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.

 

 

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.

Getting Ready for Quartzsite

Quartzsite is a small town in the Arizona desert that each year plays host to rock and gem enthusiasts from all over the world. These rockhounds, prospectors, and lapidary people come to meet hundreds of vendors selling everything rock and jewelry related. Others come, too.

In the desert around Quartzite, thousands of temporary winter visitors, called Snowbirds, make themselves a home for a few weeks or months. These are mainly RV folks, often retired, who roam the States seeking warm climates and interesting events. They certainly find both in Quartzsite.

Besides rocks, dozens of venues host flea market goods, with everything from car parts to comic books to antiques. You’ll never know what you’ll find in Quartzsite. In addition to seasonal selling sites, permanent buildings in town include a unique bookstore, a great local history museum, and a bead shop that has a terrific rock and gem museum.

The most prominent rock event each winter is the QIA PowWow:

http://www.qiaarizona.org/PowWow.html

QIA stands for the Quartzsite Improvement Association, a non-profit that uses proceeds from the event to benefit various concerns around the city. The PowWow runs from Wednesday, January 16th, to Sunday, January, 20th. Free parking and free admission, with a shuttle service to ferry people back and forth from the parking lot.

The local gem club hosts two field trips each day during the PowWow, off to a different collecting sites each time. I won’t be able to participate in any digs due to my recent surgery, but I will be in town Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll take photographs for my book, interview people, and pass out business cards.

Winter weather can be iffy in the desert. Currently, a slight chance of rain is in the forecast. Heavy rain and wind can play havoc with the vendors, most of whom have outside booths. While that weather can happen, Quartzsite usually offers shirt-sleeve weather by noon.

Bring plenty of water if you go walking around the PowWow. Humidity is low in the desert, even in winter, and people dry out. Comfortable shoes! And something to carry all your goods back to your vehicle. For bigger material, like petrified wood stumps, try the Desert Gardens venue. And pick up the free Quartzsite show guides which are placed all over town.

Lastly, bring plenty of cash in small bills. While many vendors accept plastic, don’t assume that all will. And don’t try to make a dealer break a fifty or a one hundred dollar bill. When I go, I take an envelope of five and tens. There are no Big Bank ATMs in town, so get your cash stash beforehand. Remember, all sellers are small business owners who deserve the courtesy they will undoubtedly extend to you.

Rock&Gem has an excellent, current introduction to Quartzsite at their site:

http://www.rockngem.com/quartzsite-the-hunt-for-rocks-and-history/

I wrote an article two years ago on Quartzsite for Rock&Gem. Unfortunately, the content is behind a paywall. But I’ll be sharing a few photographs and notes when I get on the road this week. I am still tired from my operation but there is little pain from the wound area. Generally. Unable to run for the next two weeks, I am listless and impatient to get back to my routine. Quartzsite will be a welcome distraction. Perhaps I will see you there. I’ll be the one with all the bandages on his face. 🙂

Quartzsite is Here and The Fun Has Begun!

‎Neal Behnke‎ is writing daily reports to the Rockhound Connection on Facebook, a group worth following. Here’s Neal’s latest:

Welcome one and all to day 7 at the wonder in the desert, Quartzsite! Uncle Neal will stamp your passport and show you the door.

Quartzsite Arizona is really a rock hounds dream, established many years ago by wandering camel farmers, it has had a continuous rock show going since John Denver left and moved to Colorado and got all weird. First tourists started stopping as the freeway was slowly built, sometimes they would wander into the desert, sometimes they would wander back with rocks they would then sell to other tourists for water and trinkets. After 1978 the freeway reached almost a mile past town and the city was named.

Quartzsite is a fantastic place to rock hound, the local rock club (friends of Quartzsite) offer rock hounding trips, volunteer to clean the public bus benches and hand out cheese sandwiches. Please be aware if you are approached by anyone saying they will take you rockhounding, ask to see their cheese sandwich. Last year over a 100 rock hounds were tricked into looking for valley opal and 12 swimming pools were built. It is a good chance that if you are standing in someones back yard with a shovel and you are within 10 feet of wifi and a coffee maker, you are not rock hounding.

Todays Desert gardens events include Escape Room! held on the Lido deck, your goal is to try getting out of the house, finding the keys and your rock hammer and avoiding all your adult responsibilities so you can wander in the desert.

If you purchased any Cinnabar from Toxic Tonys minerals, please be aware that testing has confirmed that this particular material is hardly toxic at all, if you would like the high grade stuff please come back this morning.

Kids events today include buckskin Willys scorpion ranch! Willy has rustled up some 1.2 million desert red spotted viper scorpions, all in his .01 acre spread! Its fun to watch the little buggers tear across the desert floor, if you lean close over the 1 foot fence you can hear their tiny feet skittering in the sand!

Milking and stampede starts today at 1.

Poor, Poor Porphyritic

Every trade or hobby has difficult to pronounce words of art. Like porphyritic, an adjective describing large crystals in an otherwise fine grained rock. Pronounce it poor-fer-itic. The crystals don’t have to be overlarge or dramatic, just bigger than the groundmass or matrix that surrounds it. In my book I will have two examples, one quite pronounced, Chinese writing stone, and the other, andesite.

Difficult words act as roadblocks to learning. We stumble over them, and in recovering we try to regain our balance by moving on. Without learning. I am hoping, therefore, to retain interest in difficult words and concepts by including photographs of them.

This rock is causing me problems. It isn’t polished, so it looks less attractive  than it otherwise would. And the shadows are bad, although my new cameral setup can overcome that.  Perhaps I will  polish it at my lapidary club. Or perhaps I can put some oil on it to make it look slicker.

“Chinese Writing Stone Slab for Lapidary or Display – Chinese writing stone, or Chinese letter stone, is so named for it’s resemblance to Chinese writing characters. It is also know as Porphyry. Background is a dark greenish-black charcoal limestone matrix with Andalusite crystals – This Chinese Writing Rock form is from Australia.”

 

The Kelly Mine in Magdalena, New Mexico

Magdalena, New Mexico. Known for Smithsonite, a zinc ore. Beautiful country all around.

 

A proud rock shop owner known simply as Otero, displays his rough material and his cabs, the findings made by a native woman silversmith.

 

To know more about Smithsonite, named for the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, watch this video:

Read more about the mine, its small dig fee, directions, and the beautiful town of Magdalena in my upcoming book.