Thursday, June 30, 2011

High Country Snow and Impassable Streams

It hardly seems like late June here as the snow still dominates the high country and the streams are all swollen with melt off and mud.  Usually by now the mountains are accesable but not yet. Are we entering a period of glacial cooling and a new ice age?(Better check on our winter reservations).
As we crossed the Bighorns we actually had enough snow to sled on at the Powder River Pass and every morning we look across Black Butte to see the snow still dominating the Uintas and the Winds, amazing.
At our sons house in Daniel, Wyoming the Sawtooths of the Gros Ventres were also white and its so late. I look at the high country and remember the times we spent in snow and think of white outs and rock falls. No high country for us yet.
We made a short trip to the town to Manilla to connect with our cell phones and crossed the Henrys Fork, a really world class trout stream. No fishing today though as its muddy and high as are the Green and the Wind rivers.
Its a good time for us as we are getting caught up on repairs to our house and boat and we are finding some time for lapidary and wire wrapping. Its so quiet here in the Red Desert but the quiet will be fleeting as the fourth of July is rapidly approaching. We so loved the holidays when we were working and now well holidays are days of crowded campgrounds. Clear skies.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Beautiful Green! Prospecting the Owl Creek Mountains

I was walking Molly by our campground and I saw a bright green color on the  ground. I don't know how many times a bright color has caused me to bend over and pick up a piece of what turned out to be trash, too many times. But it wasn't garbage it was a rock and it was so green!
We had left Keyhole State Park and were winding our way across Wyoming with our eventual goal being the Red Desert south of Green River.As we drove through Thermopolis, Wyoming we saw that the rock shop was actually open and there was a spot big enough for us to park our rig.
Never knowing what to expect we saw the most beautiful lepidolite boulder sitting on the lawn and the whole lawn was covered by large boulders of the deep purple mineral. amazing. The store was being minded by a consulting geologist named Eddy and he proudly told us he had put over 60 hours into polishing the stone. He also told us he had a mine and it was a piece he had personally dug from his claim.
I told him of our purchase of a large piece of jade and jade with actinolite and it turned out he was the ebay seller and one of the claim holders of both pieces. He told of his years of rock hounding Wyoming and led us into the shop where he showed us sample after sample. It was an unexpected pleasure to meet a man with such a vast knowledge!
He also told us of some places to go rock hounding. Now we have been told of lots of places and some actually produce a small amount of rough for us to work so we took the info with a grain of salt, but we both got excited as he casually mentioned the possibility of amazonite, chryscolla, and even chrysophrase, yeah chrysophrase.
The next day we packed a lunch and headed out for the Owl Creek Mountains, hoping for more green. We stopped periodically as we bounced up and over a rocky four wheel drive road. Boysen was in the distance and the blue water contrasted with the harsh desert landscape.
Cactus were plentiful as were horned toads and even a rattlesnake that startled Renita as she surface picked the rocks. Returning to the truck I showed her a piece of bright green stone I had found. She listened and then mentioned that she had also found something interesting as she pulled a beautiful emerald green specimen from her collecting sack.
I tested the piece with my knife and it was hard so it would take a good polish. It was translucent, bright green and didn;t show any twinning so it couldn't be amazonite, which was what my specimen was. Could it be chrysophrase or a light emerald jade? What ever it was it was so beautiful and I watched with envy as she replaced it in her sack.
We didn't find any more large pieces with the emerald green color but we found more that were still high quality rough and each piece spoke to us as  of the beauty locked inside their wind and water abraded  exterior. The amount we found that day was enough to fill a coffee can, which may not sound like a lot but it is when its so beautiful.
To finally, finally find such beautiful rock, after the miles and miles of deserts we have paced, made us realize again how lucky we have been. To have the chance to travel full time, to discover the joy of rock hounding, to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the desert, and yes even to dodge the occasional rattlesnake, are all treasures of our lifestyle. Its a lifestyle that most don't understand. Clear skies.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Persistent Mountain Bluebirds

Just when we thought the problem with the stove vent had been fixed a new problem arose. I was outside working on the truck bed and I noticed a male Mountain bluebird was hovering near our hitch. It soon disappeared into the fifth wheel hitch and sure enough it was building a nest there.
Now I am pretty green but we are leaving Monday and so the bluebirds have to find another place for their nest. I reached in and cleaned out the construction and luckily they hadn’t laid any eggs yet so I just kept at it while they fluttered and displayed their ire!
 The male became extremely agitated and started to fly around me making loud chirps. We both felt bad but not as bad as if we had failed to discover the nest and had hitched and taken off with their eggs in tow.
Being Green one has to draw a line somewhere. If  not now with the bluebirds what’s next, letting a raccoon make a home in our basement, skunks, or even bears? There is no way I am sharing my maple syrup! Clear skies

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Resting at Keyhole State Park

We left Rapid City and headed to our favorite camping spot, Keyhole State Park. There we hoped to find a spot big enough for us as our usual camp ground, Tananka is closed for improvements,(The State is installing electricity and water!) Our plans were to do some doctoring, canoe a bit, and basically just relax.
Pulling into Arch Campground we were lucky to find a beautiful spot, site Ar3, with a huge backyard and right on the water. Ponderosa Pines sheltered the site and mountain bluebirds were all around us. Soon after we parked and set up, a pair of mountain bluebirds found that w had a missing vent flap on the stove outlet and they tried to build a nest! A quick trip to town and some screen blocked their efforts,(Although mountain bluebirds are one of our favorites.
Resting, I threw out a couple of poles for northern but my frozen mullet stayed untouched. A severe storm rolled in and the lightening chased us into our house, for the rest of the day. The afternoon storms turned into every afternoon storms and we even had tornado warnings but the dark clouds moved north and south of us.
Reports of golf ball sized hail at Devils Tower reminded me of the time I climbed a new route with my friends Frank and Steve. That day we were caught  high  up on a small ledge and just hunkered down as a lightning storm crashed around us and sparks arched from our rack of pitons. Pelted with large drops of rain I for one had wished I was wearing my Sunday best and sitting in church, but now that I look back at it I realize that time on the ledge was priceless! The storm finally cleared and we finished the last pitch to the top along a route that had already been climbed.
We have spent the time reading on our Kindles and taking walks.  Its nice to just plain sit for a spell as we have just finished a tour of over five thousand miles. We plan on being here till the day after Fathers and then off to Boysen State Park, more free dry camping! Clear skies

Monday, June 6, 2011

Teepee Canyon Agate, Somewhere in the Black Hills Of South Dakota..

We left Minneapolis and headed west for the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The first night we boon docked at Cabelas, where I only spent 124 bucks while camping for free and then we journeyed further west to Rapid City. It's one of our favorite places and its also a great place to rock hound, among which is the rare and expensive Teepee Canyon Agate.
Now the Teepee Canyon itself was named by George Custer who, while exploring the Black Hills the year before his massacre, named the canyon because it was filled teepees. There aren't any teepees there anymore but a small house marks the valley, which is just west of Jewel Cave National Monument.
I had led field trips of students there for the past thirty years but I had never really done anything with the agate, only gave it away. We hadn't yet learned any lapidary and the thought of all the agate I gave away made me want more but this time to work and wire wrap.
As we neared the hillside we passed through the huge area devastated by an arsonist and it was pretty apparent that the area would be mostly prairie for a long time. Parking I grabbed my pick, a bucket and our new crack hammer and headed up the slope. Renita opted to work the bottom scree and  it made sense as I had often found nice material there in the past
The hillside itself was man made as the road was widened and the area you see me in the picture is the area where the agate is contained in hard chert nodules. The nodules themselves are embedded in a thick and hard layer of limestone in the Minnelusa Formation. One way to mine the agate is by driving pry bars into the stone and slowly working the rock out to get at the nodules.
You would think that after all this work they would take the nodules home and saw them but many break the nodules with their hammers, destroying the agate and sending pieces flying. I was looking for the pieces.
Quickly my bucket filled up as I found cabochon sized pieces of the beautiful agate as well as large nodules that had been discarded but still deserved to be sawed. Renita watched me as I slipped and almost fell over backward down the sharp rocks but luckily I only cut one leg.
Being more careful I slowly moved the bucket down the hillside. I showed Renita my pieces and she led me to her five piles of possibilities. Looking at them carefully I added many to the bucket, hmm more rock for the fifth wheel, lots more rock. Our field season is just beginning and already we have added about two months worth of rough to saw into slabs. Is it possible to have too much rock?
Tracing our way back to Rapid City we stopped at several rock shops where more rock begged me to buy it but I actually resisted the temptation as I do have some control, not much but some. Perhaps I can ship some rock to our friend Mark and we can share the rock after he cuts it. Clear skies

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lake Superior Agates, Duluth, Minnesota

As we left Dave and Jane's we  mentally flipped a coin and headed northwest to Duluth, Minnesota. There we thought we would take a trip along the north shore of Lake Superior and hunt the fabled Lake Superior Agate. The drive was easy and the traffic light as we traveled along US 2.
Mile after mile of trees and we even caught a glimpse of Lake Superior as we passed through Ashland. Renita got out the Woodalls and she found a nice place near Duluth,(She not only is our navigator but also our accommodations director and of course our jewelry color coordinator, etc...).
The next day we headed north along scenic highway 61 and passed rocky beaches, where streams emptied into the lake and promised that their bed load contained agate, if only we would stop. Our plan was to drive to the Split Rock Lighthouse and then slowly wind our way back looking for agate.
Now we have been along the north shore before, but never seriously agate hunting and so we enjoyed the scenery as we hunted unsuccessfully for the mythical agate. We tried to go to Gooseberry Falls but there were so many people there we couldn't find a parking spot.
Passing through the town of Two Harbors, Renita spotted a rock shop advertising Lake Superior Agates and we found a parking spot,(It was Memorial Day)/ The shop had beautiful pieces and lots of interesting stone with reasonable prices but not reasonable for us to buy and then resell. Too rich for our tastes, we didn't buy any but at least we got to look at some beautiful agate and learn the color of the stone.
Further south we stopped along a small beach and Renita even found a real Lake Superior Agate, amazing! We picked up some wannabes but left most as they were simply leaverites, (after I cracked a few open with our new crack hammer and discovered they were not agatized).
Returning to our fiver I took Molly for a walk and found two Lake Superior Agates in the gravel of the rv resort road. It was a nice day and we enjoyed our hunt but if you want Lake Superior Agate you are better off to look anywhere else then look in the heavily picked shoreline of Lake Superior. Clear skies,