Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Nobody ever gets it all at Lake George, CO--Nobody! #Crystals!

Amazonite from a December Pocket--Wait til this cleans up!
We go rock hounding this time of year as the weather permits.  Normally Bob and I shut down our prospecting by mid-November but Mother Nature has given us a couple extra weeks this year. While the shady areas are pretty much locked up with frost the south and west facing slopes can still be prospected fairly late this year.  On the drive in Bob mentioned it sure would be nice to find a December pocket--sure would. One area we’ve skirted on our claim while prospecting is an area where just about the entire hillside seems to have been dug long ago. One old-timer told us a few years ago about digging where others have already dug  "do you think anyone would leave anything there for you?" We can respond that NOBODY EVER GETS IT ALL! (I think the old-timer was trying to dissuade us from digging in an area he wanted to dig). Bob decided to redig an area he thought merited some inspection because NOBODY EVER GETS IT ALL. On closer examination he found a slight seam of blue running near the surface.  This streak of blue color (amazonite) ran into the ground and towards a previously dug area. I’ve probably discounted digging too much in areas well dug as I assumed the old timers probably did get most of the crystals in those areas. Bob was determined to find some amazonite and so he thought he would follow this seam hoping it might pocket out before it ran into the older dig.  Now you might surmise this would not be much of a post to my blog if the seam dead ended into the old dig before a pocket appeared and you would be right!  As the seam began to produce a few small amazonite crystals Bob gave me a call on our radios and I decided to check out his blossoming find.  
Lots of nice amazonite piling up in the background!

I sat down next to the dig and examined his finds of amazonite and smoky quartz shards.  The amazonite was of very good color and well-formed but most of the smoky quartz crystals were just shards.  As I sat and watched Bob dig he carefully continued digging on the hill at about a 20 degree slope down.  Bob kept pulling out nice amazonite and occasional smoky quartz crystals. Then just as a little mud in the seam became a little more prevalent a pocket within the pegmatite opened up and bam out of the ground came some fairly big shards of smoky quartz and couple of solid 6 inchers.                                                                           
Good Termination Needs Cleaning

Both smoky crystals and amazonite were well terminated and appeared fairly complete. Smokys and amazonite crystals continued to pop out from the side walls of the dig.  The previous digger’s excavation was only about 10 feet up the hill right in front of us but the evidence shows NOBODY EVER GETS IT ALL!  We both kept our fingers crossed hoping for some smoky/amazonite combination plates.  As the pocket opened up we saw some fairly large pegmatite chunks with crystal definition on them showing through the compacted pocket mud.  Bob started carefully pulling out these amazonite plates one after the next.  While the plates were no bigger than palm-size, the crystals were well-formed, lustrous and nearly pristine.  So while there were no plates of smoky quartz/amazonite combinations the plates of amazonite Bob did pull out were very collectible.  I stayed out of Bob’s way for the most part and examined some of the specimens he pulled out.  My seemingly weekly headache had returned and bending over into Bob’s crystal pocket was not comfortable.  
My plate :-)  Nice pile of crystals in the background as well!
Finally Bob suggested I get in and check out his crystal pocket. I couldn’t resist and of course I pulled out one of the nicest plates of crystals pictured here.  The plate even had some smoky quartz on it. I handed these specimens over to Bob who assured me I would get something nice from the pocket. I only lasted a couple minutes in the pocket as my headache was just too much to tolerate and probably didn't deserve anything.  When Bob realized I was too sick to dig he finished digging, buried the remains of the pocket, bundled up his crystal booty and we drove home. It was a good day and despite what one old-timer told us, we know NOBODY EVER GETS IT ALL! We may not be able to return to Lake George until next spring as the weather forecast calls for low temperatures in the single digits which will freeze over the creek crossings and push frost down a couple feet into the ground.  Next bit of prospecting will probably be at garage and estate sales ;-)  Til 2018? and yes I saved the best picture for last!
One of the better plates we found this day (90% cleaned)... I dug this one out during the 2 minutes I was digging in the pocket material. As you can see I must have had quite a bad headache to relinquish this kind of digging fun back to Bob.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving Day Pocket of Quartz Crystals at Lake George CO

Platte River north of Lake George Colorado
I keep finding small pockets but not enough material to warrant writing a post into my blog until now.  I thought my digging season for 2017 was over after the Lake George area got 4 inches of snow last week but the weather warmed up and off I went. I actually found some of the pocket I'm blogging about before Thanksgiving Day, having found the pegmatite and a nice small pocket with the pegmatite a week earlier.  I had named that small pocket “windy pocket” as the winds were blowing near 45mph.  That was the first time I’ve been driven off the side of a hill digging smokys due to high winds. I think it took me 2 days to get all the dirt out of my ears and sinuses. Some folks think you can drive out to Lake George, dig a hole and gather up a bushel basket of crystals in a few hours but it doesn’t normally work that way.  This particular pocket was in an area I had prospected and dug all summer.  The mineral signs suggesting I dig in this particular spot were quite weak.  We had dug a number of test holes in this area but hadn’t found much.  As the frost had killed off the seasonal vegetation I noticed a couple pieces of fairly large grained granite which I hoped suggested a nearby pegmatite and not just roll down from up the hill. I decided to dig in and that’s how I found the “windy pocket” a week earlier. A friend of mine (Austin) was back from college and wanted to dig crystals so I invited him out to the spot I had found the previous week and mentioned I wanted to pick up where I left off with the windy pocket pegmatite. He was fine with that and I mentioned if I found another pocket on the pegmatite he could have a few crystals.  He asked if it was okay to dig a few feet to my right and I mentioned it was as good a place as any.  There was little frost in the ground and it was nearly 50F when we got to my spot and the sun was warming up the area quickly.  The snow from the prior week had melted as I dug into my old pocket and began to expand the dig up the hill.  Austin plunked down and broke through some ground and immediately scored a plate of smokys.  I told him that might be the best thing we find that day not realizing how wrong I would be.  Austin found a few more float crystals while I was finding quartz with faces but no gemmy crystals. I continued to use my pick and shovel as I was moving up the hill.  The rock and scree looked good with sizeable quartz shards interspersed in the material but still only a couple small smoky quartz fragments were observed.  There was a small bush in front of me and I decided that needed to go so I took a pretty good whack at the base of the plant and bingo, quartz pieces everywhere.  I put my pick axe right through the center of a small crystal plate… L  Oh well I was pretty sure there was more where that came from and hoisted out the small bush and found numerous small crystals with a quartz vein heading down into the rock.  My mentor Ray told me you’re not digging hard enough if you don’t break a crystal or two from time to time.  My digging partner and I agree it’s okay to break the first crystal especially when prospecting for a crystal pocket but after that care is needed to keep the crystals intact.  I followed the quartz until it led me to a sizeable root.  The root had many more crystals around it along with a few crystal plates.  Austin started getting interested in my finds and figured the pegmatite continued in a southeast direction right across the line he was digging.  While Austin dug up the hill, I pulled out crystal after crystal after crystal.  There was a bit of damage to many of the crystals as they were so near the surface and many of them appeared to have odd terminations suggesting a pocket rupture with some re-healing of crystal terminations.  The crystal pocket was anywhere from inches to about 2 feet below the ground and nearly a foot wide with a length of approximately 3 feet. The problem with near surface crystal pockets is that all the protecting pocket mud has eroded away long ago so that annual frost heaves can cause damage to the crystals. While I found this near-surface lenticular pocket near Thanksgiving Day it was no turkey.  I asked Austin to take a short video of how work was progressing which he did.  This video is not staged in any way. (Sorry for the watermark and ad but this blog can only host videos of 100MB so I had to edit the video and shorten it to show it)

I picked this one out at the end of the video

I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any secondary minerals on the plates like fluorite, microcline or goethite with the quartz but many of the quartz crystals are terminated at both ends so that is an attractive attribute. Some of the crystals also have some limonite with them but for the most part I don’t find that an enhancing feature. Some have suggested my digging technique is a bit rough in the video but if there were amazonite in that pocket I’d still be digging it ;-)  After digging up a number of crystals Austin thought he should be given a turn in the pocket so I acquiesced and let him have a go while I packed some material. Austin forgot to take any packing material but fortunately he mentioned this at my house so we had some extra newspaper to go around. I had no idea I would use nearly all of my newspaper wrapping crystals!  Austin picked up where I left off and pulled out a few plates and some singles.  I told him he could keep what he found unless it was extraordinary.  
Earlier in the video--this cluster displays rehealed terminations
Austin checking out some crystals
I had to make two trips back to the vehicle due to the weight of the specimens and decided I certainly had a successful day.  I pulled down the sides of the dig and was still seeing some good crystal fragments up the slope so I may return if the weather holds. Good weather, company, crystals--life is good!  Two videos below show some of the crystals. I’ve posted a couple videos and will accompany them will some stills of the cleaned crystals. The first video of about 150 crystals shows the crystals taken through step 2 of the cleaning process (see below) the rest of the crystals are being sorted and going through their initial cleaning as depicted in the second video. 

Box full of Thanksgiving Day Pocket Smokies Cleaned Up
Smoky Hors D'ouvres

The steps I take to clean crystals are as follows (procedures vary based on cleaning required):

1    Carefully unpack crystals and soak for at least 24 hours in warm water with calgon or liquid soap
2   Scrub crystals with a toothbrush to check for accessory minerals and possible fits
3    After any fitting is accomplished I soak in Iron Out for 48-72 hours and re-scrub.
4    After Iron Out treatment (depending on minerals) I heat in acid to remove additional/difficult iron staining.
5    Iron staining is usually removed after 48-72 hours in a warm 20% strength phosphoric acid bath
6    I usually then rinse and neutralize the specimens for 48 hours changing the base solution 3-4 times, usually once after 15 minutes, 2 hours then again after 12 hours at a minimum
7    Some white residue often accumulates on the specimens but this can often be cleaned by either using a needle gun(fabric cleaning gun) or pressure scrub with baking soda

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Quartz and Fluorite in the San Juan Mountains

I got invited to Ft Lewis College in Durango, CO to give a talk on the Pikes Peak Batholith and prospecting to their geology club.  I have given numerous talks to the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society including the Crystal Club at a variety of venues.  I usually give my talks in Senior Centers, VA Halls or church basements so it was a real treat to return to academia and give a talk in a classroom hooked up with real audiovisual support.  The professor managed to bribe the students with pizza and extra credit for the classes he taught so we had a standing room only crowd of about 60 students. The talk went well and when several geology students came up to me afterwards I felt like a rock star The College was kind enough to put me up for the night at a local hotel so I was able to get some rock hounding in the following day near Silverton CO. One of the Geology students (Austin), instrumental in getting me to Ft Lewis as a guest lecturer, wanted to go rock hounding in the San Juan Mountains the following day. "Part of the Southern Rockies, the San Juan Mountains were created as two enormous continental plates slammed into one another, folding and faulting the earth’s crust. Volcanic activity associated with the tectonic mountain-building process produced rich mineral veins—the silver and gold deposits that drew miners to the region in the 1860s and 1870s." []  
Austin had been to a few mining sites along CO 550 in the San Juan Mountains though first we went to a rock shop in Ouray and then we stopped at several mines to see what we could find in the tailings. The Million Dollar Highway (CO 550) is a very stimulating drive especially when snowing over the passes.  Our best success was near the Mayflower Mill just east of Silverton. “The Mayflower Mill was the single longest running mill in the history of the San Juan Mountains. In its 61 year milling career from 1930 to 1991, it was shut down only a total of 12 years, resulting in 49 years of actual milling. The total amount of rock milled is estimated at 9,700,500 tons. The Mill produced 1,940,100 ounces of gold; 30,000,000 ounces of silver; and 1,000,000 tons of combined base metals -- a remarkable record for hard rock mining” Austin had garnered some intel from a local rock shop on where he could find some collectible quartz and fluorite and had some success there in the past so we checked out that site.  The temperature was 40F and a few snow flurries suggested winter was almost upon us as we parked and checked out the site. We dug in an area that had country rock surrounding a seam of quartz and fluorite.  
The seam is right in front of Austin, slope of the hill is close to 45 degrees
I was surprised at the amount of clay between rock surfaces.  It almost seemed like a Lake George pegmatite with all the sticky mud. The difference here was the quartz was not growing out of the rock as in pegmatites, but lodged in an old hydrothermal seam. We dug for about an hour or so on that seam and both got several small plates of quartz with green fluorite.  Both the fluorite and quartz crystals were fairly small but make for interesting combinations for display.  We walked a little further down the road and looked through some of the tailing from a mine above us.  There were some very interesting druzy quartz plates along with pale green fluorite. There was also some other worm-liked druzy quartz specimens which I gathered up. I really didn’t think I would find much in the way of collectible crystals from the tailings lying on a 45 degree slope flung out of a mine shaft but the damage to the specimens we found was minimal. The snow had now changed from flurries to heavy snow showers and visibilities were obscured to a half mile or less at times as the wind picked up and the temperature fell to 32F. 
Snow and cold shuts us down
We were more than satisfied with our finds so we decided to call it a day and head back to Durango. Unfortunately the Silverton bakery was closed so we had no funnel cakes that day. During our prospecting trip we also visited an amethyst site (mostly massive) and found a little pyrite and sphalerite at a couple other spots
Clay Covered Plate Fresh From The Seam
Still A Little Cleaning Needed For This Quartz Plate But Close To Finished
Plate Of Druzy Quartz Over Octahedral Fluorite 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Rock Hounding the Denver Mineral Show 2017

I see rocks in my future
Rock hounding the Denver Show can be fairly daunting but if you have a plan, can stay on your feet for a few hours and are prepared you can have a great time.  I think the Denver Show grew by nearly 100% this year with venues all over the city.  Denver is the second biggest show in the USA, second only to the Tuscon AZ show.  There were 11 venues and probably about 1000 dealers.  I went to a fraction of the show and took in only 30 or so vendors.  After a few hours everything starts to look the same to me as my powers of observation begin to wane.  A young friend of mine Austin wanted to go so I figured his enthusiasm would keep me going.  Prior to heading out I made sure we had a plan on where to go as well as a backpacks with water and a couple snacks.  We hit the Denver Coliseum which boasted 600+ vendors and "5 miles of tables".  The Denver Coliseum hosted 4 different venues on both sides of Interstate 70.  We also visited the Colorado Mineral and Fossil Venue which had about 150+ dealers located about 10 miles east of the Coliseum. We started at the tent area behind the Coliseum and walked into a sales area filled with quartz crystals from Minas Gerais, Brazil.  While many of these crystals had some damage a careful search of the 40 odd tables did turn up some well terminated gemmy pieces.  Now I don’t normally buy quartz as I can find plenty here in Colorado, but the size and price on these were too good to pass up. They also had many clear crystals. Evidently this tent opens up to dealers about 3 days prior to the general public so while everything had been gone through by the dealers there was still plenty of product for the rest of us to look through. Also I understood prices were reduced after the dealers cherry picked the offerings. I can hardly imagine what gems some of the dealers walked off with. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to leave this tent.  After an hour or so I had a flat full of choice pieces and Austin had a monster smoky. 
Box of crystals from Minas Gerais, Brazil ready for reselling
My favorite purchased smoky Xls
We eventually migrated to another tent and I purchased a small grouping of amethyst crystals while Austin tried to get a bargain on some tourmaline.  The dealer kept changing his price on the tourmaline but Austin stuck with it and eventually bought one. Next we moved inside the Coliseum and Austin found one of his favorite gem dealers.  All gems were marked and discounted down to $5 a gem.  Austin purchases these, sets them in silver and flips them on line.  I wandered around til I found a lady selling 3” double terminated citrine crystals for about $5 a pop.  I watched as one customer purchased a couple hundred of these.  The area was somewhat dark and though the crystals looked okay they appeared oiled to me.  I bought a few to take home and check them out.  Yup they were oiled and were probably heated amethyst. The oil hides the white abrasions and scratches on the crystal surface and makes the specimens look a lot better than what they really are. I read on line that many pale amethyst are heated until they become yellow citrines.  While I can’t be sure of heat treatments it wouldn’t surprise me one bit… the oiling was obvious in the sunlight.  Oh well I dropped only $30 and as the saying goes “caveat emptor” especially in poorly lighted selling areas ;-)  We had now reached the 3 hour point and I decided it was time to do some tailgating at the rock show.  It seemed like we barely sat down for a break and we were off again under the interstate to see what was on the other side of the road. 
Austin picking through the $5 gems
I kept looking for the Miners Co-op area, but on the way we visited the fine mineral gem area.  Most of these crystals were out of our league but it’s always nice to dream.  A couple of vendors made a little chit chat with us but as soon as they sensed a real customer was nearby they left us.  World class crystals were the norm here and I enjoyed dreaming of what could be if I would ever win the Power ball lottery.  I guess I insulted one dealer by offering too low a price for a nice specimen of vanadanite and so I decided again it was time for us to look for the Prospector’s Co-op area.  Saw a few folks at the Co-op I knew, said hello and moved on to look for one of Austin’s favorite dealers.  Austin is usually able to trade some minerals with this dealer for specimens so I had brought along a flat of amazonite and smoky quartz crystals to see if I could make a trade.  Austin’s dealer friend had just traded for a large quantity of nice looking tourmaline with another dealer and when the dealer saw my amazonite smoky combos I saw his eyes light up and knew I would be taking home some tourmalines.
I traded for some tourmalines from the Cruzeiro Mine, Brazil
I got $740 in trade for my box of crystals. After making a couple more trades with the dealer we decided to move on down the road to the Colorado Mineral and Fossil Show.  I was looking for some supplies and was happy to find all sorts of stands in various forms and sizes at one store that will help me display my minerals to their best advantage. After a few supply purchases we moved on to visit Joe Dorris’ booth.  It was getting near to the end of the day and Joe spent some time looking at our purchases and surprised me by offering me some topaz from his claim.  I had found some topaz on his claim and gave them to him as agreed upon and he cleaned them up and returned two of them to me. It was nearly 5PM and we decided it was time to call it a day.  I was very pleased with both my quartz crystals, tourmaline and a surprise topaz,  I learned a fairly inexpensive lesson about citrine but easily made up for that with my other purchases and trades.  This wasn’t my first big show and lessons learned regarding planning ahead, bringing along a backpack, as well as trade items made this a very enjoyable outing. Having a friend along is a fine idea too.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Pseudomorph Sunday Or A Return To Iron Hill

We found a lot of goethite ((FeO(OH)), pseudomorphs of goethite after siderite and even iron globs on smoky quartz crystals on a hill near Lake George so we've nicknamed the hill Iron Hill. I prospected around today for a while on Iron Hill and kept finding float crystals. There was nearly no slope near the top of the hill where I was prospecting and no discernible pegmatite yet every once and a while a 5 inch smoky or well formed amazonite would pop out of the dirt. I would dig down around the spot where I found the keeper but there would be no pegmatite even a foot below these occasional floater crystals. I kept prospecting for an hour or so but was not able to find the source of the float amazonite and smokies so I decided to show Bob, my digging partner, a couple of my float crystals and see if he was having any luck.  Bob was also finding some float amazonite along with a bit of goethite.  I told him I was going to quit digging in my area and try something else.  As I walked back to my old site to load up my tools I noted a 2 inch smoky basking in the sunshine. I marked that spot as my next prospecting site and returned there with my equipment. At least this spot had plenty of rock which suggested pegmatites somewhere near the surface rather than just all dirt. Three feet up the hill from where I found the float crystal there was a small pile of rocks that I supposed someone assembled. I noticed only a shallow depression from where these may have been dug but didn't believe whoever dug this dug very deep. As I began my dig I hit a number of smoky quartz shards about 10 inches down and thought just maybe I might be on to something. As I moved up the hill towards the pile of rocks I kept getting quartz shards and an occasional pseudomorph of goethite after siderite see:  We’ve found plenty of pseudomorphs on Iron Hill before so these pseudomorphs came as no surprise, I picked a couple up and showed them to Bob who immediately recognized them for what they were. These pseudomorphs of goethite after siderite were bigger than what we had been finding so Bob decided to join in the fun and watch me dig. We were both concerned about the pile of rocks in front of me, but it looked to me like they were associated with a fairly shallow dig to my right and since I was finding quartz shards and pegmatite about a foot below the ground I continued my dig.  Soon the dirt began to turn orange-ish yellow and began to clump up.  Well it was obvious to me this clay signified the edge of a pocket so I put away my rock hammer and pulled out one of the wooden chop sticks John Wager had given us and began probing through the clay looking for crystals. Wager sticks work really well in clayish materials--everyone should have one. Or you can get some knock-offs from your local Chinese restaraunt. Wood is very soft and normally won't scratch crystals. While smoky quartz shards and a few crystals were fairly plentiful the highlight of this pocket was pseudomorphs of goethite after siderite.  Bob and I each got a nice fist sized plate of these pseudomorphs on matrix (pegmatite). Although these specimens are not highly prized by many I find them to be exceptional examples of pseudomorphs from the Pike Peak Batholith and very collectible. Yes, I would rather have some amazonite smoky combos but you take what you can get and this was better than getting shut out. By the way the previous digger who piled up a small rock cairn, put it right on top of the pocket I discovered.  Maybe I should just look for these rock cairns and pull out the crystals underneath ;-)  The sky was rumbling with thunder once again, my annoying headache had returned and I just unearthed a nest of large black ants that began crawling all over everything. I decided it was time to call it a day and return next week to finish up this pegmatite and check out a few rock piles on Iron Hill.  Hopefully the ubiquitous ants will have found a new home as well, until then happy rock hounding--Falls Coming!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mother Nature Gives It Up in a Big Way at Lake George, CO!

Half Of The Second Day Crystal Find!!!
Finally, a pocket to be reckoned with and a decade worth of effort really pays off!  While I found a nice looking pegmatite and a minor pocket, my digging partner Bob found the mother-load pocket of smokies!  Rather than write several posts on the same pegmatite I combined 5 trips to Lake George into 1 post. We’ve tracked a pegmatite from beginning to end and believe the same pegmatite has produced 6 pockets of crystals. It’s going to be hard digging out softball-size pockets after we dug up some of these monster smokies out of a 5 foot pocket--mostly from one large lenticular vug.  I was digging some distance from Bob after finding a few small smokies and fluorites so I called Bob over for the fun.  Bob watched for a while and he tried a spot along the pegmatite and found many pieces of smoky quartz but nothing to brag on.  Next day he tried again a little further down the hill and he hit the jackpot turning up a lot of bragging material. Smokies, fluorites and some pseudomorphs of goethite after carbonates were the highlights.  On day 1 of the “Needle Quartz” pocket Bob found a large light purple 4” penetrating twinned fluorite.  On day 2 I spelled Bob a bit in his pocket and pulled out some monster needle-like smokies! Day 3 was primarily a fluorite day and digging out a rather large sidecar pocket.  Day 4 Bob removed some sidewall, scrapped out the bottom and thoroughly inspected every nook and cranny of the pegmatite along with extensive remediation.  Upon completion of the remediation Bob found yet another pocket on the same pegmatite just up the hill, though smaller and somewhat less exhilarating.
1st Crystal Plate Of The Pocket (Some reassembly required)
Day 1--The Discovery: Bob found the pocket about the middle of the day. I was working a pegmatite further down the hill and was finding a few smokies and amazonites along a seam, but nothing like what Bob was finding.  I packed up my equipment after he came over and showed me a 5” smoky he had found and I watched as Bob pulled out smoky after smoky.  Bob found a few 6+ inch smokies, but the find of the day was a large penetrating twin fluorite. 
At first I thought it was a smoky shard but then Bob carefully unearthed a corner of the specimen and we were sure it was a fluorite.  Fortunately Bob had found a couple small fluorites before this one so he was being very careful.  Fluorite is a rather soft mineral and seemingly breaks if you look at it sideways.
Fluorite Coming To Light
After scratching around the perimeter of the fluorite he pulled out the crystal and after a little field cleaning we determined it has a slight purple hue. Bob continued the dig and pulled out several more fluorites along with a few smokies.  The weather started to deteriorate fairly rapidly and Bob started packing up crystals frantically as lightning began to flicker across the sky and hail began to fall.  I helped Bob pack up as the hail got to about nickel-size. When we got back to the truck I asked Bob how much of the pocket was left and he thought he probably had at least 50% more to go {more like 80% :-) }.
Fresh Out Of The Pocket and Field Cleaned

Day 2—A Smoky Quartz Dream: While I don’t like to dig on Saturdays I decided we better go back to the dig the following day as we had seen some folks encroaching on other people’s claims in the area but they left rather quickly when we warned them off. We got back to Bob’s dig and I helped Bob muck out the hole as the rain the previous day had taken down some of the sidewall around the dig. After mucking out the hole Bob picked up where he left off the day before.  Soon quartz crystal groups were rolling down from near the pocket ceiling—one after the next!  Many of the plates had some minor damage associated with the long ago pocket implosion but they were still very impressive.  Bob worked the site for about 2 hours til he started getting some muscle cramps and asked me to pinch hit for a while.  I had been watching Bob dig and went right for what I perceived to be the hot spot.  Sure enough crystal plates, single smokies and occasional fluorites were spilling into my hands.
Sure Was Fun!!!
I worked for about an hour and told Bob he would have to tag me out as I was having way too much fun. The smoky quartz crystals were fairly unique having a height to width ratio of about 10:1, usually the crystals have more girth than that closer to 4:1 ratio height to width--hence the Needle Pocket. As I kept pulling out long needle-like smokies Bob started setting aside a number of crystals for me to take home. There were quartz crystals in the walls, ceiling and bottom of the pocket. It seemed that every time I worked to get out a crystal two or three more were wedged around the object of interest. While some of the crystals were laying down, most of them were ceiling crystals that went straight down into the pocket material and were fairly easy to extract. Bob decided he was ready to go back in after he got rehydrated and tagged me out and pulled out more crystals for about another hour.  Bob asked me to help finish the pocket and get out what we thought was a large crystal.  Well the crystal we thought was a monster was just a large shard, but in the process of removing the shard I pulled out a beast of a smoky!  After pulling that one out and after a few more 6 inchers Bob got back in the hole again one more time and dug as long as he could. We thought the pocket was nearly done but as we’ve been taught before, when you think you’re done, redig out the bottom and sides to make sure nothing is still hiding. I dug out the bottom of the pocket while Bob loaded crystals and took three trips back to my truck with his backpack jammed full. Bob probably took close to 60lbs of crystals back to the truck on each one of his trips.  As I checked the bottom of the pocket I found a void and sure enough it too was loaded with crystals.  I pulled out even more 5-6 inch crystals and even a few more fluorites. It seemed I was pulling crystals out of that side pocket almost as fast as Bob was carrying them to the truck! Finally we decided to call it a day as the main part of the pocket appeared played out.  There was still a lot of quartz in one of the side walls and I believed a few more crystals were still lurking at the bottom of the pocket, but a lot of digging needed to be done to make the dig safe as we were down about 6 feet and the sidewalls were somewhat unstable.  Big thanks to Bob for letting me help dig out some world-class crystals this day and for letting me keep a few as well!

Day 3—Fluorite Again: Today was fluorite day. Bob mucked out the large pocket and redug the area he had started. When he got to the bottom of the dig he started removing what he had initially thought was the bottom of the pocket, but while flipping over a couple rocks numerous fluorites appeared. 
Here Is A 6" Plate With Several Fluorites On It
Most of the fluorites were attached to the bottom sides of the rocks and did not have the crisp edges we hope for but were still very collectible specimens.
Pseudomorphs on Smoky
Bob carefully cleaned out the fluorites and then sent me back into the hole to continue working the bottom of the pocket up the hill.  He started to pack crystals and made another 3 trips back to his vehicle overloaded with gems. As I dug we were soon awash in pseudomorphs of goethite after carbonates.  Not sure what the carbonate is, but siderite and calcite have been mentioned as the most likely replaced minerals. Goethite doesn’t have a rhombic habit and since the rhombs are composed of goethite they have to be pseudomorphs.  While calcite has been found in the Lake George area siderite has not been found to my knowledge, still I will refer to these pseudomorphs as goethite after siderite since this is the local/common convention. Some of the pseudomorphs were attached to fluorite, some to smokies and others just formed large plates attached to the pegmatite. Day 3 ended a little later than we normally like to dig but the weather was fair and the crystals were numerous. We decided to take a couple days off which I took advantage of by cleaning a few specimens.
Part Of The Cleaning Process I Go Through To Include Everything From Soap And Water To A Little Mechanical Cleaning

Day 4—Finishing Up The Big Dig.  The plan today was to primarily go through the tailings to make sure we didn’t miss anything, recheck the bottom of the pocket and then move forward along the quartz streamer leading up the hill out of the pocket. After digging through the tailings we found some nice quartz shards and a few small crystals which had eluded us the first time.  Small pieces of crystals and shards can be key when fitting plates or repairing crystals for display.  After a couple of hours of digging through the shards Bob returned to digging out the bottom. While a few crystals were found this time nothing of note popped up. I decided to go further down the hill and test my luck on a different pegmatite I had found the previous week.  Bob remediated the site and then began digging up hill.  Wouldn’t you know it another pocket showed itself.  This was a minor pocket compared to what he had previously found but still had plenty of action with smoky quartz crystals up to 3 inches, along with a few plates of smoky quartz crystals.  By days end Bob had remediated the dig area and came over to watch me dig out some feeble looking amazonite and smokies from a small/normal pocket I found.  So yeah, I found some stuff too. Towards the end of day 4 we ventured forth to another area... who knows what might be lurking under the next set of boulders? In a couple of weeks we should have a number of these beauties cleaned and I'll post a few. What were the happy crystal totals?  A conservative estimate would be 1500 smoky quartz crystals, 200 fluorites and numerous pseudomorphs along with plates of all of the above--and two tired but happy prospectors!

Some cleaned crystals:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Iron Hill at Lake George CO

Iron iron everywhere, pseudomorphs, goethite, onegite and amorphous blobs of iron on crystals.  We’ve prospected a hill from time to time with little in the way of quality crystals.  I have a fondness for the odd stuff so I went back to the iron hill and Bob worked a separate spine on the same hill.  I would say Bob had a better find than mine, but I certainly had some fun as well!  I set down to dig and Bob did likewise within 100 yards of each other.  I looked at some of our previous digs on the hill which seemed to follow a pegmatite. We had given up a little on this area because the only thing we’ve found has been primarily goethite, microcline and poorly formed smoky quartz crystals.  I decided to dig up the hill between two of our previous digs, along what I perceived to be a pegmatite running under the ground and try my luck.  I looked for crystals shards or smoky quartz pieces on the surface and was rewarded with a float onegite (quartz infused with goethite).  Finding onegite was not surprising considering the amount of iron and quartz on the hill, but to find a large example with good terminations floating on the surface was an unexpected bonus.  
Smoky with onegite sidecars
I decided that was as good a spot as any to dig and soon hit gray quartz bubbling out of the pegmatite. I dug out the quartz and only found a couple small smokies, but as I went below the quartz I ran into some pseudomorphs.  We’ll call these pseudomorphs goethite after carbonates (possibly calcite or siderite or something else entirely). I usually pitch these down the hill, but I saved them this time as they were fairly well-formed and some geologist somewhere might want themJ.
 4" pseudomorph... lot of brown here
I also found teensy little amazonite crystals with good color, but hardly collectible. This small pocket ended abruptly but I decided to continue on up the hill hoping for something better.  I heard something up the hill and wondered now what?  Bob usually calls me on the radio when he finds something but I guess this time he wanted to surprise me.  Bob had found a fairly large amazonite pocket with a few nice amazonite groupings.  The intact groupings were very nice and the color seemed good.  Bob invited me over to take a look at his dig and help a bit.  I was bored with my small, meager pocket and followed him over to his dig.  I spent perhaps half an hour with Bob pulling out amazonite crystals. Some of the crystals were better than others both form and color-wise.  The intact amazonite in the plates seemed the best.  As Bob was digging he also pulled out some fairly delicate goethite sprays.  We both have a lot of these sprays but not many that are as fragile as what he was finding.  Bob generously gave me a nice one.  After helping Bob clean out the pocket, I decided I better get back to work as I had a tree to move if I were going to continue my diggings up the hill.  I decided to first scrape out the scree under the fallen tree as I was finding a few smoky shards, before moving the tree.  Out popped a rather tremendous smoky quartz plate floater.  The plate has 4 different crystals with the largest being about 5 inches. 
 I also noted some amorphous iron blobs coating areas on the plate. One entire crystal is entirely coated by iron.  I guess that’s one way to protect float crystals as they journey down the hill. After digging under the tree I moved it and found more float crystals along some rock to my right.  I believe the tree and rocks acted as a catch basin for these crystals.  If the pocket still exists up the hill it could be quite interesting. I went back to where Bob was digging and showed off my smoky plate and he decided he would check out my site.  We dug together for about an hour and found a few more float crystals but nothing as nice as the plate under the fallen tree, there was another iron coated smoky, some double terminated crystals as well as a few multi-terminated small crystals.  I’m sure there are more goodies on that hill and hopefully a pocket still in front of me.  It was nearing 3PM and we had a bit of a walk back to the truck so Bob went back to his amazonite dig and loaded up, while I packed my crystals and leveled off my dig. I shall return!

Day 2: I did return and found some nice specimens, but not anything like the large iron globbed on quartz crystals of the day before.  I had found my specimens on day 1 near the end of the day and had dug rather rapidly across the pegmatite, getting what I could before the end of the day. Day 2 I retraced my digging a bit and dug down into the peg.  There were a few soft spots in the quartzy peg and I was rewarded with crystals of smokys and some amazonite. The smokys were on the small side most being less than 2" and the amazonite were also small and of only average color.  Still when found together the amazonite/smoky combos can make for a nice display. I've picture a few of these day 2 finds below, hand washed for your viewing pleasure.
Some of Day 2 finds... hand washed a bit and ready for more aggressive cleaning
Cleaned up a bit, this pocket has numerous smoky phantoms with some amazonite combos!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Prospecting the Pikes Peak Batholith

My digging partner Bob and I returned to an area we had not dug in 4 or 5 years.  I was a bit surprised at how quickly nature had reclaimed our old digs.  We normally don’t dig more than 2-3 feet down and then collapse the walls around the dig when finished, it was much more difficult to find the old spots than I would have guessed. Many old burned out trees had also fallen down since we had last been there also better disguising the terrain. I searched for an old favorite area for a while but finally gave up and decided I better just go ahead and do some prospecting.  I figured I was close to the area and put my nose to the ground looking for quartz.  I found a few pieces of white quartz on the surface of the ground which heightened my prospecting senses and I started looking real closely at the ground.  Within a few minutes I was rewarded with a very gemmy double terminated 3” smoky quartz crystal. I began digging up the hill with my pick axe hoping for more and I was rewarded with chunks of pegmatite that suggested something better up the hill.
3" Exceptionally gemmy crystal
I reached the source of the pegmatite and began digging down through the soil along the peg.  I was about 1 foot down in soil along the pegmatite when I began hitting scree mixed with quartz shards. An area of greyish white clay got my attention as the quartz shards appeared to be concentrated in this area.  Soon the quartz shards got bigger and I pulled out a few small quartz crystals.  The quartz crystals were all small and had broken off their host matrix. I found one fairly etched microcline and assumed their must also be fluorite in the area as well.  Volatile liquids in a miarolitic cavity will often etch microcline if they contain fluorine prior to the liquids cooling and fluorites forming. Sure enough a few minutes later I found a larger chunky fluorite.  I probably would have tossed it as junk if I hadn’t noticed the etched microcline and kept my eye out for possible fluorites. The fluorites I found were not well formed, etched and near the top of the pegmatite (junk). Pocket #1.  The pegmatite was running across the hill in an east to west orientation. I worked the pegmatite to the east as there was more quartz associated with the peg in that direction. About 2 feet down along the pegmatite the scree began to turn a more yellowish color and once again I hit a small pocket of crystals.  After working about half an hour and not finding much I decided to use my pick axe to take out some of the pegmatite. I pulled down just one chunk of pegmatite and smoky quartz crystals tumbled out from above the 2nd pocket of the day.
Pockets #1 and #2 with #1 rinsed off a bit
Another fluorite came out near the surface and the pegmatite continued to run. I reasoned there was obviously another pocket in the pegmatite so I carefully picked the peg apart with a bent screwdriver. Soon crystals were tumbling out of the topsoil and above the peg as the clay within the peg took on a dark reddish color. Pocket #3!  This pegmatite seemed to be winding down and I could hear Bob’s pick axe clinking in the distance but I couldn’t see him. We usually rockhound til 3PM or so, but this day the thunderstorms had popped up early and the sky was beginning to darken with a lot of lightning crackling to our southwest.  I called my digging partner on our radios and mentioned I would be packing up and heading back to the truck due to the threatening weather. I had also used up a lot of my drinking water cleaning up the fluorites I had
Pocket #3 (Biggest crystal at top is broken of course)

found only to learn they were pretty crappy. We met back at the truck about 20 minutes later just as the skies began to open up. Bob showed me a 12” smoky he had found which put my meager finds to shame but we both had a good time digging crystals before Mother Nature shut us down.

Day 2 we went back to the aforementioned area and worked Bob’s pocket. The pocket was very elongated and was about 3 feet down.  The overlaying pegmatite was quite strong but once through the quartz layer we hit shards of quartz crystals with an occasional euhedral keeper and very intermittent amazonite.  The quartz crystals had size but may not be very gemmy. 

Note amazonite cleaned a bit in lower right
The amazonite crystals were of good color and it sure would have been nice to dig out a few more of those or some combos but Bob and I always have a good time when we dig a pocket together. We kept carefully digging out what appeared to be large smokies in the pocket only to be fooled by 3 or 4 sided shards or blunted terminations. Bob did get a couple 5” crystals so that alone made the dig worth it. The amazonite seemed odd in that it was not in a pocket, but just seemed to have been occasionally formed from the ceiling of the pocket.  There were a few well-formed amazonites, but no groupings.  We finished up this pocket and suspect there may be more pockets in the area but only time and some prospecting will tell  
Looks done to me..... NEXT!
A couple more pics of the crystals.
Looks like the butt of a big one!
Well formed 5" Smoky Quartz

This is an ugly fellow, I'd say close to a 13" smoky. I think much of the secondary quartz will flake off with some abrasive cleaning. Not a museum piece though :-(

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Falling under the Smoky Hawk Spell?

Smoky Hawk and adjoining claims

I have a long relationship with Joe Dorris the owner of the Smoky Hawk claim near Lake George, CO of Prospectors show fame.  Occasionally I will do some small favors for him in order for us to prospect his claims a bit. Joe has a rule to be aware of when digging on his claims that any pocket with combinations of amazonite and smokies you find you must let him see the material. Sometimes he takes the pieces and sometimes he doesn’t depending on the quality of the specimens. From Joe’s business website Pinnacle5: “if you find a combination amazonite and smoky quartz pocket, Joe will retain the pocket (Otherwise, most other pockets you will be allowed to collect and keep.) Joe will attempt to clean the pocket as quickly as possible and give the finder(s) a piece or pieces. Generally, he will return the lesser pieces to the finder(s) as well. If exceptional, and the finder wants, he or she will have first right of refusal on pieces when they become offered for sale” So why do we do it??? For the thrill of the discovery and Joe is very generous with the way he distributes our finds. So I think you know how this story will unfold. hahaha  

I had talked to Joe recently and he was concerned about some high-graders (claim jumpers) hitting his Smoky Hawk and adjacent High Point claims and digging large pits without permission. Another friend of Joe had spotted this problem and reported it. Joe wanted these pits examined and harvested of any remaining crystals before the claim jumpers returned. This is where David and I came into the picture. David was the one who had noticed the large scale diggings and found some topaz (1st ever on the Smoky Hawk) with good amazonite crystals flung out of a large pit. I arrived at the Smoky Hawk to discuss a couple of issues with Joe but when he asked me if I could help dig out the claim jumped pits with David it sounded like fun to me so I followed David to the pit which he had already mucked out and was starting to look for crystals. I started looking in the claim jumpers tailings and found some keeper specimens while David hunted in the pit for topaz. David found more topaz associated with lots of mica (zinnwaldite) and suggested I join in the fun. Soon I had pulled out a few small topaz and began checking out the rest of the dig.  
A large boulder loomed over the left side of the dig but the right side looked fairly safe to work and had some interesting pegmatite structure.
Large boulder overhead is pretty solid
I pulled away at some of the rock and found the claim jumpers missed quite a bit. Amazonites and smoky quartz were lining the inside of a pocket and a ceiling plate was exposed while the pocket floor was littered with crystal shards. While David gave me credit for finding this new pocket I’m sure given a little more time he would have broken into it as well. With the pocket opening up to the right we quit looking for the small topaz and concentrated on the trophy crystals in front of us. Soon we were pulling out 3 inch amazonites and well terminated smokies--the fun was just beginning. Due to the size of the opening we tag teamed and worked a half hour on and then took a break to wrap or muck out some of the tailing or just take a water break. By noon it became obvious to me that Joe would want to see this stuff so David grabbed a few of the largest amazonite crystals and off we went in search of Joe who was hosting a field trip. Tim, Joe’s son, decided the pieces were good enough to spend some time fitting together. Tim is well known for his ability to fit gem pieces together and find sheared off pieces which can complete a world-class specimen. Yup Joe wanted everything—figured he would after seeing the size and color of the gems. Knowing we wouldn’t take much home from this pocket we still pressed on excited by the hunt. After taking out a few 250lb boulders looming over our heads we resumed digging. Since Tim was going to try and fit things together we spent a little more time wrapping specimens found near each other. Soon after I found a couple whopper amazonites with cleavelandite at their bases I tagged in David who went to work carving out a ceiling plate from the hole. 
David took his time and with care and perseverance pulled out a world-class combination ceiling plate with a central smoky (3 inches) and a base surrounded by cleavelandite and amazonite. We also scooped up many of the shards and small crystals lying beneath the plate so that Tim could do his fitting as necessary. At the end of the day we showed and gave Joe this plate and I suggested it was probably worth upwards of $15K and he didn’t say no. Thunder was rumbling nearby and it was nearly 4PM so we called it a day and both of us decided to return the next day to finish up the dig. I would say we took out well over 200 crystals the first day with many more in sight. I suggested to Tim there could be just as much still in the pocket as what we had already recovered. Impressive!  

Day 2: I arrived the second day just beating a 20 car caravan of field trippers headed in to visit the Smoky Hawk claim. Evidently the Littleton Rock Club had made arrangements to visit the Smoky Hawk. Joe is very generous with groups and gives everyone an explanation of the claim, its geology, a safety talk and opportunities to hunt for crystals.  David and I beat the hoard of crystal hunters in and I believe Joe asked his visitors to stay away from our area as we saw nobody until we were done for the day. Day 2 was very similar to the first day, we expanded the dig and ran into very similar material to what we found the first day. I think some of the single amazonite crystals were even bigger the second day than the first. We didn’t find any killer plates this day, but the quality and size of the crystals were comparable to day 1.  On day 2 we found larger smokies and amazonites than day 1 as we slowly advanced the dig westward down into the hill.  I was somewhat exhausted from the day before and finally called it quits around 2PM. David was still finding a few collectible crystals but the overburden needed to be removed in order to carefully collect anything remaining. Another chamber may still be there but at least two cubic yards of overburden will have to be removed first. We brought another 200 crystals down the hill and met some Littleton field trip participants. Some of the folks were interested to see what we were finding but nobody seemed interesting enough in helping lug the crystals to Joe's truck J.  One gentlemen from the field trip showed me a very fine penetrating twin purple fluorite he dug up, he recognized me from this blog and complimented me on my posts. Thanks for your interest sir!  I gave Joe a couple more topaz I had found in the pocket along with another 200 
crystals or so from our days work. Quite a find. Joe invited David and I to watch while Tim ran his track hoe on the claim where he had a few field trippers looking for gems. After wrapping a few crystals for Joe I decided I had enough and left for home. Two days at near 9000ft digging out scree and moving 250+lb boulders is more work than I’m used to. This was probably one of the best digs I’ve ever participated in. Thanks to Joe and a big thanks to David for his initial discovery and graciously partnering with me in working this world-class pocket! 

Here are some field cleaned crystals ready for Joe and Tim to do their thing, not sure when or if I'll ever see them again, but I got to pull them out of the ground and made first discovery!

It appears many of the amazonites are etched due to the volatile fluids in the pocket that created the topaz                    
Here's the way Joe and Tim do it... beats the heck out of a pick axe and shovel .