Montana/Idaho RockHounding Trip

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens,Rockhound Travel,Rockhound stories,field trip reports — Gary September 1, 2011 @ 10:54 am
Hi Gary,
The article for my Montana/Idaho trip is attached.  I look forward to seeing it on your blog. Thanks!
Thanks Jim for submitting!  Here it is!
Montana/ Idaho Adventure
June 1st – 12th, 2011

Hi Everyone!

Our big adventure of the summer was a trip to Montana and Idaho. I had planned this trip for 2010 but scheduling problems forced us to postpone it. This time everything fell in place, and our trip was on! My wife Litha took detailed notes along the way.

June 1st

We left at 7:30am on a warm Wednesday morning, and drove all the way to our first campground near a lake which turned out to be a mosquito nightmare. We spent about two hours killing the little vampires inside the van before we could get some sleep.

June 2nd

The next morning we drove into Wisconsin where a deer almost darted in front of our van, but wisely turned at the last minute. There was lots of road construction in Duluth, and I decided to take US2 to 200 west which seemed like a much more peaceful drive than through the Minneapolis area. We drove through the north woods of Minnesota, and on through Fargo all the way to Bismarck, North Dakota, where the campground I had planned to stay in was right next to the now flooding Missouri River. We found a hotel for the night instead.

June 3rd

I told Litha that this would be a ‘day of wows’. Neither of us had ever been to the Rocky Mountains, and today we would see them for the first time. West of Bismarck we started seeing the buttes that the west is so well known for. Driving in western North Dakota the buttes continued until at one point the road curved and the amazing badlands formation of the Painted Canyon opened up before us. We couldn’t help but stop at the National Park overlook area and get some pictures. This area was in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
NOW we knew we were out west!

On into Montana where the road passed the Yellowstone River, known for its Montana Agates. You could tell the river was much higher than normal. Trees don’t normally grow in the river like that. Here the hills started looking more like mountains until just a little way west of Billings we had our next ‘wow’ moment. The snowcapped Beartooth mountain range came into view.

snowcapped Beartooth mountain range

snowcapped Beartooth mountain range

Our campground for the night was about 50 miles east of Butte, called the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Another beautiful area surrounded by low mountains with a river, train track, and lots of cattle.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
June 4th

The morning sun warmed the eastern side of the mountains.

Eastern side of the mountains
Eastern side of the mountains

We drove on past Butte and over the continental divide at an elevation of 6393ft for the first time. On into north west Montana toward the Idaho panhandle. Lots of snow capped mountains. Near the Idaho border we stopped at a rest area, had lunch and fed some very tame prairie dogs (at least I think that’s what they were).

Near the Idaho border

Near the Idaho border

Practiced the art of downshifting on the long steep “Lookout Pass”. Saw signs for a street fair in Wallace, Idaho and stopped to walk the town. Beautiful historic little mining town.

Beautiful historic little mining town.

Beautiful historic little mining town.

After shopping around for an hour or so we moved on and found State Highway 3, “White Pine Scenic Byway” which is an adventure in itself; lots of blind curves, hills, steep grades, lakes, and even an area called ‘Hell’s Gulch’. This two lane highway led through Fernwood to the logging road to the Emerald Creek Garnet area.

Much of this logging road was washboard bumpy, and I got a bit concerned about the van being rattled to bits this far from home.

We got our site at the Garnet Creek campground and then drove down to the parking area for the collecting spot. We were surprised to see spanish moss hanging from the fir trees and realized that this must be a temperate rainforest.

Garnet Creek campground

Garnet Creek campground

I knew it was a little late in the day to start sluicing for Garnets, but I wanted to go up and get acquainted with the place, so we walked up the road which is gated making it a foot path only, stopping once to catch our breath, and met the young forest service people who were running the sluicing area that day. I saw the big stock pile of yellow sandy clay that the Garnets are found in; and checked out the sluicing area. It looked pretty simple, and I was eager to get started the next morning. We returned to our mosquito infested campsite, where I found a stack of firewood a previous camper had left, but recent rains had made everything wet. I had a heck of a time getting a fire started to cook dinner. Eventually, with dinner finished we escaped back into the van to get away from the little bloodsucking monsters.

June 5th

We were awoken early by some little critter chewing on the van. I stepped out to scare it away but never saw what it was. We had breakfast and drove down the bumpy road to the parking area.

Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Emerald Creek Garnet Area

We hiked downhill from the parking area for about an hour. Trilliums and trout lilies were blooming, and spanish moss hung in the cedar and fir trees. We returned just in time for the sluicing area to open up and took the half mile uphill road to the check-in area. The forest service staff were friendly and helpful, and in no time we were sluicing like pros. Here’s a picture Litha took of me in the sifting area.

Here's a picture Litha took of me in the sifting area.

Here's a picture Litha took of me in the sifting area.

You can see the clay stock pile on the right, and the sluices on the hillside at the left. We sluiced through the morning and returned to the van for lunch, then
hiked back up and continued. Fill up your buckets, sift, sluice, dump your tailings in the proper spot and repeat. We were told that this was a slow day, but at times people were elbow to elbow at the sluices. I met a nice guy named Harlan, told him our next stop was Gem Mountain in Montana, and he showed us a typical Sapphire you might find there. He had just been there the week before. He told us about hunting for Sunstones in Oregon, and even gave me a little Sunstone he had with him. I continued sluicing until about 4:00 when my back decided it was time to quit. Between us, we found 13 ounces of Garnets that day and found at least one ‘woo hoo’ as Harlan would say.

Emerald Creek Garnets

Emerald Creek Garnets

Our plan was to return for a second day of sluicing, but my back would be the judge of that. At camp I found some drier firewood and made a decent cooking fire. The mosquitoes soon drove us inside for the night.

June 6th

We woke again to the sound of a critter chewing on the van, and I got a bit concerned. If whatever it was chewed on the wrong wire we could be in trouble. That and my sore back made me decide to head back toward Montana, but first we would make another stop in Wallace. On the way from the campground to hwy 3 I stopped to get a picture of this blue flower I later would learn is called a Camas Lily.



Back in Wallace, we got some groceries and found a laundromat to do some washing up, and while the loads were running we shopped around town. Wallace is right in the middle of silver mining territory, and there was an investment office that sold silver stock and other investments called Pennaluna & Co.

Investment office that sold silver stock and other investments called Pennaluna & Co.

They had silver ore samples in the window for sale, and being a silver lover, I couldn’t help but go in and get a few specimens.

Silver Ore

Silver Ore

Silver Ore Lucky Friday Mine

Silver Ore Lucky Friday Mine

He even sold me a vintage mine stock paper he had in the window.

While in town I found a t-shirt for the local school sports team, the “Wallace Miners”, and at an antique shop I found a nice antique miners lamp for my collection. When the laundry was done we headed back to Montana. Lookout Pass with its long uphill slope gave all six cylinders in my van a work out. Lots more road construction. One thing we noticed was that just about any gas or fueling station in Montana has a casino of sorts. Still some wild in the west…

From expressway 90 we turned south on hwy 1 toward Philipsburg, and on the way we saw a unique sight. This area, like most of Montana, is cattle land, and in one village there was a dead tree COVERED in cow skulls. I wish we had taken a picture.

In Philipsburg we stopped at the Gem Mountain shop and got directions to the mine, and we were told there was free camping right at the mine. We bought some dry firewood in town and drove the 17 or so miles into the mountains to the mine. On the way we had one of our best wildlife sightings of the trip. Right on the steep cliff beside the road we saw this Bighorn sheep.

It looked like it had found a spot in the cliff that had some tasty minerals. We moved on and found the drive to Gem Mountain mine.

Gem Mountain mine

Gem Mountain mine

We picked out a campsite and I started to prepare a fire for dinner, when a very talkative older couple from Washington came over and introduced themselves. Long story short, we now have new Christmas card trading friends. Eventually we were able to get some dinner and retire for the night.

June 7th

We were up early and running low on good water, so we drove back into Philipsburg and found a grocery store, and did some shopping in town. We stopped at Opal Mountain Gems and talked to the guy in there. I bought a couple bags of potential Sapphire gravel from him. I mentioned that we would be going to Spencer, Idaho for opal, and he knew the town well and suggested the best places to shop. After that we drove back to the mine and got our introduction in sluicing for Sapphires.

Sluicing for Sapphires

Sluicing for Sapphires

I caught on quickly and soon we were finding several nice small corundum and sapphire gem stones in each screen. I also found one lime green stone I was told is called Limetite, and decided to keep it.

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine

At one point on this cold rainy day, a bus load of lucky school kids pulled in and they all got their chance to sift for Sapphires. After sifting two buckets we had found four small vials of Sapphires and other corundum. When finished, we drove back into town to the Gem Mountain shop and found a sweatshirt my size, and then took hwy 1 southwest through a winding mountain pass with steep cliffs, and then on to the city of Anaconda, where we found a Subway and got our dinner. This town is a story in itself with a huge mine including a giant smoke stack and great architecture down town.

From there we connected back up with expressway 90, and then south to 15 which would take us down to the eastern part of Idaho, and the Opal town of Spencer. On expressway 15 we stopped at a rest area to eat our subs where we saw a sign about the history of that part of the country.

The sign reads:
“Along in the 1840s the Americans were like they are now, seething to go somewhere. It got around that Oregon was quite a place. The Iowa people hadn’t located California yet. A wagon train pulled out across the plains and made it to Oregon. Then everyone broke out in a rash to be going west.
They packed their Prairie Schooners with their household goods, Gods, and garden tools. Outside of Indians, prairie fires, cholera, famine, cyclones, cloud bursts, quicksand, snow slides, and blizzards, they had a tolerably blithe and gay trip.
When gold was found in Montana some of them forked off from the main highway and surged along this trail aiming to reach the rainbow’s end. It was mostly one way traffic, but if they did meet a back tracking outfit there was plenty of room to turn out.”

After eating dinner we continued south past Dillon, and north west of Monida we must have been climbing in elevation because there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Garfield Mountain and the Lima peaks were beautiful, classic snow capped visions of what you expect from mountains in the west.

After re-entering Idaho we found the Targhee National Forest and Stoddard Creek Campground with its fantastic valley scenery. It rained throughout the night.

June 8th

After breakfast we drove into the small town of Spencer, and following the advice we got in Philipsburg, stopped at the first rock shop on the right called “Hot Rocks” where I found a type of Opal called ‘Ice Cream Opal’, white with swirls of pink, which should make some very nice cabs. I also found a couple of Opals with some thin layers of fire, some blue agate from Montana, and an unnamed type of picture Jasper. We moved on to the Spencer Opal Mine and Cafe and tried our luck digging in their stockpile without much luck. I found one small piece with a little fire. Next we moved up the street to the Opal Mountain Mine owned by Bob and Susan Thompson, who are trying to sell their shop and mine. There I bought a jar of pre-lapped rough Opal, each stone showing really nice fire. I’ve also learned how difficult it is to photograph the fire of a good Opal. Here are my best attempts.

Opal Mountain Mine

Opal Mountain Mine

I also got some quartz caps for the future triplets I intend to make.

From there we went to the south side of town to High Country Opal ‘The Opal Store’ and bought a nice specimen with many layers of fire.

Unfortunately none of the Opal mines in town currently allow digging at the actual mine, so after that we drove back to Dillon, Montana for some lunch, where we decided to drive up into the mountains and give Crystal Park a try. Crystal Park lies along the Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway, south of Wise River, Montana. It is operated by the National Forest Service, and during the summer months there is a minimal fee to use the parking area. I had been warned ahead of time that even in early summer you might encounter snow at the park. At an elevation of 7,800ft the snow can last quite a while. Up and up we drove, seeing more snow as we went. Wonderful mountain landscapes! Eventually we located the park, but there was about two feet of snow blocking the entrance to the parking area! Still, there was enough room to pull off the road, so I decided to give it a try.

Crystal Park

Crystal Park

Crystal Park lies along the Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway, south of Wise River, Montana

We walked into the park, over slippery ice covered snow drifts. Breathing is noticeably more difficult at that elevation, and for us lowlanders it can be hard to catch your breath even standing still. I found a likely spot where someone had started a hole and dug into the wall.

I must have spent a couple of hours digging in that spot and found a few nice crystals including one very nice little scepter.

Quartz crystals

Quartz Crystals

The day was getting on, so we left to find a campsite, intending to do some more serious digging the next day. That night it rained most of the night, but early in the morning the rain stopped tapping on the top of our van, so I had my hopes up about the coming dig…. until I stuck my head out of the sleeping bag. It was COLD. I got up to start up the van for some heat and got a shock looking outside. The rain had just turned to snow, heavy snow!

This changed everything. I didn’t intend to get stranded up in the mountains during a snow storm, so we quickly ate breakfast and, as much as I hated to leave, got the heck out of there. Here’s what the road looked like going north to Wise River.

By the time we got down to the elevation of Wise River the snow had changed to rain, and it was time to make new plans. While researching the 2010 trip that didn’t happen, I looked for other Sapphire mines in Montana, and one place I found was the Spokane Sapphire Mine near the state capitol of Helena. Going on two year old memories, this was my next planned stop. After a bit of searching I located the sign that led to the mine.

Going on two year old memories, this was my next planned stop. After a bit of searching I located the sign that led to the mine.

Going on two year old memories, this was my next planned stop. After a bit of searching I located the sign that led to the mine.

Spokane Sapphire Mine near the state capitol of Helena.

Spokane Sapphire Mine near the state capitol of Helena.

Here they sell different grades of Sapphire gravel starting at $75.00, so we bought the cheap one and began sifting our gravel.

 began sifting our gravel

began sifting our gravel

It was a cold, raw, windy day and I only had the tolerance to sift one bag of gravel, but we found a few nice Sapphires. When finished, the attendant inside separated out the best faceting grade stones, pictured here.



… and the rest of the Corundum and Sapphires we found.

... and the rest of the Corundum and Sapphires we found.

... and the rest of the Corundum and Sapphires we found.

At this mine there is always a slim chance of finding gold nuggets in your gravel, but we didn’t find any in our bag.

When we were done, we drove back into Helena and found an International House of Pancakes for lunch, one of the best meals we had on the whole trip, and then headed back in the direction of home. East of Helena we saw an antelope in a field next to the road. Outside of Billings the mountains turn to buttes and mesas. We stayed at a Sleep Inn in Billings for the night.

June 10th

We awoke to a sunny 51F degree day, and were out of Billings by 8:00am. All the rivers we crossed were over their banks. Near Forsyth we saw a hand made sign along the expressway selling agates, so I pulled off and we found the house of a very nice man named Perry. He had literally tons of Montana agates filling old bath tubs and around some small buildings. I found a small box of pre-cut agate slabs and bought them from him.

Here are some of the nicer ones I’ve found in the box so far.

Montana agates

Montana agates

He also had a few antiques for sale, and I found a few interesting pieces, including an old 1950s bug sprayer made in Saranac, Michigan that wanted to come back to home with me. We thanked Perry and headed back east.

When we first came west through Montana, we saw a sign for the Glendive Dinosaur Museum and decided that if we had time we would stop, so on our way back east we stopped to check it out. It turns out to not be a real scientific museum at all, but I will save that discussion for another time and place…

At 1:47pm we passed back into North Dakota, and stopped again at Painted Canyon for t shirts and photos, and right in the grassy area in the parking lot there were two beautiful Bison resting in the grass, and I got this great picture out the window of the van.

These wild beauties can get up to 2,000 pounds and sprint 3 times faster than a human. NEVER approach one on foot!

Driving through Bismarck Litha snapped a quick photo as we drove over the now flooding Missouri River.

My outdated road atlas showed a campground at Lake George, near Medina, so we turned off to find it, but its not there anymore. Driving back to the expressway a Fox crossed the road in front of us, being chased by a Deer! LOL!

We drove on to Jamestown and checked into a Holiday Inn Express and ate dinner at the neighboring Pizza Ranch; good food and a great hotel to rest for the night.

June 11th

East of Jamestown there were no more buttes, just flat agricultural land with lots of standing water. We were back in Moorehead, Minnesota by 9:56am, and stopped at a nice park in Nevis to eat lunch. It was a lakefront park with a changing house and playground from the 1950s. There were even some hardy folks swimming in this cool weather (it was only 62F degrees out). At 3:17 pm we passed through Duluth and over the bridge into Wisconsin. In Wisconsin we stopped at two antique shops to hunt for goodies. Next we stopped at a Subway for dinner, and an A&W drive-in for rootbeer floats. We made it back into Michigan to our campground by the lake I’ll refer to as Mosquito Hell. This time I was ready for them and not so many followed me into the van when paying the camping fee.

June 12th

We awoke to cold temps in the 40s, with the Mosquitoes still active outside the van and left at 7:15am.  Along US2 we saw a Coyote, and with no traffic behind us, I slowed down. The little guy co-operated for a photo shoot.

We were over the Mackinaw Bridge and back to our ‘palm of the mitten’ home by 7:30pm. I drove 4,664 miles and we experienced some less than perfect weather, but had no serious problems with the van, and did everything we had intended and then some. It was a trip Litha and I will always remember.

Thanks for checking out my report!

Jim Adams

World’s Largest Emerald- Bahia Emerald

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens,Rare Gems,Rockhound stories — Gary December 5, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

Ownership Disputed Over 840-Pound, $400 Million Emerald

Bahia Emerald has picked up an article from The Wall Street Journal that reports a story about an 840-pound emerald.

In the article, “Five People Claim Ownership of an 840-Pound $400M Emerald” we are told of a man who had original ownership of the large diamond. And, he kept it in a storage box.

Then he reported it stolen.

Lt. Thomas Grubb is in charge of the investigation. He was notified of the “theft” by the emerald’s original owner, Larry Bieglar who is a gem broker and real estate investor who had a disagreement it seems with two other men.

The men, Todd Armstrong and Kit Morrison, are two businessmen who claimed they paid $1 million for diamonds but Bieglar didn’t deliver. They went on to say that he had put the 840-pound emerald up for collateral.

Bieglar has a much different story. He claims that the two guys offered him $80 million for the emerald and he accepted; he felt that $80 million was a fair price. He also says these guys didn’t pay anything.

As the article goes on to report, Armstrong and Morrison placed the emerald in a warehouse and agreed to turn it over to the police until the matter was resolved.
The Los Angeles based police traveled to Las Vegas to retrieve the emerald.

They found the emerald and were surprised. It looks like a big black rock. It is all in one piece.

It turns out the emerald is actually a Brazilian emerald and when appraised in that country only came in at $372 million.

When you start getting to these sizes of gems it is difficult to know the correct value.

In the case of the emerald, unless a person is going to “break it down,” it really isn’t much good other than for viewing as in a museum.

Diamonds tend to be the most expensive gem. I found the largest to be possibly 7,000 carats. If I took a value of two thousand dollars per carat and multiplied it by 7,000 I get $14 million; that is a far cry from $400 million. Of course there may be extra value because of the “uncut” size but how is that figured?

I think an excellent point is made by Maarten De Witte who suggests that either the diamond is worthless because of size or out of everyone’s ability to purchase for the same reason; it’s too big.

For a lot of us the only experience we have with diamonds is when we give or get one upon engagement.

I was told by a dear friend of mine that he purchases diamonds because should our economy ever become worthless with respect to our currency he would have something to “barter with.”

People are interesting especially when it comes to wealth.

More pictures here.

Fire Agate

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens,Rare Gems,Rare Rocks!,Sent in Flickr photos — Gary November 11, 2010 @ 1:40 am

Wow, this picture was taken by Tom Shearer.  You can see more of his rock pics here:



FREE Rockhound Book!

Filed under: Free Books,Great Finds-specimens — Gary September 27, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

John D Marshall



While asking to do a bio on  John D. Marshall  he  kindly let me distribute FOR FREE his out of print/sold out book (The Other Lake Superior Agates) while we put something together!  The book- all 190 pages can be downloaded from the below link (it’s a PDF file which took 1 min to download).

The front and back covers and picture key are in jpg format below.  Enjoy and Thanks John for this special present!

Sounds like a promising idea. I’ve been a ‘hound since age 7…I’m 60 now. You might want to check out my book about Lake Superior Agates first. It was printed in three editions but is currently sold out. However, it’s available exactly as printed as a pdf. The covers of the book were done in “illustrator” software and so I supply them as jpgs.

You have my permission to post these jpgs and the pdf of the book on your site if you wish. The only condition being that it is for free distribution only.

Click on images below to enlarge


This is the cover of my book about Agates. The covers are not included in the pdf download available on my page and at several groups. Some have asked for the cover so I'm posting jpegs of the outer and inner sides.







Here’s the link to the pdf download- All 190 pages!!! :


Fire Agate Mining Adventure at Deer Creek Arizona

Submitted by Jessica Dow…

Please visit her website as well:

This year Mark and I added a bit more excitement to our annual trip to the Tucson gem show with a pre-show detour to the Deer Creek fire agate mine. The mine owner extended a personal invitation to the mine’s “Deer Creek Fire Agate Invitational” that we couldn’t pass up. We stayed at the mine overnight with one of America’s most experienced pio­neers of the gemstone industry, mine owner David Penney, his family, and his mining Partner, Sarah Heather Scholz.

Deer Creek mine owner Dave Penny and S. Heather Scholz

Deer Creek mine owner Dave Penny and S. Heather Scholz

We were able to rent the machine they call the “Gem-A-Nator” for an hourly rate. This is a thrilling experience! The Gem-A-Nator sorts and wets the rough before it comes down a belt where you can grab the chunks of rough fire agate. One of the professional miners will be scooping fresh material into the Gem-A-Nator using a backhoe. The miners take material straight from the best areas of the mine and pour it into the Gem-A-Nator. This is material that has not been touched or picked through, giving a rare chance at getting the best material the mine has to offer.

Mark on the Gem-A-Nator

Mark on the Gem-A-Nator

Sarah and Mark have great eyes for spotting the higher quality rough as it comes down the belt…they had the front spots on the Gem-A-Nator.

Sarah and Mark have great eyes for spotting the higher quality rough as it comes down the belt…they had the front spots on the Gem-A-Nator.

Dave Penny getting another scoop of rough for the Gem-A-Nator

Dave Penny getting another scoop of rough for the Gem-A-Nator

We also were able to explore the mine a bit with Dave and Sarah. We collected rough directly from the base of a small mountain with a wall of exposed fire agate nodules… some were loose enough to grab up and a few had to be removed from the rock with a small pick.

A couple of fire agate nodules Mark found at the base of a mountain at the Deer Creek mine

A couple of fire agate nodules Mark found at the base of a mountain at the Deer Creek mine

Mark could have stayed at the mine for days exploring and hunting for fire agate on the mountain.

Mark could have stayed at the mine for days exploring and hunting for fire agate on the mountain.

Dave Penny, Sarah, Wendell and Mark with a bucket of hand-picked fire agate.

Dave Penny, Sarah, Wendell and Mark with a bucket of hand-picked fire agate.

Our trip to the mine was the highlight of our trip to Arizona… it exceeded our expectations on many levels. We left the mine with over a hundred pounds of rough fire agate in various grades. We’ll easily be able to sell and profit from selling a small portion of our mine run. Our highest grade material will be carved into gems for our custom gold jewelry designs. We’re already planning for another trip to the mine next year!
These are a few examples of the exceptionally beautiful fire agate rough we got from our Gem-A-Nator run~


Fire agate

Fire Agate

Fire Agate

Dave Penny and S. Heather shared both their time and knowledge generously with us during our stay. We mined fire agate during the day and had very comfortable accommodations at night.
Were able to rent a fully equipped RV at the mine with internet access, a full size bed, a shower, refridgerator, coffee maker and more. Sarah also offers her delicious home-cooked meals… yummy! She had a small menu to choose from with steak, lamb, various seafood dishes and a vegetarian dinner as well. We had a great night while we were there….Dave built us a fire with wonderful smelling local mesquite wood and we sat comfortably under the stars while Sarah grilled our steaks. Sarah and Dave brewed us fresh coffee in the morning and fed us a huge breakfast to power us up for the day of mining. The mine is nestled in a remote location with a gorgeous view. I sat, drank my coffee and enjoyed the Arizona sunrise:)

I was a bit apprehensive about my ability to be comfortable during our trip to the mine… I am currently 7 months pregnant and thought the rough conditions would be difficult in my condition. They made me completely comfortable and I enjoyed every minute of my time at the mine. Dave and Sarah are very genuine, honest people…. I can’t say enough about how impressed we were with them on both a personal and professional level.

A very pregnant Jessica, Mark, Dave and S. Heather in front of the Gem-A-Nator This unique experience is being offered exclusively to professional jewelry and lapidary artisans.
Reservation time for this adventure is limited due to the personal attention given to each artist.
Normally many of the people who visit the mine are personally invited or are referred by friends/colleagues of the mine owner. This is a great opportunity to gem collectors, lapidary artisans and professional jewelers wanting top grade fire agate for jewelry designs! Space is limited and filling up fast… for serious inquiries about visiting the mine and rates for mining/accommodations write to Dave Penny and S. Heather Scholz at

Wendell Thatcher helping us during our time on the Gem-A-Nator

Wendell Thatcher helping us during our time on the Gem-A-Nator

We’d like to thank our friend Wendell Thatcher for personally referring us to the mine owner. Wendell is a dedicated and experienced rockhound and a very talented fire agate carver. Many of the hand carved fire agate gems in our personal collection were purchased through Wendell.

Fire agate jewelry by Jessica Dow and Mark Anderson of Different Seasons Jewelry and Lapidary.

Fire agate jewelry by Jessica Dow and Mark Anderson of Different Seasons Jewelry and Lapidary.

Fire agate pendant collaboration by Mark Anderson and Casey Swanson.

Fire agate pendant collaboration by Mark Anderson and Casey Swanson.

Messel Fossil Pit

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens,NEW- fossils,Rockhound Travel,Video — Gary August 25, 2010 @ 11:04 am

The Messel Pit (German: Grube Messel) is a disused quarry near the village of Messel, (Landkreis Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hesse) about 35 km southeast of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Bituminous shale was mined there. Because of its plethora of fossils, it has significant geological and scientific importance. After almost becoming a landfill, strong local resistance eventually stopped these plans, and the Messel Pit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site on 9 December 1995. Significant scientific discoveries are still being made, and the site has become an increasing tourism site as well.




Brown coal, and later oil shale was actively mined from 1859. The pit first became known for its wealth of fossils around 1900, but serious scientific excavation only started around the 1970s, when falling oil prices made the quarry uneconomical. Commercial oil shale mining ceased in 1971, and a cement factory built in the quarry failed the following year. The land was slotted for use as a landfill, but the plans came to nought, and the Hessian state bought the site in 1991 to secure scientific access. In the few years between the end of mining and 1974, when the state started preparing the site for garbage disposal, amateur collectors were allowed to collect fossils. The amateurs developed the “transfer technique” that enabled them to preserve the fine details of small fossils, the method still employed in preserving the fossils today.

Due to the extraordinary fossils, the pit was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, the only place to be placed on the list exclusively due to fossils.

Many of the known specimens from the site have come from amateur collectors, and in 1996, an amnesty on previously collected fossils was put in effect, in the hope of getting privately owned collections back into public ownership and available to science.

Depositional characteristics

The current surface of the Messel pit is roughly 60 m below the local land and is about 0.7 km² in area. The oil-shale bed originally extended to a depth of 190 m.[4] 47 million years ago in the Eocene when the Messel deposits formed, the area was 10° further south than it is now. The period was very close to the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, and the climate and ecology of the site were very different. A large series of lakes, surrounded by lush sub-tropical forests supported an incredible diversity of life. The Messel lake bed was probably a center point for drainage from nearby rivers and creeks.

A fossil of the primitive mammal Kopidodon, showing outline of fur

The pit deposits were formed during the Eocene Epoch of the Paleogene Period about 47 million years ago, based on dating of basalt fragments underlying fossilbearing strata. Oil shale, formed by the slow anoxic deposition of mud and dead vegetation on the lake bed, is the primary rock at the site. Its sediments extend 130 m downward and lie atop an older sandstone foundation. The fossils within the shale show a remarkable clarity and preservation due to the unique depositional characteristics of the lake. The upper stratifications of the lake most certainly supported a variety of organisms, but the bottom was subject to little disturbance by current, spawning a very anoxic environment. This prevented many epifaunal and infaunal species from inhabiting this niche, and thus bioturbation was kept at a minimum. Overturn of the lake layers (caused by seasonal variations) lowered oxygen content near the surface and led to a periodic “die-off” of aquatic species. Combined with a relatively low rate of deposition (0.1 mm/yr), this provided a prime environment for the preservation of fauna and flora.


The Messel Pit provides the best preserved evidence of Geiseltalian flora and fauna so far discovered. Most other sites are lucky to contain partial skeletons, but Messel boasts extensive preservation of structural integrity, even going so far as to preserve the fur, feathers, and “skin shadows” of some species. Unusual preservation has sparked some closely-reasoned interpretations. The symptomatic “dumb-bell”-shaped bite marks on either side of the leaf vein on a fossilised leaf have been identified as the death-grip of a carpenter ant terminally parasitized by a fungus that, apparently then as today, comandeered its behavior, in order to release its spores from a favourable location; it is the earliest concrete sample of fungal behavioural manipulation.

The diversity of species is no less astonishing (thanks in part, perhaps, to the hypothesized periodic gas releases). A brief summary of some of the fossils found at the site follows:

  • Early primate fossil with anthropoid (i.e. non-lemuroid) characteristics (discovery made public May 2009), (see Darwinius masillae)
  • Over 10,000 fossilized fish of numerous species
  • Thousands of aquatic and terrestrial insects, some with distinct coloration still preserved
  • A plethora of small mammals including pygmy horses, large mice, primates, ground dwellers (hedgehogs, marsupials, pangolins), aardvark relatives, and bats.
  • Large numbers of birds, particularly predatory species.
  • Crocodiles, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and other reptiles or amphibians
  • Remains of over 30 distinct plant species, including palm leaves, fruits, pollen, wood, walnuts, and grapevines


Exhibits from the pit may be seen in the Messel town museum, the Museum of Hessen in Darmstadt (5 km from Messel) and also the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt (some 30 km from Messel). Casual visitors can park close to the pit and walk around 300 m to a viewing platform overlooking the pit. Entrance to the pit is only possible as part of a specially organized tour.

Thanks Wikipedia

Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Virgin Valley, Nevada

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens,Rockhound Travel,field trip reports — Gary August 10, 2010 @ 3:46 am


Welcome to the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine
Virgin Valley, Nevada

Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine is located in Northwest Nevada, approximately 135 miles from Winnemucca, Nevada, and approximately 100 miles from Lakeview, OR. The closest town is Denio, NV, which is 35 miles away. Denio Junction has reopened and food, fuel and rooms are available. We recommend that you fill up in either Lakeview or Winnemucca on your way out to the mine. All roads to the mine are blacktop, except for the last 7.5 miles, which are gravel and dirt. During wet weather, the last couple of miles is very bad, and should not be attempted, (looking for opal in wet or very overcast weather is not good anyway).

There is no overnight camping available at Rainbow Ridge. Trailers should be left at the CCC camp, which is 5 miles before you get to the mine. Denio Junction has reopened and food, fuel and rooms are available. We recommend that you fill up in either Lakeview or Winnemucca on your way out to the mine.

Opal Finds

Opal Finds

Very nice field report with lots of pictures of the area and what they found – click here!

The opals from Rainbow Ridge are casts after wood, and are some of the most beautiful opals in the world. We offer tailings digging where many different wood and opal combinations may be found. The tailings are up to eight feet deep. We turn the tailings from time to time, and are constantly adding to the tailings from the virgin ground loads. The virgin ground loads are materials taken from the bank with the loader, and are worked on a flattened area near where you park. Everything you find, regardless of value, is yours to keep. Although luck plays a part in finding opals, an “educated” eye is very helpful. First timers will be given some help in getting them started.

Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine

Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine

2010 Season Information:
Opening Date: Friday, May 28th through
Last Digging Day:
Sunday, September 19th.

Please note thet we are closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the 2010 season.

Reservations for the virgin ground loads will be accepted by phone only, NO EMAIL RESERVATIONS, begining April 15th thru the last day of the season.

Please call: (775) 941-0270 or (541) 548-4810 to make a reservation.

Virgin Ground Load Fee this season is $500.00, and will admit either one or two adults.

Tailing Fee is $70.00 per person per day, and children10-15 are still half price.

Small pick (sharp, single hand)
Small garden rake
Small shovel or trowel
Spray bottle with water for cleaning off dirt
Buckets (5 gallon) for collecting specimens, plus an extra one for a seat
Sun block, hat, and gloves

Come visit our rock shop; we have lots of beautiful opal for sale, as well as fossils, minerals, and jewelry. We have digging tools and buckets for sale, too.

We look forward to seeing you at Rainbow Ridge.

New York Rockhounding

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens — Gary July 15, 2010 @ 11:13 am

Check out the NY State Museum’s webpage on amphiboles:

Discovery of New Mineral Species



Click here for site

New mineral found in moon meteorite – hapkeite

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens — Gary July 13, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

A backscatter electron image shows the newly discovered mineral, known as hapkeite or Fe2Si, in orange. Another type of mineral, FeSi, is indicated as yellow.

WASHINGTON — A chunk of the moon that landed on Earth as a meteorite contains a new mineral, which scientists have named after a researcher who years ago predicted the unusual process that formed the material.

Grains of the material, made of iron and silicon, were found in pieces of a meteorite that was discovered in Oman on the Saudi peninsula, said Lawrence A. Taylor of the University of Tennessee, a member of the research team that reported the find.

The process that led to the material’s formation on the moon “is much different than anything we can imagine on Earth,” Taylor explained.

Small meteorites that would burn up in an atmosphere like Earth’s can crash into the moon because of its lack of an atmosphere. The mineral was found in a piece of the moon that had been large enough to make it through Earth’s atmosphere without being destroyed.

When that happens, Taylor explained, the impact creates heat that melts some of the rocks and forms a vapor that is deposited on nearby materials.

Mineral dubbed ‘hapkeite’
The process and discovery of the new material is reported in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some iron-silicon minerals form on Earth, sometimes as a result of lightning strikes, but the new mineral is a different combination, Taylor said. Hapkeite has the chemical formula Fe2Si, indicating the presence of two atoms of iron to one of silicon.

The researchers named the new mineral hapkeite after Bruce Hapke of the University of Pittsburgh, who 30 years ago predicted the process that forms this mineral.

“I told them so,” said an amused Hapke, who added: “It’s quite an honor.”

He said he developed the theory to explain weathering of surface materials in space, a process that darkens the moon’s surface.

Lunar and terrestrial weathering
Weathering on Earth creates soil through the action of water, oxygen and organic processes. That can’t happen on a place without water or an atmosphere, so the darkening and breaking down of the surface rocks had to be explained in another way.

Benton C. Clark, a weathering expert at Lockheed Martin Corp., said the process of forming the moon mineral seems plausible, but stressed that it needs to be defined as “space weathering,” which would be unlike weathering on Earth.

“Naming a mineral after the outstanding scientist Bruce Hapke is a fitting tribute,” he said.

Robert Craddock, science adviser for the Smithsonian Institution’s undersecretary for science, said the paper explains some of the spectral measurements researchers read when they study airless planets. Measurements of the spectrum of reflected light are used to help determine the presence of minerals.

The newly found mineral, he added, is one of a number of minerals predicted as a possible result of space weathering.

Is Ida our missing link?

Filed under: Great Finds-specimens — Gary May 21, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

Atlantic Productions

The Link is a feature-length documentary film made by the award-winning Atlantic Productions with exclusive access to Ida and the team of scientists who have examined her. The film shows how microtomography, CT scans and X-ray techniques were used to examine and recreate a 3D image of the creature, revealing that this early primate was a previously unknown species and one of our earliest ancestors.

Filmed in High Definition in locations in Europe, America and Africa, this documentary special combines one of the most extraordinary finds ever made, the latest scientific techniques and state of the art graphics to take us on an epic evolutionary journey.

19, 2009—
Meet “Ida,” the small “missing link” found in Germany that’s
created a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves among those
who study human origins.

In a new book, documentary, and promotional Web site, paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the
team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil seen above, suggests Ida is a
critical missing-link species in primate evolution (interactive guide to human evolution from National
(Among the team members was University of Michigan paleontologist Philip
Gingerich, a member of the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National
Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates
such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as

“This is the first link to all humans,” Hurum, of the Natural History Museum
in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents “the closest thing we can
get to a direct ancestor.”

Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The
lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping
hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs.

“This specimen looks like a really early fossil monkey that belongs to the
group that includes us,” said Brian Richmond, a biological anthropologist at
George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, published this week in the journal PLoS

But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period, Richmond
noted. Researchers are unsure when and where the primate group that includes
monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes

“[Ida] is one of the important branching points on the evolutionary tree,”
Richmond said, “but it’s not the only branching point.”

At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible
preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates
underwent a period of rapid evolution. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

“From this time period there are very few fossils, and they tend to be an
isolated tooth here or maybe a tailbone there,” Richmond explained. “So you
can’t say a whole lot of what that [type of fossil] represents in terms of
evolutionary history or biology.”

In Ida’s case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and
soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds,
and leaves.

What’s more, the newly described “missing link” was found in Germany’s Messel
Pit. Ida’s European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could
suggest—contrary to common assumptions—that the continent was an important area
for primate evolution.

Interesting article debunking the hype

IDA tree

IDA tree

Unbridled hoopla attended the unveiling of a 47-million-year-old fossil primate skeleton
at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on 19 May. Found
by private collectors in 1983 in Messel, Germany, the press immediately
hailed the specimen as a “missing link” and even the “eighth wonder of
the world.”

homepage evolved, incorporating an image of the new fossil – nicknamed
Ida – into the company’s logo. Now that the first description of the
fossil has been published, the task of sifting through the massive
public relations campaign to understand the true significance of the
new fossil can begin.

Ida forms the basis for a new genus and species of adapiform primate, Darwinius massillae. The adapids are a branch of the primate tree that leads to modern lemurs (see figure).

skeletal remains are remarkably complete, putting her in a small, elite
group of well-documented fossil primates from the Eocene (55 to 34
million years ago) that also includes her North American cousin, Notharctus.

for primate fossils this old, Ida’s stomach contents and a few aspects
of her soft anatomy are preserved. Like all adapiforms, Ida lacked a “toothcomb” at the front of her lower jaw – a structure that living lemurs use for grooming fur. Ida also lacked a “grooming claw
on her second toe, another difference from living lemurs. Otherwise,
Ida’s overall proportions and anatomy resemble that of a lemur, and the
same is true for other adapiform primates.

does Ida’s anatomy tell us about her place on the family tree of humans
and other primates? The fact that she retains primitive features that
commonly occurred among all early primates, such as simple incisors
rather than a full-fledged toothcomb, indicates that Ida belongs
somewhere closer to the base of the tree than living lemurs do.

this does not necessarily make Ida a close relative of anthropoids –
the group of primates that includes monkeys, apes – and humans. In
order to establish that connection, Ida would have to have
anthropoid-like features that evolved after anthropoids split away from
lemurs and other early primates. Here, alas, Ida fails miserably.

Ida is not a “missing link” – at least not between anthropoids and more
primitive primates. Further study may reveal her to be a missing link
between other species of Eocene adapiforms, but this hardly solidifies
her status as the “eighth wonder of the world”.

Ida is a remarkably complete specimen that promises to teach us a great
deal about the biology of some of the earliest and least human-like of
all known primates, the Eocene adapiforms. For this, we can all
celebrate her discovery as a real advance for science.

Chris Beard is curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History