Scott's Blog

Join us, as Scott recounts anecdotes and shares photos of gem shows and rock hounding exploits.

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A full moon sets over the fabled Sierra Nevada Mountain Range as I head from Oregon down into Southern California in search of Trona halite and other field trips in the great rockhounding region of Owens and Searles Valleys.

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I'm joined by the intrepid Kevin and Carol Rust, who had to drive much farther than I did, coming all the way from Seattle. Here they are pulling together a pile of Ballarat marble, gathered from the gravel fans just south of the ghost town of Ballarat, at the south end of Panamint Valley. 

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If you're unfamiliar with this material, it's a beautiful salmon pink marble with dark green streaking, and it takes a nice, high gloss polish. 

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Kevin's got a nose for rocks, and almost immediately upon heading up an unnamed canyon off the Ballarat road, He finds a deposit of natrolite. The seams are exposed, but not too damaged, just a little dusty. The rock here is laced with stringers of natrolite. 

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I've always been fascinated with this zeolite, but its delicacy does present a true challenge in getting it out of the host rock, and in from the field in one piece. 

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Below the main outcropping of natrolite, the deposit seems to grade into seams of a more flowery aragonite coated material very reminiscent of cave formations I have seen. 

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Some of the natrolite is actually fairly clean and gemmy. 

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Here's a beauty with double hedgehog mounds of radial crystalline sprays. 

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We collect up a fair amount, enjoying the silence of the canyon, and the camraderie of collecting out a pocket with enough material to make everybody happy. At some point, the rock gets a little harder to move, and we just give up, even though the seams continue to run on back into the country rock. We've definitely got enough! 

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Trona local Gail Austin has been commissioned to create a table centerpiece for a cowboy wedding that will soon be held. The "groom" is rared up a fixin to lasso his darlin, but hold onto your spurs folks - she's already got him bull-whipped around the midsection an he don't even know it! (wink)

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Night peacefully blankets us and an amazing bright full moon is out. I alway feel more connected to the celestial nature of existence when I am out in the desert.

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In the morning we head up to Mazourka Canyon, outside of the town of Independence. The Mazourka Canyon road heads east off of Hwy 395, and accesses the interesting north-south running canyon, with its multiple outcroppings of fossiliferous Silurian age limestone. Here Kevin Rust strikes out to explore the small hill of tilted and uplifted parallel beds of fossil bearing strata. 

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Fossils are not hard to find here. They abound on virtually just about any fin of exposed limestone. Most are sponges and colonial coral. 

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Multiple coral branches with quite good detail network across the rock, and stand out in bas-relief, having been partially etched from the encasing limestone by centuries of rain. 

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A horn coral floats among the debris of an ancient sea floor, some 425 million years old.

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 Ascending through a Silurian sea bed. There's more rock here than we can possibly look at. Multiple fins of black limestone erupt and cover the hillside, and this is only one of the exposures that Mazourka Canyon holds. 

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Once I got some of these pieces back home, I etched away some of the limestone with hydrochloric acid (Muriatic acid) to reveal a little more of the coral. 

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After something like 5 or 10 minutes of acid washing, the lovely detail of the myriad corals and sponges of the primordial ocean becomes more visible, allowing you to "create" some very nice display pieces. 

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Back out front on the Owens Valley floor, Kevin has discovered a suspicious looking boulder. It's some type of marble with bright lime green streaking. I get after it with my pry bar! 

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In her little known, and out of print book, "Where to Find Rocks in the Owens Valley", Irma Kittle mentions that there is green opal somewhere out on the Mazourka Canyon road. Could this be what she is talking about? I get out my hammer and chisel and beat on the mighty boulder with all my strength. To my delight, the boulder almost magically splits in half along a green seam, revealing an interior laced with the fine green color. 

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With my manly factor dangerously elevated from boulder splitting success, I set about breaking down the boulder halves into more manageable chunks. For the sake of our survivors, we saved a few requisite "giant chunks" which took all the muscle that Kevin and I had to get up into the rig. Oregon rockhound Jack Benedict has noted that these apparently impossible acts are done with "brute strength and ignorance". I don't fully understand it, but there is some old rockhounding tradition that requires one to pepper their pile with chunks too big to fit in any saw, evidently for the sheer purpose of confounding their survivors after the crusty ole rockhound passes on. 

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Once cut though, you can see that this is a truly beautiful material and we were lucky to find, and be able to collect the giant boulder. Upon seeing this rock, an old timer identified it as "Verdi Antique" marble, and said that the green is a nice, translucent variety of serpentine, which means that Irma Kittle's green opal must be still lying out there somewhere in the canyon!

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 We pack up and part ways, with me heading over to the Kern River and the famous Ant Hill fossil bone beds, and the Rust's heading north along the rainbow road. 

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Scott's Rock & Gem arrives at the Ant Hill! 

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Though the land is under private ownership here, access for fossil digging was open when I visited during the second weekend of October, 2014. However,it does seem to be hit and miss. I have heard that this same gate that I walked through is currently strung with more barbed wire than the Berlin Wall.  The hills in the background have seen some epic digging at the proper horizon by scores of fossil hounds, and the trenches appear like a roadcut near the top of the front hill, and dip down, following the layer to near the base of the back hill.

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Here, a set of marine mammal ribs is exposed in the sandstone of the Round Mountain Silt formation, which is of Miocene age and is dated at 18 to 13 million years ago.

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It doesn't take me long to pull out a large whale bone partial - probably pelvis section, encased in rock. I'll carefully chip back some of the surrounding rock, to reveal the bone more fully and it will make an awesome display piece!

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Almost every concretion in the layer contains miscellaneous marine mammal bone fragments. One large concretion that I split reveals an entire whale vertebra.

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The consistency of the rock grades into more soft, moveable sediments in some areas and I am able to recover this beautiful whale vertebra with great spiny processes largely intact. 

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A nice partial shark tooth with good complete tip appears out of the sediment. 

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Here's a beautiful complete tooth in matrix. Hard to see in the photo, but there is a section of a marine mammal bone just underneath the tooth - a great sample piece showing a combo of fossils. 

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I recommend paying attention to the small details at this site. Here, a tiny bony plate from the jaw of a fish or small shark is cemented onto the sediments attached to a rib bone section. 

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A gorgeous full tooth shows it's ferocious and deadly curve. 

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I enjoy a peaceful evening sunset, rich with changing colors that are hard to name. In the following days, I head north to Placerville, and connect with a rockhound friend of mine who has made an important find of large, beautiful plates of druzy quartz on a brecciated serpentine matrix, near Washington, California. What follows are some photos of these wonderful specimens. 

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This druze has a very bright sparkle that is not conveyed by the camera! 

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Some amazingly sculptural and frothy pieces have been recovered. 

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Beautiful sub-surface colors lend blues, pinks, yellows, and greens to the various pieces. 

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Large, multi-layered pieces adorned with bright chalcedony icicles are my favorites.

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How about this monster museum piece?

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Once again, I am amazed at the things that vigilant and persistent rockhounds are bringing in out of the field these days. Makes me want to get back out there as soon as I can! Happy Rockhounding! 

 

 

 

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I recently had the pleasure of visiting a friend of mine, Mr. Lloyd Bryant, who I consider to be an exceptional rockhound. Here he shows off some bookends that he made from very nice quality local Oregon petrified woods. The top pair is especially impressive, and looks like it could easily hold the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica. 

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Lloyd immediately invites me into his living room, and shows me his gemstone knife collection, which he has painstakingly assembled over the years. Here he holds up the very first knife that he made, with its gorgeous and flawless petrified palm wood blade, and local Oregon petrified wood handle. 

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Here are a couple of one piece knives in the Bryant collection, the bottom one made from the finest quality British Columbia jade, and the top one made from a local Jackson County, Oregon petrified redwood tree, discovered by fellow rockhounding buddy Wes Riley, on Mt. Ashland. Wes admitted to me that he initially didn't think that the redwood log was worth shaking a stick at, but now, seeing the beautiful flowing grain pattern of Lloyds knives, he knows different.

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Out in his shop, Lloyd explains the various steps involved in the knife making process. Here a drill press cores out a knife handle with a precision rout that will be matched by the pin on the blade exactly. Lloyd will drill underwater, and the bucket he is using is salvaged from an old refrigerator. The ability to see other than intended purposes for all manner of gear is just one sign of the true old school lapidary. 

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Here's a closer look at the knife coring setup, with a view of the dual vise assembly that Lloyd created to hold the knife handle with unerring accuracy. Lloyd's style of lapidary is very adaptive, and visionary. A highly skilled machinist, he can problem solve and fabricate just about anything to get the job done. 

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Back in Lloyd's living room, here's a super sweet piece of Imperial Jasper out of Mexico, that he windowed superbly, showing off the almost unbelievable array of orbs. During Lloyds heyday, this jasper was more readily available than it is today, and it would now be quite difficult to come up with this quality of rough.

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A fantastic Blue Mountain Picture Jasper complete with glowing butterscotch heart! The claim for this material was held and worked by Leonard Kopcinski, of Lucky Strike thunderegg mining fame. Leonard passed away on September 1, 2014, at the age of 96. He was another wonderful, kind, and loveable rockhounding soul from the previous generation of miners and lapidaries. Rest in peace Leonard. 

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Lloyd is also a sphere maker and this one he calls "The Angel of McDermitt" named for the heavenly figure soaring over the picture jasper hills.

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I couldn't resist this gorgeous rhodochrosite heart which Lloyd crafted out of some very fine and flowery Argentinian material. 

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Out in his shop building, Lloyd shows off a 1000 lb. hoist that he has fabbed together out of forklift parts and other equipment. If your initial impression is like mine, you might be wondering what in the world anyone would do with one of these. Well, like I said before, Lloyd is an exceptional rockhound. I might want to make that "Rockhound" with a capital R! 

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He takes me into his petrified log room, and you can see what the hoist has been used for! 

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A glowing log of excellent quality Arizona rainbow petrified wood, weighing several hundred pounds, expertly contour polished on top stands tribute to Lloyd's incredible lapidary skill. 

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Equally large and impressive is this fantastic log out of Butte Falls, Oregon. 

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Another Arizona stunner, even more massive, and fiery than the first one. 

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I think almost everyone would agree that the Arizona rainbow is the cadillac of woods. Here's another incredible log, with brilliant contour polished top, representing hundreds of hours of work. 

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While the Arizona wood is striking, it is also somewhat abundant. There are other localities that produce interesting woods in less quantities, and the well known Hampton Butte collecting area in Eastern Oregon is one. Here, a gigantic agatized green wood log has been secured from that coveted locality. Collected perhaps 50 years ago, you can be very sure that it would be impossible to find something of this magnitude there today. 

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Here's another view of the Hampton Butte green wood log, with both of its ends contour polished out. The days and weeks of work done to accomplish this seem almost irrespective of the nature of time itself, and the log becomes something archtypal and timeless, rendered hither by some vast labor of love.

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Lloyd's property was initially a cattle ranch and the outbuilding that houses his shop was equipped with a milking station. Lloyd converted the area into his wet sanding and polishing station, and this is where he does the time consuming work of wet sanding his logs, and other smaller projects.

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For example, here's a more managable piece - a lovely carved Davis Creek, California electric rainbow obsidian that he is working on for his wife. 

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He calls this glowing beauty "The Monster" alluding to the hundreds of hours he has in on it. 

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The small details do not elude Lloyd's attention. Here, "dog and cat" survey another awesome standup specimen of Blue Mountain Picture Jasper. These two critters cut exactly as you see them, Lloyd explains. "I didn't do anything to them except put them on a base."

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In the fine tradition of the exceptional lapidary, Lloyd can make any machine that his mind dreams up. Here's a custom built 8 inch sanding drum attached to a flexible cable, for use on free style sanding projects using rock too large to hold up to the traditional arbor setup. 

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Here's a tumbler design that is straight out of Lloyds mind. I've never seen another one like it, and Lloyd claims that it's "ten times better than the traditional rotary drum style tumbler." I'm inclined to believe him! 

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A closer look at the setup, showing the brackets that hold up to six standard sized rotary drums, and swing them end over end. Lloyd's tumbling recipe is to load each drum with 50 unfinished cabs, and fill the drum the rest of the way with tiny stone "workers". (the term he uses for the small bits and pieces of agate, jasper and petrified wood leftover from various trimming and cutting projects) The resulting run can produce 300 finished cabochons. 

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Lloyd weighs out lapidary materials on a scale that was used for weighing newborns, and was discarded from a local hospital. There is an innocence to this, and a sweetness that I feel is somehow getting lost from today's lapidary world, and I long to preserve it, or at least document it, so that we have some record of it's seemingly forgotten elegance and goodness. 

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I'm only a fraction of the lapidary that Lloyd is. Some of his concepts and skills are barely comprehensible to me. His shop is like a magician's lair where pure magic becomes routine. He reaches down under a bench and pulls out a dusty old piece, handing it over to me as we say our goodbyes.

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It's a fantastic specimen of rare Louisiana petrified palm, in the round. Over the days to come, I take on the sanding of it in my own shop, and work it down, getting closer to a mirror finish. It's a challenging project that he has handed over to me. I lack Lloyd's exemplary skill, and his range of ability. My equipment is not designed for large sized pieces. My arms and back are aching by the time I come around to putting a final polish on this piece. In the end, I finish it less with skill, and the proper equipment, and more out of a singleminded and stubborn desire.

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I want to at least be able to hold up a candle to Lloyd's greatness. I'm proud to know this exceptional rockhound, and be inspired by him. He's a vanishing breed and if I stand in his shadow enough, than I will for sure get a better compass on what kind of person I would like to become. That's what rockhounds can do for each other! Pass it on!  

 

 

 

 

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On a fine winter's day in January, I head out of the office, leaving "the boss" in charge. (wink) Two year old Granddaughter Rose takes right to the position, and loves to do anything she's not actually supposed to! 

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If I drive all day from Southern Oregon - and there's not much day in January - I can make it to the land of the Joshua Trees, in the Southern California high desert, out east of Bakersfield, on Highway 58, past Tehachapi, and Mojave. 

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Ordinarily, the landscape outside my car window changes slowly and almost imperceptibly on these long journeys, from the plentiful rivers and pines of Oregon, to the stark and arid landscapes of the American southwest. But when the Joshua Trees appear, it seems abrupt, almost as if one has opened the door upon another world. 

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I can't help but stop and take a few pictures of these absurd relatives of grasses and orchids, with their bowed and twisted forms somehow both testing and renewing my belief in the magic of life, all at once! 

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I make it down into Arizona - the home of winter time gem shows, and also some fun field collecting opportunities. Here a full moon is setting, as the sun peeks over the horzion in the Castle Dome area of Quartzsite, Arizona. 

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About 50 miles from Quartzsite, is the famous Planet Mine, which is actually a cornucopia of unconsolidated shafts, adits, and prospects in the reddish copper bearing hills of the Buckskin Mountains. I'm working in some tailings dumps on the north side of the Buckskins, overlooking the floodplain of the Bill Williams River. 

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As mentioned, there are tunnels everywhere in this area. Soon after directions to the mine appeared in Minerals of Arizona written by Neal Bearce, the State of Arizona renewed their fencing efforts, and attempted to block off the most accessible entrances. As you can see, bright blue seams of chrysocolla in the rock above the entrance tempt the rockhound to go chasing down the tunnel. 

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A closer examination of the wall just outside of a tunnel entrance, shows a fascinating webwork of beautiful, robin's egg blue chrysocolla, running this way and that, like lightning through the rock. Miners working the Buckskin Rawhide Fault zone have removed more than 25,000 tons of copper over the years, and also a whopping 15,000 ounces of gold!

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A placard on fencing at the entrance to a tunnel group warns of the danger of entering old mine adits and shafts, but as you can see, determined and perhaps foolhardy folks have gone ahead and pryed their way in. This isn't the most unstable rock I have ever seen in a tunnel, but any tunnel can be dangerous for a number of reasons. 

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Field collector Michael Shannon did make an important find of gorgeous long tufts of chalcanthite a few years back, in an underground room, in one of the tunnels of the Planet Mine. But he is an experienced field collector, with a family history of minerals and mining. For the beginning rock collector, or if you are a first timer at a site, and you haven't done any research on the mines in the area, it is wise (and legal) to stay out of abandoned mine tunnels. 

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You can typically do just as well by moving rock outside the tunnels, as rockhounds have done here, exposing one of the abundant seams of chrysocolla in the area, and safely gaining access to some beautiful collectibles. 

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This is just one of the extensive mine dumps that dot the area of the Planet Mine. The entire slope here is littered with boulders containing seams of chrysocolla. Even if you've never collected rocks before, you simply can't go wrong here. 

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Or you can choose to do as I am doing, and methodically dig through the tailings to a depth of about two feet, which yields piece after piece with the prized blue color. Basically all the tailings rock came out of those tunnels, so digging through the dumps is a safe way to get a look at what was inside. 

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The color of the chrysocolla here is remarkable. It's as bright as I think I have ever seen it. 

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Most material consists of thin seams of chrysocolla up to about 5 mm but for me, the prized specimens are the ones that contain bright pockets of sparkly, translucent quartz druze over aqua blue chrysocolla. 

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There are enough prospects and dumps in this area that a rockhound could make numerous return trips over a lifetime. I'm sure that there are still undiscovered copper deposits in this area just waiting for you. Here, a lovely coating of white, sparkly druzy quartz contrasts against the blue, and comes alive in the sunlight, in a way that the camera cannot convey. 

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A super sweet little pocket of bubbly druze! 

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A couple of malachite spheres pose like glacial erratics in a crystalline landscape. 

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Black and blue druze combine in a stunning little pocket. 

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One half of this rock is coated by a sugary sparkle of druze, while the other side sports bright blue chrysocolla. 

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A unique piece of lovely, snow white quartz druze.

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 A great specimen rock of Arizona chrysocolla!

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 How about this gorgeous beauty?

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An excellent pocket of intensely colored, pristine druzy chrysocolla. 

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What was I thinking? - that's the question rockhounds may sometimes ask themselves after the fact. This single chrysocolla boulder added 35 pounds to my already sagging pack, and I had to pack it down off the mountain, over the better part of a mile. Plus I missed one trail on the way down and blundered off, adding unwanted distance to my arduous carry. But for some reason, I had to have this pretty rock! 

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Reluctantly, I leave the Planet Mine, and get back on the Arizona highways, heading for the well known Finch Mine, near the mining town of Hayden, Arizona. Here the sun is coming up on another perfect January day for rockhounding. 

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The great Cactus Plain, south of the Buckskin Mountains was used by the US Military under General Patton, to train for the invasion of North Africa, during World War II. The harsh but beautiful desert terrain tested the men and machines of war.  

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The history of the town of Hayden, Arizona is checkered with the environmental issues caused by Big Copper mining. Here a giant shovel works atop incredibly large tailings piles that look like small hills from the distance. It becomes like an impressionistic painting in the wavering heat of a January day. 

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Climbing the Hills above Hayden, one can see the monster tailings mounds left over from the world's insatiable appetite for copper. The mounds are over a mile long, and fill the entire valley of the Gila River in this area. 

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A short spur road leads steeply up a small excavated canyon to the Finch Mine and beyond. 

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Interestingly enough, I meet some rockhounds from the Czech Republic, up at the Finch Mine. Here Jan Loun on the left, and Petr Cerny unload their flats in preparation for the Tucson gem and mineral shows. They're up at the Finch Mine, and the nearby 79 Mine to do some pre-show rockhounding before they get tied to their booth. 

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As mentioned, the Finch Mine though small, is a rockhound favorite, and a Mindat locality which is what brought Jan and Petr out. 

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Here again the state of Arizona has fenced off the entrance, and again, people have pryed back the fence. But as far as I've ever heard, there's no real reason to go in the adit, unless you are a mine tunner bagger. 

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 The real prizes lie within tiny vugs and pocketing in the rocks of the Finch tailings pile, which were tossed out as tunneling proceeded in this abandoned lead/copper mine. Be careful going through these rocks though, as I did see one scorpion which appeared out of nowhere, from underneath the pile. 

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Always keep an eye out for hidden danger! 

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I love druzy material, and the rocks in the Finch Mine tailings pile provide lots of small pockets of sparkly black druze, some with exquisite little botryoidal formations. 

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Another example of the small, but really aesthetic specimens that will be found with the patient breaking through the rock on the tailings pile. 

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Some of the druze occurs over a soothing light blue layer of hemimorphite adding to the beauty. 

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 But the real prize here is the uncommon pocket where druze has coated over bright orange tabs of wulfenite. 

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 Here's a wonderful vug of black druze with the classic orange wulfenite standing out. 

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My best vug ever! Really quite a large pocket for this locality. Sunset

 I sit on the pile, happily breaking rocks until sunset, thankful for any amount of time I can spend out here in this gorgeous landscape. Tomorrow, I will have to get to "real" work, as the Tucson gem shows unfold, but the perfection of this moment is a memory to hold onto. 

 

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If you've read my earlier blogs, then you know that I make an annual trip to Trona, California, for the Searles Valley Gem and Mineral Society Show, and to go out on the Searles Lake field trips, to collect world class evaporite minerals, such as this marvelously textural, large pink halite.

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One of the great rockhounding sites I pass by, on my way south, down Hwy 395, is Peterson Mountain, also known as Hallelujah. Here the road to Peterson invites me to drive on in and get a little digging done, with the peak directly ahead, and flaring orange in the last light of the setting sun. Believe me, I definitely think about it!

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Anywhere you dig has potential for smoky quartz crystals, but there are two claims up on the very top of the mountain, where permission is needed. In this picture, you can see the slide zone which extends on either side of the main rampart of rock near the summit. Crystals have definitely come from this area, and also from the sage slopes to the either side. 

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How do you know when you're there? Peterson Mountain is about 70 miles south of Susanville, CA, and 30 miles north of Reno, NV. It is accessed by an unmarked dirt road, spurring off of Hwy 395,  that is exactly one mile south of the road signed "Red Rock Road". You will see Red Rock Road as you are traveling south on 395. If you are heading north on 395, you will see these red rock formations, and know that you are very close. 

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Here are some of my best finds from nearly 20 years of rockhounding on Peterson Mountain. It strikes lightning into your heart when you find something like this! But remember, large scepters are rare. Realistically, you would probably need to make repeated trips over many years to hit a pocket that would yield a specimen like this. But then again, I've seen some first-timers that were handsomely rewarded by the mountain. Are you feeling lucky?

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An ancient earthen union, brought to light.

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Huge elestial scepter, with smaller (but still good sized) scepter keyed into it. 

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Here's the other side of this beauty!

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How about this otherworldly design? The main stem crystal actually is terminated, although it's hard to tell from this angle. An almost  ridiculous, yet entirely awesome amethyst and citrine elestial scepter head is partially wrapped around the large central smoky. 

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Who would have believed that such a geometry is possible?

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A burly "turkeyhead", as diggers call these large elestials. 

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Smoky amethyst tips!

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Back on Hwy 395 and heading to Trona, I pass through the scenic Walker River Valley, on the east side of the Sierras, south of Topaz Lake. Snows have been coming early to this part of the country, and you can see the hill on the horizon is dusted. 

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As the highway climbs higher, over on the back side of Yosemite, geothermal features are plainly revealed in the cold snap. 

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Just before I get to Mono Lake and around 7000 feet, I come to my favorite forever view of the high Sierras. Quaking aspens are turning gold, and running up and down just about every draw, as the land does a slow, undulation up towards the cloud capped summits. 

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 Aspens turn to flame beneath the silence of the frozen peaks. 

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Just around the corner, Mono Lake glitters enchantingly in the sullen light. The lake has been pulled back from the brink of destruction since a 1994 ruling mandating that water levels be restored to a higher mark, though still 25 feet below historic levels. Years of water diversion have brought a loss of 98% of the migrating duck population that once visited. The future now seems to hang in balance, like the scene over the lake this morning, with the fullness of the silvery light still shrouded by the circling storm. 

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I drop down from the snow zone, closer to the shore of Mono Lake, and can't resist taking a walk among the Quakies. Their golden bounty is fluttering down to earth, and covering the hillsides. 

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Creamy boulders of granite, smoothed by the weathering of eons are everywhere on the back side of the Sierras. To the stones, the brief pagentry of the trees must appear as only some quick flame that exhausts itself before one can turn and behold it. 

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I make it to the desert! There's some daylight left, so I decide to explore the mine grouping around the Talc Hills, accessed out of Lone Pine, via Hwy 190, just before it drops into Panamint Valley. The Talc City Mine produced nearly all the steatite grade talc in the US. By 1950, it's total production was a quarter of a million tons.

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A ramshackle talc ore chute falls apart at the top end of a cut. 

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A logo is still visible on one of the metal sheets. 

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There is a little druzy botryoidal chalcedony around here, but not much. 

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The miners' last ride. A rusted hulk sits down in the bottom of a talc pit. 

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The next morning, I catch the dawn at the Trona Pinnacles just south of Searles Lake. The murky hold of night is slowly washed away by the oncoming light. These ancient tufa towers are composed of calcium carbonate, deposited by calcium rich groundwater mixing with alkaline lake water during the Pleistocene Ice Ages. 

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During this time, massive runoff spilled from the Sierra Nevada, creating a chain of "inland seas" - a system of interconnected lakes that stretched from Mono Lake, to Death Valley, and included Searles Lake. 

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The silent monoliths from a bygone time stand witness as the muted tones of the night are thrown off in a golden sunrise. 

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Markers of ancient groundwater upwelling episodes that spanned 90,000 years, the ragged spines of pinnacles run out into the emptiness of the new day. The steam from the Searles Valley Chemicals processing plant is barely visible at the top left of the picture. 

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Interestingly, I learn from an interpretive sign that over 30 film projects a year are shot here at the Trona Pinnacles, including movies like Star Trek V, The Gate II, and Planet of the Apes. 

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Let the gem show begin! Bonnie Fairchild, shown here staffing the show office, along with her husband Jim have been the show anchors for decades. Without them, and a small number of volunteers from the club's membership, there would be no show and field trips! 

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Outside the show building, Jim Fairchild gives instructions to hundreds of eager field collectors, who are lining up for their once a year opportunity to collect some excellent pink halite. Check some of my other Trona blogs to get more details of this very significant weekend of field tripping. 

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Another pillar of the Searles Valley Gem Show, resident and miner Gail Austin cuts hundreds of geodes for attendees at the show. Here he shows off his 1873 first generation Peacemaker, made by Colt. 

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It's "the gun that won the West", and has been fully, and painstakingly restored by the same person who does antique gun restoration for the Smithsonian. 

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Additionally, I'm hanging out with rockhound Monica Travis, who is showing off an excellent boulder of Ballarat marble that she has found, just south of the ghost town of Ballarat, in Panamint Valley. The beautiful salmon colored marble with forest green streaking takes a very nice polish.

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This rock has about as nice a patterning as I've ever seen. 

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We are joined by University of Texas at El Paso geology graduate students Jade Brush, and Josh Glauch who are doing some masters work in the area, re-mapping geological units in Pleasant Canyon, over in adjoining Panamint Valley. As Jade put it, "When I looked at the existing geological map of Pleasant Canyon, the units just didn't make sense."

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We all set out on a field trip to the Stockwell Mine, on the flanks of the Slate Range, east of Searles Lake, where it was reported that a couple of sheriff's deputies, who are also rockhounds, made a find of chalcanthite earlier in the year. Soon after this photo, the road gets washed out and not even Josh's 4x4 can proceed. 

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 We move up into the canyons on foot. Josh is a strong hiker, and he is able to access multiple ridges, looking for the mine. Jade tries to recollect the exact location from memory, as she was here years before, but at that time, you could drive right up to the mine. 

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Like many mines in this part of the country, the Stockwell Mine is actually a mine grouping. We are looking for a specific tunnel, but there are numerous adits and shafts in various canyons in the area. Josh and I get distracted by an old can dump at the bottom of an ore landing.

Halite 001

 

Right off the bat I find a Prince Albert Tobacco can with perhaps 20% of the logo still visible. The Prince Albert can was the choice of early claim stakers, who would use the lidded cans to hold claim identification papers, which were required to be attached to claim markers, at the boundaries of their claim. 

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Everything tells a tale in these old mining dumps, but sometimes you're not exactly sure what happened. Here's a piece of glass from an old auto, with bullet holes in it. 

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The lid from a one pound container of Royal brand baking powder. This type of container was being sold from the early part of the 19th century, through the first quarter of the 20th century. 

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Clockwise from top left: A partial grindstone for sharpening tools; a sardine container; mesh strapping for binding cartons or crates; part of a spring coil from a mattress. 

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At the top, a partial trivet from an old woodstove. Below, the metal framework for some sort of a wooden tool. 

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It seems incongruous that such nice china would have been brought out to a mining camp.

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In a neighboring canyon, Jade has confirmed that this is the tunnel she visited earlier, and where the chancanthite was reported. It's showtime at the Stockwell! 

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Before we go in, my disclaimer: Exploring a mine tunnel is inherantly dangerous. In posting this blog, it is the sole intent of Scott's Rock & Gem to provide a record of exploration, and not to encourage anyone to enter a mine. To do so is to enter at your own risk. In fact, the common wisdom among rockhounds who operate safely, is to stay out of all mine tunnels! We have it on the authority of the two sheriff's deputies who explored this tunnel and located the chalcanthite, that it was safe. Also our miner friend, and Trona local, Gail Austin has said that it is a good tunnel. But as we make the decision to go in, each of us knows in the back of our heads that anything can happen. 

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We head in, and the light of day drops away behind us. The air deadens and grows stale. Large piles of rodent dung lie drifted here and there, and we try not to think about the dreaded hantavirus. Or falling rock. Up ahead, the tunnel tees and we make a right, into complete blackness. 

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A ladder descends into a vertical shaft that is just big enough to admit one person. Josh goes for it. Again, we had the assurance from miner Gail that the timber in this mine would be good. He based that on his knowledge that the mine had been worked as recently as 1975, and his experience of how well wood holds up over time in mines in this arid land. But as each of us takes hold of the top rung and we begin to lower ourselves into uncertain darkness, there is no doubt in our minds, that this is getting more dangerous by the minute.

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The ladder holds and we drop down into a lower tunnel, which quickly confronts us with another ladder. Still no chalcanthite in sight. We start to doubt ourselves because the deputies had only mentioned one ladder. Did we miss something somehow? Did we get off track? Josh forges ahead, determined. But the second ladder drops us onto a makeshift plank scaffolding that traverses a vertical shaft of unknown depth. Without a doubt, things are getting a bit hairy.

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Here, Monica descends a third ladder, and navigates a missing rung, while Jade spots. Josh has already continued across more funky planking, and has discovered a fourth ladder. I'm starting to think that we must have missed it. But just then, Josh calls up: "Chalcanthite!"

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The Stockwell chalcanthite zone exists as a secondary mineralization after mining, in a very fractured seam of white clay. It's quite rich with nice, fibrous blue crystals of chalcanthite filling in between the fractures in the clay. But there are some large lumps of fractured clay up at ceiling level that look like they may want to come down. Hopefully, not on anybody's head. Believe you me, I am looking up at that ceiling frequently, as I gingerly pull a few samples from the crumbling wall. But there is a good amount of chalcanthite, and no rocks fall. Everybody gets some nice samples.

 

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I think we all breathe a sigh of relief as we round the last corner on our exit, and see the heavenly light of day. 

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Back outside, Josh shows off an awesome, large chunk of clay just chock full of brilliant blue chalcanthite sprays. We work quickly to seal the mineral specimens with a clear coat of varnish. This is because chalcanthite is a pentahydrate. Having five waters in each molecule, it wants to give off water and dessicate very quickly. It must be sealed and protected from direct sunlight, and heat. 

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Here's a great piece, with large area of undamaged, bright blue fibers.

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Another very nice specimen with good coverage. 

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A superb, larger than hand-sized specimen with feathery tufts exploding across the surface. 

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How about this blue? Just to cure any skepticism: no photoshopping of any sort has been done to this photo!

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If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. As always, I wish you good times in the field, good memories, and good luck in your collecting. May the bluebird of happiness smile upon your endeavors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the early nineties, I spotted an ad in my local, Jackson County, Oregon, Nickel classified ads newspaper. (Yes, this was well before Craigslist) A guy was selling agate. I visited his house, and bought some pieces, including this rather large nodule. He said that he had found the agate near Lake Creek, Oregon, after having noticed that a lot of the agate at the Crater Rock Museum, in Central Point, Oregon, was labeled as being from the Lake Creek area. 

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I headed over to the museum, which was founded in 1954, and houses a shop, with a saw big enough to cut my large nodule. They also have a world class mineral collection, and the museum is well worth the visit, if you are in the southern Oregon area.  

Lake Creek nodule cut

I was stunned to see that my "garage sale" nodule cut with a fantastic, white plume interior! From then on, Lake Creek was on my rockhound radar! I have made trips out there for almost 20 years now, and the area still holds a few surprises each time I go.

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On a gorgeous golden Sunday, in late November 2013, I decide to go agate hunting, to see what might be found. The Lake Creek area can be accessed from Ashland, Oregon, via the Dead Indian Memorial Road, which takes off from Hwy 66 at the south end of Ashland. The photo shows the DIM road ascending below the summit of Grizzly Peak, a prominent landmark on the horizon, east of Ashland.

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 On the way up, I notice that somebody had a little extra holiday spirit this year!

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 The route up provides some excellent vistas of the quaint little town of Ashland, with Pompador Bluff seen on the right, in the middle distance. 

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As you round Pompador Bluff, at just the right angle, you can see "the old man in the mountain", open-mouthed, and seemingly asking a question forever to the empty sky. 

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Pompador Bluff, and other cliffs in the area are composed of the sandstones and conglomerates of the Payne Cliffs formation, which was deposited during the Eocene time, some 40 million years ago, when rivers flowed slowly across the land, periodically flooding, and  moving large amounts of materials.

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From Dead Indian Memorial Road, I take the Shale City Road. As the sign indicates, there is a very nice trail to the summit of Grizzly Peak, up this road at the 4.7 mile mark. The Lake Creek Road is just a short distance beyond that. 

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 The Lake Creek Road is signed (37-2E-7.2) but the photo shows a far more prominent sign at the juncture. The Cascade Ranch has definitely made recent efforts in this area to out-sign the BLM, and you will note numerous "No Trespassing" signs along some stretches of the Lake Creek road. 

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A couple of mourning doves take some sun on the Lake Creek Road. Even the days stay cold now, and these birds are reluctant to move from their sunny patch. 

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Just around a corner in the road, deer are browsing. This photo was taken earlier in the season, as evidenced by the green grass, but I see several deer today, and they are abundant in the area. 

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 At about 5 miles down the Lake Creek Road, a clearing opens up, and you get a marvelous view of Mount McLoughlin, a picture perfect cinder cone. Here, BLM spur road 37-2E-17 leads into one of the agate bearing areas. 

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The road, and woods in this area are underlain in some parts by a vessicular basalt, and some of the vugs are filled with agate nodules of various sizes. Most are small, as shown in the photo, with pea sized agates, up to the largest one, which is about one inch. But occasionally, bigger nodules are found. 

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The spur road runs for about a quarter mile, and leads down to an irrigation canal. One possible approach to this rather large area, where agate is thinly scattered, is to dig adjacent to the road, in any area where you see  a concentration of agates. You could get lucky. The area in the photo occurs just before the spur road makes a final descent down to the irrigation canal.

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Over the years, I've done some scratching of the surface, down to about 10 inches in this area.

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I spot a pretty good sized one right in the road. Only the tip top was poking out. You have to use a pick and pull at anything you see in this area. You never know when a small piece will turn out to be larger than it first appeared. 

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Back at my shop, I cut the large agate nodule, revealing a nice interior of milky gray/blue depth, with some interesting detail at the edges where the agate contacted the surrounding basalt during formation. 

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It's not the most aesthetic piece that I have ever found here, but it's not bad, and will certainly make a good display piece once polished. 

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Here is a nice nodule that I lucked out and dug up, just off the side of the road in this area. To me it's somewhat reminiscent of the more famous Brazilian agate nodules. I love the hollow crystal lined chambers hidden within some of the nodules found here. 

Lake Creek Limb

Here's a little secret that very few if any rockhounds know: There are some beautiful agatized limb casts in this exact little area. I haven't found them anywhere else, in these agate bearing hills. These are obviously extremely rare, and I may not even find one per year. But occasionally they do show up. 

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After the spur road has dropped down, but just before it gets to the irrigation canal, there is a large downed tree. I always check the root wads of these fallen trees, hoping for agates. You can continue to check each year, as rains wash out the root wad, revealing more material. 

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At the juncture with the irrigation canal, the spur road effectively ends, as it is bisected by a creek coming in from the right, which continues on downhill, through the metal chute. The irrigation canal continues straight ahead, through the black culvert, and a maintenance road follows along it's side.

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Walking the maintenance road, along the irrigation canal, I spot a pretty red moss agate, which grades to a yellowish area, and finally into a milky gray blue area with green moss - cool! 

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A few feet further on is this decent sized, cuttable four inch nodule.

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And just a little down from that, is this sweet little druzy piece of rock crystal from a geode cavity of old. 

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As you climb up a down on the hillsides here, you periodically get some very nice views of Mt. McLoughlin peeking above nearer ridgelines. This is a December view, with the mountain fully cloaked in wintery robes. 

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Walking around in the woods, I find this standard, but decent five inch agate and crystal geode which would clean up, and could be windowed to make a presentable piece. My finds today aren't top notch, but these are the kinds of things which keep you going on the hunt. 

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A little further on, I make my find of the day in these wooded hillsides - a real nice large, fist sized agate chunk that is all wormy on one side with chalcedony coated tubes. This will most certainly cut with a great display, and could just be cleaned and left as is, for a fantastic specimen.

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What follows is a short gallery of my best finds, from the past two decades of collecting in this area. Here a large and gorgeous nodule is festooned with green moss, threading throughout moonlight gray/blue agate. 

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Fantastic almost ten inch nodule with very artistic interplay of agate and moss. 

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Sweet eliptical nodule with large clay tubes running through translucent gray agate. 

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 A perfect balance of moss and agate, with sparkling druzy pocket for accent. 

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 Spectacular multi-colored jasper discovered after the flood of 97 made the irrigation canal jump it's banks, and carve out a section of hillside. 

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Weird and beautiful gnarly nodule. 

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Botryoidal druzy cavity. 

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This one rivals Brazilian agate in my mind. 

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An exceptionally large geode nodule that I dug out from underground, up on a wooded ridge. 

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Wonderful gray mossy nodule with fantastic stalactitic chamber. 

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Crazy jasper cored moss agate with botryoidal agate covering. 

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There's not enough time in a day. For every agate that I find, I believe that there are dozens still hiding under the soil. Exploration of this area takes a lot of patience and time due to steep, thickly wooded terrain. You will notice that none of the agates in my gallery looked anything like the original white plume nodule that got me going on rockhounding this area. There must be another area, but I may need another lifetime to find it! Or maybe I'll get lucky and find it the next time I vist the Lake Creek agate beds. Happy rockhounding! 

 

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While the high desert of northern Humboldt County, in Nevada may at first appear empty, unpopulated, and even desolate, you might be surprised to learn that within the Virgin Valley mining district, there are thousands of claims, some of them patented, which mean that the Federal Government has passed the title to the claim owner, making it private land. Here, a BLM sign points the way towards a precious opal mining adventure for those rockhounds who want to fee dig at one of the several mines that allow public digging.

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The Virgin Valley mining district is contained within the Sheldon Antelope Refuge. It's the middle of June, but this female still sports a bit of winter scruff and she might still need it. With elevations on the refuge ranging from 4000 to 7000 feet, snow can come at just about any time. 

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About 20 million years ago, this area was forested, and received over 50 inches of rain annually. This opalized limb of an ancient tree was buried in volcanic ash from eruptions that occurred 12 to 20 million years ago. as the limbs from trees disintegrated in the ground, they left hollow casts which were later filled with a silica solution, as hydrothermal water flows percolated through the ash layer. 

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Not all opal is precious. While the rind, or outer skin of this awesome limb shows the mesmerizing play of color that is characteristic of precious opal, you can see that its core is composed of milky opal, also called common opal, which is glassy and beautiful, but does not have the play of color. 

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There are varying kinds of "fire" or "play of color" in the Virgin Valley opals. Here a fiery little limb displays "direct fire" which is where you can see the color directly head on, whichever way you turn the opal in the sunlight. 

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In this photo, a clear glassy opal (known as crystal) displays "contra luz" fire. Literally meaning "against the light", this type of fire emerges in the opal when you hold it up to the sun, and let the sunlight come through the opal from behind. 

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Stringy fire - I'm not sure if this is an accepted gemological term, or if it is one of those rockhound names, but you can see that the fire in this lovely opal is definitely stringy in the main mass. Towards the edge, the fire goes more into "broadflash". 

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Black Fire - this is the most rare of all the types of opals from the Virgin Valley. And, it's what the Virgin Valley is famous for. By some accounts, this area is really the only place in the world that produces true black fire opal. 

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Opals from the Virgin Valley come out of a wet clay layer, and must be kept immersed in water or they will dry out and craze (show a million fractures) possibly greatly reducing their fire, or totally losing it (and with it, their value). While opinions on the successful stabilization (drying out without fracturing) of Virgin Valley opals will vary, one claim owner shared his opinion that the percentage of unstable opals from the area was in the high 90's. In other words, very few Virgin Valley opals can be used for jewelry making. They are specimen opals only. 

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But if the fire can be taken away, it can also be given! Some opals that at first appear only milky, have the potential to "fire up" as they dry out. Here, a freshly dug milky opal still holds that mystery. Some opal hounds have a practice of keeping everything, just in case the white opal decides to fire up later on. Others toss their un-fiery opal, and the tailings diggers coming behind them are hoping to come across some of these discards that have gained fire.

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The first mine workings in Virgin Valley were started in 1905. Today, there are more people, claims, and encampments then ever, but it's still a pretty isolated, and tiny enclave of humanity. Here, opal hounds caravan down dirt roads leading to various claims where they can pay a fee to dig in the tailings, dig in the opal bearing clay on the virgin wall, or buy their opals direct from claim owners and millsites in the valley. 

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Let's get digging! Here comes a front end load of virgin opal bearing clay, fresh out of a mine, as opal diggers wait with great anticipation. 

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Centrally located to all the mines, the CCC camp offers free camping, potable water, restrooms, and a tepid swimming pond complete with toe nibbling minnows. 

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The Friends of the Refuge have restored the old bath house at the CCC Camp, so you can have a shower. 

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Or just soak your cares away after a day of hard digging.

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A sweet touch at the CCC Camp, from a local boyscout troop. 

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If you can't find opal when you go digging, you will almost certainly be able to find some petrified wood. Here, a good sized limb that is not opalized pops out of the wall at the Royal Peacock Mine. 

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Now this is getting better! Here's a piece of petrified wood with a thin seam of precious opal traveling through its interior. 

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A Virgin Valley oddity: an opalized limb with petrified rootlets within. As one claim owner explained, millions of years ago, the area had lakes. As these lakes dried up, willows were among the first trees to colonize the drying lakebeds, and they had aggressive root systems which plumbed some of the hollow casts left in the deeper soil by decayed wood. As the casts filled with silica solution, the roots were encased and fossilized along with the limb cast. 

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You have to look close. Precious opal can sometimes be easy to miss. This piece of opal didn't appear to have any areas of fire at first. 

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But when a small chip was popped out of the center, it revealed a nice area of rare black fire core that was stable! 

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Despite all your best efforts, you might get skunked, and it's not really your fault if you work hard and find nothing. As one claim owner at the Bonanza Mine put it, "Your chances of finding opal are slim to none". I dug the wall hard for 7 hours at the Royal Peacock Mine, and got nothing to show for it. But I saw a digger right next to me pull a beautiful precious opal limb! 

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Here, a nice long opalized limb has been found in the opal bearing clay, but shows no hint of color. 

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Here it is cleaned up, and it's really quite a nice specimen of crystal (glass clear) and white opal limb, even if it doesn't have any color. But this piece could mysteriously fire up later on as it drys out, and of course that's what everybody hopes for! 

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A wild burro brays in the distance, and the sound is overly large and obnoxious in this empty land. It's as if the burro is laughing at the fool diggers out there scratching at the dirt. And it's true: we're pretty far out of our element and engaged in the rockhound equivalent of a Quixotic quest, searching for that proverbial needle in a hundred haystacks! 

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But the lure of black fire keeps diggers coming back to try again! 

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Opalholics, we're called! And you can see why. Here, a beautiful, large, domed limb shows deep reflected points of colorful fire that dance within, in a way that the camera cannot possibly convey. 

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A fiery white limb section shows off some poppin' flashes. 

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A real sweet, direct fire limb. 

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How about this whopper! What are Virgin Valley opals worth? While travel videos on TV toss out big figures as diggers pluck opals from the wall, other claim owners prefer to keep quiet, and let the opal speak for itself. I will say this: some of the opals in these photos, which I purchased from the Bonanza Mine millsite, back in the mid 1990's, were not very expensive. I'm not sure I am able to believe some of the pricing I'm hearing today. 

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One miner told me that if the Virgin Valley opal was stable, he would just be cutting, and not running a fee dig. I think that's a telling statement. It's true that the very best specimens of any kind of mineral, including opal, will always command a high price. So a fantastic specimen opal from the Virgin Valley might be right up there in price, when compared to a fine cuttable opal from Australia. But in general, the capricious, unstable nature of the Virgin Valley opals will probably always preclude them from being readily embraced by the gem industry.  

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It's good to admire beauty for beauty's sake, without notions of price, and the Virgin Valley opals make it easy to do just that. The wall of fire in this opal looks like some other-dimensional realm out of a Star Trek movie. Live long and prosper. And maybe get an opal dig in while you're out there travelling the universe!

 

 

 

Rollei600

My old rockhound buddy, Rollie Emerson, out of Susanville, California called me up out of the blue, and asked me if I wanted to go digging. I hadn't heard from him in about eight years. "Well, let's get one in for old time's sake", I said. "We aren't getting any younger!"

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We chose to hit the Davis Creek rainbow obsidian mining area, where commercial miners, and rockhounds dig practically side by side. Here at the Broken Pick Mine, a sign advises the casual rockhound that this big pit is a commercial claim.

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The Broken Pick Mine is quite similar to several other commercial claims operating in the area. A beautiful exposure has been created by large amounts of hand digging, and the wall, which is about 12 feet high, has been properly cut to leave no dangerous overhangs. Another rockhound friend of mine, Jack Benedict, from Shady Cove, Oregon, is neighbors with the Broken Pick gang, and is commercially digging a mine just to the right of this one. 

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These commercial mines are really slick operations. Here you can see about 6 feet of soil overburden has been cut through to get to the obsidian layer. Jack says that they recently got a 750 pound rainbow obsidian boulder out of the mine. How do you load a piece like that without any mechanization? "Brute strength and ignorance!" Jack says.

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Over a ton of obsidian awaits transport out to the holding yard. My friend Jack sells this material to rock shops, and companies needing bulk amounts. He recently shipped a container to the cutting houses in China. 

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Anxious to get digging, Rollie and I pull just down the road to the public digging area, which is denoted by a large flat landing that has been graded out. At the upper edge of the landing, is a small bank where rockhounds can try their luck, and there are a couple of more ambitious pits just a short distance uphill from here. You can see the tailings pile of one, at the far right in the picture. 

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At the largest of the uphill pits, we set in on a wall that has about 7 feet of exposure, getting us down through the soil overburden and putting us right on top of the obsidian layer. Not too bad! Here Rollie checks a piece of obsidian. We look to see if we can see visible striping on the outside of the rock, which indicates the presence of the rainbow flow bands within. 

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I work at the juncture of the floor and the wall, since that is where the zone turns from mostly dirt, to mostly obsidian cobbles. 

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Rollie mentions that there is obsidian in the soil overburden also, and sure enough, he soon uncovers a nice sized boulder. 

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Being more fluffy, the soil layer is easier to dig in, and Rollie quickly pulls down the boulder. But we're not sure if it's the prized rainbow or not. There is a mixed bag of obsidian present in this pit, and while some is bright rainbow, some is more black, some silver or gray sheen, and some is mahogany. 

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We're in luck! A stroke of the rock pick flakes off an edge, revealing some nice banding of rainbow colors. We have to hold the rock at an oblique angle to get it to fire, but this can be helped by cutting, or doming the rock at a more parallel angle to the striping of the flow banding. An ideal angle is probably about 10 or 15 degrees offset from parallel. 

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Meanwhile, my dig looks like it's going to produce a big rock!

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I pull it out, and can see the color from a flake off the end. 

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Rollie holds a rock showing lovely pastel banding. 

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There are some awesome purple sheens coming out of this pit. 

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This rock had marvelous stripes of rich, vibrant color. 

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Here's one that has purple stars that dance around on the surface. 

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The colors at the Davis Creek rainbow pit are electric. This is a premier gem obsidian. Rollie and I get a full bucket of great material, and decide to head up the mountain to the famous Pink Lady Mine, another public digging site that is about 8 miles uphill. 

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On the way up, we pass the famous Needle Hill digging area. This hillside yields intersting, long, thin shards of black and mahogany obsidian that look a little like knitting needles. Generations of rockhounds have dug here, but there is still material available. The needles have a tone when struck, and are often used by crafters to make nice, musical sounding windchimes. 

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The ground at Needle Hill is absolutely littered with black and mahogany obsidian cobbles. But there is no sheen obsidian here. There is one commercial pit on Needle Hill, but the hillside is big enough to accomodate a bus load of diggers, so there should be no problem finding a spot to dig. Rollie and I move on up the mountain however, anxious to locate the Pink Lady Mine. 

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It turns out that the Pink Lady is not so easy to find. It's not visible from the Forest Service road, and you have to spur off on an unmarked dirt road that takes you back a few hundred yards to the digging area. After a few false chases down the wrong spurs, we finally find the area, which looks a bit like a moonscape with numerous craters. Obviously, a lot of work has been done here by generatons of rockhounds. There are good sized trees growing on some of the tailings piles. Rollie and I try to decide where to dig in. 

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Driven by some instinct that can't be fully explained, Rollie burrows into the ashen white soil.

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He's got something, and it looks big. Tightly keyed into the rocky soil, it's not moving. 

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But Rollie prevails and the Pink Lady yields up a 50 pound boulder of pink sheen! 

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The think I like about Rollie is the thing I like about most good rockhounds. He's a generous person. Here, he lets me into his hole, since my luck seems to have run out, but his is running strong. You can see the huge cavity that his big boulder left, and there's another good sized rock right below it. 

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You did say I could have this one right Rollie? Friend...old buddy...old pal?

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I pull out a significant boulder. Not quite as big as the first one, but that's OK, because I need my back to stay in one piece!

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Nice soft pastel pink and gold sheens in the boulder from the Pink Lady Mine. Most certainly, there is more down in the pit, but it's getting late, and it's been an awesome day of beautiful sheen obsidian collecting. Besides that, we have to leave something for the next person - That's you! Yes you. So go ahead and turn off the computer and get out there. It's waiting for you! Happy rockhounding!

 

 

 

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As detailed in Eastern Oregon Rockhound Ramble, Part 1, I was out in the field, thoroughly enjoying the first part of a three week rockhounding tour, organized by some Seattle friends. I joined the group at the famous eastern Oregon Glass Butte obsidian grounds, where we collected rainbow, fire, midnight lace, and other beautiful obsidian varieties. 

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Then we moved on to a white plume agate site, in the drainage of Stinking Water Creek, near Juntura, Oregon. Here's a large boulder of luscious white plume agate that I discovered while collecting at this prolific site. The persistent rains that had hung in the skies the whole time out, finally abated as we left the white plume site, and we decided to take a look down the Warm Springs Reservoir road. Norma McDonald, our trip navigator had some GPS coordinates for points along that road, and the area was also listed in the Gem Trails of Oregon guide.

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Probably we were due to strike out, after the last two awesome sites. Half of rockhounding is figuring out where things aren't! There were some small sized, plain white agate nodules in some of the open fields and low hills adjacent to the road, as the photo shows, but nothing of any size. It was a beautiful day, transitioning out of the rains. The bright sunshine and big puffy white clouds were much appreciated after so much wet gray weather. One member of our group did find a nice little obsidian arrowhead while wandering around, so the area wasn't completely without reward.

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We only got one day of transition from the rains. The next day was full strength sun, with temps shooting up into the high 90's. Norma had some GPS coordinates for a picture jasper site, out on the Rock Canyon Road, south of Vale, Oregon. We arrived at the spot, and our group fanned out, hiking up, and combing the sides, top, and back of this good sized hill. 

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As foreshadowed in Part 1 of the Eastern Oregon Rockhound Ramble, we were skunked again. Here, I mercilessly rate the site, clutching my meager collection of incredibly scarce, leaverite style jasper, with no pattern!

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From the "Picture No Picture Jasper" site, it was about another 10 miles to the base of Negro Rock, a remote landmark, and reportedly home to some colorful, though scarce petrified wood. I had one piece of literature in my rock collecting folder that indicated that the Model A was the best vehicle to make the trip out to Negro Rock, so you get an idea of how many years this site has been on rockhounds' radar. 

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On the way out, we encounter two creek fords with water depths of up to about 20 inches - too deep for my passenger van. For a precarious moment, it looks like I am going to have to walk in - the logical consequences of bringing a low clearance vehicle out on these roads! But happily, the group softens to my plight, gear is shuffled, and I park my insufficient rig, and  jump into a higher clearance, more "submersible" vehicle.

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The printed guide indicates that the digs here are hard to find and that the wood is deep, at least 6-7 feet. I circumnavigated the entire hill, changing elevations up and down along the traverse, looking for any sign. Others in our group struck out in different directions, but when we reunited, the story was the same. There was no sign of any digging in the area, no real sign of any float, save for a couple chips of jasper-like material that were too small to be recognizeable as wood. I think this might be an area that you would need to plan on staying at, and digging in deeply, hoping to get lucky. Those guys that drove the Model A's probably got most of it. Today, with heat close to 100, and no obvious sign of any sort to encourage us, except the entire bleached skeleton of a cow on the hillside, we weren't sure we were up to it.

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Several months later, I came across this slab in an old rockhound collection. It was marked as "petrified wood from Negro Rock" - beautiful material with its golds and subtle lavenders. I guess it must still be out there somewhere, in the sun baked emptiness of Malheur County, far eastern Oregon. 

 

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With guides, and GPS coordinates turning out to be less than optimal, we decided to rely on the good ole fashioned tribal knowledge of our rockhound friends Ken and Jeanine Metz, shown here at Negro Rock. The couple had visited a pink plume agate site in the Owyhee country, out of Nyssa, Oregon, years ago, and they said material had been abundant. In the morning, they would attempt to guide us to the site, using only their memory. This conveyance of knowledge using the rockhound oral tradition proved to be a valuable asset. 

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Now this is more like it! A rockhound longs only for the bright sky, the yielding earth, and the clang of steel! Ok, maybe a little Taco Bell thrown in there somewhere (wink).  As we neared the base of the low "Pink Plume" hill, we saw the first signs of agate float in the road. Again, almost magically, I was only on site about 30 minutes before I discovered a big agate mass just under the soil, and it wasn't moving. On the way back down to the rigs, to get bigger tools, I found another large chunk, poking out of a small drainage channel on the hillside. 

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Meanwhile, Carol Rust had discovered a large knob of Owyhee jasper over on the hillside across the road from Pink Plume. Now the rockhounds had work to do! In the photo, the knob is only partially cleared off. It eventually yielded several hundred pounds of material. 

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Would you put down the camera and grab a pry bar already? Here Kevin McDonald works the jasper hole, while the whole group is happily digging up the hillside in various spots. Temperatures are climbing, and nearing 100. But the fun of finding seams of agate and jasper allows the rockhound to somehow transcend physical limitations - at least for a time.  We drink lots of water, and manage to stay productive and ignore the long slow build of roiling heat.

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At my hilltop pink plume hole, I pull out a very nice looking 5 pound chunk with pastel pink plumes arising off a greenish base, and dancing into snowy agate. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of this nice rock comes out, and it's a 20 pounder! The hole continues to yield good sized chunks of rock, and then the fantastic happens. Ken and Kevin dig in and pull out a giant agate boulder well over 100 pounds! 

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Here's a smaller piece from the same hole, that polished up quite nicely. 

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Here's a dome-polished, hand sized piece from the Pink Plume hill float, showing some nice colors.  

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 A very nice pink plume agate, with excellent patterning, representative of the best that the site had to offer. 

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A short gallery of some additional pieces from the Pink Plume Hill site, that I worked on when I got back from the Owyhee country. 

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Pink Plume Parfait!

 

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 Owyhee Country! After collectively loading hundreds of pounds of material, we drive some rough roads to the canyon rims, where it's a few degrees less sweltering, there's an awesome "forever" view, and a nice breeze blowing. Interestingly enough, there's a little pink plume float even way up here. 

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At sundown, we make camp at the bottom of a four wheel drive track that ascends to a nearby mesa where Owyhee jasper can be found. At night, temps lower a bit, to sit in the 80's and the canyon rock and walls stay radiant with heat. 

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In the morning, we'll ascend the dirt track, which pops up in the saddle to the left of this flat top mesa, and leads into jasper country. 

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To inspire our tired group, and renew the desire for the chase, Norma McDonald brings out a color flyer she has, that features some very juicy pictures of varietal Owyhee jaspers. Here's an example from my personal collection that I call "The Ascension"

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Another specimen that should be illustrative of why rockhounds comb this rugged country, in search of elusive, beautiful jaspers. 

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The sublime beauty of even the simple toned Owyhee jaspers.

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Can you spot the Owyhee Jasper dig in this picture? Hint: blue backpack marks it. 

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In the words of Norma McDonald: "Now that's an Owyhee jasper seam"!

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Owyhee jasper color. This seam yielded material that looked a little bit like the famous Australian mookite. 

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By evening the heat builds, and with it thunderheads, that threaten rain. In the middle of the night a large bank of clouds moves in, and I can see it's filled wth lightning. I'm about 15 miles back in the rugged Owyhee country, over dirt roads that will quickly turn to mud, should the true force of these rainclouds cut loose. Reluctantly, I decide that I had better get back to pavement, rather than risk getting stuck out here, and causing the group to be delayed.

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On my way out: A gorgeous sunrise, and some rain does fall. In the next couple days, a heat wave hits. Little did we know, it had been cool at 100 degrees. The daytime highs climb to a near record 113, and warnings go out in town to stay inside. Our group retreats to a hotel in Nyssa, and holes up, until things cool back down to a nice, comfortable 100!

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I Head for home, back over the shoulders of the Cascade Mountain Range, past the amazing ramparts of Mt. Thielson.

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After the heat wave and thunderstorms, lightning set off fires in the Succor Creek area of Eastern Oregon, which burn right up to the road, and cause the rest of the group to abandon collecting plans in that region. 

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 The group heads for camp in snakeskin agate country, near Rome, Oregon. 

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Collecting is still good, as you can see, even though this area has produced quantities of the whimsically shaped snakeskin agate for generations of rockhounds. 

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Snakeskin agate has very little to no color or pattern inside. It's simply the fantastical shape that rockhounds can't resist. Kevin Rust poetically comments that, "When I hit one big one underground, it was like hitting into a swarm of weiner dogs! A whole bunch showed up."

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A visit to the Purple Cow hole, near McDermitt, Nevada. This pit has produced a variegated jasp-agate that has some nice purple, amethystine areas. 

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Kevin McDonald finally finds some McDermitt petrified wood!

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A Disaster Peak jasper hole, McDermitt, Nevada. Note the weird giant picasso concretion, leaned against the pit wall, to the right and up behind Kevin McDonald's head. 

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At the Davis Creek, California obsidian area, claim owner Frank Newman shares some shade that was produced "miner style". 

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Carol Rust nicknamed this large boulder of Davis Creek rainbow obsidian "The Birdbath". 

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Another Davis Creek rainbow obsidian in the Kevin and Carol Rust collection. The great color and fantastic swirling pattern of the flows, really does make this material some of the best rainbow that you can collect. 

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Spectacular play of colors in Davis Creek rainbow obsidian. 

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Beautiful purple sheen moves across a Davis Creek obsidian slab like the Northern Lights. 

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Captain, she can't take much more! Maximum capacity has been reached. Lifespan of vehicle suspension at this rock load level: dubious. At some point, you know it's time to head for home. I'll hope to see everyone again on the rockhound trails!

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Some friends of mine from the East Kingco Gem & Mineral Club, out of Seattle, Washington, invited me to join them on any part, or all, of a multi-week rockhound ramble they had planned, primarily in Eastern Oregon. Sounded like a good idea! I met them at Glass Buttes, 77 miles east of Bend, Oregon. The area boasts a variety of different types of obsidian, and has been a favorite locality of rockhounds for decades. We decide to check out the Midnight Lace pits, which are a series of shallow trenches where rockhounds have dug for the prized double flow obsidian, which shows a whimsical pattern of alternating black, and clear flows. 

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The weather was wet, hence rain gear was needed in the pits, and the only thing better than a good rain coat was a pair of dry shoes and socks! There were two Kevins in our group. Here, Kevin Rust lays into the wall on one side of a trench, while his wife, Carol, goes through material above. Kevin has cleaned out an area, and has enlarged the digging somewhat. There's much more obsidian than dirt here, so the practice becomes one of paying attention to picking only the nicest pieces that show good potential to cut with the sought after banding. 

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I'll briefly jump forward in time, so I can introduce the rest of our group. Here we all are together in the sunshine that would not materialize for about another week. That's me on the far left. The back row consists of Ken and Jeanine Metz, excellent rockhounds out of Mukilteo, Washington. In the front row are Carol Rust, Norma McDonald our tireless navigator, and "Captain" Kevin McDonald. Kevin's holding a scant shard of supposed picture jasper, after we just fanned out and searched a mountain in the heat of the midday sun. Kevin Rust called this the "Picture No Picture Jasper site". But we won't talk about getting skunked. (wink)

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Back at "Rain Buttes" (another Kevin R. moniker), after a good afternoon of prolonged digging, Teensy the dog personifies the rest of the group's ambitions. She beds down on a pile of obsidian, and won't be moved. 

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We head back to "Knappers Camp", one of a series of wide, accomodating dry camp pullouts, which are close to several nearby obsidian digs.

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I see that these Seattle folks are serious! Kevin McDonald has hauled a trim saw out into the field, and he fires it up with Kevin R's generator. Here, he & Norma advise, while first timer rockhound Tyson Rust slabs off a piece of the freshly dug obsidian. 

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 It shows the wonderful, crazy ribbons of Midnight Lace!

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Dramatic bands of double flow obsidian (Midnight Lace) originating from flows that are smooth, and not pulsed like the previous slab. 

 

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The next morning, I move over to the Aurora Borealis Pit, where I have dug out some nice rainbow obsidian in years past. The pit was in-filled a few years back, and while other shallow pits have taken shape right next to the main one, nobody has gone deep enough to get at the best and largest rainbow obsidian, which is about 6-7 feet deep here. Somebody's got to do it, so I set about mucking out the pit.

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After a few hours of digging, I clear out enough rubble to gain access to fresh digging in the prime lair. A closer look into the maw of the pit shows some niced sized obsidian boulders hanging out on the walls of the deepest part, though a little hard to make out because they are covered in dust. This dig site yields a potpourri of obsidian, including gold sheens, silver sheens, and plain black, but it's highly likely that there will be some of the sought after rainbow in here.

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I pop out my first boulder!

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Each time I think I'm just about done, another boulder pokes its nose out of the dirt, and I assemble a very nice collection of rocks, some in the 30-40 pound zone. Most all of these boulders have the subtle tell-tale striping on the surface that indicates that they have varietal flows inside of them. 

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I shear off a chunk from the side of one of the boulders, and sure enough, it is rich with the lovely pastel colors of rainbow obsidian. Most all of this rock is good, and even the small pieces can have surprising color zones. 

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To illustrate what I am talking about, here's a hand sized chunk that I randomly grabbed, and polished up, once I got home. Initially, it just showed a dim gold sheen on the surface, but as I ground down on it, and domed it, I was able to work out layers of the pastel blues and pinks. 

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As you roll this piece forward, it develops some startling, and wonderful golden hues. Really quite a nice example! 

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Another Rockin rainbow from the Aurora Borealis Pit, Glass Butte. 

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Back out in the field, our group heads out to a well known white plume agate site in the drainage of Stinking Water Creek. The hills in the foreground are scattered with abundant small pieces of agate. The rains show no sign of letting up, but sometimes, wet conditions can tend to help at an agate site - you'll read more about how this worked quite well in our favor in a moment. That's the valley of Stinking Water Creek, in the middle distance, surrounded by green river bottom. 

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 We find a flat camp at the base of the low hills, and I start exploring eagerly, noting that there is actually agate everywhere - on the dirt road leading in, in every drainage, large or small, that leads into Stinking Water Creek, and also up on the tops of the hills, as you can see in the picture. A lot of the agate is nondescript, and nothing much larger than 4 inches appears at first, but there is a significant amount that shows white plumes of good, to quite nice quality. After only about 20 minutes out, for some reason, I use my rock pick, to pull at one small piece of agate, among the thousands of small pieces of agate,  that have been washed clean by the rain. It doesn't move, and I realize I've got something big. 

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 How big is hard to tell, but I've pulled back so much dirt that Teensy thinks I'm going after a gopher, and she comes and joins me at my ever enlarging pit. I split off a little corner of the rock, just to check it...

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It shows a marvelous white plume! 

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I get the rock out all the way, and it's pushing 100 pounds - really too big to carry downhill safely, so I use a long handled hammer to break it down into more manageable chunks. 

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It yields several lesser sized boulders, but still nice sized, and just ripped with beautiful white plume!

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A nice, quiet pastel evening sunset follows my day's excitement The group is starting to comment that it might need to stop raining soon - nobody's got anything dry left.  I don't know, but I think that when folks from Seattle complain about rain, it's truly getting bad. The rain does lighten up at times, but it is never far away. The little technological devices that we carry around and poke at, have been indicating that there should be lessening chances of precipitation, but when I look around with my own two eyes, that's not what it looks like. 

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Morning. I wander the hillsides looking for the nice little pieces of botryoidal and angelwing type agate that occur here. Lovely, but sparse little purple flowers are sprinkled here and there. I see one rattle type snake, but can't positively ID it, as it quickly backs down into a hole in the rock, and I only get a glimpse of it's wide open pink mouth threatening me as it disappears.

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As I mentioned before, every draw, and wash, and steppe between basalt outcrops, seems to hold potential for finding something special. Here's a lovely little piece of angelwing agate, very reminiscent of the famous McDonald Ranch near Ashwood, Oregon. But it is small - only about 3 inches across.

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Another beautiful little botryoidal agate cavity with a pearly luster. 

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There seem to be any number of great, small sized pieces with sweet plume, just waiting to be picked up. This piece worked up very nicely. 

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What follows is a short gallery of some of the polished pieces of beautiful white plume that I worked on when I got back from the field. 

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There was also a scant amount of petrified wood in the area. Not enough to call this a pet wood site, but a dilligent search will probably turn up a piece or two. 

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And hold on a moment! About one piece in several hundred chunks of that dull, brick red jasper that is lying around in some of the draws, actually cuts with some interesting pattern, and takes a mirror polish. 

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 Back up at the pit I started, the two Kevins and Ken, who are all great diggers, are hard at work. The two Kevins have pulled out another major white plume boulder, that is close to 100 lbs. Ken is following the seam. 

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 Kevin McDonald takes a turn at splitting the giant plume agate boulder, so the two Kevins can each have a 50 pound chunk to take home. Miraculously, the boulder does split almost perfectly, after a lot of work was put in to carve out a cleft in it. 

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Ken continues to pull pretty good sized rocks out of the pit, that would make fine centerpieces for anybody's collection. 

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 Almost everything that comes out shows great potential to cut beautiful white plume! 

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 We get so many rocks that we make a "commons pile" for anybody in our group to pick from. Everybody gets a great collection of fine quality plume agate. Now that's how a rockhound trip should be! Cow skull and rock pick for scale. 

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 In my next blog installment, I'll follow the further adventures of our rockhounding group, as the rains finally lift, and we head into the Owyhee region of far Eastern Oregon, for some pink plume agate, Owyhee jasper, and, unknown to us at the time, right into a major heat wave!  

 

 

 

 

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Light and shadows easily slide together on my annual pilgrimage to the world class halite digs, and the gem show, in Trona, California, during the second week of October. The southern terminus of the Inyo Mountain Range comes alive as hillocks and peaks flare in the sun, and subside. Geology is laid bare here, but what you may not catch on a cloudless sunny day, is the depth and three dimensionality of the range. This aspect is strikingly apparent, as big cumulonimbus clouds travel the skies above, like stage hands clearing the set, after a patch of winter weather left snow in the high Sierras just a couple hours ago.

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Backing up a few hours, to a time just before the winter storm hit, I'm driving past an abandoned cabin, about 6 miles up Hwy 108, from its junction with Hwy 395. An obscure book I picked up years ago in a Lone Pine, California rock shop, titled "Where to Find Rocks and Minerals in the Owens Valley, CA", by Irma Kittle, advises that an area called Leavitt Meadows, is a "good area" featuring "agate w/black dots & sunbursts, Cinnamon obsidian, Sagenite". I see from my map, that the meadows are about 7 miles up the Sonora Pass Highway, so I'm on my way to take a look, but can't help stopping by this iconic little cabin, perched on a small hill overlooking the Walker River. 

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 A stone's throw from the cabin is this interesting structure - possibly a storage facility of some sort? As I understand it, there was once a vacation lodge up here, with housekeeping cabins. Now there are only these small, derelict buildings to speak of the former golden age of tourism to the Sierras. The varying elevations of the rockwork foundation suggest a real homemade style of construction. The initial groundwork migrates from using the rounded river stone which is abundant in the immediate area, to using hewn flat slabs for better structural strength, but more laborious to bring in. 

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Today, during the second week of October, the tourists are absent, and the placid Walker River passes quietly by a small campground that is closed for the season. A horseback riding facility that is just upriver, is also battening down for the winter. The main meadowland looks to be on the other side of the river, so I rock-hop over, across the bar to the right in the picture, heading for some talus slopes on the other side. My rockhounding instinct tells me that if I were an agate, I'd probably hang out over there. If you have children with you, there is a footbridge that crosses the river out of the lower end of the campground. 

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The very first place I check, at the foot of the talus slopes, shows a crystal lined vug in the vessicular volcanic rock. Other small pockets show up nearby, with some tell-tale white stringers in some of the matrix rock. 

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Some of the amygdules are filled in with either agate, quartz crystal, or in this case, a little of both with some interesting reddish golden fine haired sagenite. 

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Here's a sweet little banded agate, with alternating layers of gray, blue, and white. I didn't see any pockets that were very large, everything seeming to come in around one to four inches in size, but there's enough material here to make a good outing for beginning rockhounds, or families with children. Besides the possibilities of finding some interesting collectibles, you are in beautiful country, and there's plenty of open space to explore. 

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The air starts clouding up, and what appears to be the first rain of the season begins to dampen the ground, falling on the summer's dry, cracked mud, and putting up that indescribable smell of wet rock, and earth. Unknown to me, winter is taking a first crack at the Sierras, and before I get down off the Sonora Pass road, the snow will be flying!

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Here's a look at the nearby agate bearing talus slope, from back on the road side of the river. I only walked along the leading edge, at the bottom of the slope, and saw a reasonable amount of little agate tidbits. I'm sure there is more material for the climber, who wants to search up the talus, or even climb to the top, where the monolithic boulders of agate bearing rock are gradually letting their treasures tumble downhill. Caution should always be used, as loose scree can cause sudden loss of footing. 

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The rain chases me out of Leavitt Meadows, and I high-tail it down the road, through falling snow. But the storm doesn't really last, and as I head down to Bishop, there are already starting to be sunbreaks, with incredible freshly snowcapped peaks appearing and disappearing through the swirling clouds, like fleeting visions of Olympus.

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Surely, this must be where the Gods live!

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I drive down the east side of the Sierras every year, on my way to the gemshow, and field trips at Trona. Each year, my amazement is rekindled by the sheer dimensions of this mighty range. Tremendous granite peaks do an abrupt and soaring rise, off of the floor of the Owens Valley, and the younger man in me begins eyeing out routes on the mountain walls, half toying with the idea that it might not be as hard as it looks to climb one of those mountains, if you could just find the right approach. Then I look higher, above the formidable ramparts, above the clouds, to where the supreme citadels stand, unassailable in their icy raiments, and I have to concede that I am peering into the rarified, thin-air realm that only the very experienced mountaineer will ever know first hand. Alas, to be a younger man! And to climb one more glorius peak! 

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Instead of scaling a lofty summit, I keep on schedule, and drive lower into the desert valley. Here, there are colors with no names. Hills seem to undulate, like rollicking water, frozen in time. It occurs to me that landscapes, cloudscapes, rivers - these are all flows, with varying degrees of time. While it is often said that our lives are just a blink, still each moment gives a view of an infinity. 

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The winter storm seems to sense that it can go no further, as it drags its belly on the peaks of the southern Inyos, pummeling them with rains, but balking at stepping out into the sun dappled desert. 

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I head over to Trona via Panamint Valley, because it's empty, loney, and beautiful that way. Just before dropping down into Panamint Valley, The first stands of joshua trees begin to crop up, waving their weird arms at a stunning sky. 

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The sun flares on the furrowed slopes of the Grapevine Range, on the east side of Panamint Valley. Joshua trees stand in silent witness, as that special, peaceful time of late evening unfolds, and the western flanks of the desert mountain ranges redden in the long, low light.

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The next morning, after thunder and lightning played through the night in Panamint Valley, to the beat of soft rains, I take the Quarry Road, at the northern end of Searles Valley, which climbs to the ridgeline of the Slate Range. From the top, you get a good view of the Briggs Gold Mine, an expansive, and conspicuous open pit operation that has drawn fire from environmentalists. The mine has produced over 550,000 ounces of gold since production began in 1996.

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After setting up my show at the club building in Trona, I head for the hills behind the town, to scout for a route that will take me close to Argus Peak, where locals have reported smoky quartz outcroppings. Here the red blush of evening stops my explorations for the day, and I get a view of Searles Dry Lake, where we will be slaving away, collecting halite in a couple of days.

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Ahead of me, and looming tantalizingly close, yet still so far, are the ramparts of Argus Peak. The quartz crops out high up on the shoulder of the peak, and the Argus Range is roadless wilderness. All forays into this country must be done on foot through steep and treacherous terrain. I've tried several years in a row to get up there, but my attempts have been thwarted. Tonight, I stand in the deepening dusk, and peer at that shoulder, another year older, but still desirous of my chance.

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Up the large wash that comes down along the south flank of Argus Peak, I can see Christmas Tree Spring, about a half mile or so distant. It's tempting to think that one might find a route to Argus up this wash, but it is said that the Navy has sensors in the area, and if you are picked up beyond Christmas Tree Spring, you will be taken to Barstow, and detained for three days. Not a good way to finish a rockhounding expedition!

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Jim Fairchild, of Searles Valley Chemicals, is the Searles Lake field trip leader. He, along with his wife, Bonnie, and a handful of others, are pretty much solely responsible for the outstanding collecting opportunities that have been offered to rockhounds during the 2nd weekend of October, for decades. Jim begins and ends the timed field trips via instructions over the megaphone. I've lost count of the number of times he's yelled at me with that darned contraption, telling me that my time is up, and I need to GET OFF THE LAKE!

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Out on the lake, the first field trip has begun. Stan Esbenshade, an Arizona mineral dealer uses a unique trowel to search for rare sulfohalites, scraping through the piles of salt, mud, and brine that were spewed out of the blowpipe for the 600 rockhounds that attend this outing. Another Arizona dealer approaches Stan and advises him that he is only scratching in "gibbely gravel". Stan raises his mud encrusted trowel, protecting his turf, and makes a grim reaper style swing through the air. The encroaching dealer backs off. (wink)

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In one of the most unique field trips that a rockhound could ever take, the Searles Valley Chemical crew uses a drill rig complete with blowpipe, to jet brine and crystals out in a 360 degree ring, onto the flat pan of the lakebed. Before they can pump, a hole must be drilled in the salt crust, and explosive charges must be detonated under the salt pan, to loosen up the hanksites and other crystals. Then the blowpipe is inserted in the hole and pressure is pumped under the surface, firing a gushing stream of crystals out into the air, to land about 30 feet away from the pipe. Collectors rush in to scoop up the newly deposited treasures.

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A closer look at the drill rig shows how the pipe is inserted into the salt crust, down to the reservoir of hanksites, halites, and boraxes below. 

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A look at the rigging of the drill truck. You would not want to have to do a field repair on this baby!

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Getting off the lake, we pass by some prime lakefront real estate! 

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On Sunday, we all get to have at it again. 600 rockhounds spread out quite well in the expansive pink halite collecting area. This year is exciting because we are collecting at a brand new area which Jim calls "the pond effluent area", but which I have come to call "the rose petal area" because the halite that comes out here has a lovely rose pink color that is delicate and beautiful. Halite is abundant, and nobody goes home empty handed. 

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A gorgeous example of pink halite that was collected from the "Rose Petal Area" during the field trip. Note the botryoidal area just right of center, below the cubic hopper crystals. I pulled up some salt plates that were just covered in this interesting bubbly formation, and I had not seen this before in the old traditional collecting zone. 

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At the north end of the Rose Petal, or Pond Effluent area, some diggers cross over the service road, and begin pulling up some very nice clusters of dark pink, to red halite. Before long they are joined by others, and in no time at all, it's "ants in the sugar bowl" over there. Note the large culvert style pipe in the foreground. A network of these monster pipes is used by the company to manage solution flows out on the lake bed. 

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On Monday, after the show, I have some time on my hands, and I am still itching to try to get to the quartz deposits up on Argus Peak. I approach from the Great Falls Basin route, as there is a trailhead here that gains some elevation, before giving out in the upper granite wilderness, below the shoulder of Argus. I take the trail up out of the Great Falls Basin wash, and when it ends, I rock hop through the wilderness for a mile and a half or more, gaining as much elevation as I can, and trending in a generally southward direction. 

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All of a sudden, I start seeing quartz! Here, a partially exposed knob of white rock quartz has been dug out by either rockhounds, or early miners who were up here in search of gold. 

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Multiple quartz veins are present in the host granite here, some of them over a foot thick. The quartz seems to be located within an area that is about 1/4 mile wide, and 1/4 mile long, and is weathering out, high up among the granite domes. I don't find any large crystals here, and there is none of the rumored smoky quartz in this particular area, but there is a lot of nice druzy quartz, much of which has a high degree of sparkle in the bright sunlight. 

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A nice botryoidal druzy quartz, pleasantly colored by iron oxides, is alive with sparkle, though my camera doesn't convey this very well. 

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Some of the druzy quartz had a nice peach-purplish coloration. 

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I spot one mine shaft in the quartz area, plunging at least 40 feet straight down, following a massive quartz seam, visible on the far wall. Those early miners in this area had strong willpower, and perseverance. Imagine hauling 100 cubic yards of material up out of a hole, using only a bucket lashed to a timber at the top of the hole. There were no roads, and no machinery in the early days of prospecting the Argus Peak wilderness. A Trona local, who worked in the early days as a "powder monkey" and later as a prospector, told me that all the old mines in this area are hand dug. 

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A lovely, large botryoidal quartz with marvelous coloration proves too big to conquer with my backpack. I'll have to come back with my helicopter! (wink) There is lots of druzy and botryoidal material here, and the area is largely untouched by rockhounds, due to the remote location. If you have a chance to get out here, this is a fun trip. 

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One thin cloud in the sky is not enough to cut the still 90+ degree temps of mid October. Creamy granite knobs begin to bake in the afternoon sun, and my water is mostly used up, having gained 1500 feet of elevation in a couple of miles, and having done a couple more miles of bouldering. Looks like I'm not going to gain another 1000 feet of rugged elevation on up to the smoky quartz area on the high shoulder of Argus Peak. For 2013, My plan is approach that zone from Indian Joe Canyon (slightly more direct, but straight up with no trail), focus on gaining the el, and not get too distracted by druzy quartz. Next year, I'm going to make it! 

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There is precious little time in a year, to wander these desert wilderness areas, and this years trip was made possible through the kindness of a Trona neighbor, Gail Austin, who did me the big favor of lending me his 1940's jeep. It's the best rig I have been in for navigating the deep sandy washes. Back at the bottom of the Great Falls Basin trailhead, looking due west, the mountain wall forms an amphitheater of sorts and juts abruptly from the soft sandy floor. Seven waterfalls cascade down through the notch in the wall, during a rain, giving the place it's name. 

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A view into the interior of the jeep. Note the custom made howlite stick shift knobs. If there is a rockhound heaven, it might look something like this! Happy hounding!