And the road goes on forever...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rock hounding Quartzsite

The boondockers are surprisingly scattered like pearls upon a sea of rock and cactus. We expected Quartzsite to be chock full this time of year, but even across the small mountain range east of Quartzsite on old Hwy. 72, headed towards Bouse, they dot the landscape like ants foraging for food. We’re surprised some of them made it into their spots given the ruggedness of the terrain and the small dirt tracks that the area is riddled with. This is ATV heaven.
We’re here not only for a nice camp out, but trying to follow the trail to some good rock hounding areas, my current passion. Arizona is filled with areas of great mineral wealth and although we came here hoping to find the “the giant piece of ribbon candy” of minerals my book touts in this location, after two days it still eludes us. But I’ve maybe gotten close. For some reason when photographed out in natural light, the small crystals known as druse don’t show their iridescence they way they literally glittered in this specimen to the naked eye. Regardless, iridescence does show up; in piles of tailings of hematite, pyrite and other materials as we peruse mine site after mine site. The day’s cloud cover leaves us with a blazing sunset.
Rock hounding is a popular pastime for many RVers in the area and the territory shows both lots of dig activity and also the ubiquitous stakes denoting someone’s mining claim. I have already found several as yet unspecified minerals including some fossil ferns from the Jurassic period known as dendrites, which appear as small black fern-like imperfections on a red, shale type rock. I’m excited; it’s a major find for a brand new novice.
We while away Saturday until lunch bouncing along bumpy bypasses leading through wash after wash, stop after stop, and bucket after bucket of “finds”. Marc gets bored and target practices as I dig. I find it a fascinating adventure and the topography in this section of Arizona is striking, especially in evening. The expanse of so much open vista just melting into the horizon 50 miles away is breathtaking.
We leave today but not before a sleep-in morning followed by a big breakfast and another try at the “ribbon” as I guide Marc back. I am certain after re-reading my book and studying the very poor black and white photograph that we inadvertently passed our spot yesterday. The reason? The author has written the directions backwards to the way we came in through a long wash. There in front of us, this hill we topped and went down the far side—should be the ribbon and room enough for one vehicle to park. We scramble out of the truck and Eureka--it’s there, as we go crazy among all the beautiful specimens, covered in druse crystals. We spend a couple of hours working the ridge, lugging piece after piece of varied rock back to the truck, consisting of barite, red jasper, orange and yellow agate and hematite. I spy some lavender bands contrasted with browns and white—throw them in too! It’s amazing how the colors and the minerals vary from rock to rock as we advance up the slope. The “rough” as they call this natural rock, is never as pretty as when it is cut and polished of course; our ultimate goal. My imagination has no problem picturing that though as I weigh the merits of each piece I pick up. Back at camp, it is quick to hitch up and pack up with this small rig and then it’s one last hill climb out and we hit the highway for home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quartzsite Rocks!

Since stumbling upon what I’ve come to find out is chrysocolla out in the desert, I’ve developed a sudden and ardent interest in learning more about rocks and minerals. What better place than right up the road in Quartzsite—that den of 100,000 wintertime RVers and probably 1000 vendors, many of whom sell rocks and minerals from all over the world this time of the year. Traffic was light as I left at dawn which is now late at nearly 7:30 for the 85 mile drive. Arriving before the masses I was able to immediately meet and question a couple of purveyors who were very helpful in trying to identify the specimens I took in to them. From the barrels and barrels full of it I noted throughout the day, chrysocolla is fairly common in Arizona and is a very low grade form of copper. It can take many forms and colors of turquoise to vivid blues, often appearing as though it is just a paint spatter on the rest of the rock. It is fairly soft and must have stabilizer added in order for it to be useful for jewelry making.
The first step for many jewelers and beaders is to purchase cabochons of all sorts and sizes offered by all the rock purveyors. A cabochon is a gemstone without facets that is highly polished and has rounded edges. Many of the vendors cut and polish their own but some also come from far off countries. Many will be found unadorned but others are wrapped in silver ready to be made into necklaces and available to the average person to just place on a chain to wear, as I did with mine when I got home and had the perfect bead chain to match. Cabochons are sold by the piece and also by grams of weight. My piece went for $2/gram so cost $20 as an example. Seeing tray after tray of such beautiful artwork made of rock is very tempting, but could get expensive. The average cabochon shown in this photo ran between $35-45.
All vendors usually offer what they call “rough” and finished product. Rough is the rock as it is mined or gathered, often times very nondescript on the outside but holding surprising beauty inside. These are offered by the piece, pound, bucket or even the entire pallet full for those who wish to cut and polish and fashion their own art. Depending upon the size and characteristics of the rock--bookends, thin slabs for specimen display, candlesticks, urns, or figurines are all made. I was astounded to see just how many customers jumped from dealer to dealer looking for just the right “roughs” to take home. Rock hounding, art, and jewelry making is very big business!
So big in fact, that a lot of the vendors are from overseas. There were Ethiopian opals with very obvious Ethiopian sellers. There was a fabulous section from Australia, filled with the most unusual rocks and the lilting accents of Crocodile Dundee’s pals who were ever helpful to the buyers. Probably my favorite sight of the entire day was this huge slab (from Australia) with lead running through it that shimmered and shimmied in the sunlight like something molten. As I recall, I think the price was about $10,000.
Of course at this time of year, Quartzsite isn’t all about rocks. There are hundreds and hundreds of vendors catering to the masses of RVers with everything for sale you could possibly think of. They ply their trades in several areas with names like Tyson Wells, Rice Ranch and the Main Event and are spread throughout the main drag which parallels the freeway. A person would need several days to get through it all. Need a walking stick? This guy brought a bunch of raw diamond willow sticks out from Wisconsin and Michigan and invited you to purchase one and carve your own! Prices are shown on the end of the stick. He was doing a booming business I might add. A person could enjoy a gastronomic delight as I did for lunch. Yeah, the Deep Fried Vegetable stand did it for me as I gorged on fried artichoke hearts, usually a hard find in any area excepting the Salinas Valley of California. Across the way they were firing up the BBQ for BushRods tri tip sandwiches and ribs. For those wanting to skip lunch and go straight for the refreshments there was a down home style outdoor beer bar.
All in all, considering it was a day without Marc along, I still had a wonderful time and learned a lot more about rocks and the specimens I have found. Now I’m itchy to find more.