GHOST OF FOSSIL GLEN

Article I wrote for January, 2015 WCGMC News

The cold has arrived and the snow has covered our favorite collecting sites, but that does not mean that we cannot read about them.  There are even novels written about some of the fossil-rich sites in western New York.  In this case, a children’s novel, set in the prized fossil location, Kashong Glen.

Cynthia DeFelice, a nationally known writer of children’s books, attended William Smith College in Geneva and never left the area.  She was a school librarian in our club’s home town of Newark in the 1980’s and now claims she does most of her writing from a second floor room in her home in Geneva overlooking Seneca Lake.  She has authored over 30 children’s books including a series of ghost stories featuring Allie Nichols, who is a 6th grader when she encounters a ghost in Kashong Glen near her home.

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The Hope Diamond

Article I wrote for the Dec. 2014 WCGMC News

The Hope diamond is one of the most recognized and well known jewels in the world.  At 45.52 carats (9.104 grams), the 1” by ¾” pear-shaped blue jewel is currently valued at more than 200 million dollars.  From its undocumented discovery in India in the 17th century (or before), the diamond has seen owners in India, France, and Britain before coming to the United States early in the 20th century.  It has been re-faceted on several occasions to improve quality and luster.  The gem has resided in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History since 1958, when Harry Winston, a jeweler from New York City, donated the famous gem with the hopes it would stimulate further donations.  It did and the National Gem Gallery at the Smithsonian is a must visit for anyone trekking to Washington D.C.

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Hampton Corners Mine, Mt. Morris, NY

Article I wrote for Dec. 2014 WCGMC News

The Salt of the Earth

This month we will talk about a local mineral location, but not a collector site.  It is in our backyard.  Well perhaps more appropriately, it is in our cellar.  The rocks and the minerals it contains do not crop out, but they are everywhere.  And none of us could live without them.

OK, admit it, you have not heard of the Hampton Corners Mine?  But maybe you know where the largest salt mine in the United States is located? Yes, it is the Hampton Corners Mine, and it is near that blue dot on the map of New York.  You drive by it just outside Mt. Morris if you are headed to, or from, Rochester on 390.  For a moment when you drive past you may even wonder what they do in that strange looking building just east of the highway.

American Rock Salt Mine and surface facility looking east across Interstate 390.  Note the shafts to the left and the stockpiled salt to the right.

American Rock Salt Mine and surface facility looking east across Interstate 390. Note the shafts to the left and the stockpiled salt to the right.

The Hampton Corners salt mine was opened by American Rock Salt in 1998 to replace the flooded Retsof Mine of Livingston County just 6 miles north.  After over 100 years of continuous mining, the catastrophic 1994 flooding event in the Retsof Mine left the region with a demand for low cost road salt, but no local source.  American Rock Salt stepped into that void as local businessmen purchased the property near Mt. Morris and established a new mine.  In fact they established the only new salt mine in the United States in the last 40 years.

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Sailing Stones

Winter is coming to upstate New York so I decided to take us to the desert for this month’s column, specifically to the large, generally flat dry lake beds of Death Valley National Park in California.  For decades scientists have observed large rocks strewn about the playa surface and speculated about how they got there.  Often they are found with long, sometimes curved tracks suggesting movement across the desert surface.

A solitary “sailing stone” on the Raceway Playa in  Death Valley.                        (from Google Wikipedia)

A solitary “sailing stone” on the Raceway Playa in Death Valley. (from Google Wikipedia)

In the past, many theories were proposed to explain how rocks, some as heavy as 700 pounds, could slide or sail across the dry lake bed creating a furrow or trail in their wake.  Hurricane force winds and muddy playa surfaces were suggested.  Slick algal mats present during rare wet periods and thick ice accumulations were also proposed, but experiments and models developed with these ideas could not duplicate the phenomena.  Furthermore, it did not seem reasonable that roving herds of pronghorn antelope had entertained themselves by pushing stones around while no one was watching.  Besides there were no hoof prints!

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Pleurodictyum

I have had an active interest in mineral collecting for several decades (five years in Arizona can do that to anyone), but have developed a growing interest in fossils since moving to western New York two years ago.  Having completed my first full season of mucking up creeks and stopping at roadcuts in the Silurian and Devonian strata of western New York I can announce that I now have a favorite fossil.

I realize many are, and for very good reason, enamored with trilobites.  Be they DiPleura, Greenops, Dalmanites, or Eldredgeops , those are certainly great finds and I will be more than happy to pick one up when I come upon it.  But I took a fancy to a simple tabulate coral species this summer:  Pleurodictyum americanum, a species first described by the German paleontologist Carl Ferdinand von Roemer in the late 19th century.  Note his original drawings in the featured image for this post (Roemer, 1876).

Perhaps it is the near perfect symmetry of the colonial coral that grabbed my eye.  With a rounded top and a fairly flat bottom they certainly look grand once clay and shale is washed from the polygonal corallites covering the surface.   Even better presentation results when multiple specimens of variable size are displayed together.  My interest was also sparked because “pleuros”, as I have come to affectionately call them, are not as common as horn coral or many of the brachiopods species that are ubiquitous at many sites in the Finger Lakes region, but they are also far from rare and when found they are typically complete and recoverable.

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Valentine Deposit, Harrisville, NY

“Site of the Month” article for Dec. 2014 WCGMC News

You can call it the Gouverneur Talc Company No. 4 Quarry, you can call it the Valentine Mine, or you can just call it that quarry off route 3 south of Harrisville, NY.   Regardless of the name, in the business of wollastonite, the small quarry/mine in extreme northern Lewis County is pretty important.  Together with the Lewis Mine of Essex County (see Feb 2014 entry on this website), the two quarries provide all of the US production (and 10% of the world’s supply) of the industrial mineral wollastonite.

As an operating quarry, the site is not generally conducive for collecting, however one of the field trips associated with the New York State Geologic Symposium this past October included a two hour stop and a visit to the quarry floor (Robinson and Chamberlain, 2014).  Steve Chamberlain and George Robinson led the trip and given their past work on the mineralogy of the locale (Chamberlain et. al., 1999), those of us who participated learned a lot in the brief time we were there. Continue reading

WCGMC Field Trip Summary

Although we have not yet seen any white stuff in the air, or even had a frost in most of our region, it appears it is time to announce the closure of our field season and start thinking about next year.  Our trips in 2014 are listed on the webpage, but for a quick summary, how about these numbers!

  • We participated as a club in 21 field events between late March and mid-October.
  • Eight trips were weekend or multi-day trips involving overnight stays (with two campouts).
  • Although the majority was in search of minerals, we had 7 trips targeting fossils.
  • We ventured to St. Lawrence County 5 times and to Ontario, Canada twice.

Several folks led individual trips this year, but our Field Trip Leader, Bill Chapman, planned and ran most of them.  Many thanks to Bill for a wonderful field season.

As for 2015, we have some ideas of new places to go and we will return to many of this year’s sites, but we would love to hear from you where you would like to go.  Anyone can lead a trip!

St. Lawrence County (2014 Trip #3)

Article I wrote in Nov. 2014 WCGMC News 

Benson Mines, Rose Road (de ja vu all over again)

The leaves were changing (and even falling), but that did not deter a group of WCGMC folks from making a fourth trip to St. Lawrence County in late September.  This time we were joined by 16 undergraduate geology majors from SUNY-Plattsburgh and their professor Dr. Mary Roden-Tice. It was truly wonderful to see so many young and eager folks enjoying geology and a day of collecting.  The brilliant sun and the absence of mosquitoes did not hurt either.

Half of the SUNY-Plattsburg students have gathered near the top of the original Rose Road skarn site.  Sky blue apatite has been spotted.

Half of the SUNY-Plattsburg students have gathered near the top of the original Rose Road skarn site. Sky blue apatite has been spotted.

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Balmat-Edwards Zinc District – Geology

Mineral collectors know about the fine magnetite, sphalerite, hexagonite, chrome tremolite, lazulite, etc. that have come from the various mines in the Balmat-Edwards Zinc District of upstate New York. Mineralogists have studied the district for decades discovering new minerals like turneaureite and donpeacorite.  But seldom are we offered such a wonderful opportunity to learn the geology of the district as afforded those attending the New York State Geological Symposium  in Alexander Bay in October.

The opening address was delivered by William deLorraine, Chief Geologist for St Lawrence Zinc Co. in Gouverneur, NY.   Bill is also the President of the St. Lawrence County Gem and Mineral Club.  Continue reading

GemFest 2015 – A New Location

The Wayne County Gem and Mineral Club Show Committee is pleased to announce that next spring’s big show will be held June 6th-7th at the Greater Canandaigua Civic Center just north of Canandaigua city center off route 332.   Previous shows had been held in Newark that same first full weekend in June.  The new facility  at 250 N. Broomfield Road features a hockey/skating rink in the winter, but the ice is taken up in April and the location is available for conventions and trade shows in the spring and summer.  The setting will provide us with much more space, improved lighting, better parking, and full snack/food service.  We are excited about the move and will have more details as the date approaches.   Dealers interested in joining us can contact Pat Chapman (607-868-4649).  Pick up your skates and head over some time this winter to check out the new venue.

Greens Landing, Canandaigua Lake

“Site of the Month” article I wrote for Nov. 2014 WCGMC News

More than two decades ago, WCGMC member Stephen Mayer did his M.S. at SUNY-Fredonia focusing on the stratigraphy and fossil assemblages of the Jaycox member of the Ludlowville Formation.  A small creek on the east side of Canandaigua Lake provided wonderful exposure of the section and became the key exposure for his work.  On Saturday September 27th Stephen returned to his old haunt, this time leading 17 members of our club on a fossil hunt at Green’s Landing.   Naturally we learned a little about the local stratigraphy from Stephen also as we hiked about 1200’ up the creek, mostly through Wanakah member shales.

greens landing 5Everyone was clean at this point !

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Eldredgeops vs. Phacops

My fledging knowledge of fossils grew this month when University of Rochester Fossil Technician Gerry Kloc introduced me to Eldredgeops and his book on Trilobites of New York.

For over 150 years the common Devonian trilobite of New York and other North American locations had been referred to as Phacops rana, after the description and identification of Phacops latifrons  in Europe.  The literature, museums, and individual collections carry the name.  As it turns out, this North American trilobite is not a Phacops genus, but rather an Eldredgeops. Although this has been known in the paleontology world for two decades, many specimens continue to be misnamed.

A most thorough and readable note on the distinction between the two genus can be found on the Fossil Forum website (www.fossilforum.com).  The discussion, dated June 8, 2014, is called Phacops Vs Eldredgeops and is found in the General Discussion Forum of the website.  The author is Gerry Kloc, a Rochester paleontologist who has studied trilobites extensively.  Gerry has identified numerous subtle, but definitive, differences in the cephalons between the European Phacops rana and the so called North American variety.  He concludes that the Middle Devonian New York species is actually an Eldredgeops and proposes it be given the full name Eldredgeops rana.  If you have one, it is time to update your label.

phacops

Canada Revisited

Article I wrote for WCGMC News in Oct., 2014

Four of us (Linda Schmidtgall, Bill Chapman, Ken St. John, Fred Haynes) decided one summer trip to eastern Ontario was simply not enough and we returned for 4 days in early September.  The highlight was a return to the Miller Property in Eganville, but we managed to squeeze three other sites into the trip, including a pair of lesser known sites in the Bancroft Chamber of Commerce 2013 collecting book.

We started with a visit to the well known Beryl Pit in Quadeville.  Fred had visited with the Rochester Club in July and since that time the owners (Dave and Renee Paterson) had excavated a significant amount of material in the floor of the pegmatite quarry and piled it outside the quarry. This made for easy pickings for beryl, quartz, tourmaline (var. schorl), cleavlandite, albite, perthite, fluorite, and euxenite. We later learned that we may have taken more than our limit on that last one.  Keep reading to learn why!

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Fine, NY for skarn minerals

Article I wrote as “Site of the Month” in WCGMC News, Oct., 2014

         Fine Minerals or Minerals in Fine, NY?

This will be a short report on a small occurrence.   And, perhaps this will be even longer than it truly deserves.  But we cannot expect gem tourmaline, perfect fluorites, or complete trilobites at all our favorite haunts.

Nestled in a depression just off the intersection of Rte. 3 and Rte 58 in Fine, NY is an interesting occurrence of very coarse grained pyroxene (presumably diposide, but possibly augite) and potassium feldspar.  There is associated calcite suggesting that the mineralization may have a skarn origin, but the outcrop exposures don’t appear to permit an unequivocal geologic explanation for the very coarse grained open space filling mineralization.

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Titanite is Everywhere

Article I wrote for Oct., 2014 WCGMC News

Who knows the most significant event of 1982?   Could it be:

  • The Epcot Center opens in Orlando, Florida
  • Britian overcomes Argentina in the Falklands.
  • Chariots of Fire wins Oscar for Best Picture.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery) makes its medical debut.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.  The most significant event in 1982 was when the International Commission on Mineral and Mineral Names (CNMMN) adopted the name titanite and discredited the mineral name sphene. Unlike those other events, the impact was immediate and worldwide. OK, maybe a few of you missed the event, but now you know.

WCGMC flirted with titanite collecting all summer.  Perhaps not as infamous as the cry “It must be an amphibole”, but “ooh, it’s another titanite” was commonly heard in the field this summer.

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Devonian Fossils of NY – A Book review

Field Guide to the Devonian Fossils of New York by Karl A. Wilson (Paleontological Research Institute, 2014):  This compact (6” by 9”) spiral bound fieldbook is a update to the1994 PRI publication by David Linsley.  After introductory sections on general Devonian stratigraphy and geology and a section of fossil collecting methods, the book systematically introduces Devonian fossils.  Sections on sponges, corals, bryozoa, brachiopods, mollusks, anthropods, trilobites, echinoderms, and more follow with diagrammatic plates offset by descriptive pages detailing the fossils.  By limiting the species to those found in New York, you are much more likely to identify your finds with this book than with a more inclusive book.  The PRI price is $18 and the book can be obtained online with a modest additional shipping charge.  Mine arrived in 3 days !

book fossil

WCGMC Picnic

Over 30 club members enjoyed an afternoon of fun together at Glenn and Eva Jane Weiler’s home in Wolcott.  Mineral collecting stories and other tall tales were swapped and many minerals had to be cleared from the tables to allow for the pot luck dinner to proceed.  Thanks to Dave Millis a number of mineral craft activities were available for those interested; wire screens were constructed, rock saws were in action, geodes were opened, and mineral raffles were held.  “Barrel” rides were available for folks of all ages.

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Lake Superior Agates – A Book Review

Some of us have been discussing a long trip to the Lake Superior region next summer, Thunder Bay amethyst, Keweenaw Peninsula copper and more, Petoskey stones, and, of course all those Lake Superior agates.  If you like agates, or want to see what we might be able to collect there, I can recommend the following book by Dan and Bob Lynch and published by Adventure Publications in 2011.  It lists for $19.95 online, but I found mine at Barnes and Noble.

agates1

Deep Run, Lake Canandaigua

Article I wrote for “Site of the Month”, WCGMC News, Sept. 2014

Devonian Fossils at Deep Run

Most residents of western New York carry on their daily business without any knowledge that they live in a region with some of the richest and most diverse fossil collecting in the United States.  Those of us in the WCGMC are lucky to know how blessed with are with our collecting opportunities.  But do we know the series of geologic events that led to this unique opportunity?

There are other fossil-bearing stratigraphic units in New York, but here we discuss the prolific Middle Devonian Ludlowville Formation within the Hamilton Group.  About 385MY ago an inland shallow sea occupied much of western New York and both the sea and the benthic bottom literally teamed with marine life.  Corals (both rugose and tabulate), brachiopods, gastropods, crinoids, and, of course, those highly sought after trilobites thrived communally in the shallow seas behind the continental mass to the west and inboard of the Catskill Delta and Acadian Mountains to the east. 

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