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.

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