Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jim Wilkinson: Columbia Maryland's Premier Stream Bed Collector

Jim Wilkinson of Columbia, Maryland, is a special breed of mineral collector. Most of his collecting is within an hour's drive of his house. He lives in a vast and heavily suburbanized area between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Sprawl, no trespassing signs, and strictly enforced laws against collecting in state parks rule out the vast majority of known localities in the region.  As a  retired natural resources planner for the Maryland Department of the Environment, Jim is keenly aware of these obstacles. Notwithstanding, he finds productive places to collect at will. His niche is stream beds. Access to them is easier and more available.

Several years ago, Mineral Bliss featured some of the amazing finds by Alana Benkowski in Baltimore City's Herring Run. Identifying them was often difficult. It was obvious that many of the specimens did  not flow directly from any logical point of origin in the Piedmont to her collecting mecca. She favored the alluvial deposits where Maryland's Coastal Plain begins at the eastern fringe of Baltimore City. The streams that Jim Wilkinson works are farther west in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Montgomery, and Frederick Counties. These streams have accumulated far less extraneous material. They flow directly through Piedmont areas where the mineralogy is specific.What he finds is easier to predict and identify. 

He photographs the specimens he collects  and posts their images to his home page on Mindat. The page currently boasts 121 photos. While few of them portray "eye-candy," they document species and locality pursuant to the town, village, or hamlet closest to the stream where he found them. Mining sites, quarries,and other more specifically placed localities within these jurisdictions appear separately as "sub-localities," naming the species attributed to them. Exclusive of the sub-localities and species, Jim is the sole source for Atholton, Simpsoniville, Scaggsville, Henryton, and Daniels.  

The 11.5 cm. x 5.5 cm. stream worn quartz (var.) rock crystal pictured at right is one of his more remarkable finds. He collected it along the Patuxent River in the heart of Columbia. With over 100,000 inhabitants, including himself, Columbia is larger than a village, town, or hamlet.  Mindat names the closest town of Simpsonville as the locality for this crystal. Even though "Columbia Area" is named as a locality, it only receives credit for species collected "from construction and excavations in the area." This makes sense. The geology of this region suggests that wherever it originated, such a crystal could just have likely found its way in the Patuxent to Columbia as to Scaggsville. Naming the heart of the neatly planned city of Columbia as an active collecting locality would be a stretch.  

Though he focuses on streams, Jim is keenly aware of and interested in looking for  species  reported from nearby quarries, mining sites, or other localities.  Though so many such spots are posted, built over,  cleaned out, or otherwise inaccessible, it is logical that some of the species they produced could show up in rocks in nearby streams. Beryl was once somewhat common in many of the numerous mostly off-limits pegmatites gracing the Patapsco and Patuxent River valleys. Jim collected the  7 centimeter beryl crystal at left in a stream near Marriottsville. It could be worthy of consideration as one of the more extraordinary finds of beryl in recent years anywhere in Maryland.

Jim drove to Frederick County after reading  our post about the magnificent suite of minerals that Dr. Jim Cordua collected in the 1960's at the Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry.  Although we had emphasized the no trespassing signs, the prohibitive overgrowth and no evidence of dumps, Jim found a small stream not far away that was accessible. The sphalerite he retrieved  hardly matched the glorious crystals that Dr. Cordua collected  half a century ago shortly after workers informed him of recent blasts. But one can feel assured that to find sphalerite or any other notable species from this locality today by any other means would be futile.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A 20 Pound Vivianite Concretion from Anne Arundel County, MD

It is certainly reasonable to assume that  nature offers few greater pleasures to mineral collectors living in temperate climates than those few unseasonably warm days that  occasionally come once or twice in late February and early March.  Aside from pleasant temperatures, the amount of live vegetation obscuring surface rocks is minimal, while the mosquitoes, ticks, and copperheads remain dormant. Such a day was February 24, 2017, at least in the vicinity of Baltimore, Maryland. 

So for this writer, it was off to search for vivianite in Maryland's Anne Arundel County  along the banks of Harman's Branch. By virtue of a find 77 years ago,  Mindat names the spot as Vivianite Concretion Locality, Riva, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, USA . The information provided, however, proved confusing for pinpointing the specific location. Credit Robert Beard for persistence in finding it to include on page 156 in his Falcon Guide Rockhounding Delaware, Maryland, and the Washington, DC Area © 2015, Rowman & Littlefield.

Notwithstanding,  Tarnan's Branch and its banks are all but devoid of rocks as this muddy rill heads upstream  from Rutland Road along the route taken by Beard. Otherwise, the surrounding wooded landscape lies under several inches of fallen leaves.  Only after about a quarter of a mile where Tarnan's Branch flows into a tunnel beneath a road does one encounter many rocks. Most of them are quartzite  with  no hints of  likely concretions in their midst.  My hour spent here could not have been more in vain. 

With head down, more in discouragement than with the expectation of  uncovering  the likes of a vivianite concretion, I trudged back toward my car parked along Rutland Road. Amidst the leaves, loam, and moss, nothing at my feet hinted at the likeness of  a concretion beyond an occasional dirty hickory shell. So it was until what first looked  like the nub from a tree root protruded from the soil. It was bigger than to be expected from the trees nearby, brown, muddy, and partially covered with dead moss. Upon tapping it with the chisel on my hammer, a half inch piece of shell broke off that appeared black but with a bluish cast. It had to be a concretion. Once unearthed, a hefty whack with my mini sledge halved it to reveal an interior of colors  ranging from  black and, gray, to a paler and more aesthetically pleasing blue. Clearly, this was the same kind of material as pictured on 156 and 157 in Beard's book, 

Never was my knapsack heavier than during that hundred or so yard walk back to the car. On the scale at home, the two halves along with a few loose chips weighed just over 20 pounds. This writer considers himself the beneficiary of sheer luck and has no plans to return to what was  a difficult to navigate locality. One twenty pound vivianite concretion is plenty for my Maryland suite where it will rest in a spot where light, which causes  vivianite to eventually turn black, is minimal. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

First Weekend at Tucson, 2017

The title picture shows Tucson City Center Hotel, often still referred to as the Inn Suites. The date is Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, one day before its scheduled opening. This is the prime destination of mineral aficionados for 12 days leading up to the big show at Tucson's Convention Center, Feb. 12-15. Although the event did not officially open until Saturday, Jan. 28, more than a third of  several hundred dealers were selling a day early, as more than another third were busy setting up, Only a few dealer suites had yet to be occupied. Postcard weather prevailed with 60ish temperatures and a steady breeze. As happens every year prices seemed a bit higher and were all over the map.  Specimens ranged in price from a couple dollars up to amounts approaching six figures. With the exception of the one day Westward Look Show taking place the following Saturday, Feb. 4, more world class specimens are at the Inn Suites than anywhere else in town until the Big Show.

A few blocks north on Oracle, the much smaller Mineral and Fossil Marketplace was also up and running by Friday. Particularly worthy of mention here is a tent with three dealers: Rock Deco, JaM Rocks, and Malcolm Alter. All three  specialize in specimens from such classic Arizona localities as  the Mammoth St Anthony Mine in Tiger, the Rowley Mine, and the 79 Mine. There were  even a lot of  red wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud Mine.  Nowhere else in Tucson did we see anywhere near  as many affordable specimens available for sale from these  great localities.

Immediately south of Mineral and Fossil Marketplace, in the direction of Inn Suites, the Moroccan tents were in full swing. Prices  on ubiquitous vanadinites, red quartz crystals, azurites, and so forth were unmarked and left to the buyers' ability to negotiate. With no deceit intended--- dealers readily admitted when asked about crystals that were treated---the Moroccans were selling some very colorful geodes as pictured at left. Both halves of one geode could be had for as little as $10. Therein were originally whitish quartz crystals,varied in color, some mimicking the deepest magenta high end cobaltoan calcites of the region. A few years ago, Moroccan quartz geodes were circulating with galena crystals glued inside them. Best avoided here or elsewhere  are Moroccan geodes filled with anything other than plain quartz crystals.

Other venues offering some minerals were also in full operation by Friday. Along the I-10 East Freeway, the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show at the Riverpark Inn was going strong. The usual Uruguayan Amethyst, pyrite from Peru, as well as typical Moroccan, Chinese, and quartz selections filled a big tent. Operating out of adjacent motel rooms in "The International Fine Mineral Building" were a couple dozen dealers, a few with unreasonably pricey collector mineral specimens. Heading down the Freeway from the Riverpark, the outdoor area at most  hotels consisted of shows that were  filled with tents and tables full of crystals, cabs, and rough material.
On the other side of the I-10 Freeway, the 22nd Street Show opened on Thursday, Jan. 26. Enclosed within a tent and easier to navigate than the Pueblo Show, it offered a mix of wares including some minerals. Most remarkable was a table offering native copper specimens, many with crystals, from Pine Mountain in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Hardly anywhere else in Tucson is one likely to encounter very many East Coast specimens. A better place to acquire them is the East Coast Gem Mineral, and Fossil Show at West Springfield, Massachusetts in August.

Several miles beyond the activity clustered along the Freeway, the Kino Gem and Mineral Show at Kino Sports Complex  was much like a combination of the aforementioned shows on steroids. Mostly jewelry and beads filled a huge tent. Outside were smaller tents, a few featuring minerals.  In addition to thousands---yes thousands---of tons of amethyst from Uruguay, Peruvian pyrite, the Moroccan tent, and an Indian tent was this show's  annual Geminex tent. Inside were thousands of mineral flats, all bearing low quality specimens at ridiculously high prices from the famous Ojuela Mine in Mapimi, Durango, Mexico.  Interestingly, and perhaps because the Big show in two weeks will feature minerals from the American Midwest, there was a dealer  whose entire stock was calcite crystals from the Elmwood Mine in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Such crystals seemed to be everywhere in Tucson this year, all priced about the same.

Not scheduled to start until Tuesday, Jan. 31, was a relatively small new show to feature mineral specimens mostly from Arizona dealers, at 1055 Grant Road.. We were sorry this was after we had to head back to Baltimore. Regretfully, we also missed a couple other  smaller shows  and managed to  briefly check out a couple that were marginally worthy of mention.

The scene in Tucson  is pretty much the same each year, always overwhelming.  For sale around town are millions of rocks, enough that it's difficult to imagine how more than a very meager fraction of a per cent could possibly sell. We question the economics of it,  but what fun.