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Rock Hunting & Rock Collecting in Colorado, Nebraska, So Dakota

Summer Collecting Trips

This year I promised myself I'd get out more on field trips. Unfortunately that was not to be, but enjoyed the times I did get out, nonetheless.

Agate Collecting 2000

We were unable this year to attend the annual Fairburn agate field trip held in May with the rest of the gang. The report back from Tom and Wayne was that finds were sparse this year. Wayne's wife Bev found a nice agate this year, but that's about it. I like to think it was because I wasn't there this year that more wasn't found. :-)

However, we did make a trip to my old hometown, Lincoln, Nebraska, in early June to take in a nephew's graduation ceremony. Since it was "only" a few hundred miles out of the way to stop by my favorite agate hunting area north of Crawford on the way back, we headed north off the Interstate at Ogallala. It was obvious that there had been strong rains very recently, unlike the eastern part of the state, which was parched with drought already in early June. Arriving in early afternoon, I had no more thrown the tailgate down to retrieve my collecting gear, than I spotted my first agate. It was light gray, with white banding except for a bright red band in the center, and was about one and a half inches in diameter. We hunted until 7p.m., but surprisingly found no more agates. I say surprisingly because I consider this spot my favorite and most productive area for collecting, plus I figured the recent rains would have washed more out of their hiding places.

We tented at the City Park in Crawford that night, and it is a pleasant place that we had stayed at before, excepting for the incessant railroad traffic that runs nearby. At one point, we counted one train every 10 minutes. Fortunately it gets somewhat better after midnight, but still makes sound sleep impossible. It's not just the sound of the engines and wheels, but they have to blow their whistle at every crossing in town, and there must be half a dozen crossings for each train.

Next day we headed back out to the agate "beds", but this time hunted in Pasture 24S. I'd always wanted to hunt there, but had never done so. Within 15 minutes of getting out of the truck, I'd found the first agate of the day, a gray, white, yellow, and tan one of average size (around 2"). Beautiful pattern, just not a whole lot of color. After exhausting the arroyos and meadows there, we headed a few hundred yards south to some badland breaks. Again, after around 15 minutes, a nice ave. size agate of rusty red and pink with a dark quartz band--pretty enough, I just wish the pattern would have been larger.

I was beginning to think I had this down now. Drive to a place, get out 15 minutes, find your agate and then just drive to the next field. I wasn't about to find any more, no matter how much longer I stayed. That was about it for finds this year. There were several smaller ones or ones with poor pattern, which is normal during the course of collecting. And of course the usual array of chalcedony, jasp-agate, petrified wood, and so on. Around 11 a.m. the sun gets so strong that time of year on those eroded white clay buttes that it scorches your eyeballs. After a couple more hours of that (with no more success) I said it was time to head on home.

The picture above shows the agates in the order I found them, from left to right.

Crystal Peak

I had been looking forward all winter to digging on our claim at Crystal Peak, the Blue Heaven. My claim partner Carl Holzer and I decided to go ahead and file another adjacent claim, as it also shows good color. We named it the "Blue Earth Claim". Plus if we ever decide to file for a mechanized mining permit and bring in equipment, we would need the extra space to put the dump temporarily while it was being worked.

While we did several collecting trips to our claim, including an assessment trip with pegmatite miner Ken Gochenour of California, another find took precedent over this area. Carl and I had collected another area we dubbed "Whitecap Hill" because of the predominance of whitecapped smoky quartz crystals. Some are quite attractive, most are interesting, and some are downright homely. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder on these things. The thing about this spot is that the smokies are often gem quality and very lustrous, and often good sized, and the amazonite had been fairly dark and good sized, although exhibiting some pitting in the side faces. Carl had finally hit a pocket there a few years back and it was quite decent. I helped him one of the days he dug there. We had looked into filing another claim there, but were concerned it might be right on the edge of another active claim. We hesitated to contact the other claim owner even though we know him, simply because we did not wish to draw any more attention to this area. After many trips to BLM, we concluded it was not on an active claim, and planned to file. Meanwhile, several other prominent collectors had discovered the area and also planned to file. The debate continued on as to whether this was on the active claim or not. There was no corner post there, so who was to know for sure? Carl had postponed any further digging until we could get that settled. Checking of all the government maps did not yield clarification. Meanwhile the other collectors hit a huge pocket about two feet from where Carl last dug. They have ongoing permission to collect anywhere on his claim anyway, so no problem for them. A very large amount of good-sized crystals came out, including one monster smoky/amazonite group around two feet across. It was the largest one I've seen. Several smokies were detached, and had to be re-attached, and there was some damage in the attachment areas, but overall it was quite impressive. The color of the amazonite varied some, but overall was weaker than that in the first pocket. Carl and Bill Hayward utilized Howard Bachman's huge stainless steel tank to cook the specimen in oxalic acid to remove the iron and clay. They had it on display at the Denver gem show this past September. I have dubbed the large cluster "The Big Whoop named after the famous lost treasure in the Monkey Island computer games by LucasArts.

The finders were Frank and Leon Nelson and Jeff Moore all of Salida. Several other collectors were present for some of the digging trips as well, including Mark Krivanek of Salida. So the specimens wound up being dispersed to a number of collectors. All of these collectors were pretty easy to get along with, and some of them were interested in raising cash, so Carl and Bill wound up buying most all of the pocket back. I personally was able to collect a number of specimens off the huge dump that they had missed first time through. At any rate, the rest of the summer got taken up with further prospecting of these promising pegmatite dikes. No further pockets have been hit, but we all suspect more is there.

Although my schedule and the weather did not permit me to collect on Mt. Antero this summer, Frank, Leon, and Jeff did very well. July was very dry and allowed for much collecting activities up there. Frank, Leon, and Jeff call themselves "Three Amigos Mining". They have been working an old Ed Over locale on White Mt. that produced very well for them this summer. Their best find was a flawless terminated aqua crystal of 124 carats that was later sold. They said about 10% of their crystals were terminated, and most all these went to one prominent collector/dealer in Denver. We are in the process of cutting many of the un-terminated ones this fall. They also hit a nice pocket of large gem smokies up there.

Geologist Bill Hutchinson hit another nice pocket on Antero with his collecting buddy Henri. The picture above shows Bill clowning with a couple of the xls he found. The vein he works typically produces aquamarine, smoky quartz crystals, and phenacite. Some of the crystals he's collected have been exceptional in clarity, termination, and/or color. Bill was generous enough to share a number of pictures of the finds. Click on this link to see the other photos he sent. Some of these photos are of the find from 1996, and some from this summer (2000).

Other trips this summer included prospecting for more peridot locations in Fremont County. A guy I met found blue agate in South Park. The best of the agate is quite stunning, perhaps a bit like Ellensburg blue. It has a very slight purplish cast in fluorescent lighting, and shows banding. Most pieces are quite small, two inches or less. We hope to be able to offer cabs and other gems from this material eventually. I call it South Park Blue Agate. (renamed later to columbine blue agate-ed.)

One trip this spring was made to the Calumet Iron Mine near Salida. It is world-famous for fine crystals of epidote. There are also crystals of uralite ("uralized" diopside), magnetite, quartz, grossular and corundum found there. I also was able to locate the "Round Mountain" metamorphic locale, where nice crystals of grossular garnet, idocrase (vesuvianite), and other interesting minerals are found. Now if I can just figure out how to get them out of the quartz intact, maybe I'll have some pictures of them eventually..

Another trip was to Cripple Creek with Carl Charette to check out the dump of the old Fluorine Mine. It produced rhodochrosite specimens in opaque pink to gemmy red. Most are simple rhombs, but I did find one or two of the "nailhead" variety. The crystals weather and change color eventually to brown as they oxidize, but some can be restored in acid if they are still solid. The late Don Knowles took me there the first time about five years ago, about a year before he passed away. On the same trip we checked the ground pegs at Wilkerson Pass, but found no schorl tourmaline. We did see some low grade pink/red garnet frozen in the rock, probably almandine.

Well, there were lots of places we still didn't get to explore again. But then we have to save something for next year, right?


Although I made the annual Fairburn hunting trip this spring, it was somewhat uneventful. Nobody found any exciting agates, and rainy weather actually cut the trip short a bit, which is somewhat ironic because of the severe drought experienced this summer. The most disappointing aspect was that we can no longer collect at the Oral, SD gravel pits, even after work hours. I had always done well there. The Creston pit has been totally closed for several years now also. And the rain forced us to cancel the Oehlerichs trip due to bad roads. Pickings were slim at Kern this year. My thinking is that the mild, dry winter had allowed many collectors to go there earlier this year, hence the sparse pickings when we got there. And it always is tough, even on a "normal" year. Plus we saw evidence of ATV tracks way back in, which means many collectors are able to go to areas they wouldn't have previously gone to, just because they didn't want to hike that far. Even my favorite locality in Nebraska was sparse this year. Yes, I did get a few agates, but nothing too exciting.

Crystal Peak collecting was limited this year due to the huge Hayman Fire that struck in early June. Collecting there was off-limits to everyone until almost August 1st, and then was made available only to legal mining claim holders by special permit. Fortunately, we qualify for that, so were able to get back in then. The first trips back in were pretty eerie. Some areas were totally devastated (like some spots at Crystal Creek), others barely touched. By the time we were in, native plants were starting to push through the darkened soils and aspen shootlets were popping up, so that was good to see.

Carl Holzer and I were lucky in that our main digging areas on our claims were mostly untouched, so we didn't have to do much digging in soot and ashes. Eventually, Carl and I hit nice pockets of monster fluorites, and another of amazonite and smoky quartz. The fluorites were up to 7" or more on a side and one weighed 21 lbs., perhaps a record for this locality. The amazonites were excellent color and fairly good sized, although pitted and etched a bit. No groups or plates were found, just singles and a couple of combo twins. I will post pictures as the material gets cleaned.

Another miner, Rich Fretterd, hit some absolutely huge smoky quartz crystals this fall on his claim. One weighs over 400 lbs, and another over 200 lbs.! See the article in the What's New section to see pictures of the new crystals. We hope to post more information on this later in the Crystal Peak gallery.

I found the largest peridot I'd ever found this year at the Badger Creek locality. It weighed almost 8 carats and cut a 2.87 ct. pear-shaped gem. I also found many other large stones. I say "large" for this area, which tend to run quite small. But I did find quite a few 3 and 4 carat rough stones, which is considered good size here.

Mt. Antero was quiet until late in the year, except for American Berylliums work on the south knob. Digging there was all by hand, but the group from Houston, TX that owns the claims had a good-sized force at work there most of the summer. Results were sporadic, as usual, and likely only moderately successful.

The Nelson's claim on Mt. White began producing some smoky quartz and aquamarine again, and the Bill Chirnside claim apparently yielded some nice phenacite.

But the nicest find was made by local collector Steve Broncato in September. He hit a huge pocket of aquamarine crystals on Antero. The pocket started out yielding only smoky quartz. But further effort began to show it's effects, and hundreds and hundreds of single gem aquamarines were found. They are mostly all pencil-shaped and light to light/medium blue in color. Many are basally terminated. But the coolest thing he and his partner found were some real nice matrix pieces, consisting of white feldspar crystal groups with aquamarines implanted on them. These are very rare from Mt. Antero, as most pockets are broken up and only loose single crystals are found. Steve also found several smoky quartz crystals with aquamarines embedded in the sides, again a rarity.

As luck would have it, I met Steve by giving him a ride up the mountain in my four wheel drive, and he took my business card after a day of digging together at the Nelson's claim. He called a few weeks later to tell about the pocket he'd found, and offered to let me see it, which I gladly accepted. I took a few snapshots of the pocket contents, some of which are displayed here. Steve later sold many of his best finds, so it was nice to get a shot of the whole contents before sales and splitting with his partner. At any rate, I'd definitely say it was one of the best pockets I've ever seen from there. There were so many single pencil crystals it was almost boring! (I say almost)

Above: Most of the singles. Below: several of the matrix pieces. The pictures were taken at his partner's cabin under less than ideal conditions, but you get the idea. I will post more pictures and more detail in the Mt. Antero gallery eventually.


The Calumet Mine at Turret produced a large number of good-sized epidote crystals this year. Several collectors, including myself, did quite well there. Some folks were tunneling into the unstable ground above the main pit in their search, definitely a very risky propositon. Crystals up to 2 inches across or more were found there, which is approaching the upper limit for size at this locality. 

We also had the good fortune to find a section of the long lost sapphire-bearing vein near there. The sapphires are often a nice blue, but mostly paper-thin, and obviously not cuttable. But they do make handsome specimens. I am also hoping that if I look at enough pieces, I may just find that anomaly piece that is thick enough to actually fashion a gem from it. I am in the process of cleaning these and will post a picture when available. Originally these sapphires were mined for abrasive uses.

More field trips (part deux) summertrips2.htm

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