All too short on knowledge about any of the above named collecting meccas and with minimal available time, I simply located and quickly crawled over the dumps of all three during a motor trip to New Orleans the last week of April. The pleasure of being there meant as much as the few minerals that made it home.
The Allah Cooper (Valzinco) Mine dumps came first, about five miles northeast of the town of Mineral in Louisa County, Virginia. Awareness of this locality in mineralogical circles has increased recently after significant pyromorphite finds and the more recent identifcation of five species never before reported thereabouts as covered by Lance E. Kearns and Michael D. Dunn in the August, 2008 Mineral News. These minerals include hemimorphite, wavellite, vanadinite, vauquelinite, and mottramite, the latter three being microscopically present along with pyromorphite in the specimen pictured at left. Considerable mining went on in this part of Virginia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. First gold and silver were mined, later lead and zinc, thereafter copper and iron. For sure, numerous spots in the general area could entice collectors. To locate and access more than one was well beyond the scope of my time frame.
After asking around, it didn't take me long to learn of a rockpile---very likely the biggest and easiest to access--- along Contrary Creek a hundred yards or so west of the bridge where Route 522 crosses it about five miles north of Mineral, Virgina. Just south of the bridge is a spur that's convenient for pulling off and parking. Less than an hour of crawling about, rock hammer in hand, proved sufficient for uncovering plenty of pyrite, chalcopyrite, and malachite. I departed with a couple small rocks and limited confidence that additional time would have enabled me to find any of the secondary lead minerals that have received so much attention. Even so, I'll be eager to return in the future with whose knowledge of the area is more substantial.
En route the following day to Asheville, North Carolina, with Richard James Jacquot's Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina, I detoured to the dumps of Ray Mica Mine in Yancey County near Burnsville. The Ray Mine has a well-earned reputation for yielding green beryl crystals that occur in an ubiquitous white feldspar dominated pegmatite matrix. I found no beryl, but after busting up a number of rocks, managed to bag a slightly interesting cluster of small curving schorl crystals. When returning to my car, I encountered a collector who said he'd been here for three days and found "a little." He noted that some parts of these dumps yielded more beryl than others and very kindly offered to show me where they were. If not for a temporarily unstable right hip, I'd have taken him up on the offer and once again trudged a quarter mile uphill through the woods. This collector also boasted of some nocturnal success shining an LED flashlight over gravel beneath the tiny stream running through the dumps. According to the Jacquot book, had he also shined a short wave ultra-violet light over the dumps, an additional reward could have been plentiful massive white apatite flourescing a bright orange plus with luck a bit of pink zoisite (thulite), which is also fluorescent. Jacquot noted that aquamarine occurred at the Ray Mine, but implied that it was far less common than other types of beryl. A week later, while driving home from New Orleans, I couldn't resist buying a rock bearing aquamarine from the Ray Mine for $7.50 at the gem shop of the Switzerland Inn in Little Switzerland, along the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Blowing Rock. The specimen is pictured at right.
By evening, I'd made it to the Days Inn in the heart of downtown Asheville. Of all the happening towns in the eastern United States, Asheville has long been my favorite for a night out enjoying food and music. As for dinner in downtown Asheville, my top pick is the cutting edge fusion of Californian and Mexican cuisine---along with killer margaritas---at Limones, 13 Eagle Street. For listening to and sometimes dancing to hot jazz or blues in the midst of a diverse crowd, I've long considered Tressa's, just a few blocks north from Limone's at 28 Broadway Street, to be as good as such a scene gets anywhere.
Were it not for a late evening at Tressa's, I'd have made it to the Redmond Mine in Haywood County a little earlier the next day. No problem, since the dumps here are tiny, and no way I'd venture underground into the shaft across the dirt road and with my bad hip and no flashlight after a month of heavy rainfall into water said to have been two feet deep during the past years' drought. According to Jacquot, the walls inside this shaft bear "dark blue azurite, malachite, and white cerussite crystals up to 1/2 inch long." I was perfectly happy keeping to the dumps and had the good fortune of collecting the piece pictured at right of azurite with chrysocolla and cerussite on quartz and limonite. Particularly intriguing was how similar it appeared to a specimen of "chrysocolla and cerussite on limonite and quartz" that's pictured in the book A Rockhounding Guide to North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, by Michael Streeter, which I discovered and purchased near the end of my trip. Both books note that micro crystals of pyromorphite occur in some of the quartz boulders located about a hundred yards up a steep trail from the left of the mine shaft. With my walking stick as a crutch I hoisted myself up there with the little rock hammer in my other hand. Sure enough the quartz boulders awaited, but would require a sledge hammer to attack, which my hip condition under no circumstances would allow.
Same time next year, I'll be heading south to New Orleans for Jazzfest for the 22nd time. Unless other mineralogical diversions along the way prove more promising, I'll return to all three of these localities with a bit more knowledge and hopefully a new right hip.