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Posts Tagged ‘rockhounding in Ontario’

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Yes, that is indeed yours truly on the front cover. This is my latest book which is on rock and mineral collecting. As you can see its called ‘Rockhound: an Experience of the North’. This is actually the first of several books in the Rockhound series and it consists of several chapters detailing how to find minerals, identify minerals and the human experience related to that. This first book covers finding gold, feldspar, radioactives, sodalite, apatite, titinite and silver.

As it says on the back cover “In this first volume of rockhound we will explore the mineral world in the context of the whole experience – the deposits, the landscape and the people. whether you are a hard-core collector or a casual enthusiast ‘Rockhound’ will take you to where you want to goand show you what you never believed possible in the mines and forests of the north”.

If rockhounding interests you check out the preview of my book right here – click for a review of Rockhound.

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Dragonfly at Feldspar Mine, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This past week I was looking at an old feldspar mine near the former MacDonald Mine (Bancroft). It would appear that the whole area is pitted with abandoned diggings through the forest and the mineral varieties range from amazonite through to Ellsworthite and uranite, a deeply shadowed quartz (smoky) being indicative of the radioactivity that is inherent in several of the local mineral species. In fact in the 1950’s the Bancroft area was a major location for the mining of radioactives. This namelss mine that I visited in the bush was especially well endowed with the typical feldspar minerals.

As soon as I can get my Camtasia video editing software going you will be able to click here to see a short video on the trip.

Anyway this particular mine was along a barely distinguishable track that was lined with tailings which made great rockhounding possibilities. A word of caution, without even realizing it both Jeff and I cut our hands to pieces on glass sharp shards of quartz. Unlike feldspar which has a tendency to break cleanly and smoothly along natural cleavage plains, amorphous crystalline quartz breaks in a random, haphazard way with concoidal fractures – exactly like you would see in glass. You might recall that the Aztecs used to cut the chests of their sacrificial victims open with obsidian blades, this quartz is much the same.

Though bug season is now mostly behind us, they are still pretty bad in places, in particular around the stagnant water of the place that we visited. Perched on a rock in front of me was this giant dragonfly – I’ve never seen one quite as large as this. From end to end the dragonfly was probably about 4 inches in length and it sat dead still as I photographed it. You can see the circle of lights from the close-up function of my camera – reflected in its eyes. The best thing about dragon flies is that they eat blackflies.

Hopefully the dragon flies do their thing over this week as the Rockhound Gemboree 2013 is this coming weekend and those mineral gathering trips are always better when the bugs are fewer.

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I am by no means a professional rockhound. My education is as both a gemologist and a geographer, but I believe both rockhounding (collecting minerals) and my other great interest – caving have been in my heart since childhood. And where better to rockhound than Bancroft, but a word of caution, as both rockhounding and caving appear on my site. Both activities are related to rock, but neither should ever meet. Cave mineral deposits must stay in the caves and a caver who shares both interests (and there are many) should never let their inner rockhound loose beneath the surface.

Wearing my rockhound persona this past Saturday afternoon I headed out to the Bancroft Chamber of comerce to get a vibe on the local collecting possibilities. For a place that styles itself as the mineral capital of Canada, they do very little to encourage that reputation. Remembering back to my childhood, rockhounding was everything in Bancroft – now it is just faded memories and hanging onto loose and fragile threads. Fortunately mother nature takes care of basics and continues giving back. I left the Chamber of commerce disillusioned – not by the staff, not their fault, just the general malaise of the people who call the shots. No effort to justify the reputation.

Anyway I picked up an ice Cap from Tim Hortons and headed off on a kind of aimless ramble, and within about half an hour I’d come upon a spectacular crystal vug (cavity) from which I spent the next few hours scooping crystals.

The cavity is shown in my video – Click here for Crystal cavity in Bancroft video

It was a calcite seam within a road cutting that had been opened by someone else and then abandoned as they obviously did not know what they had found and if they had looked within the cavity when they hammered it open it would be they not me who was posting the pictures.

My point is, you just need to know what to look for. Bancroft is famous for its calcite intrusions, a mineral that solidifies last from molten rock and so it acts as a medium for other minerals to grow in. The vug that I extracted crystals from was predominantly filled with amphibole and feldspar crystals and lying loose in the bottom of the part of the cavity that I dug into were a few doubly terminated crystals – having grown in the medium as opposed to being attached to the cavity wall. In retrospect, looking at the video it becomes obvious that the seam runs on an angle and there is likely to be a lot more to be extracted if rockhounds just follow up and down along the incline of the seam. As this rock cut is in a public place I will just leave its exact location for you to figure out, but there is enough in what I have said and shown on the video for you to quickly pin-point the general vicinity of the deposit.

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Silver Crater Mine – Bancroft, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I paid my $2 at the house of the landowner whose property I had to cross and then headed off into the woods. I’d heard that the path to the mine was about 4 miles long (it was not), but possibly longer, and the route was signposted (it was not- or should I say, it was in places).

The attraction at the Silver Crater Mine is a pit and adit that are rich in Betafite crystals. I found a lump of calcite with the top of one such crystal sticking out. It looks like the dull grey top of an octahedron. The adit burrows through a granular calcite which in my opinion does not make for a well-supported roof. So my advice about the adit is to stay out. I went in about 10 feet before coming to this decision.

Aside from radioactive betafite, there is also apatite (turned red by radiation), large books of biotite and horneblende.

See video of the directions here – Directions to the Silver Crater Mine

See video of the mine entrance to the Silver Crater Mine – here (silver Crater Mine) entrance)

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Finding the Croft Uranium Mine – Ontario

Between 1953 and 1955 Croft Uranium Mines worked the area for radioactive minerals. They found betafite, uranite, uranothorite, allanite and pyrochlore. Their appearance is flagged in the pegmatite by a dark red color and quartz that has darkened to a grayish-black. There are also said to be small pink garnets in the gneiss and larger specimens in the pegmatite – some reaching up to 3 centimeters in diameter.

A couple of hundred meters along the mine road I got Maggie to pull over in a little clearing and I continued on foot, leaving her there with the understanding that I would be back as soon as I had found the mine and explored the dumps. She had Shaka with her for company and I had my whistle that I tooted on intermittently so as not to walk unexpectedly into a hunter’s ambush. The whistle also served the dual purpose of letting bears know of my presence as the bush was thick and close to the path and I had no wish to meet the “mother of all bears” in a circumstance of mutual surprise.

The road dropped steeply down into a valley and I soon realized that leaving the car above was a wise move. There was nowhere to turn around, the ruts got deeper, and the track was soon entirely underwater. Beavers had built a stick and mud palisade that held back a stinking organic tidal wave that would one day inundate the swamp below. As for the road, forget it. I climbed across on logs and waded knee-deep in mud, thinking what it might be like during bug season (What looks like a stream in front of the beaver dam is actually the mine road).

On the other side of the beaver dam the track began a slow and steady climb upward. I noticed the appearance of crushed granite where I walked and of course the telltale patches of eastern hemlock. These trees tend to grow in clusters wherever the natural forest has been disturbed. They tell you where to look for hidden human habitation.

I soon discovered the mine dumps on my left and in a marshy gully I unexpectedly found the adit.

 

See another abandoned uranium mine in Ontario …  here or my trip to the Sarnac Zircon Mines  … here (where we were again terrorized by the possibility of being eaten by bears

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Quartz seam in which the gold was found is pushed up against the rock face.

 

Abandoned Ontario Gold Mine

Looking in from the entrance of the mine, this tunnel leads on for a short distance. The granite headwall against which the quartz seam seems pushed appears on the right. Further back in the valley outside the mine, the surface extension of this granite face hangs out over the valley and then bends around to appear as the face of a smooth polished cliff that can be seen from a nearby meadow.

The air is dead in this tunnel – thus it would be reasonable to assume that it ends quite shortly, however the downward leading hole as seen in a previous post blows cold air and possibly contributes to the growth of a large, jagged lump of ice. I am reminded of an iceberg as the ice is all scalloped and smooth with nothing like the drip deposited features seen in the typical cave ice stalactites and stalagmites seen in Southern Ontario.

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Gold Bearing Quartz vein

Finding gold in Ontario

There are supposedly over 9000 abandoned mines known to exist in Ontario – shafts, caverns and tunnels, many collapsing, unstable or traps within which poisonous gases settle.

At this mine the granite hillside is undercut. Here a fallen boulder, streaking in oxidizing mineral residue, partially blocks a downward leading cavity. From another enthusiast I have learned that there is more to the mine than what I could see (I did not go in past the entrance which appears to end abrubtly). Unless there is another entrance off in the bush, this must have been the way that the old miners had followed the vein.

I understand that there is a tunnel that leads down into water and at least one other that dead ends. Don’t explore abandoned mines, they are deadly and many people loose their lives in them each year.

Apparently 2489 tons of ore were produced from this mine. It was estimated to be worth around $8500.

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