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.

Rolf

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

Follow me on Instagram: tgfarley

https://www.instagram.com/tgfarley/


Minerals Unlimited in Ridgecrest, California

What do the best bars and rock shops have in common? They all have a gravel parking lot. Whenever you hear gravel underneath your wheels in the desert, you know you’re going to have a great time. Don’t fear for your vehicle though, as you only have to go fifty feet off pavement. And that distance will take you very, very far into a wonderful rock, mineral, and jewelry world.

 

Wendi “Ace” Elkins, singlehandedly owns and runs Minerals Unlimited in Ridgecrest, California. It sits next to a Salvation Army thrift shop and is one the finest rock and mineral stores in the Southwest. Its been operating for seventy years, always family owned. Minerals are neatly arranged in alphabetical order in dozens and dozens of wooden drawers, all of them inviting you to tour our rocky planet without leaving Ridgecrest.


A tremendous rock yard exists outside, with rough of all kinds and descriptions.

Working under the moniker of “Jewelry by “Ace,” Wendi fashions jewelry as a creative outlet for herself and to show off the many rocks and minerals her store offers. This description and picture is from her website:


“This lovely slab of native silver in calcite was mined from the Alhambra Mine, in Grant County, New Mexico. I used sterling silver wire to compliment the design. I had to let this one “talk” to me for several months, to make a complimentary wrap, but I think it was worth the wait.”

Wendi and I commiserated over static photographs being unable to convey the sparkle of jewelry and of rocks in general. You have to see in your hands the play of light from her designs  to see how special they are. Another reason to go in person.

You never know what you’re going to find at this store. I pulled out a drawer at random and it produced a stunning display of violet fluorite with cleaved octahedron shapes.

Stop in Ridgecrest whenever you’re in Southern California or traveling to nearby Death Valley. You may want one thing but you’ll carry out many more. She sells online, too, so check her website or give her a call. Make sure to phone before visiting in case she is out of town at a rock show.

And if you want to buy an entire rock shop, not just a rock, talk to Wendi. Running the store has become tiring and Wendi is considering serious offers on her business. She has worked at Minerals Unlimited since she was eight, on the payroll from 16, the owner since 2003. During this decision making time, however, the store remains fully open and operating and there is no thought of closing. There is a tremendous inventory here,  built up over decades with a great deal of material no longer available and unique to this shop. If you buy the store, you’ll have a head start on running it because everything is labeled!

Ridgecrest is centrally located to the historic mining districts around Randsburg to the south and Ballarat to the east. Nearby Sequoia National Forest to the west offers great rockhounding, especially along Highway 178, and the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is revealed by heading north on U.S. Route 395. Starting at Ridgecrest itself, guided tours organized by the Maturango Museum go out in spring and fall to visit Little Petroglyph Canyon. There, rock art images by the thousands were etched into canyon walls and boulders by native people long ago. Plan well ahead for this bucket list tour.

Ridgecrest is a relatively small, quiet town, supported economically in large part by the Naval Air Station called China Lake. Its role is ongoing and vital, its decommissioning practically unthinkable, lending stability to this tranquil desert community. If you are near base at twilight, you may hear the lilting sound of “Retreat” over loudspeakers. This marks the lowering of the flag for the day. Cars on base stop and park for this short interlude. People get out of their cars and face the flag or the direction of the music.

A unique shop. A unique town.

Minerals Unlimited
127 N Downs Street
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
760-375-5279

wendi@mineralsunlimited.com

 

Keep That Spray Bottle Handy!

Found this crazy looking piece on or near the east border of Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, where limited, non-commercial collecting is allowed. In response to the photos I posted to Facebook, Joel Coombs on The Rockhound Connection responded, “I believe that rock is slightly metamorphosed limestone. I have found smaller pieces with the same colors. Put a drop of pool acid on it. If it effervesces it is limestone.” I did put some acid on the back of the rock and it did indeed fizzle. This all agrees with Jim Boone’s identification of plain looking limestone in the same location.

I found it on the side of the road, a dusty and dirty rock but one showing interesting markings. My spray bottle revealed what I thought might be great material for a cab or a slab. (If I wanted to do that since I rarely get around to lapidary.) A friend pointed out, though, that the red areas were rusty splotches, possibly iron or hematite related and that being soft would not easily cab up. Something like Superglue might be applied to those areas, then the whole piece sanded later on.

I decided to keep it as it was. A former rock shop owner suggested clear glossy spray lacquer which could always be sanded off later. The first picture is of the rock wet, the second is after three coats of spray, now dry. The third picture is of the untreated back. Given the ease of effort, I think the spray worked out well for this particular rock.

How did I find it? I was volunteering on Tuesday to help fill in potholes on Gold Butte Road, the somewhat paved road that provides the main access to the Monument. Right now, under the direction of The Friends of Gold Butte, many volunteers are helping out on this multi-day project. Clark County and BLM are also supplying workers and cold patch. I found the the rock on a break. But I had my spray bottle nearby. https://www.meetup.com/Friends-of-Gold-Butte/

Greetings From the Nopah Range Wilderness Area

Working the grade off the desert floor into the mountains of Inyo County, California. This is on the Tecopa Road, the truck heading up to Emigrant Pass.

Not a tree anywhere. Can you see my truck back at the road?

Generally, trails in the mountains lead to other trails or a mine or prospect. Here, they may just wander off into the rocks.

A lonely Old Spanish Trail marker a mile off the Tecopa Road stands sentinel over the broad basin below.

An lava rock exhibiting flow direction? Or just another igneous rock?

Cyclic sedimentation. It’s thought the weight of each successive layer distorted layers below. Thought this was flow banding but that pertains to volcanics. These hills are carbonate filled, limestone rich. Uplifted sediments.

Preferential weathering in which harder materials remain while softer materials are worn away.


Banded quartzsite. Quartzsite in stripes and solids everywhere. Small purple and pink pieces are somewhat numerous, may make good tumbles.

From Rough to Refined

Gold prospectors should be open to collecting other things besides that shiny yellow metal. Are their gemstones at your feet?

My second Rock&Gem article was on chalcedony. (external link). I focused on the Gemfield Gem claims outside of Goldfield, Nevada. To someone not acquainted with lapidary, it might seem that the ground holds nothing but rocks with streaks and swirls of color. How could these be gemstones? It’s all in the process.

The upper left rock is what we call rough. It is exactly that, raw rock. That rough is first cut into 1/4 inch pieces which we call slabs. These flat pieces can be wetted down with a spray bottle or soaked in water, to give the cutter an idea how the rock may look when polished.

After slabbing, a metal template is run over the slab, moved around until the cutter finds a pattern he or she thinks best. An aluminum pencil is used to outline the chosen circle or shape.

The selected area is then cut out of the slab using a rock saw. Finally, a cabochon is fashioned using a grinding and polishing machine. This link shows what these machines  look like: http://www.diamondpacific.com/main%20machines.html (external link).

This rough to refined process is entirely similar for turquoise, moonstone, amber and countless other gemstones. So, the next time you are out gold hunting, look  for any unusual rocks with colorful markings. Your local rock and gem club will have advice on how to work your stones. They may even have a workshop in which you can learn to saw rocks and make cabochons. Here’s a place to start: http://www.amfed.org/club.htm (external link).

Click on the image below for a full size picture.