What Is A High Clearance Vehicle?

Many rock club field trip leaders advise taking a high clearance vehicle to certain destinations. But what is a high clearance vehicle?

A vehicle’s lowest point is usually measured at the rear differential. The distance from the bottom of the rear differential to the ground is the clearance. This is, unless things like steps hang lower than the rear diff. A base Jeep, the Wrangler Sport edition, has 8.4” of ground clearance. For comparison, a Subaru Outback has 8.7” and a base Ford 150 has 8.8”. These should be considered minimums for rockhounding vehicles.

Larger tires and a lift kit will increase clearance and void any current factory warranty unless modifications are manufacturer approved. Larger tires impact a speedometer’s readings, requiring readjustment when the vehicle gets a larger set of tires. Unless a rockhound is fording creeks and rivers, increasing the height of a vehicle with a lift kit or tires does little if the rear differential remains at about the same height. That’s what will catch first unless something is hanging lower like steps. Which should be replaced in favor of rock sliders.

Rock sliders protect a vehicle’s rocker panels. Just below the doors, rocker panels are the long lengths of steel between the front and rear wheel well openings. Getting in and out of a vehicle means stepping over a rocker panel. Rock sliders are bolted or welded on components that can act as steps but are really meant to protect the side of a vehicle. Weakly constructed running boards or steps will not protect a rig from an unexpected boulder or stump. These aluminum or light steel running boards, sometimes called Nerf bars, will likely crumble under the crush of a boulder, with the vehicle’s frame getting pinched in the process.

Rock sliders constructed from 3/16” thick steel or better are enormously strong and heavy. Make sure they do not extend below the height of the diff. Welded on rock sliders may be strong enough to act as jack points in an emergency. Some companies like Hefty Fab Works make bolt on rock sliders. Ideally, these are installed with the use of a lift and at least two people. All rock sliders are expensive, often requiring weeks of lead time to be fabricated. They are cheap insurance.

 

As pictured above, the most important measurement in clearance is the distance between the ground and the bottom of the rear differential.

 

Common and flimsy nerf bar pictured above.

 

Heavy duty rock sliders from Hefty Fab Works for a Toyota Tacoma in the above photograph. These may weigh sixty pounds to a side. I have their rock sliders on my Nissan Frontier.

 
Photograph showing a rocker panel. This is what rock sliders protect. From the video below:

 

Last Note From Plymouth: Siderite Sighting?

This odd looking lump is on my friend’s horse ranch on Carbondale Road, outside of Plymouth, California in rural Amador County. Near the center of California’s Mother Lode Country. I wrote about this place in a previous post. The soil is nondescript, red foothill clay, with the most common rock underfoot being broken pieces of iron stained quartz.

And then there is this thing, which my first guess was a bunch of leftover concrete that someone had attempted to color. Perhaps they dumped out their concrete mixer at this spot? There is no sign of any unusual concrete work in the area, but who knows? I did not have my rock hammer as I was traveling and renting a vehicle.

Usually concrete aggregate has much smaller stones than the blobs we see here. I am up to any guesses. There is a creek nearby with what I presume are rounded stones but it is not on my friend’s property so I haven’t checked it out. I can’t imagine anyone making their own concrete with locally collected rock, think of the work, but I suppose it is possible.

Another possibility is siderite, which Mindat.org lists as being in the general area. A nice man named Brice on the Facebook group, Rocks and Minerals – identification and information, made this suggestion.

Siderite is an iron mineral, of which I am only now reading about. Apparently, siderite is valuable mineral in theory since it contains a high amount of iron, possibly 48%. In such a small outcropping it is totally uneconomic but an interesting curiosity to any rockhound or mineral collector walking the woods. Its presence may lead to the discovery of other nearby minerals such as manganese.

The odd looking lumps may be large siderite crystals that have weathered to their present shape over time. More on that below.

 

This is an overall view of what I will call for now, the outcropping. For a much larger picture to ponder over, click here. Or click on the photo itself.

 

Closeup photograph. Pen for scale.

 

A damaged or otherwise altered section of the outcropping. Broken concrete doesn’t turn black, it retains a whitish color due to the Portland cement. If the concrete were mixed with a colorant originally, however, in the drum, the color would run throughout the mix.  But you would have one color, and not two as in the photo. An iron ore deposit just might make sense. The outer layer has weathered and oxidized red, rusted if you will, while the more newly exposed material has yet to change.

 

The above picture is courtesy of Dennis Miller. Used with permission. It’s siderite from an area near Chihuahua, Mexico. Note the globular forms. I’m speculating that the globular material in the outcropping I came across are weathered, eroded permutations of this siderite’s original form. Or not.

The Henry Holt Guide to Minerals, Rocks, and Fossils (very British) says that siderite crystals can be, “[M]assive, fibrous, compact, botryoidal, or earthy.” The outcropping seen here is definitely botryoidal.

The book goes on to say that massive siderite is widespread in sedimentary rocks, however, this area is in the Sierra Nevada foothills, granite, quartz and slate country. Judging from my experience in nearby El Dorado County. There are notable, economic clay deposits several miles distant, which leads me to this quote from Holt’s book.

“Massive siderite is widespread in sedimentary rocks, particularly in clays and shales where it forms clay ironstones which are usually concretionary in origin.”

Concretionary. And an outcropping that looks like concrete. Iron stains every piece of broken quartz on the ground. So iron must be in the soil. Can anyone put this all together?

Mindat doesn’t show siderite as found in Amador County, however, these reports are usually confined to recording occurrences of economic value. Or a citation in the scientific literature. Like in a geology report. Not all outcroppings everywhere can possibly be recorded. Siderite has been reported in the county of El Dorado, immediately north, and Calaveras, immediately south. In the plant world, we would call an occurrence in a new area as a range extension. And you thought rocks and minerals had a peculiar vocabulary!

I am waiting on a local rock and gem club member to tell me what he thinks the outcropping is. And I will have a friend test the outcropping with a magnet. That may be diagnostic. Although I see on Mindat that siderite is paramagnetic, a new term for me. It essentially means weakly magnetic. I’ll mail my friend one of my rare-earth magnets. Maybe that will make a difference in testing. I’ll report back later. Thanks, again, Dennis, for the photograph.

Greetings From Plymouth, California

A few days ago I had to leave Las Vegas on an emergency trip to help out some friends. The couple I know owns a hundred acre horse ranch in Amador County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Their spread is near Plymouth. The heart of California’s Mother Lode Gold country.

When this husband and wife first bought their property I came out with my gold detector. I was delighted to find broken quartz everywhere. Most displayed iron staining and many contained vugs or cavities.

Alas, only a small speck or two of gold was found in a shallow ditch running through the acreage. The nearby creek had been dredged for gold but my friends didn’t own any of that stream. Nor did they own property containing any tailings.

Never-the-less, the many small pieces present might be useful one day for tumbling, as their dark vein patterns contrast nicely with the quartz matrix or host rock. Even if you can’t find gold, you can often find something else.

Iron staining and vugs are signs of mineralization and activity within a rock. Something has acted on the stone. Most quartz is barren, white colored with no character. Sometimes called bull quartz. You look for character when you look for gold. Decomposition or crumbling quartz is another sign to watch for.

Having said all this, the finest gold in quartz I have found displays no other minerals save a scattering of the gold itself. My specimens are milky to near pure white with only gold showing in the matrix.

The lesson is that if you have the time, detect all quartz, even that which looks sterile. If you don’t have the time, limit your search to quartz that shows mineralization or the effects of forces which have altered the rock.


 

The quartz on the left shows iron staining, the material on the right shows vugs. These have not been cleaned and both show the clay soil of the area.


 

The larger rock might make one or two interesting slabs. The smaller pieces might be tumbled.

 

 

Latest Spot X Firmware Update Available

Time for all Spot X users to update their firmware. Let’s make certain you know how to do this.

1. Download the device updater  to your computer and then install it. Run the program. Do this first. THEN

2. Connect your Spot X and follow the instructions presented.

Again, download the latest version of the updater program first, then connect your device. DO NOT USE an old updater. You must download the newest updater first.

My device appears to be working well after the update.

This is what Spot X says in their latest e-mail:

In our continued effort to ensure the best possible SPOT X user experience, we have made some updates to the device firmware V1.7.14 and the device updater 1.12.8 to improve usability and overall intuitiveness. You need to first download the latest SPOT X device updater. Next, connect and update your SPOT X firmware to start benefiting from these upgrades on your next adventure. Below are some of the update highlights.

My Four Hundred Dollar Rock

Truly, the best things in life are free.

I recently went on a fee dig at the Cuesta Fire Agate Mine near Oatman, Arizona. Don Nelson is the claim owner there, with Old Route 66 passing through the center of his four twenty acre claims.  Don was warm and personable and I and several other rockhounds had a great time. I’ll report about this adventure with lots of photographs in my book.

I left Don and the group in mid-afternoon to go to Kingman. I regretted that I hadn’t bought any fire agate rough from Don earlier at his house, some distance from the claims. But I had photographs and at that point I really needed to get going. And I also needed a diet Pepsi.

Several miles down the road a classic Route 66 store appeared, named Cool Springs. A sign promised cold drinks. I bought a diet Pepsi for two dollars and tipped the rustic, picturesque looking character at the cash register an extra dollar. His face lighted up at the tip and he thanked me.

Outside, I noticed a few tables covered with rocks. There were several pieces of fire agate rough, material that looked just like what I had seen from the claim. One piece was pretty but had no price tag. I went back to the cashier who I now assumed was the owner. I declared that I was back and asked how much he wanted for the rough. He asked for twenty dollars which I promptly paid. I’d now have something to take more detailed pictures of in my photo box at home.

As he considered the stone, he started to list the challenges of working fire agate, of removing the chalcedony to reveal the stone within the rock. Not all fire agate flashes, and inexpert carving might remove the thin layer that produced the play of light.

He asked me if I had done any carving. I said the only rock I had carved was my jade key fob, done months ago. I handed him my keys and said somewhat apologetically that it was supposed to be a leaf. He examined it closely and said that it was really nice. That made me happy. By the way he talked I could tell I had met a passionate rockhound. A kindred soul.

I walked out into the beautiful day to my truck. From behind me I heard him yelling at me to come back. He had left the register and had a rock in his hand. “Here, take this,” he said. “It’s not fire agate but it’s an agate. And it will work up real nice. Make a lot more money from it than that other piece you have.” I was touched by my his gift and I thanked him. As I opened my truck door, I could hear him calling again in a laughing voice. “Remember, if you get four hundred dollars for that rock, I want you to come back and give me some of that money.”

I promised I would.



 

A Little More From Oatman, Arizona

Sixty years after this article was published, the area near Oatman is still producing fire agate. If you’re willing to work at it. I mean, really work at it, with sledges, chisels, and breaker bars. Out in the field, you’ll find promising rough, the agate fixed to its host rock. On the bench, it’s lapidary skills and some luck to produce a finished piece that might flash red. I’ll report in my book on a fee dig operation that puts you on the path to this goal, finding a rock that properly worked might turn into a fine example of the king of agates.

Jade Piece Drilled Out

Some may remember that I took a jade carving class sometime back. That class resulted in my first rock carving, pictured here. We were asked to carve our idea of a leaf. I meant it to be a key fob.

 

Now, thanks to the talented lapidary artist and jeweler Jason Fabbi, my piece has indeed become one. Jason drilled a neat hole at the top of the carving with a drill press using a special bit and plenty of water. Unlike wood, drilling stone requires patience, as the bit must be inserted slowly, operated for a while, then backed out. The procedure repeats itself until the work is done. Thanks, Jason!

 

The result.

 

I have also commissioned Jason to do a one-of-a-kind piece for me. It will be a bolo tie with the center stone made from gold in quartz that I found years ago. More on that in future posts.

A Little From Quartzsite

I originally posted these entries to Rock & Gem Magazine’s Facebook page. I’m now putting them here as well. I’ll have much more on Quartzsite and Tucson in my upcoming book.

January 16, 2019

Nearly 70 degrees today at the PowWow. Brilliant sun with no wind. Forgot the sunscreen. You may also want to bring your rockhounding tools. Each day during the PowWow, the Quartzsite Road Runner Gem and Mineral Club arranges two field trips each morning to collecting areas near and far. Only two dollars for non-members each trip.

This picture is of a not-for-sale cabochon of birdseye rhyolite. It was shown to me by a field trip leader. It represents material that his group is going to try to collect Thursday morning. Trips to to other locations will find rockhounds searching for things like agates, marble, porcelain jasper, and sagenite.

 

January 17, 2018

Moved over to the Desert Gardens venue today. Overcast, not terribly cold, but a wind was kicking up. Got there a little too early. Most vendors don’t get going until 10:00 A.M. but some are open before then. Giant show place, many acres. Features the smallest mineral specimens to big rough, I mean forklift size pieces in some cases. Desert Gardens carries far more rough than the Pow Wow.  And it’s less crowded when the Pow Wow is going on. Lots of time to talk to the dealers. I think Desert Garden goes to the end of February. By that time, many of the sellers are making plans for Tucson but for many dealers and miners, Quartzsite is it.

January 18, 2019

Back in Las Vegas, Nevada today, but here is a parting shot from the Pow Wow, still going on over the weekend. Here, author and miner and photographer Pat McMahan (left) patiently and with fondness for his slabs, identifies the agates a customer just bought.

Pat is the author of the monumental Agates: The Pat McMahan Collection, endorsed by Bob Jones, which was the product of a year and a half of full time work, the result of over 26 years of collecting. You can’t have a shopping experience like this on eBay!

January 19, 2019

The future of our hobby and our profession is with the young. These two are Chelsea and John Keady, owners of Rock Chuck in Schurz, Nevada. They are miners and jewelry makers, often creating pieces from the stones they have dug. Visit them at booth 277 at the Pow Wow. And say hello to the future.

January 20, 2019

Last day of the Pow Wow. Wish I was there. Here in The Big City, traffic is heavier, things move faster. People don’t smile as much, some are sullen. On Wednesday I accidentally left my expensive camera on a vendor’s table. When I discovered it missing, I hurriedly ran back to the seller’s booth. There, sitting quietly on the same table where I put it down, was my camera. I would like to think it would have been there anywhere else. But I wonder. I miss this rock and gem community already.

This image is from two years ago. Walbom is set up this year at Space 320.

What Does an Agate Look Like?

Agates occur in nearly every state, along with countries around the world. Their patterns are endless and often striking, sometimes unbelievable. Right now there is a great agate thread going on on the open Facebook group Rockhound Connection:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/169785333057/

Make sure to check out the posts. They are all variations of quartz.

As beautiful as some of these cut and polished specimens are, many beginners are confused as to what to look for. Although not always present, a certain translucence and a wavy character to the rock are good signs. Some agates are so outrageously striped that there is no doubt as to what they are.

Here is a video of an agate that I liked so much that I have never had the heart to cut it open. The second photograph shows another agate from the same location, one I cut into a slab with a rock saw.

Both of these rocks are for examples only, they did not come from the Southwest. But if you are ever in Northern California, you may want to check the riverbed of Cache Creek in Yolo County. Good luck.

https://www.yolocounty.org/general-government/general-government-departments/parks/parks-information/camp-haswell

Uncut agate. Click on image or text link below. (Movie)

Cache_Creek_Agate_green

Cut agate: