Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gold and Anatase in Harford County, Maryland

Rarely does a topic more newsworthy to Mineral Bliss sensibility present itself than the contents of an email received recently from Ev Smith. Included were the above image of anatase crystals he panned from Falling Branch in Harford County Maryland as well as photos of larger specimens of rich chromite and serpentine minerals (right) that he collected near Cooptown. I responded within minutes and soon managed to wrangle an invitation to go panning for anatase with Ev a week later in Harford County's Falling Branch.

Like so many who pan for gold in the Mid-Atlantic, Ev got started with his hobby under the mentorship of Jack Nelson, the late and legendary regional "godfather" of panning. They panned mostly near Great Falls in Montgomery County. This is where Rock Run and other small streams flow through woodlands where gold mining operations were ubiquitous between 1864 and 1940. After Jack's death from cancer in 2002, Ev began panning for gold in streams closer to his home near Jarrettsville in Harford County. He is the only person I know of to actually find gold in Harford County. Most of the flakes in the image at left, Ev panned from Harford County streams. The larger nugget, in the top left corner of the picture, is from a small stream in Pennsylvania just over the Maryland line.

As a protege of Jack Nelson, it didn't surprise me that Ev would look for more than just gold in the material he panned from these streams. Jack was also an avid micromounter and had discovered amidst heavy mineral concentrates from streams in Montgomery County and elsewhere the first cubic garnets ever to be reported and identified. Aware that some of the grains of sand he was extracting were likely to be gem minerals, Ev made a practice of bringing home in baggies the sand that remained at the bottom of his pan at the end of the sifting process. Encountered were rutile, schorl, garnets in hues running a gamut from lavender to deep red, minute cubes of goethite pseudomorph after pyrite, and various other grains of sand not as easy to visually identify. Very likely, they could include, beryl apatite, zircon, and zoisite. The less common anatase was a later find that became apparent after Ev isolated several uncommon anatase grains with their crystal habits intact. More typically the anatase occurs in broken fragments like those in the image at right.

I arrived at Ev's house on Monday, April 5, with a borrowed pair of waders. In short order, we were en route to Falling Branch. Along the way, Ev pointed out to me where he had collected the chromite and serpentine minerals. Minerals of Maryland had described the locality as "serpentine barrens" with numerous chrome prospects in"Coopstown and Vicinity." Assuming this would be a landscape similar to Soldiers Delight or Bare Hills in Baltimore County, I had previously driven through the area looking without success. Instead, what Ev pointed out to me was a lush woodland with a variety of tall trees. For access, permission would need to be obtained at several houses, and Ev was no longer certain which ones. Ev also told me about a copper prospect just a short walk away that was not mentioned in Minerals of Maryland where he once collected some copper bearing minerals.

About ten minutes later, we pulled off a country road along Falling Branch not far from where it empties into Deer Creek. With our waders, a couple of shovels, two large white white buckets, one with 1/4 inch holes drilled through its bottom half, pans, and Ev's "sucker," we headed toward the stream. Next week's Mineral Bliss post will be about our experience.

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