Most of you likely know that the Eurypterid (a Silurian-age sea scorpion) holds official status as the state fossil of New York. But did you know that our esteemed government bodies in Albany are busy working on the monumental task of assigning an official state mineral? Bet it will not take you much time to decide what mineral they are considering.
Yes, on April 28th, 2014 the New York State Senate passed legislation that could officially assign the “Herkimer diamond” as the official state mineral. The legislation was sponsored by Senator James Seward of Oneonta, who proclaimed that doubly terminated clear Herkimer diamonds were “formed almost 500 million years ago and deserve to be properly recognized across New York.” Senator Butler’s website goes on to say that Herkimer diamonds are “known around the world as some of the clearest quartz mineral specimens found to date.”
Article I wrote for the June-July, 2014 WCGMC News
SELLECK ROAD, POWERS FARM
On June 21-22, the WCGMC returned to St. Lawrence County for more mineral fun. Green growth now obscured the rocks a bit and mosquitoes and black flies greeted the 19 club members who arrived at Selleck Road in Pierrepont on Saturday morning. The two day trip would also include the Powers Farm and two sites where Pierrepont ZCA zinc ore has been stockpiled for road use (or perhaps for collectors?).
Article I wrote for Jun-July WCGMC News
BENSON MINES, ROSE ROAD
Twenty-three WCGMC members converged on Star Lake, NY on the morning of Saturday May 31st for a visit to Benson Mines. We found lots of sillimanite, some fresh, some altered a pretty light green, lots and lots of magnetite including small crystalline surfaces along with massive ore, and huge muscovite books. Jerry Curcio explored ahead a bit at the north end of the property and found an orange calcite boulder that contained large green crystals that appeared to be sillimanite. We later confirmed that identification with Marian Lupulescu. For more on Benson Mines see his paper in the Rocks and Minerals February, 2014 issue or go back to our Feb. 2014 newsletter where it was highlighted as the Site of the Month.
Green sillimanite offset in orange feldspar, a very pretty combination.
In mid-afternoon it was on to Fine, NY for a quick stop at the skarn outcrop just off the parking area at the intersection of highways 3 and Highway 58. Steve Chamberlain has proclaimed the coarse grained pyroxene (diopside?) and feldspars from this location to be “aesthetically challenged”, but that did not prevent us from scavenging a few for our gardens or collections. Etched and dull, these large dark green pyroxenes and their long and varied cleavage surfaces may not end up in too many mineral display cases, but they can look nice in a garden or on a patio wall.
June, 2016 update on Land Ownership:
WCGMC has been informed by the new owner of the property off Route 20 in Alden that the Spring Creek area where we have enjoyed collecting pyritized fossils for a long time is now off limits to collecting. The new owner has informed us that in the future he will treat “fossil collectors as trespassers”. Given the new owner’s wishes, as of June, 2016 WCGMC is not planning any future trips to this area and the site should be considered closed to collecting.
Minerals and Fossils Together
Many of us have a special passion for collecting aesthetic and/or unusual minerals, while others prefer the varied forms and diverse variety offered by the early-mid Paleozoic fossil collecting that can be done in western New York. There is one site that can please both groups of collectors. Along Spring Creek in Alden, NY, the rich and diverse Devonian fossil assemblage we have all come to know and love is locally fully pyritized. Opening the fissile shale surface not only reveals a 380 MY old fossil, but a shiny mineral specimen as well. The prize is a pyritized fossil. Cephalopods, brachiopods, and ammonites are the most common, but two species of trilobites have also been found completely replaced by the iron sulfide mineral pyrite.
Just north of US Route 20 as it passes through the small town of Alden, NY, Spring Creek has carved itself deeply into the Middle Devonian Ledyard Shale Member of the Ludlowville Formation. Known for decades, the site is readily available to all with two legs, a hammer, a backpack (or even large pockets), and the willingness to perhaps get a little wet and mostly certainly muddy. A short hike along well beaten trails leads to the creek which can be accessed at several sites. Fourteen of us can be seen at one of those sites in the cover photo above.
A small, but hardy group of five Rochester Academy of Science mineral enthusiasts spent their Memorial Day weekend collecting minerals and mosquito bites in the Bancroft District of Ontario, the self-proclaimed mineral capital of Canada. Dick and Jeanne Phillips, Mario and Debbie Errico, and me made the 5 hour trip around Lake Ontario to Wilberforce and Bancroft for a whirlwind 3 days of rockhounding in the famous district. Dick led the group to 8 separate sites, including a night dig with black lights at the CN rock pile right in Bancroft.
The Wayne County Gem and Mineral Club displayed some New York mineral and fossils that its members had collected in the Newark Library in May. Included were specimens from 21 sites, a location map showing the sites, and a bit of geology about a number of them. The display was moved to GemFest 2014 in early June.
Visited this site twice in April of 2014. The original diggings at the Green Diopside Mound (above) are more visible before the leaves come out.
This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium at the Rochester Radisson Motel and Conference Center. It was the 41st annual such event, but it was my first! What a fine way to welcome spring weather and add encouragement and motivation for an active collecting season. Imagine well over 200 mineral enthusiasts converging for three days to share mineral stories, discuss technical learnings, sell/buy minerals, and otherwise just enjoy the company of others in the hobby.
Article I wrote for “Site of the Month” in May 2014 WCGMC News
Technically, Mount Pleasant Mills is not in New York, but I am going to claim editor’s license to divert this month’s “Site of the Month” south of the border and to invoke multiple sites. You see, on April 12th and 13th, thirteen Wayne County Club members gathered up their passports and headed south across the border in search of warmer weather and mineral/fossil treasure. We found both!
With temperatures well into the 70’s, the group converged on National Limestone Quarry in Mount Pleasant Mills where we were cheerfully greeted by the quarry owner Eric Stahl, who had cleared the road to the ridge atop the quarry in anticipation of our visit. Up we went, backing in the final section until we were all lined up adjacent to one of the wavellite spots atop the hill and collecting commenced (see cover photo).
An article I wrote for the April, 2014 WCGMC News (www.wcgmc.org)
ALL TOURMALINES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
When we venture to Ace of Diamonds to dig clear quartz crystals we are seeking a very simple mineral, silicon dioxide (SiO2). Just simple SiO4 tetrahedrons joined together with each large oxygen atom shared by two small silica atoms in a six-sided prism, ideally terminated by 6-sided pyramids. And when we seek that elusive fluorite at the annual Walworth Quarry dig, it is just calcium and fluorine combined into a cubic lattice motif with Ca atoms centrally located and F at the corners. This time each of the 8 fluorine corner cube atoms are shared by four unit cells with the formula CaF2. In both minerals inclusions generate color variations which get neat names (like amethyst or citrine). Of course, quartz can twin or show spectre form, but there is no elemental substitutions of note into the lattice of either mineral, and there are no solid solutions to confuse collectors: just simple SiO2 or CaF2, just quartz and fluorite.
It is not as simple with tourmaline. When we travel north to St. Lawrence County to collect dravite at Powers Farm, or fluor-uvite at Bush Farm or Selleck Road we are focusing our attention on one of the most complex mineral structures known. The mineral lattice of tourmaline actually has five structural sites where elements can be swapped and traded, six if you count the rare substitutions of aluminum or boron into the Si site. These substitutions can be complete or partial, and often occur in zonal patterns such that the center of the crystals actually may qualify as distinct minerals from their outside layers.
The compositional variety, the range of color variation, and the diverse origin of tourmalines has led to several books on the subject. Some are very technical, either mineralogically or technically, but for me one stands out for the mineral collector. The Collector’s Guide to the Tourmaline Group by Robert J. Lauf (Schiffer Publishing) combines adequate detail on tourmaline chemistry and taxonomy with a pictorial account of all the recognized tourmaline species. Lauf does all this at a level that is not daunting for the non-geologist. The price is right also, $19.99 list for the oversize softcover book, and I found it for a few dollars less online.
Incidentally, this is one of a series of books published by Schiffer on various minerals or mineral groups. All are informative and affordable and well illustrated.
An article I wrote for the April 2014 WCGMC News
The Rochester shale comprises the upper 85’-90’ of the Middle Silurian Clinton Group in upstate New York and southern Ontario. The upper two-thirds of the unit contain numerous grey limestone beds, which can be sufficiently resistant to form outcrops, but which are poor in fossil content. The lower 20’ of the Rochester shale is notoriously susceptible to erosion such that outcrop exposure is rare. Unfortunately, it is this rapidly weathering unit at the base that contains the abundant fossil assemblage (specifically trilobites) for which the formation is famous. The best visible exposure of the full Rochester shale section is in the gorge walls of High Falls on the Genesee River. However, this section is agonizingly unapproachable for fossil collection, particularly so the lower 10-20’ of section best known for fossil diversity and abundance.
Over 200 invertebrate fossil species have been identified from the Rochester shale including corals, brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, cephalopods and crinoids. But, it is the spectacularly preserved trilobites that have attracted collectors to the Rochester shale since James Hall first detailed their occurrence in the 1840’s. The diverse fauna combined with the fine grained shale beds and thin limestone units indicate that the Rochester shale was deposited in warm, well oxygenated marine waters of intermediate depth. But where does one find outcrop to search for fossils?
This is a two part post reporting the results of two Rochester Philatelic Association meetings in early 2014.
Part 1. January 9th, 2014 meeting, text from Hinges and Tongs Jan-March 2014 issue
It is a New Year and the Rochester Philatelic Association ushered it in on January 9th by learning a bit about the art of exhibiting. Past president, and ROPEX chairman Tom Fortunato described the basics of exhibiting to a audience of 28 members.
Rockhounding New York: A Field Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites by Robert Beard Falcon Guides (2014)
With this informative guide, you can explore the mineral-rich state of New York, from the beaches to the mountains. The book describes the states’ best rockhounding sites and covers popular and commercial sites as well as numerous little-known areas. Although the technical and mineralogical data on the 98 sites is a bit brief, this handy guide does include maps and directions to each site and enough rockhounding information to at least prepare you for your visit.
Brief sections in the front of the book review the state’s bedrock geology and natural resources and there is also a short section on basic rockhounding.
Article I wrote for the March, 2014 WCGMC News
If Time is Relative, Geologic Time is Exponentially Relative
The geologic time scale is a difficult concept for humans to appreciate. We live less than 100 years, the Vikings came to America 1000 years ago, our current calendar just passed the 2000 year mark, and Stonehenge dates almost 5000 years old. That, we say, was a long time ago. But these are mere seconds on a geologic clock. Even the final Ice Age advance that generated upstate New York’s topography and fertile soil ended a mere 12,500 years ago.
Now think about this. Dinosaurs roamed and dominated much of the planet for the entire Mesozoic Era. For over 160 million years (MY) they lived, and died until going extinct about 65 million years ago. By comparison, humans have been inhabitants for just under one million years. And all but the last 6000 years or so of that is referred to as the Stone Age, the period before metal was worked and likely before crops were cultivated.
Article I published in March, 2014 WCGMC News
Mineral collectors appreciate the golden amber grossular garnet and green diopside offset by the brilliant white of the matrix wollastonite. Students of SUNY-Plattsburg learn about contact metamorphism from Dr. Mary Roden-Tice during field trips to the locale. Economic geologists appreciate the mine as one of only two active wollastonite producing mines in the United States, both of which are in New York State (the Valentine Mine near Harrisville is the second). But to many New Yorkers, the Lewis Mine of Willsboro Township in Essex County, New York went about its annual production of about 60,000 tons of wollastonite (~10% of the world’s production) in quiet anonymity.
Occupying an east-west ridge just south and parallel to Selleck Road in West Pierrepont this location has been collected for decades. The main part of the ridge is on state land and accessible without much walking, thereby adding to the popularity of the site. Tremolite is everywhere, tourmaline (v. uvite) is much more localized along the ridge. Both the light green tremolite and the uvite is typically etched and non-gemmy, however isolated pockets of very gemmy material has been found.
Geology in Action, Wolf Creek Dam, Lake Cumberland, Kentucky
The construction of Wolf Creek Dam in central Kentucky began in 1941, but work was interrupted by WW2 and the dam was not completed until 1951. Potential problems with the integrity of the underlying Ordovician Leipers limestone were appreciated during construction and extensive cement was placed in a number of cave features that were known to exist before the earthen dam was built above. However, that early work proved to be insufficient in preventing seepage from Lake Cumberland through the underlying karst.
1947 photograph highlighting cavernous regions in the dam’s base that were filled with cement.
Have you driven Route 3 in southern St. Lawrence County? Did you know that as you pass just east of the small hamlet of Star Lake you are just hundreds of feet south of what was once the largest open pit iron mine in the world? That’s right, in 1958, during the height of its life, the Benson Mines open pit iron mine held that lofty title. The pit was 4 kilometers long, 250 meters across and 400-600’ deep. Today the pit is host to a whole lot of brilliant blue water and the surrounding Adirondack Park region is forest covered and virtually pristine wilderness.
The high concentration of iron in the rocks of the region was first recognized in 1810 when engineers surveying for a military road found their compasses wandering. But until the timber industry built a railroad to the region the iron ore could not be exploited. Even with rail, the area was still remote and from 1890 to 1940 mining was sporadic and limited. In 1941, Jones and Laughlin Steel Company leased the properties and constructed plant facilities. Continue reading
Mineral Musings in the January, 2014 WCGMC News:
Happy New Year:
Has everyone made their New Year’s Resolutions? You know, the one’s you keep until you can’t anymore. Here are mine:
1) I resolve to attend as many rock, mineral, and fossil collecting trips with WCGMC as possible (that should be easy to keep).
2. I resolve to clean up, organize, and label specimens from each trip before the next trip (now that would be a first for me).
3. I resolve to lose 15 pounds during next year’s gardening and collecting season (I manage to do this most years).
4. I resolve not to gain those pounds back during the hibernating/eating season that follows the summer (trouble is I fail this every year such that resolution #3 becomes necessary every year).
Maybe we should share resolutions at an upcoming club meeting? Or the next time we are in the field.
Our fearless trip leader, Bill Chapman, tells us that one early trip will be April 1 with a visit to Ace of Diamonds in Herkimer. I guess that is as fitting a day as any for folks with our hobby to be “hunting diamonds.” Most of you are well acquainted with digging in the Cambrian dolostones of Herkimer County. For me this will be a new treat. I have been there once, but decades ago and only briefly. I’ll be looking for a few 3 inch crystals on matrix that look like this !