Tucson and Parking

If you drop in for one day to see the The Big Show, properly known as the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, you will find parking  a mess. The convention center’s parking lot will probably be jammed, with no where to park your vehicle. Side streets will be filled, with constant traffic enforcement roaming the area. Plan ahead.

The Big Show’s dates are February 14th through the 17th. If you have a smartphone, put the Uber or Lyft app on it and use those ride sharing apps to arrange trips from your hotel. If you don’t have a smartphone, an alternative is to ask your desk clerk if they can call a ride. Better yet, get a smart phone and learn how to use it. In a city it is your best communication, information, and navigation tool.

Most people will want to check out the variety of vendors operating out of satellite locations around the city. Be advised that many of them start packing up for the Big Show a few days in advance, so that dealer you want to see may not be around if you come in close to the 14th. Also, the shuttle bus service may not be running the weekend of The Big Show. This website promises that it will be, but I would definitely call first and make sure. Why do this?

To get around to the satellite dealers you’ll need to find each location, often a hotel, and move your car from spot to spot. Traffic will be a zoo in Tucson that week and you won’t want to be driving in circles, looking for parking, while you try to find venue after venue. Take the shuttle. Preferably, come in several days before the Big Show Weekend when you know both the shuttle and all the locations will be open. The city bus system is also an option. If you must drive because you are carrying lots of heavy items or selling same, check out parking lots before going to a venue, not while driving to them for the first time.

I know this may involve more time and effort than you want to expend, but Tucson is huge and three or four days will give you time to experience a great deal of what it has to offer.

Again, parking. And traffic. You have been warned.

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park Part 1

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park Foundation has begun fund raising to physically secure what’s known as the Silver Top Headframe, one of three located at the Mining Park. A headframe is the signature feature of any large mine, permitting the hoisting of workers and ore from deep below to the top of the complex. A very few 2019 calendars, printed to help raise funds for the Foundation, are available at the Mining Park Visitor center for purchase.

While it may be winter, planning a park visit can start now by checking out its website or by reading up on Tonopah’s fabled mining history. Make sure to stop in if you’re heading to Quartzsite in January or Tucson in February. There are other reasons to go to Tonopah.

Anyone going to or leaving the Southwest by way of US 95 in Nevada should stop for many excellent reasons. The first is fuel, since the nearest gas stations are 100 miles north and south of town. After you’ve topped your tank, consider visiting the Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah, the city’s best kept secret. After that, stop by Whitney’s Bookshelf, right on 95, a fine used bookstore, often with excellent mining books. Hometown Pizza is across the street if you are hungry, usually serving pizza by the slice. If you’d like different fare, try the Pitman Cafe in the historic and period restored Mizpah Hotel. If you’re not in a rush to get out of town, think about getting a room at the Mizpah. I like the corner room on the fourth floor, the one with the claw foot bathtub. I think it is 409. But I digress. The best reason for any prospector or rockhound to stop in Tonopah is the Historic Mining Park, owned by the city and operated under regular, dependable hours.

Tonopah was America’s last great gold and silver strike. You’ve heard about the Gold Rush of 1849, the Comstock, and the Klondike. But there was also Tonopah in 1900 and for years thereafter. The visitor center and the the park grounds highlight this stupendous and spectacular hunt for precious metal at the turn of the century. The park is right behind the Mizpah Hotel. The entrance road is best approached in larger vehicles by Burro Street. The visitor center parking lot has room for two or three RVs and the exit road is a pull-through, so there is no worry about having to back up.

The grounds offer a self-guided tour. Pick up a map at the visitor center which also houses a terrific rock, gem, and mineral museum. As for the grounds, hiking the park at 6,000 feet can be tough at times but take it slow and take some water. Great opportunities for photographs. For those out of shape or mobility challenged, tours on a Polaris with a guide can be arranged. Call for current availability and charges.

As to the Foundation’s principal project, securing the Headframe, Eva La Rue, Administrative Assistant for the Tonopah Historic Mining Park Foundation, told me this story in an e-mail:

“Because the Foundation was created to basically help preserve the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, this has become one of our projects. The Silver Top mine includes not only the headframe, but the hoist house and the ore house (grizzly) too. Basically, the headframe is currently supported by four cement blocks, that were poured around the legs of it to help stabilize it years ago. The problem is that the only thing underneath the blocks of cement is some rotting wood. So the wood has rotted away and now the cement blocks are sinking down. A few years back an engineering company out of Vegas reported that it appeared to be in danger of total collapse. So, the plan is to take it apart, piece by piece, and build a cement pad or base for it to stand on, and then re-erect it, anchoring it in place. So, this is a HUGE project, and the costs are high, especially when the equipment and manpower must be brought in to work on it. But the alternative was to lose it.”

Visitor Center

Desert Queen Mine and Hoist House

The Value of Crystal Forms in Mineral Collecting

The first photo shows a closeup view of  the mineral azurite. It’s a pretty dark blue and desirable in any rock containing it. What makes it even more desirable is the mineral in  its crystal form or when arranged in a beautiful composition.


This second photo is of azurite and malachite from the USGS photo library of minerals. Can you see what drives mineral collectors to pursue such specimens? Although only affordable to rich collectors and museums, these examples vividly demonstrate the difference between the common and the rare. Personally, I’d enjoy any hunk of azurite I’d find.

From the USGS:

(Credit: Carlin Green, USGS. Public domain.)

Detailed Description

A sample of azurite, the blue mineral, and malachite, the green mineral. Both azurite and malachite are copper minerals that were once used as pigments but are now mostly valued as collectors minerals. They do serve as good indicators of copper deposits that can be developed. Read more information about copper here.

Sample provided by Carlin Green, USGS. Sample originated from Milpillas Mine, Mexico, and is 6.6cm in size.


Mining Activity Clues

This terrain could be anywhere, Uniformly even but steep ground rises to abrupt cliffs. No unusual features to these regular slopes. Except this mound, in the middle of nowhere.

Visible from quite a distance, the mound up close reveals itself to be twenty-five to thirty-five feet wide with a height of eight feet or so. A trail runs across the top of it, presumably from mountain bikers using it as a jump.

At the base of the mound, and running for fifty yards or so, is a gully or a draw, obviously dug out by heavy equipment. The arrow indicates it. The spoils are the mound. Someone was digging here. It’s not the start or end of a road. It just exists. Someone was looking for something.

This area has a history of gypsum mining and perhaps that’s all the former prospectors were looking for. But any prospector today should look over the mound and draw with care. Detection is the first part of discovery.

Take Location Photographs!

It’s not enough to note a find or a mine with its GPS coordinates, you have to mark its position with location photographs.

Consumer grade GPS equipment isn’t often accurate enough to point you to a specific rock upon attempting a return. You may instead be directed to a location several hundred feet in area.

The solution is to take location photographs to refresh your memory and perhaps add arrows later to help your recall.

The Forty-Mule-Team at The Rio Tinto Mine Near Borax, California

A life sized, authentic in every detail, Forty-Mule Team in fiberglass. Make sure to stop into the Rio Tinto Borax Mine when you’re near Boron. That’s on Highway  58, heading to or away from Bakersfield in Kern County. No public tours but a free and friendly information center. They even give away free samples of borate minerals.

At The Rock Garden at UC Davis, California

Beautiful marble boulder from the Lucerne Valley in San Bernardino County in California. Solidly in the Southwest. The red-pink color is due to rhodochrosite. The first two pictures are my own.

“Originally a limestone formed in a tropical sea, this rock was later metamorphosed at high pressures and temperatures into marble during mountain-building processes.”

More information on the rock garden here.

Well developed rhodochrosite crystals easily sell into the hundreds of dollars. Rhodochrosite without crystal faces fetches only a little money, the material looking like sad red lumps. It is only with a defined crystal form, in this case rhomboidal, that this mineral goes from being merely a formless rock to a prized collectible.

Rhodochrosite slabs for cabbing are available, but nothing sells for more than crystal forms. Condition is everything in the mineral hobby and the beginning collector may have to settle for micro mounts before affording anything better. Like antique cars, the finest examples belong to museums and private collectors with extraordinary budgets.

The only way around this, perhaps, is to self-collect. But that relies upon access to open ground. All these mineral collecting considerations will be discussed in my book.

The boulder itself, a closeup, and the mineral in fine crystal form.

This above image file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


At Tonopah Nevada’s Historic Mining Park

A young rockhound show his friend a ledge featuring outcroppings of iron-stained quartz veins bearing low grade silver. These veins were not considered economic to mine and left in place.

High grade or visible silver in quartz is rare. Sampling and assaying is usually necessary to reveal whether silver is present. Jim Butler used two assayers and multiple samples to confirm his world class silver and gold strike.

Park personnel and a geology professional recently discovered a rock on park grounds containing dozens of ounces of silver. Despite that thrilling find, it would take much, much more, a mountain more, to profitably reopen the old workings.

Points North

What makes up the Southwestern United States? There’s no agreed definition, save that Arizona and New Mexico are always included. For the purposes of my book I’m setting its northern boundary at the 38th Parallel. In Nevada, that border touches on tiny Goldfield and Tonopah.

This week I’ll be traveling two those two towns, before heading further to Hawthorne, site of the largest ammunition depot in North America, and then further into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its a Holiday week so I don’t know what will be open. But I know Sharon Artlip’s chalcedony claims will be.

I wrote about Sharon’s fee/dig claims in Goldfield in the May, 2016 issue of Rock&Gem. If you don’t have access to that, I wrote some background on that article at my personal writing blog. Click here to go there. Her claims are about three miles out of town and still open to anyone at a dollar a pound. The chalcedony is literally everywhere under foot.

Register first at one of several local shops in Goldfield before heading to the claims. Information on that is at the link above, also be sure to visit Bryan Smalley’s rock shop. It’s called Hidden Treasures and it is truly that. Confused about directions? Find a store closed? Stop any local on the street and ask where Bryan or Sharon are. Goldfield is that relaxed. And fuel up before Goldfield, gas is 27 miles away in Tonopah.

Speaking of which, I hope to visit that city’s mining park and museum once again. They have a silver ledge there that I want a better photograph of. I wrote about Tonopah area when I went on a fee/dig trip to the Royal Royston turquoise claim in November, 2015.  It was the focus of my article in the January, 2016 issue of Rock&Gem. Background on that trip is at this link.

Unfortunately, Dean Otteson, head of the Otteson clan, died shortly after the article was published and public tours of the claim ceased. I knew him for only a few minutes but I immediately considered him a friend. There may be open ground in the Royston Hills near Tonopah but it would take careful research to determine those locations.

I don’t know of any current fee/dig operation for turquoise in the Southwest but I have a lead on a possibility in New Mexico some distance from Magdalena. Perhaps I will have more information on that before my book is published.

Until I check in later from the road,  I wish you the best this Thanksgiving Week! And, as always, check out Rock&Gem Magazine for the latest goings on in this wonderful hobby of rockhounding.