It was cold outside. The heater in my truck sticks and howls and I'm forced to turn it off so I don't wake the whole neighborhood. I grab the ice scrapper and again head back outside. It's cold. Like fingernails across a frozen blackboard, the scrapper cuts deep furrows through the ice that's formed on my windshield and I crunch my teeth a little harder with each pass of my arm. The truck's warming up, not enough for the heater yet, but give it a chance and we'll get the job done just fine. It's about 7:00 on a lazy Sunday morning and the area is quiet and the air is crisp and I'm going collecting! I've got the bike and my pack (sledge hammer, crack hammer, hoepick, bar, screwdriver, a nice sharp chisel, some packing and a couple of extra boxes shoved in for good measure) already in the back and with my good-byes made and the truck in gear, I was gone, just like the rising steam ghosting for a few moments in the driveway before it too disappeared.
The drive went by uneventfully, mile drifting by after familiar mile until eventually I pulled off the highway and parked to the side of the gate leading into the quarrying operation I'd be working this morning. This is an old friend locality, a local haunt and one I've visited for well over a decade. The owners allow me access and I'm always respectful of this courtesy. I leave the road open, even on a Sunday, I stay away from their equipment and operations and I keep an eye open for anything amiss. This last was key to my continuing access, my keeping my eyes open, when several years ago I reported an in the process robbery that I stumbled on while walking in to collect one day. Talk about your heart rate increasing! Thankfully, today was a better day.
I made my way past the scale house and into the actual pit itself. Large equipment prevailed here, shovels and loaders and the massive sprawling crushing plant with its confusion of conveyor beltways and steel. Past all these I moved steadily as I worked closer and closer to the piles and walls where I'd seek today's glories. As I moved through the pit, I marveled at the stupefying amounts of rock that had been processed since my last visit. It'd been awhile, but still, there was lots of new ground exposed and it soon became obviously apparent that this would not be a quick trip, I'd be here for quite awhile. But, would I find anything for the effort? That yet was still to be seen.
As I scanned about, as always, I marveled at the graphic exposures displayed on the quarry walls of the rock itself. This quarry works igneous rock of the Eocene Crescent Formation which is here exposed as a repeated series of tilted tertiary flows, one directly overlying another. Their bold, dominant grayish color is in stark contrast to the ruddy-red parallel running zones identifying the baked and highly altered boundaries separating flow surfaces. Beneath these areas in the gray rock, if pockets are found in the quarry, pockets of size, most typically they've formed here as trapped concentrations of migrating gasses. Over time, these voids have become mineralized with the desirable crystals with which this quarry has become regionally renowned.
I worked several small boulder piles and one much larger pile towards the center of the pit before finally focusing on a cascading jumble of freshly shot rock. The air was still heavy with the aroma of recently detonated explosives and I felt quite thrilled to find fresh rock and the new possibilities they may offer. Carefully, everything was still slicked by ice, I ranged over the pile encountering a tiny bit of this and that before spotting the day's first goodies. At about the mid-way point, partially buried by other rock, lay two six inch gorgeous pocket fragments with bright soft pink spiky crystals of laumontite and transparent glowing yellow calcites. The crystals were falling apart, not from the affects of the blast, but rather from the influence of the laumontite. Laumontite, once exposed, begins to readily loose water from its structure, as it dehydrates it swells, cleaving apart the overlying calcites, before eventually crumbling into a powder. After enjoying and musing on their temporary beauty, I left them where they lay and ranged on until I eventually finished the pile and began next working the walls, scanning for more signs of mineralization.
Much of this effort was without reward until, in one corner of the wall, I spotted several seemingly open pockets and the day flip-flopped from one of exploration into one punctuated by joyous, active recovery. I took several photos of the area I'd be working both from above and at pocket level to show how these mineral filled voids appear when first found. The largest pocket, the first in a string of pockets all laterally spread along a common zone of the flow, was the first I spotted, a stark bold patch of bright white against the darker colored rock. This, the color of the minerals themselves, looked terrific from a distance, and it wasn't just big, it was fuzzy too!
Of the nearly one dozen collectable minerals that have been recovered and identified from this locality, mesolite is one of the most spectacular forming in long fine hair-like crystals. When found, mesolite is always in complex pockets characterized by several different crystalline species forming attractive desirable specimens. Such was the case here as even from a distance, among the fine mesolite needles, I could see stout solid crystals of another mineral projecting upwards irregularly around the pocket's edge. I hoped for good luck here and yet worried that these larger crystals were merely more laumontite. And darn it, such was the case, they were laumontite and soon they'd be piles of powder. Thankfully, the laumontite formed last in the pocket and at only a couple of points, the rest of the pocket was thankfully devoid of this minerals influence and from these other areas I recovered several much nicer specimens.
Collecting these specimens would prove quite a business as I was not able to utilize my hammer and chisel, but rather was forced to use my flat bladed screwdriver, the reason for this was two fold. On the one hand, I'd be taking advantage of an area of alteration, a boundary between the crystal plates I hoped to recover and the unaltered, fresh rock beneath. This area had been affected by water seeping through and over the rock causing this clay boundary to swell, cracking the specimens above apart from the underlying pressures. Secondly, above me, poised to kill, were two monstrous overhanging broken masses of rock and I'd not be hammering on anything below or around them ever, not if I hoped to live!
Nerve-wracking work, satisfying work, as each new specimen was recovered, but boy, oh boy, nerve-wracking! I worked quickly and quietly until happily I moved away from this incredibly dangerous area. I left several scraps in place as they were too solidly affixed to their rocky matrix and left them without a second glance. Likely they're still there as are those monster overhanging rocks, but sure as heck, if I'd have started pounding away, things sure could have changed for the worse and that darn quick too. There's nothing wrong with putting yourself out there, just don't be stupid about it! One thing's for sure, the rock will win every time! I've never broken a bone or been hurt collecting because I take this advice seriously, if I want to continue collecting, I need to be hale and hearty enough to do it!
And so from this, the biggest of the pockets exposed, from it I managed just under a dozen specimens. The mesolite was the most attractive and obvious of the species displayed, but beneath these fine silken crystals lay perfect upward projecting terminations of clear, colorless stilbite overgrowing thomsonite and an underlying first generation mesolite. With all these goodies spread across the surface of a large near by boulder out of harms way, I next turned my attention to the other pockets I'd found. The next closest pocket, much smaller than the one I'd just worked, had some clear complex calcites and stilbite, but it was solid beneath the death rocks, so I left it and moved on. The next two, both mineralized by stilbite were too small and dangerous to work and then that was it and I was at the last pocket, one entirely ripped from the wall during the blast leaving only a small surface of outward projecting stilbite crystals, the pocket's back wall, remaining and these were hammered and broken, damaged by the crush of the falling rock that surrounded. I found this last little patch of pocket quite intriguing, if the wall held the back part of the pocket, where was the rock that held the rest of the pocket? I began searching, poking my head under and around everything thereabouts, checking the surfaces of all the larger rocks nearby and was thrilled when I eventually found the pocket. It lay in the midst of a large several foot long and thick boulder, on its bottom surface. I hauled my bar out of my pack and began wedging the rock until I was eventually able to flip it over, exposing fully a nice big pocket of near one inch long colorless stilbite crystals peppered here and there by tiny yellowishly clear colored rhombs of calcite. Ye Haw, treasure!
I wiggled that rock a bit further away from the vertical face of the pit into an area less dangerous before heading back to the pack to sheath my bar and pull out my 5 pound crack hammer and chisel. First I worked away the bulk of the rock from around the pocket and then came in closer in an attempt to recover some hopefully perfect specimens. And the sharp pealing ring of steel on steel echoed through the quarry and everything worked out just fine and in no time I had another batch of goodies spread over the surface of the boulder I'd used before. When everything was done, I took several more photos to document the extent of my haul and then with that done, I finished up my search of the quarry.
While in the midst of this, on the second, upper level, I spotted a couple more pockets including one over two feet long. Unfortunately it held only laumontite and more cleaved apart calcites. I took a picture and moved on. With nothing else to be found, I turned my camera's lens next towards the quarry itself and snapped off several overview shots. The ol' Pit had really expanded since my first days visiting in the early 1990's and obviously would continue to do so. I've had some incredible collecting adventures here through the years and it's a great feeling knowing I'll be able to return to hopefully make many more discoveries in the future. Time will tell, but for sure, the spirit is strong!
All the very best everyone and thanks for coming along on another of my collecting adventures.