Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

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 .

Monday, July 17, 2017

Phytosaur's Tooth in WY

Phytosaur (ancient crocodile)
While in Wyoming (see previous post) we took up our host’s (Al) generous offer to hunt over his 160 acers for dinosaur bones. There was a recent university find on his neighbor’s property of a phytosaur skull along with some teeth.  Also some other bones were found on our host’s property. Al, knowing we wanted to find something interesting, contacted his neighbor and got us permission to look in the area where the phytosaur skull was found.  We no sooner got to the area when Al found a piece of a tooth and I found an entire phytosaur tooth that had weathered out of the cliff-side. I was sure I had a dinosaur tooth. Well no sooner did I mention this to a geologist friend of mine than he informed me what I had was an ancient crocodile tooth and not a dinosaur fossilized tooth.  Hmmm time to do some research.

 "Nowhere was the line dividing "dinosaurs" and "non-dinosaurs" more tenuous than during the middle to late Triassic period, when various populations of archosaurs had just started to branch off into dinosaurs, pterosaurs and crocodiles.” See:   So of course Mike the geologist was right but I can cover everything by saying broadly that it is an archosaur tooth…. Sounds much better than ancient crocodile don’t you think or maybe just leave it as a phytosaur tooth? Okay then, the old croc tooth was found in almost the exact spot where the university dug out the skull. Al told us to continue looking in the purple dirt/clay which we did until Austin found a couple tooth pieces. A hamburger and brat cookout was promised and Al was sending up smoke signals so I headed back.  After dinner Austin and I climbed another cliff where small dinosaur tracks (yes dino tracks) were found by the university folks and some bones. Austin found some small bones which when licked stuck to his tongue. If my memory serves me right the bones of dinosaurs are/were very porous and tend to stick like Velcro to wet surfaces. We were looking near a greenish brown layer of clayish dirt in a different cliff which may have been an extinction boundary theorized to have been the geological signature of a large extinction event, so I’m thinking we were in the right spot especially since Austin found some possible dino fossilized bones. Austin also found a number of small dog tooth calcite specimens near the top of the cliff. An overhanging crumbling rock cliff worried me some and since the sun was going down and I had turned down Al’s offer to take his handgun along to shoot rattlers I decided it was time for us to leave while we could still sidestep any rattlesnakes, scorpions or phytosaurs lurking about.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rock Hounding at a Rock Show

Getting prepped for the sale with Colorado gems and minerals
I went to Wyoming with a bunch of amazonite and smoky quartz crystals, hoping to sell some minerals at the state rock and mineral show in Riverton, WY. The planning process for any show is a long one. I had to reserve a table for this show nearly 6 months in advance. I paid the table fee in beer to our host when I got there. The trip there was long but fairly uneventful. I had tried to get my long-time digging partner, Bob, interested in the event, but selling rocks is not his thing so I went with an energetic rock hound--Austin who is more interested in making money on rocks and padding his college fund.    
Austin's 1st sale at his 1st show
We went to Wyoming knowing that amazonite and smoky quartz crystals would be rarer there than here in Colorado and figured we could make a few sales. Our host, Al, made everything easy for us and I hope we didn’t impact his sales too much, but I think we entertained him some. We stayed at his cabin in Lander and he even allowed us use of a credit card reader which probably helped us capture a few sales. Since this was our first attempt at selling at a show I figured we would learn a few things and be better prepared next time.

After setting up for the show I perused the other dealers’ wares and an exhibit area. There were about 25 dealers and only a couple of them had amazonite and quartz crystals as side item--which for the most part were broken. Next I went over to look at the exhibits.
Exhibit case with quartz also a nice arrow head display
I was impressed with some of the agate and petrified wood displays--the variety surprised me. The supporting Club had everything well organized and the other vendors made us feel welcome. The host Club also had a kitchen supporting the public and vendors with food and refreshments.
The first day was fairly slow and we wondered if anyone wanted our gems. This was the first time I was on the other side of the counter as a salesperson and it gave me a bit of a different perspective on selling at shows. It was frustrating to spend 10-15 minutes working a potential sale by explaining our crystals, showing varieties, and digging through undisplayed material for special specimens only to be thanked and left without a sale. Most of the looky lous and lucys were fairly cordial; though I thought a few remarks were rude, knowing that this represented a small minority of folks I ignored them. Day 2 started out even slower than day 1 and I thought maybe I should have stayed home. The public was interested in talking and seeing the amazonite and smokys but had a tight grip on their wallets (I felt more like a museum curator). During midday I offered a few discounts but even that made no difference. I had free crystals that I gave to young kids with parents in tow which may have generated a little goodwill but produced no sales. I donated one of the gems bags that I was selling for $20 to the Club’s silent auction. The Club’s silent auction sold the $20 gem bag for $31. I had nearly 100 of these gem bags and sold none. Austin, my show partner, also tried to generate a little buzz by donating some tourmaline to the silent auction, which also went for a higher price than what he was trying to sell them for. We were puzzled. The last hour of the show was the busiest for us. Many of the dealers decided that they liked our gems and purchased several as the show closed making the show a success for us. One dealer had some beautiful thunder eggs which I would have liked to purchase but he packed up a little early and by the time I talked to him the merchandise was gone. 
Do thunder eggs come from thunder birds?

If I had the show to do over again I would have brought a lot less product and more variety, and perhaps spent a little more time with some of the other dealers. I think a few earlier donations to the silent auction might have helped as well--the host Club enthusiastically announced the donors over the loudspeakers. A banner as suggested by Al’s wife and some better lighting mentioned by Austin would probably have helped sales as well. I did talk to a few local vendors and it seemed nobody really had a fantastic show. The lack of sales was blamed on a poor economy in the local area. The entry fee of only $1 may have encouraged many looky lous who might have stayed home with their questions if the fee were closer to $5. We should have had some business cards as well to at least pass out to the other vendors. A little more planning and lessons learned from my first experience should help me out next time if I ever decide to spend the time and the monetary investment to try this again. Thanks again, Al!

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!