Volume 2 of the ‘Rockhound’ series is now available. This particular volume focuses on the perception of value in mineral resources and the shifting lens through which Ontario’s mineral wealth is seen.
In Rockhound: Opening the Treasure Chest we visit such old collecting classics as the Saranac Zircon Mine, Bear Lake, Grace Lake, Bessemer Mine and Kuehl Lake. The mineral focus is on apatite, rare earths, tremolite, diopside and the more exotic treasures that are displayed at the Bancroft Gemboree. For any rockhound, mineral collector or crystal enthusiast this is without a doubt an invaluable accompaniment to a summer of collecting. Within ‘Rockhound’ you’ll learn how and where to collect. Over 80 mineral locations are detailed along with directions and specifics on the minerals found there.
At first glance the Essonville Road Cut looked much like many others in the area – gnawed upon by rockhounds and strewn with shards of calcite and sand. Most immediately obvious were the huge black crystals that protruded from the calcite – a dyke that is theorized to run off into a southerly direction onto private property. A sign on the fence behind the cutting advertises “Rockhound Eco-tours”. A rockhound eco-tour? It almost seemed contradictory.
“You’re a rockhound?” I asked the fellow crossing the road from the pickup he had parked on the opposite shoulder – “You might say that”, I was told with a grin. “I am more a prospector and I operate the eco-tours – like to show the minerals on my property but we prefer not to set pick or hammer to them. We like to think of ourselves more as stewards”. “Stewards?” “Yeah, caring for the land. I know it sounds hokey, but I think we were meant to have our property – to look after it. Collecting can be destructive”.
I kind of edge my rock hammer around behind me. “Is there a problem with us collecting here I ask? Nah, its public land. Place is already trashed with all the blasting”.
In reverent terms Mark explained, what had formed in the cutting was Fluor-richterite. You will notice that some of the crystals have a metallic sheen – kind of stained by an iridescence, Its only a skin of goethite, beneath it is still fluor-richterite, one of the few minerals that can really be called “totally Canadian”. It was only distinguished from hornblende and recognized as a separate species in 1976”.
“So, in truth, you would have a hard time distinguishing between the two?” “Not really” my eco-teacher told me. “They are both amphiboles and they form a solid solution series, but fluor-richterite has a scaly white surface and it forms in prisms that are longer and thinner than those of hornblende”.
“Do you sell any specimens?” I ask hopefully. “How can you put a dollar value on them?” I am chastised.
As fortune would have it, I found myself in the company of Lee Clark later that afternoon. Having seen the township’s blasting Lee had asked for the debris to be dumped beside his barn; he had scooped the lion’s share – enormous boulders with fluor-richterite spines and as Lee pointed out hexagonally appearing prisms that cleave away in flakes. “phlogopite mica; they used it for windows in the old wood stoves.
Having weathered out of the calcite there were doubly terminated prisms lying amongst shards and unusually shaped prisms that appeared fully formed on the one edge and flattened on the other. I was in the process of trying to decide what unusual growth condition had so stunted the crystals when Lee apparently read my thoughts “The prisms frequently cleave down their center,” he slipped me a smaller perfectly formed specimen that he had been carrying in his pocket. “It’s my worry stone” he explained, “You take it; folks down south have greater use for that than I”.
This is what ruby and sapphire looks like in their rougher forms. They are hexagonal crystals, generally displaying a six sided shape and in the case of the cabbed ruby in the fore-ground, also showing some pretty obvious hexagonal zoning. Zoning indicates the placement of the rough crystal faces as the crystal grows. There is a continuum between corundum and sapphire, both are of the chemical formula aluminum oxide, its just the quality of the crystal that dictates whether it will be a gem or a mineral specimen.
I found the blackish crystal encased in calcite at the Faraday Hill road cut near Bancroft; only the tip was protruding from the rock and I roughly chipped it out and dissolved the calcite from it using Coca Cola.
The two rough reddish crystals are Mysore Rubies from India – not woth much at all and the cab is also from India, I bought it from Sahib for a couple of dollars – its way to opaque to be of much value but I liked the way it showed the zoning so clearly.
Check out these orthoclase feldspar crystals – or at least my guide told me they were orthoclase crystals. I have not had the chance to verify this.
I met an interesting gent who runs ecotours for mineral collectors. His philosophy is that the minerals should remain in-situ so that future generations can enjoy them. I had been picking away at a road cutting when my host approached me to introduce himself. Are you a rockhound? I asked.
I have since learned that Mark is more focused on preservation than collecting – which is good. It would be a crime to whack away at this beautiful specimens and turn them into dusty old rocks in someone’s basement. I will be visiting Mark again and if he is agreeable I will display some of his other amazing mineral wonders – all “in-situ” “As god has made them”. On Mark’s tour I saw huge horneblende crystals, long thin spines of fluor – richterite and plenty of red zircon.
Both the fluor – richterite and hornblende are amphiboles though they can be quite easily distinguished apart by the more squat and blocky nature of the hornblende. Fluor – richterite has a diamond shaped cross-section and so it is simply distinguished from a pyroxene family member which tends to have crystal angles at close to 90 degrees.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)