Hawaii In A Bottle

Self collecting is great but most of us can’t go around the world to chase specimens or go back in time to get them. Case in point is this old stock Hawaiian sand from Geological Specimen Supply, mentioned in my last post.

This sand is over twenty years old, predating the ban on removing sand from the Islands.  This specimen comes with great labeling, a summary of the fuller descriptions RC provides on his site. Did you know that Waikiki’s beaches actually came from Long Beach, California? Read on and then take a look at what I am seeing under my scope.

“Sand is derived from whatever material is locally available. Beaches are uncommon on the seacliff-ringed Island of Hawaii. Occasional small coves have sand derived primarily from basalt unless there is a coral reef offshore. This sand was collected from a small cove near South Point, Hawaii, where a local concentration of cobbles of basalt and coral was the source material for this sand. The sand is primarily coral and basalt, giving it a salt and pepper look, with occasional small shell fragments adding variety to the mix.”

“Hawaii’s white sand beaches at Waikiki were initially an import, from California. In the 1920s and 1930s sand was barged from Long Beach, though the import of California sand was abandoned in the 1970s and the beach is now maintained with locally dredges sand composed of coral and shell fragments. A locally famous black sand beach occupies a cove southwest of Hilo, where the sand is entirely basalt. At Mahana Bay, near South Point, the greenish sand is composed of grains of olivine that weather out of the basalt.”

“Set of five tubes, 16 ml each, optically clear polystyrene with screw caps. The plastic tubes are practical in a classroom and are somewhat student resistant, though a cap can be unscrewed. Good for student examination. When this sand is gone, it’s gone. A recent law prohibits removal of sand from Hawaii’s beaches.”

The focus of our attention.

Here are images just taken under my microscope. These are single focus shots, so the foreground and background focus aren’t the same. Really good photographers take a number of shots at different focal points and then have software combine them to produce a perfectly focused imaged. I’m trying to learn to do that.

White material is probably coral, dark material basalt, and the green is olivine or peridot. Shell fragments, too. Olivine is thrown out from deep within the earth during volcanic eruptions, mixed up with basalt at the same time. Basalt pieces can make up a black sand beach, the lighter peridot may weather out of the basalt and collect together, producing a rare green sand beach.

Closeup of a peridot or olivine grain, exhibiting poor conchoidal fracturing.

A shell, sharpened in Photoshop.

Unsharpened and from a different angle. Any difference?

Another shell, this one red.

Basalt with olivine from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. This is what tribal member Stevie Joey mines on his peridot claims. His site is Peridot Dreams and you can learn all about gem grade peridot there. He is receptive to inquiries about touring his claim.

Specimen tube. Buy several to trade.

Getting Out The Scope

With my newly free time I am getting back to tools I got for the book. One of these is the 65 pound microscope sitting on my computer desk.

I have just been looking at a vial’s worth of sand bought recently in Goldfield, Nevada. The consulting geologist William Vanderford sold it to me from his shop, Vanderford’s Gold Strike.

Vanderford has traveled the entire West. This vial bears a hand written label. “Corundum sand, Sapphire Mountains, Philipsburg, Montana.

Corundum sand is extremely hard, at 9 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, just below diamond. It’s often used as an abrasive. I

It’s possible this sand came from this fee dig:


The photo below is what you’d see with a 10X hand lens.

The next photo gets closer to the same spot.

And closer still. I haven’t figured out yet how to express the microscope’s settings in terms of power. Like, “This photo was taken at 100X.” I’m still new to this.

The next photo is high power but on a different spot.

I didn’t see anything as nice as what is shown at sandatlas.org. They describe the best grains as having, “The typical crystal shape of corundum — elongated crystals that are widest in the middle and have hexagonal cross-sections.”

Nothing hexagonal right now. I’ll try looking more later. Takes some time to go through sand grain by grain.


My sand is too worn by stream tumbling to identify what I am looking at. If this location was anywhere elsethan the Sapphire Mountains, I’d think my clear pieces are mostly quartz, the red mostly garnet.

The photo below shows conchoidal fracture in a grain of sand. Kind of neat. That’s how all quartz fractures, from most petrified wood, most agates, and anything known as chalcedony. Trouble is, corundum, garnet, and sapphire all fracture in this manner, not just quartz.

This next photo shows a few crystal faces, the rest of the grain badly weathered or eroded. You can tell a crystal face by the flat surfaces and the opposed angles that go out in an ordered manner. Quite unlike the edge produced when a rock simply breaks apart.


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