluorite and goethite. Still, I’m sure I’ll visit my favorite Lake George rock hounding areas several times again this year. Winter was fairly mild though we did have a number of strong wind events with 60-70mph wind gusts in the mountains. The drought in Colorado is also taking its toll on mature trees. As the drought weakened trees are exposed to 70mph wind gusts they snap in half like toothpicks. We saw several mature trees broken off about 10ft above the ground as the one depicted below.
 Winter was fairly easy on the wildlife though I suspect foraging might have been a little more difficult due to the lack of water and foraging material. We saw herds of elk and deer with coyotes yelping in the distance as we made our way out to Lake George to start out 2017.
Elk looking for food
Deer oblivious to my digging, though they eventually caught on
Today Bob and I revisited an old spot we had prospected last fall and had pulled out a few pockets. We decided to return to this spot because it was on a south facing slope so the ground would be well thawed out and snow minimal. The pegmatite is fairly large and probably runs for about 30 feet.
Top-down pegmatite schematic
While most of the pegmatite is underground we have found float crystals in this area at the surface. The quartzy pegmatite runs NW-SE and intersects a more feldsparish containing pegmatite which runs N-S. It is at the intersection of these two seams that two pockets of amazonite were found last year. There was no smoky quartz crystals within the amazonite pockets. Bob and I continue to work the area with mixed results. I concentrated on the area of float smokys while Bob worked further up the hill in some float amazonite. While neither one of us were rewarded with pockets of crystals we did find some keepers. We primarily dug through areas around previously found pockets in hopes of finding some float crystals. We both found amazonite but only a few undamaged keeper crystals.
Typical floater amazonite with lots of iron staining to clean
I had the find of the day with an excellent 5” smoky quartz crystal. While we found many crystals only a few were considered keepers in my mind. We also did some prospecting in the area and found a spot or two we might try out again in the future as long as the weather holds. On the way home I decided to shop my 5” smoky quartz crystal at one of the rock shops along the way home. The proprietor of the rock shop said he could give me $60 for the smoky and I decided I would rather keep the crystal than part with it at that price.

5" Smoky Quartz Crystal
So 2017 has started out on a pretty good note with hopefully many more crystals yet to be found!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Winter's Closing Down Digging For 2016

Looking North From Lake George Towards the Tarryalls
Rock Hounding season is coming to a close as the temperatures drop and frost begins to set into the ground. I’ve been able to prospect a little longer this year than other years due to a lack of snow in the mountains. We’ve had no measureable snow yet and it’s almost December which is fairly unusual. This day I decided to do a little prospecting and one of my favorite digging opportunities presented itself in the form of a large dead tree and old digs (depressions) around the tree’s base. There were 3 main roots emanating from the base of the tree, each root was about as thick as my thigh and totally rotten. I could see from the old digs that somebody had found amazonite here when the tree was probably healthy and they quit digging as they ran into the massive tree roots. Now that the tree was dead and mostly decayed I decided to dig where others couldn’t and tear out the now decayed roots of the dead tree.
Old pine with digs around it's base bears investigating

 I was soon rewarded with amazonite. I continued digging out each root finding the hidden host pegmatite and digging out the root along with some small well-colored amazonite. I didn’t find a pocket of amazonite but there were still over 30 small collectible crystals.
Lots of small amazonite crystals aroud the tree roots
I was going to take the entire tree along with its tap root out of the ground, but the wind started to pick up and my spot went from sunny to full shade so I decided to prospect elsewhere and come back another day to take out the dead tree. It didn’t take long to find more amazonite float associated with a fairly extensive pegmatite. After digging a few holes along the pegmatite I reasoned this area was most likely already dug as the crystals I found were mostly broken and the rocks below ground seemed disturbed. Normally undug pegmatite will be grouped together, this peg had country rock(granite) and pegmatite mixed together along with the broken crystals. I checked a few spots up the hill and came up empty. The temperature was beginning to drop as the sun dipped towards the horizon and I decided it was time for me to skedaddle.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Fall Rock Hounding Trip To Lake George, CO

Austin shows off 1st nice crystal of the day!
Austin wanted me to take him rock hounding and after hearing of a few of his negative adventures with others we picked a day and set off for Lake George. From Austin's stories it sounded like some of his "friends" are valuing rocks more than people. I had been prospecting a private claim for the last few weeks but did not have permission to take guests there so I decided to go to a reliable area where at least small crystals could be found. As I’ve said before when I take a guest I always hope we find something. Austin’s enthusiasm for rock hounding surpasses mine and I have been spoiled as of late with easy finds of amazonite so I was not sure how long I would last. We checked out an area where I’ve rock hounded before and found some small crystals and a few plates of microcline and quartz. We got started and were soon finding small quartz points and an occasional piece of white quartz. Things were going slowly and I was thinking about trying another area when I noted just a few feet away from where I was digging there were some larger pieces of pegmatite with embedded minor quartz faces. As I broke open the area with my pick axe by removing the sod from the surface I noted a small microcline group (see below).
Key to the pocket--where there is one crystal there is often more
Between the quartz faces on pegmatite and this microcline specimen I decided to slow down, put down my pick axe and take out my scratcher. Good thing I did because I soon was hitting large shards of smoky quartz and then a stout 4” smoky rolled out of the scree. Austin liked the material I was digging out and said he had never found any fluorite and sure would like to find a fluorite sometime. He no sooner spoke those words than a 1.5” fluorite rolled out of the dirt.

I pulled out a few more smokys and then turned the pocket over to Austin. I told him he could have the rest unless something unusual popped up. Within a couple of minutes he found his first fluorite ever and a number of microcline crystals. I prospected around a bit while Austin stuck with the pegmatite hoping for another pocket. Soon time was up for the day and we navigated the 4-wheel drive roads as a herd of deer looked on guessing we weren't interested in them and were just a couple of crystal hunters. Here is a picture of what I took home.  I took the best of my pocket while Austin got the bulk of the quartz crystals, along with several smoky quartz and microcline plates.
Microcline plate, 10cm Smoky quartz and Penetration twin fluorite

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Minerals At An Estate Sale

Got dem got dem dry bones - - maybe petrified tusks?
Got an email from our rock club informing everyone that there would be an estate sale from a local biology professor who collected minerals. I will travel in town to an estate sale and this one fit my criteria of having rocks and minerals so I thought I would give it a try (Getting information like this is one more reason to belong to a local club). When I arrived at the home I was told the rocks and minerals were primarily in the back yard and some books on mineralogy were located in the basement. I was told all offers would be considered--sounded good to me! I got into the backyard and there were several boxes of minerals and some crystals all with no labels. No labels means no provenance so though you may have an idea on where something was found you really don’t know for sure. In my experience usually more than half the value of any collectible mineral lies in the provenance. There was an abundance of fossils which I don’t really collect but some petrified bones (mammoth tusk frags?) caught my eye so I took those. There was also a vertebrae but it felt too light and may have been a caste. There were a lot of leaf and stem fossils as well. Finally I got to a box loaded with garnets in schist, wrapped in newspapers from 1970. Unfortunately most of the almandine garnets were incomplete crystals although they did look nice in matrix. 
Several garnets in this schist matrix
I’ve picked up similar specimens from the Wilkerson Pass Colorado area while rock-hounding and they could be from the same locale. I took about half a flat of these. Next up were a couple of boxes with desert roses or selenite/gypsum. I’m not sure where they are from either but could be Arizona I suppose. The roses were well formed and probably worth a few bucks.
One of a dozen desert roses I selected
I rounded out my flat of garnets with a number of these specimens. I also found a few pieces of opal, some beryl and fluorite. Next I went book hunting and in the basement was a 3 volume mint set of Dana’s System of Mineralogy 7th Ed for $3. I also collect stamps and found some unused stamp storage albums which go for about $16 a piece. I picked up a few other oddities and almost went for a taxidermy rattle snake coiled and ready to bite but decided one of my nephews would get something else for Christmas. So I spent $30 for what I valued to be well over $200 and have no idea about the petrified bones/tusks. I enjoyed the camaraderie and banter with other bargain hunters and the sellers seemed happy to unload some rocks for money.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

More Digging in the Amazonite Pool

Wildlife in the shadows
Turkeys welcomed me to Lake George, Colorado for another warm day of digging rocks in mid-October. We had high wind warning today for much of the mountains with potential winds of up to 80mph near mountain peaks. Since my digging partner Bob is laid up with hip surgery and he has the chain saw I decided I better at least take an axe in case a tree falls over the road and blocks my path.  I arrived at our favorite spot and commenced digging where I had left off last week. The area is remote and hidden in a thicket of aspen so I am not too concerned that someone else will discover it. The claim owner has given me carte blanche to dig the claim until the New Year so I am in no rush. I decided to finish up the old pocket and then back-track a bit and dig down the hill as the pegmatite I had discovered went that way. There were a few straggler crystals and a plate in last week’s pocket so I worked that and then moved down the slope following the pegmatite. The pegmatite was near the surface but then dove down at nearly a 45 angle into the earth. As I followed the pegmatite thick mud showed up to be followed by amazonite crystals—another pocket! Most of these crystals were singles but still collectible. I also believe a number of them have cleavelandite associated with them. I had a hard time getting these single crystals out as the peanut-butter-like mud and 3 foot hole made extraction difficult.
Todays Amazonite Finds Mostly Singles and Ready For Cleaning

Specimen In Hand Shows Cleavelandite Surrounded By Amazonite
 I broke a few crystals due to the difficulty, but the work involved in tearing down the pegmatite on all sides and resulting trauma to the crystals in the process probably wouldn't have been any easier on the amazonite. Well it was 3PM and time to leave. I loaded up the truck and headed down the road. Yikes, a fairly thick tree blocked my only way out so maybe I would have to use that axe. I decided it would be easier to chop down a few saplings and go off road than chop through a 10” green tree.
Got to be ready for anything out here... a 4-wheel drive vehicle helps!
After checking things out I was soon off again and headed home.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Amazonite Pond at Lake George

Autumn Sunrises Are The Best Here, Sunsets Aren't Bad Either
My digging partner will soon be out for the rest of the season due to an upcoming surgery so I am digging solo a bit until frost sets in and kills the season. This day was another spectacular weather day and as I drove into the forest two deer crossed my path. I hoped it would not be bad luck like a black cat crossing my path and as you’ll see my luck held this day. I continued to prospect a friend’s claim which seems to have amazonite shards everywhere a veritable pond of amazonite fragments but no full crystals. I tried a spot today that showed some large white quartz chunks on the surface. I had noted this spot a few weeks ago and meant to get back to it at a later date which was today. Someone had dug up some quartz but quit on it as it meandered up the hill under the forest floor. I continued to follow this quartz and was soon seeing some amazonite shards which has not been unusual for this claim. As I continued pulling out quartz I noticed that large grooves were imprinted in some of the quartz which suggested a crystal had been lodged against that area of the quartz as the quartz formed. Well that got my attention especially since the grooves in the quartz were fairly large and suggested a large microcline at the very least. . 

Large impression of crystal in quartz above thumb
As  I was digging in a grove of aspens and large blocky chunks of white quartz the aspen tree roots kept hindering my progress. As I continued the dig I noted some more interesting pegmatite (feldspar/quartz/mica) was mixing in with the plain quartz and in no time the feldspar started exhibiting blue/green faces the telltale sign of amazonite. The site was looking very promising but my habitual headache was returning from the day before. I kept digging as the sign was too good to quit and then I hit pay-dirt or at least some nice amazonite. I pulled two large complete amazonite crystals 3+” and started working on some of the surrounding quartz to see what might be underneath.
4" Crystal Fresh Out Of The Ground

3.5" Crystal With a Fracture Ready For Cleaning

 I gave up on the quartz as I just couldn’t budge it with the tools I had and continued my hunt up the hill. More amazonite kept dribbling out of the hillside and I knew I had found a fairly good spot.

My headache continued to grow so I decided to cut my visit short this day and will plan to return next week. I packed up and was about to leave my dig site when I noticed a nice chunk of blue/green amazonite at the edge of my dig where I left off. I’ll wager there are more crystals waiting for me the next time I return with an axe for the roots a pry bar for the quartz and no headache!

Visit #2: Autumn is setting in but the unseasonably warm weather continues. I stopped off at my digging partner's (Bob's) house and showed him some of the recent crystals and despite his health issues he insisted on going with me and checking things out so off we went.

Still hitting the same spot and following the pegmatite. I brought in a pry bar and axe this time and my headache took a holiday so with 70F, sunny skies and crystals to find there was nothing to hold me back.  I immediately went to work on the quartz with the pry bar and despite my efforts I found very little. Since there was still quartz and amazonite shards up the hill I continued the hunt. I continued finding an occasional single crystal. Bob stopped by to needle me wondering where my bushel basket of crystals was and I retorted the day was still young and I too was surprised my wheelbarrow wasn’t yet full of crystals. I continued the dig and hit some yellowish dirt normally a good sign. I was digging a little downhill from the pegmatite and so I decided to pull out some pegmatite and try to find the source of these single crystals and yellow dirt. Soon I hit highly mineralized pegmatite with yellow clay and what appeared to be amazonite sprouting out of the pegmatite… BINGO!  I had just told Bob I would be ready to leave in a half hour or so, but this find pushed that back an hour. Finally some amazonite plates with plenty of pocket mud.
The crystals were fairly clean and well formed with good color and some size. I’ve rinsed them and brushed them in soapy water, next step is Iron Out. I’ll probably give that pegmatite another try as well! Here are best of the lot so far cleaned up, I took these out of my wheelbarrow (haha)