Thursday, September 9, 2010

Minerals at Roanoke, Virginia Farmers Market

In just about any city or town, I tend to link the presence of a downtown farmers market to all that's positive regarding its vibes, heartbeat, and bounty. My first impression, while typically paramount, was particularly so on a recent Saturday morning in Roanoke, Virginia. Located front center at the intersection of Campbell and Market Streets and visible from more angles than any other location in the Roanoke Farmers Market was Ben Crooks and his Hanging Rock Mineral and Fossil Company. That’s Ben wearing the blue T shirt in our title picture. Both visually and verbally, he presents a colorful persona, but requested not to be photographed at closer range.

If the weather is good, you can count on seeing Ben for sure on Fridays and Saturdays, and often on Thursdays when the crowd size picks up in October. He’s been at it for 14 years, having previously been “a geologist working as a mining inspector at quarries, coal mines---if you put a hole in the side of a hill, I was there.” His selection of worldwide minerals and fossils, mostly in
flats, includes its share of specimens collected by Crooks himself in Virginia and North Carolina. He sells them at bargain prices.

The hitch is that not a single specimen is accompanied by a label. "We did that one year," he tells me, "and it just got expensive." Somewhat more to his credit, he added: "We try to price a lot of stuff so kids can buy it. Kids are 75 per cent of my business. A lot of what's here goes for 50 cents and on up from there." For sure he's doing more than most of us mineral people to lure youngsters into a constructive hobby that we all wish would engage them in greater numbers.

Despite no labels, Ben's prices were too reasonable for me to resist making a few purchases, while taking notes on his verbal information regarding their localities. You may have noticed how more time than usual has elapsed since the last Mineral Bliss post. That's because I've been trying to reach Ben by telephone---he doesn't do computers or email---to confirm the contents of my notes. As best I can decipher from them, the two pieces at left, running top to bottom were given as peridot and dog tooth calcite, both collected near the village of Copper Hill in Floyd County, Virginia. Though not yet tested, the latter piece looks to me more like sphene or axinite/ferro-axinite. Neither R.V. Dietrich's Minerals of Virginia nor MINDAT notes a presence of any of the aforementioned minerals in Floyd County. Thus it would seem that either I misread the notes scrawled into my pocket sized day-timer---something that happens all too often---or that Ben is in on a very significant Virginia find.

No less fascinating to me were the two slabs of fluorite pictured below at right. As Ben tells it, while driving through Cherokee, North Carolina a few years ago, he found himself behind a truck that was dispersing road ballast. Amidst the rocks being scattered were chunks fluorite of which these were pieces. Ben does not know where it was quarried. With a wink, he confesses: "I stole about 200 pounds of it."

Ben also had several boxes of doubly terminated Virginia quartz crystals resembling Herkimer diamonds such as shown at left. Most were quite large for the genre with a few scepters thrown in. He claims to have collected them from the wash in a gully near Bath County, Virginia. Of less eye candy appeal, but great for lapidary enthusiasts were extensive quantities of massive Virginia blue quartz being sold at giveaway prices. "It's all over the place around Boone's Mill in Franklin County, Virginia," Ben told me, and I feel confident that my notes recorded this bit of information correctly.

1 comment:

  1. When I met Ben he was working on his PhD thesis at MIT and moonlighting as a street vendor in Georgetown. Interesting life he's had.