Monday, November 18, 2013

Collecting at the Foote Mine with Jason Smith

Credit the late Earl Nightingale for the adage, "Learn to do one thing better than anyone else in the world."  For being the best in the world at collecting  rare phosphates from the Foote Mine near Kings Mountain, North Carolina, it's unlikely that anyone could compete with 36 year old Jason Smith, a geologist from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Foote is a world class locality that has yielded 147 different mineral species, most notably rare phosphates, many of which are microscopic.  In addition to discovering the rare footemineite, Jason has been the first to report occurrences of 14 other rare Foote Mine phosphates ---among them phosphophyllite, scholzite, schoonerite, whitmoreite, leucophosphite--- for which the locality is famous. For verification as well as to further educate himself, he furnishes  samples  of material he collects for testing to scientists at different universities and labs around the world. Well aware of Jason’s prowess at the Foote, they are eager to analyze them.

Not only is Jason anything but secretive as to where and how he uncovers these minerals, he enjoys having anyone who’s interested join him at his favorite collecting spots. On November 10, 2013, this writer had the privilege of doing so.

After meeting at the McDonald’s in Kings Mountain, we headed  to the “East Dumps” (at left) about 200 yards through woodland briars and brush immediately west of Route I-85 a short distance south of town. These dumps consist primarily of large boulders that originated above the Foote's water table. The productive rock is a granite pegmatite that's rich in spodumene, the source for lithium that the nearby open-cast mine produced. Having originated above the water table, the rare and microscopic phosphates that lurk within cracks and miniscule vugs inside these rocks are the product of more oxidation than found in boulders formed beneath the water table. It's a level of oxidation perfect for  producing the kind of colourful and aesthetically pleasing rare phosphates the Foote is famous is known for.  

Arriving at the site, Jason pointed to a boulder he'd been chipping away at for more than several years.  Over that period, this single rock has yielded him more than 40 different species. On today’s visit, Jason first went to work on another boulder.  Among some of the more spectacular species threin were beraunite, manganogordonite, rittmannite, jahnsite, cacoxenite, and strunzite. The  last two, cacoxenite and strunzite, were often associated with each other. In some specimens, the yellow cacoxenite had coated previously  straw-coloured needles of strunzite to result in crystals that visually resembled  neither species.  Jason was even more enthusiastic about finding, for the second time in his life, nordgauite, a relatively new mineral (approved by the IMA in 2010) with white crystals resembling  felted masses. The only other locality in the world from which nordgauite has been reported is the Cornelia Mine in Hagendorf Germany.

While the East Dumps consist mostly of boulders  bearing  colourful  rare phosphates, Jason noted that there are also North Dumps, where the boulders originated beneath the water table. They are more likely to host rare silicates for which the Foote is also known, such as brannockite and bitikaite to name but a couple. The North Dumps are also a source for plenty of phosphates, primarily those that experienced  less oxidation than those originating above the water table. Jason has worked the North Dumps dumps extensively, and currently believes the spot where we collected has better potential as a source for  new discoveries.

The collecting is hard work.  Jason has enjoyed his greatest level of success  by taking on the larger boulders with a chisel and small sledge.  His  labors have created hundreds  of smaller and easier to break up chunks that often look promising. Regardless of technique, anyone seeking to collect without a powerful loupe (at least 20x) and proper knowledge of what to look for can count on being skunked.

It’s evident that Jason will never be skunked here.  It would take many lifetimes to go through all the boulders waiting for someone to bust them up

No comments:

Post a Comment