Mineral Mystery Musings by Rolf Luetcke

Hi Tom,

There are things out there that certainly are mysteries. I have quite a few in my past that were interesting.

One was a fellow on Mindat.org who found me by way of that site. He was from Tucson and messaged me about something he found deep in the mountains of SE Arizona. He was not a mineral guy but found a vein of quartz that had a silver material all over it and he was convinced it was a new metallic deposit he had discovered while bird watching. He sent me a piece and as soon as I saw it I knew it was not a natural material. I emailed him back and said I thought it was something man made. He just couldn’t believe it since it was “in the middle of nowhere” as he said. I told him to take it to the University of Arizona Mineral Museum. I told him I thought it was some kind of stuff painted on the rocks since it was only on the outside and didn’t go into the quartz where he broke it.

He took it to the University and they were also intrigued and said they would test it. He wrote me back a week later and said he got the results and it was aluminum paint. He was certain he had found a new mineral deposit but someone had actually painted some rocks in the middle of nowhere.

Another one was a fellow we met at the shop had been in the same area of old mines and he was a mineral collector, although not a very knowledgeable one. He posted on Mindat that he thought he found Millerite in the Patagonia area. He had not contacted me until after he had posted the material. I told him that was not possible because there was no chemistry in S Arizona to support that. Another friend had been with him and he gave me a piece of the same ore and as soon as I looked under the microscope I saw it was Stibnite, a mineral that was supported by the chemistry. They did find that Stibnite in an area Mindat did not list for that mineral’s locality, so that information has been added to Mindat. It was not the Millerite he hoped it was.

Dreams die hard. Mary told me many years ago when I found a new thing at a local mine and thought it might be some rare species, she said it is probably a much more common species but in a form I had not seen. She is usually right in pretty much all these cases and I learned a valuable lesson. I passed that onto the friend who gave me the Stibnite and he now thinks that his material was probably a more common mineral.

Got a bunch of those stories over nearly 48 years of mineral collecting.  Having worked with minerals now for so long I have gotten pretty good at identification but I do need to use a microscope to be sure.

Will be interesting to figure out what that “weird stuff” turns out to be you found in that field. Seems rock related and not necessarily mineral related and that is often harder to get figured out than a mineral.

Have a great day.


NB: Rolf is a longtime mineral collector and rock shop owner in Southern Nevada. Read about his must stop shop here.

It’s All About The Gram

An upcoming road trip will take me to Boron, California to stop in at Desert Treasures, if they are open. On the outskirts of Boron, the Rio Tinto Borax Mine Visitor Center is next and then on to Barstow to visit the Desert Discovery Center to view The Old Woman Meteorite. Then over the Tehacapi Pass to Bakersfield.

Next day to Shark Tooth Hill and The Ernst Quarries, next to Randsburg, and then on to Ridgecrest to visit Minerals Unlimited.

North after that to Death Valley, then east to Beatty, and then a drop back down to Las Vegas. I will be posting photos along the way if I have cell coverage.

If you are not on Instagram, consider joining. It’s all about the gram.

My username is: @tgfarley

On the web: https://www.instagram.com/tgfarley/

My Apologies to the BLM

I wrote previously that the BLM doesn’t recognize rockhounding anymore as an activity. While that may be the case at the national level, the BLM in California still recognizes rockhounding as the vital and rewarding hobby that it is.

This page recognizes rockhounding with a video featuring Bill Depue, Founder and President of Diamond Pacific Tool in Barstow, perhaps the leading manufacturer  of lapidary equipment in the world. I had the great privilege of meeting Bill a month or two ago and I wrote about it here. In keeping with his modest character, Bill wears a Diamond Pacific hat but never mentions his involvement.

Interestingly, that page does not list all California BLM  rockhounding sites, it just mentions that the activity exists. Their Needles field office once had no reservation about describing sites.

Click here for an archived page that list sites under Needles’ management along with photographs showing what might be collected at each one. This is true endorsement. But I appreciate any effort that BLM California makes. Thank you!

Photograph below of Bill Depue.





What Rock, Gem and Mineral Photographs Can’t Show You

A static photograph can’t adequately show sparkles, often the most joyous character of a rock, gem, or mineral.

Here’s a static photo of rose muscovite, an absolute star in the sun:


We see poorly defined points of light but not sparkles. Perhaps a hint of sheen. If this rock is put into absolutely perfect focus those spots will disappear completely.

Contrast this to a dynamic portrayal of the same rock. Watch the video all the way through.

Amazing difference, eh?

When looking at a photograph of a rock, gem, and mineral, you may not be getting the whole picture. When out in the field, even in country full of volcanic material, watch for sparkles. Some of those rocks shine. Just not in pictures.

Print Out a Map, if Not for You, For Someone Else

On Sunday I drove a little bit of the Lake Mead Recreation Area, aided in part by a map created by Jim Boone, the producer of BirdandHike.com. His site is the ultimate resource for exploring the natural world around Las Vegas, Clark County, and Southern Nevada.

Although it is a non-collecting area, I was there to take a mental health break and to bring back photographs of different volcanic features.

As I made my way back to Highway 93 on the Kingman Wash Access Road, I was stopped by a couple driving a low slung Subaru. The driver asked, in an excited and somewhat nervous sounding voice, “Do you know where this road goes? Are you from around here?” Hmm, I thought, traveling off-pavement with no map and no idea about what lies ahead. Not my style but certainly adventurous.

I handed him the map I printed out from Jim’s site. The driver grabbed it eagerly, clutching it with both hands. The couple stared at it intensely while I described the main road as fairly decent but not the side roads, which could turn into Jeep trails. They nodded and continued to look at the map. Jim had outlined the area, not in fantastic detail, but enough to get one in and out and to show some points of interests. Just right.

As they continued staring, I asked if I had written anything on the map. They turned it over and said no. I said, “Keep it, I know my way out.” They were very pleased with that and had big smiles on their faces as they drove off into the previously unknown wilderness.

This reminded me of hikers I have encountered who have run out of water and have eagerly welcomed a refill. We’re all out there together and we need to watch out for each other.

In my truck are three different navigation devices and four to communicate with. Certainly not everyone should be expected to carry all that equipment. But it is equally certain that we should be ready to share the wealth with any decent person who needs it. Now that I think about it, when you print out a map, make two copies!

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.