Rockhounding Montana, Part II - Calcite Crystals

Another part of our Montana rockhounding trip was just as productive as the sapphire mine at Gem Mountain, although this part was much harder work! South of Bozeman is a cave, in a cliff, where bats hang out. There are a couple ways up to the cliff: straight up, which is difficult, steep and slippery, even for a mountain goat; or the switchback trail, which is more gradual...until the end.

Then, once you get to the cave, the climb inside is a bit of an experience in itself. For the trips in and out of the cave, my objective quickly became to do it without banging my head. We left the area before I completed my objective. (Imagine a cross-eyed emoji with the tongue sticking out.)


It's not a huge cave but was big enough for Jim and I, a couple friends and a sweet dog, Nellie...


...and a few other rockhounds. In fact, this young gentleman, Dom, was brimming over with enthusiasm. And, who can blame him? Thanks for sharing, Dom.


Oh, and did I mention the bats? They weren't there during our time in the cave but guano was abundant in areas. So, in some cases, for exploring the nooks and crannies and getting up close and personal with the rocks and dirt, it was better to prepare than to take any chances.


The work was hard, using chisels and sledge hammers to extract the crystals from the rocks or from being embedded in mud, surrounded by rocks. And, one was often in a very odd position while doing the work.

The yellow calcite crystals that were extracted proved to be quite worthwhile! Not only are there some beautiful specimens, some doubly terminated, but many of the pieces were quite gemmy so Jim brought home some pieces that are facet-grade.

Montana is a gorgeous state with nature and animal-life abounding. It's also a fun place for the rock hound! Here's wishing you some good finds on your rock hunting adventures.

Some Days Crystals, Some Days Dirt

We often encounter people who say they want to rock hunt and find their own crystals and rocks. Today's blog describes a typical day of rock hounding. Jim and our friend, Bruce, went this past Saturday and below describes their day.

Jim left the house shortly before 5:30 am, picked up Bruce, then drove about 1-1/2 hours to get to the location in the mountains. From where they parked, it was about 1/2 hour hike to get to the first spot. It seemed promising because, as they dug, they encountered many feldspar crystals which are usually a sign that there are smoky quartz crystals as well. Jim spent 4 hours in the first hole, digging in the ground, pulling out feldspar after feldspar, and after 4 hours of persistence, patience and a lot of digging, he found one crystal! Bruce, on the other hand, had moved to another spot and, unfortunately, got 'skunked' (rock hound term for not finding anything).

This crystal is not a great specimen, nor is it good enough for jewelry. It will most likely make it to the give-away pile.

This crystal is not a great specimen, nor is it good enough for jewelry. It will most likely make it to the give-away pile.

Next, Jim walked around, prodding and digging in the earth, until he found another promising spot.  He spent the next 3 hours in this last spot and, yes, he found a bit more than the first hole, but it's nothing to brag about.

About 4:00 in the afternoon, they decided to call it a day, especially since a storm was building. Fortunately, the rain waited until they reached the car. Then they made the trek back home and Jim arrived at our house about 7:30 that night. So, it made for a long day with driving, hiking, digging (getting very dirty) and very little to show for it.

The next day Jim gave all the crystals a bath, in soap and water. This gave him an idea as to whether there might be facet-grade quartz or whether there are nice specimens hiding underneath their covering of dirt and iron. Still not very impressive.

After the bath, Zen (our cat) checked to see if the crystals passed his cleanliness smell test, and he was satisfied.

And, there you have the reality of the day in the life of a rock hound! Thanks for joining us and Rock On!

Rock hunting? What's that?

Have you ever had one of those years where you think you have an idea of what you'll be doing and where you'll be going but then life's daily events say otherwise?  Over and over and over?Well, this has been one of those years for us.  Mind you, this isn't a complaint, but might be more likened to a confession.

Granted, we do our best to continue on with jewelry making, especially since our schedule of summer fairs and markets is quite full.  So, keeping inventory on hand is a necessity and satisfying that need for a creative outlet is as much of a necessity!  But, as far as rock hunting is concerned...

Normally, we're out hunting for smoky quartz crystals, amazonite and topaz as often as possible here in Colorado.  We even had a short road trip planned to Silverton, CO, for fluorite crystals and rhodonite, but it was just cancelled.  My current health experience has kept me from getting out...just yet anyway.  And, today, as I write this little blurb, the guys are out only for the second time since the Forest Service opened the road on May 1st!  (Hopefully they return today with more than what they found last time.)

Nonetheless, this is quite the unusual turn of events for us!  This is why I changed the name of our blog to the Occasional Blog.  So, rather than fighting the current and trying to force it to go where we want it to go, we've simply let go and gone with the flow.  It takes a lot less effort that way.

Thanks for listening.  And rather than telling you to 'Rock On!'...Go with the flow! (whatever your particular flow might be at this particular moment in time)



Rock Hunting in Utah-2016

We wanted to share with you our recent excursion to Utah.  Other than the travel days, we had 3 rock hunting destinations to cover in 4 days: Topaz Mountain, Dugway geodes, and Yellow Cat Flats. And, we pretty much came back with all the minerals and rocks we set out to get. The bruises, aches and pains were even thrown in for free!

Topaz Mountain

Our first 2 days were scheduled, since it was a fee site, on a claim owned by Topaz Mountain Adventures. The first day, we hired them to blast some of the rock away from the wall.  Fire in the hole!!!

Topaz Mountain Adventures' blasting rock for us on their claim.

Topaz Mountain Adventures' blasting rock for us on their claim.

Here we are, standing in front of the cliff wall, eager to work through the debris. For 2 days, with sledge hammers, chisels and other tools, we carefully (and sometimes not so gracefully) extracted topaz crystals from the hard rock. I'm proud to say that I managed to avoid hitting my hand with the sledge 'too hard.'  The guys, on the other hand, didn't fare so well as indicated by the badges of purple, black and blue on their hands. Ouch!

Below are more photos of our time there, as well as some of the pieces we brought home. An interesting point about this particular topaz: it comes out of the rock with a beautiful amber color. However, whether it becomes jewelry or is left as a specimen, two weeks of sun exposure will turn this topaz permanently clear! So this gem is best suited for the night life.

Dugway Geodes

The 3rd day, we drove to the geode beds, near Dugway, Utah. This was a lot easier than hard rocking it with the topaz. It was fairly soft for digging.

Sometimes you find geodes that are already open...

...and the crystals inside sparkle after they're washed.

Other times, they come out whole and you won't know what's inside until you cut them but that's half the fun!

Yellow Cat

Lastly, we spent a little time digging for what is believed to be coprolite (agatized dung) from dinosaurs. I will mention that a friend asked a university professor, who is quite knowledgeable about these things, and she thought it might even be a poop cast where, instead of the poop becoming agate, it may have been replaced by agate.

For how barren this area is, I find it to be quite beautiful!

That wraps up the short trip.  Thanks for stopping by the blog today.

Rock On!








Hunting for Smoky Quartz Crystals

Rock hunting, as in hunting for crystals and other mineral specimens, can be a real hit-and-miss affair.  Sometimes there are dry spells and sometimes the effort is worthwhile.  Crystals can be found in this spot but not that spot that is two feet away.

This past weekend, we took some friends rock hunting.  Each with our own pick, pack and other goodies, we set off through the mountains and what a beautiful day it was.

It helps, geologically speaking, to know what has occurred with the formation of the mountains and volcanic activity of an area.  Then, once you find some pegmatite with quartz in it, and see some rocks with flat faces in them, you start to dig. wasn't long before feldspars and crystals appeared.

It was a hole that just kept on giving, from a really cool garden rock with feldspars and crystals, to a really big funky crystal.

With the crystals coated in red mud, it's hard to tell what they really look like.  So, we bring them home and give them a good bath using soapy water and a toothbrush.  Their first bath gives us an idea of what we're dealing with.  As you can see from below, they are coated in layers of iron.

Next, they all get a more serious bath.  To get the iron off requires soaking them in acid.  One thing that works fairly well is IronOut.  This will take several days as they generally require soaking more than once, and we usually leave them overnight.  The two below have had their first IronOut soak and, while there are still some iron stains, they are showing more clarity in the crystal.

We have no doubt that we found some pieces that will be great for faceting or making cabochons but we'll wait until they're all done with their baths to be sure.  

All-in-all, it was a perfect day for rock hounding, since every one of us hiked out with some nice finds!  Thanks for joining us know what I'm going to say...Rock On!

Our Vacation with Rocks (from Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming)

We were recently on a rock hunting trip and thought we'd share some highlights with you.  We had a few objectives in mind - meaning particular stones and gems that we wanted - as well as to relax, hike and camp in some beautiful, peaceful countryside.

We first went to an area north of Plush, Oregon, for sunstones. For those of you who haven't been to this area, Plush is a tiny town and 24 miles north of there is barren, yet beautiful, desert with nothing but a handful of sunstone mines, a small open area to camp and lots and lots of sky and desert.

We visited the Dust Devil mine, where you can pay to dig in their pit or you can pay the fuel cost for a run on the conveyor belt, which seemed to me to be a lot more productive for a lot less work. (A run on the belt means that they dig into their pit with a bulldozer. The load is dumped into a large bin and run through a few steps of washing the material before it's dumped onto a conveyor belt.)  We, along with several employees of the mine, stood at the conveyor belt and picked off the sunstones as the debris came across. They charge $60 for the fuel to run the dozer and the belt and then you pay half of wholesale price for the quality gems (meaning those with the red in them).

It was a good deal and they only charged us for the high quality stones, meaning those with red (which is copper) or those that are called schiller (also with copper but it's in the yellow sunstone in platelettes). The sunstones without red, that we got off the belt, were given to us and many of them will make for pretty faceted gemstones.

The rest of the day was spent walking around the fields near the camp site, picking up sunstones off the ground.  You can also dig there, if you choose, but we just hiked around and found a lot; some even have schiller.

From Oregon, we headed to an area west of McDermit, on the Nevada-Oregon border. What originally drew us to this area was a brief write up in the Rockhounding Nevada book about green opalized wood at Cottonwood Spring. After spending 2 days hiking and hiking and hiking many hills, we decided the directions in the book weren't as accurate for finding opal as those we found in the book Gem Trails of Oregon. So we spent a few hours on our last day before heading out, scouting the more accurate location.  While we didn't find green wood with the opal in it, we did pick up a couple pieces of plain green wood, black opal, colorful jasper agate and nice opalized wood for garden rocks as shown in the respective photos below.

Before returning to Colorado, we stopped again in Wyoming in an area called the Blue Forest, which looks flatter than Kansas, except for some gray, sandy hills.  Below ground is a forest that was buried by ash years ago (geologically speaking) when the large volcano in Yellowstone erupted.  It requires digging in sand in a windy and usually buggy area that, like all the other areas we visited, is quite barren. This was just for fun and we found some nice specimens.

There was one more area in the Red Desert of Wyoming where Jim wanted to stop. It's an area of badlands that he visited once, 20+ years ago, when he found some beautiful lace agate. It was quite warm when we got there and the road into it was in much worse shape than it was back then so we couldn't drive as far. As a result, it turned out to be more of a hike than we were prepared for and we never made it to the exact location.  It just goes to show you, some hunts are fruitful and some aren't.

All in all, it was a fun trip. We saw lots of pretty sunsets/sunrises, encountered a number of exciting tumultuous storms, and enjoyed the rock hunting.  Hopefully, we'll get some sunstones cut soon and you can see them in our shop.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in our journey.

New Rock Hounding Season

This past weekend was our first excursion back to where last season's rock hounding ended and, believe me, we were itching to get back out there.

As we approached the area, the three of us picked our own spots to dig (I was determined to dig my own hole, certain that I'd find crystals).  It looked good right away, with small feldspars and partial crystal clusters on rocks but it didn't take long to feel as though the hole was just teasing me...never quite panning out with actual crystals.

Before I knew it, Jim had a fairly deep hole of red mud, red rock, and chunks of crystals.  He called me over, certain that he had just stumbled on a crystal pocket and was graciously giving this hole to me. I didn't find any crystals but did find a small cube of fluorite.  Jim found a couple small ones as well and a few crystals.

Small fluorite cube.

Small fluorite cube.


Bruce, on the other hand, was the one with the good crystal vibes. He found some amazonite, nice looking feldspars and a few crystals. 

Mary's hole sure looked promising.

Mary's hole sure looked promising.

As the clouds darkened, threatening us with some rain, Jim helped Bruce with his productive spot...

...while I took a photo of these itty bitty flowers.  And, that's how it can go, in a day of rock hounding. Not quite what Jim and I had imagined but hopefully Bruce's finds will prove to be beauties, once they are cleaned up.