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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Update on The Gemfield Gem Claims in Goldfield, Nevada

My second article for Rock & Gem Magazine was on the Gemfield Gem claims outside of Goldfield, Nevada. The claims are a major source of fine chalcedony. Sharon Artlip, one of the two claim owners, now has a website for the property:

http://www.gemfieldnv.com

A month ago I visited Goldfield. I couldn’t connect with Sharon, who may have been out of town Sharon no longer operates Goldfield Art & Business Services out of the store on I-95.

The present owners of the new store at that location, however, will accept your registration and rock fees. Their names are Sherri and Mike. They have a nice store with some maps and some rocks. When I was there they had locally mined pyrite. Stop in and check out a new business:

Wild Inspirations
306 Crook Avenue
P.O. Box 121
Goldfield, NV 89013

775-485-3789

Wildinspirations@outlook.com

This is the information site at the claims.

Also, when in Goldfield, never miss a chance to check in with Bryan Smalley at Hidden Treasures Trading Company. He may be hard to find away from his store, but ask locals where Bryan is. Try the Dinky Diner. He’s well worth tracking down to visit a one-of-a-kind rock shop:

https://www.facebook.com/HiddenTreasuresTradingCo/

489 S. Bellevue Avenue
Goldfield, Nevada

775-485-3761. Honestly, I have never been able to contact him on the phone.

How Not to Travel to Death Valley

Last week while running in South Summerlin, which is on the west side of Las Vegas, I was stopped by a woman asking for directions. She had a strong foreign accent and the wind was blowing hard, making communicating difficult. She seemed to be asking for Valley View or Valley something, I couldn’t quite make it out. She kept glancing at her cell phone on the dash of her car, which obviously wasn’t helping her navigate.

It turned out that she wanted to go to Death Valley! She was a hundred miles from any of its entrances and she was already lost. No hardcopy map and at the beginning of the government shutdown of the park. I really didn’t know what to say to her; the idea of visiting Death Valley completely unprepared was  beyond belief.

I suggested driving to Beatty, an hour’s drive north and entering there. She didn’t like that idea and kept mentioning an approach from the Los Angeles direction, however that would work. In the end I told her the 215 Beltway was only a mile away and by taking it she would wind up connecting to the Los Angeles freeway. She seemed happy with that and took off. I keep wondering what happened to her.

Although she was obviously comfortable with asking for directions, in Death Valley there may be no one at a needed time to ask for help. At that time the visitor centers were all closed, with no assistance there  and no way to get a proper map. All she was relying on were directions from strangers and guidance from a cell phone. And cell phone coverage is non-existent in most of the park, making that device useless.

My main navigation aid is a Garmin Nuvi, which is satellite based, using GPS to fix its positions. It does not rely on cellular coverage. I use my cell phone for navigating as a backup or as a way to check against the Nuvi, as the Garmin sometimes wants me to go off pavement when that choice actually makes no sense.

Always, though, especially in far off country, I carry hardcopy maps. The National Park Service warns against exclusive reliance on GPS in the park, advocating instead that the latest Death Valley Park map be used as a first choice.

Even with proper maps, so many other considerations must be made when visiting a place called Death Valley. Like food, water, and emergency supplies. All of this must be in the vehicle before entering the park. And gas. Gas must be topped off at every available point, as you never know if the next small gas station, wherever that may be, will be out of its supply.

My hope is that she was trying to visit one of the privately owned resorts that were still operating despite the shutdown. Maybe, with enough luck and kind strangers, she made it to her destination. But luck should never be counted on while driving in remote, isolated areas known for killing stranded motorists. Make your own luck. Drive prepared.

California State Route 190 near Panamint Springs Resort at the end of Death Valley. By Tuxyso. Image freely available from Wikipedia Commons.