Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day Weekend Digging Crystals At Lake George Colorado

Clouds provided relief during a warm day at Lake George
Our local Club the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society has a claim but is trying to get a waver for paying a $3000 state bond for their claim (state requirement on federal land). Due to this ongoing problem with the state of Colorado, Club members have been unable to prospect or dig for crystals on the Club’s federally sanctioned claim for 2 years.  I won’t get into the reasons for the continued problems the Club is having with the state except to say that Club members haven’t been able to dig crystals near Lake George because most of the area at Lake George is claimed up and the state has closed the Club’s only claim, so recreational digging has taken a 2 year holiday for some.  My digging partner Bob and I have a claim near Lake George and are Club members so we have decided to make our claim available on a limited basis for field trips for the more serious Crystal Club members. 
After starting the planning process for the trip last month and checking and rechecking the deteriorating Forest Service roads we set out with about 9 people. Some carpooled and one even drove in on a motor bike crossing 3 creeks!  We had to recheck the roads a couple of times as more ATVs are using them and chewing them up but we managed to arrive at our claim without incident and enjoyed a warm June afternoon rock hounding.  Most of the members have some knowledge of how to prospect for crystals so after a short safety talk and review of the claim boundaries people scattered to the hills and commenced prospecting for crystals. Our claim policy is that invited folks can pretty much keep what they find. Folks seemed to team up somewhat while I floated around checking our claim boundary posts. We’ve had some unwelcome visitors in the past claim jumping and vandalizing our claim markers but there is really not much we can do unless we install motion detectors, figure out who they are and then take them to court.  Life is too short for all of this drama. After walking the northern boundary of our claim and finding nothing amiss I found a spot near the top of a hill that looked promising and commenced digging.  The area had plenty of quartz and some chips of amazonite.  After digging for a while the broken quartzy pegmatite led me down towards some yellowish clay and a small pocket. 

The crystals were of poor quality and as the wind started picking up and gusting to 35+ mph I was soon covered in dirt. I decided the effort wasn’t worth it and checked on the rest of the group.  Two folks had quite a dig going and were removing small amazonite plates of crystals.  The crystals were fairly small but they were enjoying what they found.
Frank & Ellie loading up on amazonite plates
I had dug that area a few years ago and had been disappointed with the small/pea-sized amazonite. I never went very deep into the pegmatite and wished Frank and Ellie good luck as I went in search of other Club digger. Another prospector was working on an abandoned older dig. I have worked this area myself a few times and have concluded you have to go really dig deep to hit the pegmatite. The previous owner of this claim was Ray Berry and he found a very large superb pocket at this spot. Ray was an exceptional digger and rarely missed much. Austin did find some small float keepers.  He stuck to it for a few hours before moving on to another spot.
Austin is checking out an area around some tree roots

I located my digging partner Bob and he was with a newb showing him some prospecting techniques. Bob found a pocket with some amazonite and smoky quartz though the amazonite was very pale. He gave all of it to his trainee who seemed very happy with his crystals. The motor bike digger left by noon so I'm not sure how well he did, but another group composed of a couple of seasoned diggers had a good day. They immediately gravitated to a long ago dug up pegmatite of amazonite and quartz and were soon ripping it up. They found some fair amazonite and quartz crystals and were grateful for their time on our claim. As time and energy waned folks began heading out. 
John with a t-shirt full of crystals

I decided I wanted to give one area a try where I had found some 2-3 inch smokys in the past. I started digging and soon Bob joined in as we churned up a fairly small flat section of the claim. Once again loose smokys started popping up and we soon made a couple other folks happy with a few crystals. While no museum pieces were found, everyone left happy to have been able to get out and hunt for crystals. Nearly everyone found something to their liking and were very appreciative of the opportunity. Bob and I may try this again next month.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rock Hounding Attempts at Lake George CO

Hail Hail Go Away Come Again Some Other Day--the mantra as of late.
That's hail not snow on the way home
Tried rock hounding a few times in the last couple weeks but thunderstorms keep chasing us off the mountains. We’ve been finding some minor pockets with amazonite, smoky quartz, microcline, goethite and even some fluorites but nothing extraordinary.  We seem to just get settled and find a place to dig when storms start filling the skies.  No amount of gems are worth getting struck by lightning or getting stuck in the mud.  The area I am currently prospecting and digging is difficult due to the amount of digging done there in the past.  Much of the claim has been worked by bulldozers and track hoes. While the areas remediated after excavation are quite easily determined the quartz and pegmatite pieces strewn about from prior excavations makes it difficult to determine possible float from yet to be unearthed pegmatites or strewn about pegmatite debris from prior mechanized disturbances. You might wonder why I don’t go elsewhere, but there are few places left unclaimed to go to. 90% of all pegmatite bearing land within the Lake George intrusive area is claimed.  There are some small areas between claims that are open, but in the more productive areas claims overlap each other a few times over. So I go where I can and use my detective skills to help determine the viability of prospecting an area. Is the area open for prospecting or do I have permission to dig in the area? Has the area been previously worked and remediated—hopefully not. Are there pegmatites under the ground with viable crystals? Before I can search an area and prospect much leg work must be done.  Having said this I now have permission to dig on over 1600 acres. Nearly half of this area has been machine dug. Conditions by the claim owner have been placed on my prospecting to even including what specimens I can keep.  Still there are specimens to be found, hills to prospect, fresh air to inhale, minerals to dig and crystals to cherish and share.  Having mentioned all the excuses I can think of for not finding much, my digging partner and I are having some small successes.  Bob has spent a lot of time along a prominent pegmatite which runs uphill from the northwest to southeast. While much of the pegmatite near the top of the hill has been dug, he has expended his efforts midway up the hill.  So far he found a large pocket of microcline plates and another pocket of smoky quartz.
Nice palm size plates of microcline
Unfortunately you actually can collect too much microcline (nobody wants it) and the smoky quartz crystals have been fractured and predominately side wall specimens (incomplete). I started my digging above an old dig hoping the pegmatite continued to run with a yet undiscovered pocket of crystals.  I found plenty of smoky shards and some goethite masses, but nothing much to write about. At one point I hit a whole pocket full of shards of quartz... was it left there by somebody else or did Mother Nature just destroy almost the entire pocket?  I also picked up a few massive pieces of goethite and they too may have been left behind by someone else. There were a few 2 inches smokys I pocketed, but that was about it.
2 Inch Smokys
A little Miracle Grow Does Wonders
I kept tabs on my digging buddy, Bob and found a spot near him on the northwest side of the hill that looked promising.  The pegmatite looked good, but the crystals were mostly locked in and only pale blue, so after a day of digging poorly formed amazonite there I moved up the hill.  Soon I found another spot that appeared to show some promise of better colored amazonite but that too played out quickly with only a few small collectible crystals. Next I swung around to the southwest side of the hill noting some small smokys laying on the hill. I wasn’t sure whether these small smokys were from a nearby source or float from digs up the hill. I gave the spot a try and was rewarded with another softball size pocket of fluorites and smokys.  Unfortunately nearly all of the plates of crystals that had fluorites on them were also surrounded by a brown mass of pseudomorphs of iron mineralization after carbonates. While I took some of these plates home, the collectibility of this material is questionable as they will not clean up, but better than getting skunked.
My final try on this hill was last week. I prospected over towards where my partner had been digging and decided to just set down in an undug spot along the pegmatite and give my luck a try.  Within a couple minutes a few small smoky shards popped out of the ground and then goethite. I did manage to get a fairly nice goethite with some smoky quartz points and another pseudomorph of goethite after what I suspect is fluorite with some onegite which is a bit of a unique find. I’ve never had much luck when I’ve been on a hill with goethite. Usually the goethite intermixes into the pockets and makes a mess of the smoky quartz crystals and amazonite.  I think its time to move off this hill and look elsewhere.
I will enlist Austin, a young friend, to see what we can find in another area. We've started a new dig which has shown some small amazonite and will hopefully develop into something noteworthy. So far we've found some small amazonite and a couple of float smoky quartz crystals. There are digs up the hill from us but the slope is quite gradual so I'm hoping we hit something before we get too close to the old digs.
Austin getting ready to tear it up!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rock Hounding the Tarryall Mountains

Austin's Topaz
Looking west towards Badger Flats with a little smoke in the distance
In my quest of rock hounding different areas this year I took up the suggestion of a friend of mine to rock hound a spot in the Tarryall mountains. The Tarryalls are north of the Lake George, CO intrusive area though promise similar minerals of smoky quartz and microcline with an added bonus of topaz. I don’t have many well-formed topaz in my collection and have always found it to be somewhat elusive. We set out early as the day promised rain mixed with snow by nightfall.  Austin took me to a spot he had been working for a while. After prospecting the area he suggested we work a spot that already had been dug up, but should have been dug a little deeper. We started about 10 feet down the hill from an existing excavation.  The top foot or so of material had been dug, but 2 feet down intact roots and less jumbled rock led us to believe that the previous diggers had only scratched the surface. I dug up the hill to Austin’s right both of us digging down about 2 feet and shoveling dirt and rock down the hill as we went. Austin got the first and best score of the day pulling out a light blue 35 carat terminated topaz float crystal.  
This topaz gem reinvigorated both of us and we continued our digging assault up the hill. As we dug up the hill we found interesting float and then I scored a chubby 2 inch smoky. The smoky has good luster but with some internal fracturing.  As I dug I started hitting some very fractured feldspar,
Feldspar shards
Quartz Shards
then a few microcline crystals rolled out of the sidewall and I knew I was headed for a pocket. Soon I dug through the feldspar and started removing quartz shards. It was at this point that I let Austin know I probably had a pocket in front of me.
Austin came over and helped go through the shards looking for topaz. Quickly the quartz shards became more smoky in color and increased in size to some being over 6 inches in length. Then the smoky quartz crystals started to show themselves through the scree and red clay. Austin gleaned through the pocket mud and shards of quartz checking for topaz. The quartz shards were much larger than the euhedral crystals.  The quartz shards suggested 6 inch crystals, but the biggest complete crystal was 3 inches. After I felt the pocket was nearly depleted I let Austin finish it up.
Austin Finishing Up The Pocket
Austin found a couple of crystals in the sidewall and then rechecked for topaz. I took home about a dozen well-formed crystals and let Austin have the rest. I got the quality Austin got the quantity and a little quality as well. Austin did find a 130 carat fractured topaz in the debris I flung out of the pocket. Who knows how many shards of topaz I left, but we can always go back another day and sift through the dirt/clay once its dried out.  I still liked his light blue 35 carat terminated topaz better than anything else I found this day.
Smoky Quartz Crystals just about clean up enough for an acid bath to remove some stubborn iron staining

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Prospecting a hill at Lake George for crystals

Will Winter Ever End???  (Couple weekends ago)
Feeling cooped up a bit as of late with springtime rains, wind and cool weather keeping me indoors.  Bob and I have a lot of prospecting to do this year as we don’t have a favorite spot yet.  Many years we find a productive hill and stay with it for a digging season or two.  This year we have found a hill that has some promise but we are still prospecting it to see if it’s potential merits our time.  We have noticed a number of old digs near a ridgeline leading into the hill and also noted the top of the hill has been heavily dug.  The slopes seem fairly virgin of prospecting digs, so we will concentrate there first and work our way up to the top.  I started on the side of the ridgeline and Bob, my digging partner, hit the side of the hill.  Soon we were both finding good sign, but not much in the way of keeper smokys or amazonite.  I found a well-formed quartz pegmatite with only small float smoky quartz crystals and some goethite chunks but no crystal pockets.
  Bob dug into a nice crystal pocket, but it primarily contained microcline plates.  The microcline plates are well defined and Bob will clean them up and check for twins.
Lots of microcline plates with a little quartz... hoping for amazonite
 Due to the occasional amazonite chips above where Bob was working I decided to climb the hill 50 or so feet above him and try my luck near a promising looking quartz formation. The quartz was associated with some blue subhedral amazonite and after digging down into the pegmatite about 2 feet down I found a pocket with yellowish mud and a few smokys and amazonite crystals. Unfortunately the crystals were fairly small. I continued the dig until I had exhausted the crystals in this smallish pocket and then decided it was time to tear down the sidewalls and fill up my dig with dirt.  While pulling down the sidewalls a rather large double terminated smoky rolled out of the dirt. This float crystal may have traveled a bit from it’s origin and is a little scuffed up, but still collectible. My next job is to figure out where that floater came from.  There is another dig up the hill so I will work my way up the hill looking for more float. Bob finished his microcline dig and was poking around in some quartz nearby.  After I showed Bob my double terminated quartz floater I noted a few feet up the hill from where he was prospecting there was a recent dig with some grey quartz with well-defined faces. I mentioned I wasn’t sure why someone would stop digging there and so Bob gave that spot a try.  Soon he was pulling out small smokys but nothing too big yet.

 Next trip we hope to expand our searches in that area and with a little luck find a smoky pocket or two.

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!