Nantahala Talc & Limestone Quarry
Swain County, North Carolina
November 4, 2006
Report by Mike Streeter

As the field trip leader for the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society (SAMS), I arranged a field trip to the Nantahala Talc & Limestone Quarry in Swain County. I generally like to conduct at least one field trip per year there, especially during the fall color season when the mornings are generally frosty but the afternoons are still warm - exactly as it turned out on this fine Saturday.

Since the large quarry can accommodate an army of rockhounds, I invited numerous other rockhounding clubs to join us. Besides a fine turnout of SAMS members, represented at the quarry that day were members of the Georgia Mineral Society, Western Piedmont Gem & Mineral Society, Rome Georgia Mineral Society, and the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society. Ernie Carter and Madelyn Anderson with the Ozark Earth Science Club won the prize for the farthest traveled. They had contacted me to say that they had planned to use my book to rockhound in western North Carolina during the week prior to the field trip, so I invited them to join our group.

Although the quarry is perhaps best known for its banded pink, gray, green, yellow and tan marble, a wide variety of other rocks and minerals have been identified there, including aragonite, calcite, dolomite, quartz, travertine, talc, pyrite, and limonite after pyrite.

Soon after we arrived, parked and I gave a brief safety talk, everyone headed off in various directions to any of a number of benches in the quarry. While Jeff Deere, Don Henderson, Jim Flora and I took turns whacking away with sledges and chisels on some large boulders covered in travertine with aragonite and calcite pockets, Chrissy led a contingent to the upper reaches of the quarry to hunt for goodies. As is often the case, her "independent streak" payed off big time as you will see later in this report.

After about an hour of banging away on our boulders, Chrissy hollered down to us from above telling us that we just had to get up there right away because she was finding some killer stuff. "Heard that before only to be unimpressed when I got there", I thought to myself, but I yelled back that I'd be right up. After all, Chrissy has proven time and again that she is quite the excellent "locator" of fine rocks and minerals, although she has occasionally gotten enthused about something that made me have to pretend excitement.

I drove up the steep quarry road, parked and made my way over to where Chrissy and others were banging away in a pile of jagged rocks and boulders. The quarry owner, Jack Herbert, told me blasting had taken place in the week prior to our field trip so there was plenty of new rock to sort through. Chrissy took me on a tour of what had excited her. There were huge boulders covered with thick and banded travertine and lined with unusual crystals and formations of what appeared to be calcite and aragonite on surfaces and within pockets. It soon became apparent that some sort of cave system had been exposed by blasting and the remnants of it were strewn over a large area near the top of the quarry. The following pictures show some of the material that we recovered.

Click on each specimen picture to enlarge

Click on each specimen picture to enlarge

As a group, the above secondary minerals and deposits may be referred to as speleothems (speleo=cave; thems=deposit). Spaleothems are formed by the chemical processes of dissolution and precipitation. The study of the individual crystals and their aggregates as physical bodies is called ontogeny. Ontogeny of cave minerals as a science has been developed by the Russians and is poorly understood in the West. As an American Geologist, I had never heard of the term until I recently researched cave deposits on the web. I discovered that ontogeny is extremely interesting and complex. If you would like to learn more about the subject, I recommend the following two excellent web sites:

After seeing that Chrissy had indeed hit the "mother lode", I gave Jeff, Don and Jim a holler to tell them that they'd do well to get their hineys up to where we were. Before long, just about everyone who had come that day had made their way up and over to Chrissy's cave material area and were happily banging away on rocks and recovering many fine specimens. Jeff was undeterred and seemed almost proud when an errant rock fragment gave his nose a little more character. Don was like a kid in a candy store as he filled yet another bucket. It is always good to see kids on a dig, as was the case for Wayne Hooper with the Georgia Mineral Society who brought his daughter, Kelsey, along.

At some point during the collecting frenzy, Chrissy and I stopped banging to join Cheryl and Jim for lunch. The ambiance of our dining establishment could not have been better

. . . . .nor could we have asked for better company, except, I'm not too sure about the hat . . .


Dr. Bill Ranson and a group of his geology students from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina showed up at the quarry mid afternoon. Jack Herbert had informed me a couple weeks prior that Dr. Ranson asked for permission to bring a group of geology students to the quarry on a day that just happened to coincide with our club's field trip. Being a gentleman and a man of his word, Jack asked me if it would be alright to have the Furman group come on that day and I, of course, wholeheartedly agreed. I am always happy to get the chance to hang out with other geologists and geologist-wanna-bees. Joining Dr. Ranson was geochemistry Professor Brannon Anderson and some of the most polite and joyful young men and women whom I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

Click on picture to enlarge

Dexter Craig with the Knoxville club showed up fairly late in the day. Apparently he had gotten a little turned around, but finally found his way to the quarry. While I hung out with the Furman group, Chrissy joined Dex in busting up a partially buried phyllite boulder that contained perfectly formed pyrite crystals. Dex got some excellent specimens and allowed us to keep the following little gem!

Click on each specimen picture to enlarge

Had we asked for a more perfect day to collect, God may have tossed a lightening bolt our way for being ungrateful wretches. But, we're not, we didn't, so neither did He.

By the way - prior Nantahala field trip reports including pictures of other rocks and minerals may be seen on (use the link below).