Monday, August 30, 2010

Discovering Quartz Crystals Near Burkittsville, Maryland

Increasingly when driving, I’ve taken to pulling over when feasible and safe for a quick look at roadcuts, rockpiles, construction sites, and whatever else relating to rocks arouses my curiosity. The practice hasn’t yet led to many interesting finds.

This past Friday, however, during a quick trip to Roanoke, Virginia, I enjoyed the good fortune of finding myself parked adjacent to a field where the soil yielded a few quartz crystals. The original attraction had been the presence of several small piles of excavated rocks and dirt in the northwest quadrant where Route 340 meets Route 17 (Burkittsville Road) in Frederick County, Maryland. Burkittsville is the named locality for some of the most spectacular quartz crystals I’ve ever seen from Maryland, such as the specimen pictured in the image below at left. Collected many decades ago, it is currently in the collection of Fred Parker. Although the specific spot in or near Burkittsville that yielded it is a big question mark, I know that Fred and others have collected near Burkittsville in recent years. Fred has shared two significant pieces of information about the area, both which were quoted in a previous Mineral Bliss post: first that "quartz crystals are present in the soil beginning near Thurmont and extending soutwesterly (past Burkittsville) almost to Harpers Ferry;" second "that paleozoic sediments beween the Wakefield marble and the precambrian metavolacanic Catoctin and Braddock Ranges are a souce of excellent quartz veins near where these mountains approach the Potomac River." It appeared that I was in a good place to take a look

After exiting off 340 to 17, the presence of a wire fence and a steep embankment ultimately discouraged me from checking out the rockpiles. Meanwhile, the recently harvested cornfield on the other (south/west) side of Burkittsville Road beckoned quite invitingly. Just about all of the rocks protruding from the soil in this field were quartz, an occasional few showing evidence of crystal facets. Within ten minutes, I'd pocketed the approximately one inch long crystals shown at right and a severely plow damaged larger piece of quartz that suggested a previous presence of small crystals, some colorless, some smoky, with many features similar to the one shown and others in the Parker collection.

This was not the first cornfield in the Burkittsville area where I've briefly paced back and forth with my head down in the past year, but it's the first and only that's demonstrated any promise. Though broken rocks speak for a myriad destructive plowings, the general location shows potential and deserves to be explored farther---with permission of course from the landowner.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Checking Out the East Coast's Biggest Show

Though a far cry from all that goes on in Tucson, the East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show, which happened August 13-15 at the Better Living Center in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is as big as it gets here in the eastern part of the United States. A great overview of what the show was like, expressed mostly in photos, is the subject of John S. White's 597th post at Jordi Fabre's FMF Minerals Forum and Discussion Board. Photography has to be the quickest and easiest way to communicate the essence of a show. As for me, once through the door and past the 50 case exhibition of minerals from Bill Larson's (Pala International) collection, I quickly became too loaded down with rocks for dealing with the camera.

My favorite of the 50 Bill Larson cases appears in our title image featuring topaz and aquamarine crystals from Burma (Myanmar). Because of a schedule that limited my attendance at the show to Friday, I had to miss Bill's talk on Satruday entitled "Mining, Minerals, & Gems from the Legendary Valley of Rubies, Mogok Burma." Much of the mineralogy---and for that matter the cuisine---from that country fascnates me. I'd be curious if Bill discussed when and how such a seemingly endless supply of great stones get out from under the oppressive military dictatorship that rules.

It's easy enough to imagine, though, how someone could smuggle out the faceted .047 carat johachidolite pictured at left. Purchased from my friend Cassandra at the Dudley Blauwet Gems booth, it reflects my penchant for acquiring species I've never heard of and still intrigues me more than a week later.

Despite emphasizing gems thus far, one of my favorite aspects of the East Coast Mineral, Gem and Fossil Show is its preponderance of mineral specimens over gems and fossils. On occasion and for a variety of reasons, even ugly minerals sometimes grab my interest. Should anyone deem it to be ugly, the reason for my most sizeable purchase this year, the 5" x 5" x 1" chunk of fluoro-potassichastingsite shown below at right, was that Alfredo Petrov convinced me that it could be the biggest specimen ever collected of this rare amphibole. Its type and only known locality is the Greenwood Mine, an old magnetite mine about a three mile hike through the woods near Woodbury Township in Orange County, New York. Fluoro-potassichastingsite is not, by the way, the longest mineral name I've ever encountered. Last October, my eBay store, Jake's Minerals sold a protomanganoferroanthophyllite micromount to a collector in France. Such rare amphiboles are generally not very expensive. Alfredo was also selling a protoanthophyllite piece of which the only known specimens were taken from a Japanese drill core sample. "Much of the value," says Alfredo, "is in getting it tested."

Meanwhile, and as this is written, another Martin Zinn Show, about which people in West Springfield were expressing tremendous enthusiasm, is happening in Cartersville, Georgia. Much as I'd like to be there, my office is in the process of becoming buried under rocks. I don't understand how the collectors and dealers who do so many shows with such frequency find the time to sort out all the booty that inevitably results.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Collecting at Manham Dumps with Pat Haynes

The second week of of August this year found me, as it did last year, in Massachusetts, spending one day busting rocks on the Manham dumps at Loudville and the next enjoying the East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show at West Springfield. The stories relating to each of these two days differ from one year to the next, however, especially where Loudville was concerned. Last year the Manham dumps at Loudville rated two separate posts at Mineral Bliss, which were prompted by a taste of beginners luck bordering on the miraculous.

Auspicious beyond luck this year was an opportunity to comb them with a field collector as accomplished they get, namely Pat Haynes. He has to his credit the discovery of eight new minerals and hopes soon to add number nine to the list. With most of his experience having beem in the Western U.S. and often underground, I was interested in how he would approach a locality such as Manham. Though Pat had brought along a 2001 edition of Rocks and Minerals featuring a map that showed where the dumps were, he made a special point of first knocking on a few doors. Although everyone we spoke with was pleasant and friendly, the only directions we received landed us all but lost in the woods. So we hiked back to the car and headed to where I'd parked last year at a pull-off uphill from the bridge on Loudville Road from which a short trail leads to the dumps. With my right hip awaiting replacement in a week, and no loupe, I'd hobbled the hundred yards down to the stream and crawled about the pebbles on the near side for less than an hour. Two of the half dozen I brought home to smash up because they were vuggy, ended up revealing wulfenite, pyromorphite, linarite, and cerussite under the scope.

The vast majority of the Manham Mine dumps are on the other side of the stream, their presence somewhat obscured at first by lush summer woodlands and the contour of the land. It is public land, and collectors are welcomed. Much of the rock cosists of galena bearing quartz that's often crystalized and blessed with numerous vugs occasionally revealing cerussite and anglesite crystals when viewed through the loupe. A few rocks show a bit of earthy light greenish brown weathered pyromorphite (not to be confused with lichen) on their surfaces. Broken open, small amounts of more colorful pyromorphite sometimes occur. When in vugs, the pyromorphite is likely to have formed needle-like crystals as shown in the photomicrograph at left. Wulfenite, linarite, malachite, and chalcopyrite sometimes accompany it. Collecting at the Manham dumps is all about breaking open the different rocks and looking at them through the loupe. I suspect that any dumps that could lie beyond the posted collecting boundaries noted on signs attached to trees are much the same and no more prolific. Though the number of rocks we each broke up and examined was probably about the same, Pat found most of best ones. Chalk that up to to his well trained eye pitted against my red-green colorblindedness.

When we were done, Pat left with two flats , while for the second year in a row, I departed with six rocks in my pocket. Pat chose to keep those that were particularly rich in galena as potential giveaways for students, Boy Scouts, or kids at shows. Were I to bring home that much material on a regular basis, it could end up taking over my house. If I knew where to find enough kids or whomever else to take them, I'd lug home more.

Being but a 20 minute drive from West Springfield, it amazed me how the day before the show, we had these dumps to ourselves. A collector named Dan from Texas, who had driven over from his summer home in Maine showed up for a while, arriving and leaving with only his hammer. He expressed more interest in exploring the area than looking for micro-minerals. Having mentioned that smithsonite was one of his favorite minerals, he joined us for a couple minutes to check out a splash of sphalerite Pat had uncovered in a piece of quartz. I would observe the next day at the show, which will be covered in the next Mineral Bliss post that Dan wasn't kidding us about his interest in smithsonite.

I am truly grateful for localities like this, where people are free to collect without having to pay fees and can collect interesting minerals. Signs attached to trees announce the kind of rules---no explosives, no commercial collecting, use hand tools and have fun---that the collectors who visit obviously respect. One rule states: "If collected samples are displayed or publicized, we want attribution to the New England Forestry Foundation." You've got it, and thanks again.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back to Asheville and on to Little Pine

My first order of business on Saturday, July 24, was to maneuver through the ongoing merriment in the streets of Asheville to visit Rusty James at the Cornerstone Minerals tent. It was on the sidewalk less than a block away from the Cornerstone Minerals store at Lexington and Walnut. The jewelry here along with plenty of relatively inexpensive rough gems and minerals, some with metaphysical connotations, was selling brisquely. They were in a different league, however, from the ajoite and papagoite included quartz crystals from the Messina Mine, Limpopo Province, Transvaal, South Africa, that Rusty had waiting for me to check out down the street at his store. He was too busy to leave his tent right then, which worked out just fine. Mad Tea Party was playing "ukebilly" music but two blocks away at the Haywood Stage. That's Ami Worthen, Asheville's ukelele rock star, in the picture at right.

Two hours later, enough people were staffing the Cornerstone tent for Rusty to accompany me to the store, which was almost as busy as the tent had been. From under the counter he pulled out several flats from which I purchased two small ajoite included crystals , one loose, the other in matrix. both relatively free of the difficult to remove white material that frequently encrusts them. Rusty has been to South Africa four times to purchase crystals from the owner of the mine. On his most recent visit this past December, he received permission to dig and believes he's the only American ever granted that privilege. Ajoite and papagoite included quartz crystals occur nowhere else on earth. They command astronomically high prices that could go much higher, and Rusty questions how much longer the Messina Mine wil be able to continue producing them.

With business to deal with back in Baltimore on Tuesday, I left Asheville on Sunday early enough for a visit to the renowned Little Pine Garnet Mine (almandine), in Haywood County approximately 25 miles northwest of Asheville. Rick James Jacquot's book Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina provided good directions for getting to the parking area for the mine on Robert's Branch Road. Immediately past the parking area, the road forks. Blocking the road heading left was a sign stating that the garnet mine was closed and could be visited by appointment only. Therefore, I followed the main road to the right hoping to reach some dumps the book had mentioned and soon found myself heading up the driveway to the home of a farmer. A third road, overgrown enough this time of year that its presence hardly seemed apparent at first, heads from between the other two roads 100 yards into the woods to these dumps. Once there, I managed to dig from the top three inches of pleasingly soft soil a few loose crystals similar the one pictured below at right.

To make arrangements to visit the Little Pine Garnet Mine, collectors should first go to the Sandy Bottom Trail Rides establishment reached by turning from Little Pine Road onto Caney Fork Road a short distance north of its intersection with Roberts Branch Road. The people there couldn't have been nicer. After I signed a waiver, they readily granted me permission to visit the mine.

Without so much as a flashlight, I did little more than stand at the entrance to look inside the mine. My impression was that even with proper equipment, going in further could be problematic for one without experience. Every inch of the walls and ceilings that I could see had been worked and showed markings where crystals had been extracted. Rusty James' associate Greg, pictured next to Rusty and wearing a blue T shirt in our image from the Cornerstone minerals tent, had informed me that as recently as two years ago, he had chiseled some attractive crystals from the walls of a little "crow's nest" just above and to the right of the mine entrance. Perhaps not for the younger and surely more limber Greg, but for the likes of me, attempting to climb up there and whack away with a sledge hammer and chisel could very likely spell big trouble. Therefore, I opted instead to crawl around and dig amidst the schist and soapstone in the dumps immediately adjacent to the mine. While unsuccessful at locating any appealing crystals, either loose or in matrix, I found significant amounts of the kind of rough almandine once mined there to be ground into sand and used as an abrasive for industrial purposes. At different times, the site is said to have been mined for this kind of material as well as gem garnet.

The Little Pine Garnet Mine remains a popular spot for collectors prepared to work underground (or perhaps in that "crow's nest" that Greg mentioned) and willing to undertake a lot of extremely hard work. At this point, I would be curious as to the quality and quantity of what they are able to collect.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Asheville and Beyond

The Colburn Museum in Asheville, North Carolina was closing for the the next three days in deference to the surrounding gleeful madness of Bele Chere. That was why I beelined it to town via the Blue Ridge Parkway in deference to the joys of digging at one or two of the numerous collecting spots along the more curcuitous route. In early June, I'd snail mailed the Colburn to question whether the straw colored inclusions within the polished quartz stones pictured at left were really cacoxenite. My contention was that they were not cacoxenite; rather they were goethite. It would appear that either they ignored my letter, or I was wrong.

The dubious inclusions are most prominent in the smaller piece at the top, less so in the rounded stone below it. The lower one appears to be material often touted within the metaphysical world as "super seven," and frequently said to bear inclusions of lepidocrocite and various other minerals. Never mind that The Book of Stones by Simmons and Ahsian credits goethite with "past-life recall, connection with Earth, healing through grief, enhanced soul life, and artistic creativity." I should mention that regardless of labeling, both stones are attractive, and nomenclature should have little bearing on their value. My interest in them arose after purchasing a "cacoxenite in quartz" brooch for my wife this past February from a huckster at Electric Park in Tucson.

The following day, Friday, with temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, I left Asheville and Bele Chere to drive 60 miles to Franklin, North Carolina, which was just as hot, to visit its 44th Annual Gemboree. As in the past, this event features four locations quite close to each other. Much as we described it this time last year in Mineral Bliss, it featured few dealers not oriented entirely toward jewelry, gems, and lapidary rather than minerals. At the outdoor location across from the indoor one in the Macon County Community Center, however, I was fortunate enough to find one dealer with an eclectic selection of mineral specimens from old collections at appealing prices. The smithsonite from the 79 Mine near Hayden, Arizona ahown at right is one of several items I purchased from him. It's an old-timer, collected 31 years ago in 1979. Although the dealer knew as well as I did that apple-green (rather than darker green) crystalized (rather than botroydal) smithsonite from this locality is known to be very dear, he was kind enough to sell it to me as part of a volume deal for an extremely attractive price.

My late afternoon arrival back in Asheville allowed for time to catch the Trainwrecks playing their unique version of "dirty funk" at a stage just a block from my hotel. From there it was a five minute walk to Limones at 13 Eagle Street to sip a Maya Margarita made with mezcal, tamarind juice, orange juice, and cointreau followed by a plate of seabass with parsnip puree, haricot vertes, mango salsa, and passion fruit chipotle sauce. I then passed on dessert to walk two blocks south to catch Southern Culture on the Skids close down the day's entertainment.

The next day (Saturday) and night, I spent in Asheville, before leaving the merriment behind on Sunday in time to visit to the Little Pine Garnet Mine in Madison County about twenty miles northwest of town. The next Mineral Bliss post will cover those two days.