Ontario for Minerals

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.

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Newark Library Display

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.

Rochester Mineralogical Symposium (RMS)

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.

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A Pennsylvania Excursion

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).

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An article I wrote for the April, 2014 WCGMC News  (www.wcgmc.org)


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.

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Tourmalines – A Book Review

tourmaline book

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.

Rochester Shale – Silurian Fossils

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?

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Learning to Exhibit

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.

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Rockhounding New York: A Book Review

      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.

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Geologic Time

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.

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Lewis Mine, Willsboro, NY

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.

lewis mine 1

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Selleck Road, West Pierrepont, NY

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.

Selleck road

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Wolf Creek Dam, Kentucky

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.

dam11947 photograph highlighting cavernous regions in the dam’s base that were filled with cement.

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Benson Mines, Star Lake, NY

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 Appalachian 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

Happy New Year

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 !

herk large

Collecting in Tennessee

An article I wrote for January, 2014 WCGMC News  (www.wcgmc.org)

In mid-November, 2013 Wayne County Gem and Mineral Club member Linda Schmidtgall and her husband Les made one last collecting trip before winter.   And they were smart:  they pointed their fossil hauling Chevy pickup south and travelled to north central Tennessee to hook up with the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society and the Georgia Mineral Society on their annual fall crinoid and coral “harvest”.  Fossil hunting along the shorelines of the Tennessee and Kentucky lakes is best when the water level is lowest in late fall and crinoid fossil remnants can be collected by the bucket full.  Stem sections, or cemented crinoidal hash locally referred to as crinoidal plates, can be collected along the shoreline or just below the water line.  All are fully silicified into grey or light bluish chalcedonic chert.

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Minerals on Stamps

On November 14, 2013 I presented a program simply entitled “Minerals on Stamps” to the Rochester Philatelic Association.  As a retired geologist, collecting minerals and other geology related topical stamps is a natural merger of my collecting interests.

Did you know that the checklist of gems and minerals on stamps maintained by the Gems and Minerals Study Unit of the American Topical Association has over 3000 entries?  Or that all 8 of the US mineral stamps depict specimens that reside in the Smithsonian?  The FDC with the four 10 cent stamps issued in 1974 is depicted shown below.  The mineral specimen in the bottom stamp is affectionately referred to as “The Postage Stamp Tourmaline.” It is from the pegmatite mines outside San Diego, CA.

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Rose Road, Pitcairn, NY

An article I wrote for the WCGMC News in December, 2013

One of the more popular mineral locations for upstate New York rockhounds this year was Rose Road off Route 3 in Pitcairn, a daily fee site owned by Mr. Richard LaPlatney who lives at the property.   Although the silicate skarn mineralization flanking the Grenville age white marble hill has been visited by mineral collectors dating back to 1880’s the location seems to have been rejuvenated after Walter highlighted the mineralogy and collecting history in his 2007 book “Field Collecting Minerals in the Empire State”.

The major “digging” there this year was focused on the first site encountered after passing LaPlatney’s home just off of Rose Road.  At first glance the exposed rock seems to be dominated by lavender diopside, calcite, albite and red brown phlogopite..  A Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive Analysis (SEM/EDA) of the lavender diopside indicated elevated Ti, likely substituting into the Mg spot in the lattice to generate the lavender color (S. Chamberlain, pers. comm.).  There is also less Fe in the purple diopside than in the green version found just a few hundred feet farther up the road.

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A New Tremolite Location in Canton, NY

A friendly local mineral collector shared a new site with Dick and Jeanne Phillips and Fred Haynes during the St. Lawrence County show in Madrid, NY in August.  Apparently, Wildwood Road east of Colton, NY was not draining well and the county decided to level the ground on both sides of the road to improve runoff.  In doing so they exposed bright white marble outcrops that were cut by zones of orange calcite, light green serpentinite and green tremolite.  And right on the road !

This pretty garden rock consisting of dark green shiny tremolite and orange calcite set into a finer grained lighter green serpentine was just sitting on the side of the road waiting for us.  Dick just backed his "truck" right up to the 50 pound puppy.

This pretty garden rock consisting of dark green shiny tremolite and orange calcite set into a finer grained lighter green serpentine was just sitting on the side of the road waiting for us. Dick just backed his “truck” right up to the 50 pound puppy.