Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Other side

... of THE HILL, that is. I explored the backside of the Swope park area with my mother. It was a warm, sunny few hours- a dramatic change from the past few days spent in Omaha, Ne.
There is a complex system of trails and streams-some of them are marked. We made our from the barn to the Hope building, along a short stretch of railroad tracks and up a stream bank. The visit to the stream was simply a search for arrowheads- We've found them here before, but it was far too wet to explore well.
We did find some cool flint and druzy quartz near the Hope building. Took the "Blue Rock" trail back towards the Barn and had plenty of good opportunities to fiddle with shelf-fungi. Plenty of cool stuff with lavenders and oranges and yellows.
Stopped by the Eddie-Ballentine trail on our way back. Spent some time meandering through the web of trails on the ridge above blue river blvd and made our way down to the Fireman Memorial. Last Night's snow still dusts the shady spots and yesterday's Severe Thunderstorms have flooded parts of the trails and littered others with broken sticks and branches. The entire hike was fairly wet and boots were a few pounds heavier with all the mud. We crossed over the second terrace of the Memorial-its all dark shale and wet limestone- Fossilized chrinoid segments and shells. I even scored a smooth belemnite! Most of the fossils are very detailed and several contain cubic crystals.
Sun set over Mt. Laidlaw- the capped landfill on the other side of the river from us. It was an odd thing- the forest is shrubby and rank in many spots, the sound of traffic is overwhelming and the bald hill in the distance only helps to create a phony, hectic feel to the sliver of woods. They are nice though- certainly better than nothing! The birds are plentiful there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Frigid KC

Happy Holidays from an ICY Blue river Glades and the Missouri River!
The glades, which I have not posted about for over a half-year, were an almost unbearable 4 degrees when I visited last. The river is also making record lows- less than 5.5 feet when I hit it up north the other day; low enough to expose the very bottom of Parkville's ramp! Until it dipped to it's lowest on the 22nd, 5.8ft was the lowest Ive ever seen the gage height measured here! The ice-lilies are out Click here for current conditions, or check out the glades for some cool icicles forming off of the bluffs!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mt Ida; crystals, diamonds...

I had every intention of spending some good time down with some new spots as well as my old favs'. Mt Ida was on the map- A small zinc-mining town, Rush was to be a new spot and I will always consider Diamonds for such a trip. The most exciting part was that I had no time limits- a "be back by Christmas" sort of thing. I came prepared for a week-long excursion- a tent, pocket-stove and bag, four gallons of water, some oatmeal, whatever canned food I could scrounge up, some dry socks and most importantly- a can opener!
I was set for a week and temps were forecasted above mid-twenties with rain for the time. How exciting!
Though stones at Crystal Vista require a bit more work than at the pay sites, They are often recovered in much better conditions than crystals at the privately-owned pay sites in the area. A full, perfect termination is common and clusters are large, clear and lustrous!
Diamond sorting at a Local rock shop. The small store and RV park is located just south of Crater of Diamonds SP on hwy301 in Kimberley, AR. A very friendly man, accompanied by Gizmo the dog, was happy to show me some local collections of Rough Diamonds from the mine. Yellow, brown and clear stones ranging in size from only a few points to several Carats were the highlight of the little rock shop, though he did have some very cool Quartz clusters and some tempting core samples of the famous gem-bearing kimberlite across the street. I didn't buy anything but a hunk of rough jade; Most the diamonds were expensive and a light rain altered the appearance of all of his outside-stuff so that I could not find true colours or textures on the stones. Ive seen rough diamonds priced much cheaper than those in the little shack; I dont know if his stones were priced unreasonably or if they are simply so collectible because of their unusual origins. They were cool, though! 'Not real sure if the road is still called OWLEY RD at this point, about a mile after the pavement ends. Surely it is named some ridiculous combination of the initials of the forest service and an unmemorable multi-digit number, as the majority of roads and trails are back here, 'behind' the little town of Mt Ida, Arkansas. I pulled over MY parking spot, next to the small stack of ashes and blackened remains of the fire that held me only a week ago.
... Started at the familiar trail pretty quick with some unfamiliar weight and I was going to get serious with the fortunate wall that has claimed so many a' pocket knife on the far side of the mine. A large flat-headed screw driver and a heavy hammer promise that gorgeous cluster of crystals that I discovered on my last visit.
A pair of "Leggers," as they're known down here, daddy-longlegs or Harvestmen to most of the rest of the nation. Anyways, the spider-lookin' critters were locked, seemingly frozen together at their faces by a single pair of long red pedipalps. The larger, dull-coloured one stood just slightly higher than the other on the warm sandstone block. Were they mating?
I took few photos on the hike to the mine, another steep mile from the parking area. The walk seems shorter every time I take it and the number of recognizable landmarks is growing. I reached the mine
And THOUGH Ive never found anyone at the area, my crystals had definitely been discovered, and taken, by another. Someone who had visited on a rainy weekday, prepared with some very heavy equipment and no remorse for the disgusting destruction of many feet of the crystal-bearing sandstone that was the wall. I would assume that it was the doing of one or a few of the indigens, but Ive never heard a local person reference Crystal Vista with anything but negative remarks.
I did manage to salvage a pair of hand-sized clusters from the spot. One has only a handful of very large, very clear points- the other is a crowded plate of smaller ones- over eight inches long! The latter assemblage is highlighted by a large, gemmy haystack of lustrous faces and flawless terminations which rest over a fourth of the piece. The jagged, angular pile is an extraordinary ornament that, to anyone's eyes, cannot subtract from the the crystals on which it lies.

The stunning rock grew surprisingly brilliant when I accidentally exposed it to the dimming sunlight that was able to make it through the pines and hardwoods in the shadowy, glade-like setting above the wall. A moment of confusion; I guess I'd been so totally preoccupied with the quartz and sandstone that I did not notice the Ouachita's transforming above and around me. The mountains and all of their colorful pines and rocks and balding trees were now my warm, magnificent environment. It all seemed so ordinary when I arrived only a couple of hours ago.
The rock seemed to glow- it burst into orange. All those gems that had decorated one flat side of my rock were cloudy and smudged with the same pleasant orange-color that defines the Crystal Mountain Range. The clusters were not all drab, as my paragon seemed to be; many crystals had gleaming faces and it was only after a moment of feckless disappointment that I realized my treasures were simply smeared with mud.
There was much more to be done for the wall; more debris and even a small, hopeful spot of virgin clay remained to be examined and worked. It was nearly dusk though, or at least it was heading that way. I wanted to descend in time to gather some wood- 'saw an old, dead pine across the gravel road from the parking area and my camp-to-be.

I gathered some things and an armful of my favorite finds and turned from the wall and the bright horizon behind it. The marbled, peach colored sky lost it's brilliance soon after I stepped off the other side of the mine area.

There is a trail, or a road that cuts off of the main trail to and from the mine- goes to the south up to one of the taller "false summits" of Gardner. Its been almost every visit to the mountain that Ive noticed the trail. The curious thing was probably the first landmark I became familiar with some two years ago. Ive never been up the trail, which climbs for a few hundred feet though an oak-rich section of the mountain before mysteriously disappearing behind the hill or maybe into nothing at all? Perhaps this is the trail that leads to the scenic view Ive read about. Its smothered in inches of crispy, brown leaves now, but there are no serious obstacles to stop anyone from using it. I took a more than brief moment to rest. Actually I just needed a moment to decide if the temptation was strong enough to overcome the bout of tire and laziness I seemed to be suffering from. And that it was; 'set my valuables gently on the bed of leaf-litter and committed with a single large step towards the highest point of the trail. I got up and the disappeared trail was in fact hiding on the far-side of the small peak. I was not committed to anything but the top of the trail and having reached my destination and satisfied that dire curiosity which prompted the side trip, I turned to find my camp. A "Clink, clink, clack.."

A soft, but definite sound rang from the basin to my left. I could not help but to identify the noise as that of a rock hammer. I heard it again and reinforced my assumption, though nothing stuck out from the woods when I skimmed over the vista. The main trail would travel in that direction.

I retrieved my rocks and pack and such and headed down the old mine's road. With the little bit of effort I put into locating the source of the clinking, I found nothing else.

Firewood came easy and the flames thrived. A big white pickup rolled past, announced by the pops and cracks of any gravel road.

The parking lot is a big open square- The edges are a dense forest and Crystal Vista is accessed by a trail that leads from the back of the lot, behind my truck now. It takes only moments for the black night to grow to that rural dark. The fire was bright and flashes and flickers of warm colors showed on the trunks of two close trees and reflected off of the surface of the light road on the other side of the flames from me.

Dusk was gone and the peaceful mountains were left to me. I constantly noticed the ebony sky and the unfamiliar dark wasted my confidence. Suddenly the horizon- the same one that became darkened first only three hours ago- began to glow. It was as powerful as a good city, but the light was white and not pink. I suspected the moon, but minutes passed and the glow seemed fixed. Had I not noticed it before? I spent a few minutes setting up the tent and moved on to heat up some unlabeled tin can that appeared to hold a soup. Smelled like chicken.

The small stove seemed to scream from the back of the truck- I know that it is not loud, but there is no other noise here to balance it 'cept for the purring fire which I have allowed to dim. The Moon popped over the ridge above me and lit up the parking lot like a disco ball. The white light shot through whatever branches it could and sprinkled the ground with all sorts of isolated blobs- The tops of the trees on the road-side of the lot were stuck and the light was no weaker than a good sunrise.The moon tonight is full, and is in the "perigee" extreme of it's orbit. It is genuinely larger and brighter than any other Full moon this year- just 221,560 miles away- a distance last achieved in '93, and will appear 14%larger and about 30% brighter than all others this year-

I had my chicken something; couldn't help but wonder what hungry bears or pigs were going to take advantage of my leftovers with tonight's bright moon. A bear was recently discovered on the far side of town. The moon got higher and I grew sleepy- 'found the tent and let the short puddle of embers take care of themselves.

It was several hours before even the moon was going to hit the horizon again and my chilly tent was laid down by a sudden, violent gust of wind. I woke up with the freak and only a light breeze
persisted- even this, though, was unusual considering the stillness that put me to sleep. Morning approached and the winds only grew stronger. No bears came and I watched for any signs of daylight. Winter solstice is just around the corner and the nights remain irritatingly long.

The dark again grew frustrating and I entertained myself with another fire. the ashes from last night were still hot enough to burn me.
Impatience got the best of me and I packed for the mountain. The fire died out and a bit of heavy sand and clay was enough to kill the risk of the wind carrying any burning material. I ascended with the earliest evidence of light; several times I doubted that the dimmest light was even that of the sun. Passed the old trail that I explored yesterday; Felt a sort of satisfaction when I saw it and knew what was on the other side of the small hill.

The ground in the sandy areas on the trail and mine- once you near the top of the hill- glitters with tiny points and shards left by the commercial era of the mine. Until the area got some significant light, I spent my time gathering jars and baggies of the smallest points. Perfection is easier to find in the miniatures; the few minutes I spent here produced fine examples of all sorts of clusters and 'singles'; wands, tabbies, haystacks all are clear and magnificent. I collected handfuls of them- what I choose not to keep will surely make an appreciated gift for folks not lucky enough to experience the mountain for themselves. Serious collectors dont seem to find the tiny ones worth while, but hobbyists like myself and jewelry makers back in the city especially value them.

I fiddled around with the old tailings piles that have been set around the edges of the mine and continued on to the orange-pink wall that I dug on yesterday. Sunrise ensued and a creamy, yellow band ran the length of the eastern horizon until the sky turned all-grey. A miserably cloudy morning seemed like it was here for a while.

The ground was cold, and the air-surprisingly warm. Perhaps its the wind that brought the warmth- it wasnt like this before a breeze picked up. The rocks felt cold- the mud wasnt pleasant, either. Thank 'clink-ing" noise that I noticed yesterday was back- it flew over me with a small, round silhouette. It looked similar to a nuthatch- shared that awkward, jerky flight.
Fortunately, whatever unrepentant group of rockhounds robbed my spot was not the most observant... I cleared the thin ledge of the last exploded debris from the heist and probed deeper into the buried mass of greasy red clay- another pocket!

The filled hole was small- slimy clay dug out with only a few scoops of my hand. I took the loose crystals that were in each handful of material until I'd emptied the sharp cavity. Unlike the two larger crystal-caves that sat on top of it a week ago, this one had no floor. Its walls widened and then tapered so that it sat vertical and oblong. The patches of smaller points on every side of it seemed not worth tearing it apart. Not for the effort, though, but for the sake of the growing crevasse itself. I filled the thing with the finest dark clay that I removed from it, minus the treasures- maybe this one will keep growing? I covered up some other damaged areas below the fall and said my goodbyes- the one covey-hole has given my crystals for two years. Ive spent days on it and shed many red pints for it's wealth. How lucky am I to have discovered such a thing!?

Another few hours blew by with the intense wind. It was cool, almost cold now and strong enough to sway the small pry-bar on my waist- make my eyes water.

My pack to grew to a satisfying weight and I had to give the grown, 4-acre clearing a last look before I bid the mountain goodbye. Ive taken a lot from it- almost twenty pounds just this trip.

The pines grow like cedars here- I'm sure that the twenty-footers around are all less than a decade old. Camp packed up in minutes. Im sure that it is where I will stay tonight, but I dont feel too comfortable leaving the things that I rely on. I left the Crystal Vista area. Windswept, a little cold and totally satisfied with what I'd recovered from the raid. Maybe I would go find a meal in town- I would love to visit a working mine to dig.

I caught up to the pavement and waved to the small mule-gator vehicle that can always be found on this stretch of the road with it's two red-capped passengers. The driver waved back; he took a good look at me, too. He removed the scarf from his eyes and gave a long glance- Im sure he recognises the truck by now.

Before I knew it I was passing the Arrowhead mine sign. This mine, which is said to produce some of the most lustrous specimens of the area, is closed every time Ive noticed it. Not this time. I had to give it a shot- the mine has been the basis for too much curiosity and many a daydream!

A dogleg to the left and I was rolling down a long, rough driveway. I pulled up on the road above the construction area and called "Matt" from a number posted next to an old oak. A woman answered and instructed me to pull into the mine area and find matt's red pickup.

'Down one last stretch of rough road; a skinny man approached the truck. Brian is the manager for the mine. Gave me some simple instructions and took my signature and a twenty. Brian seemed knowledgeable, but not friendly- maybe it was just a false first impression. A firm hand pointed me to a GIANT pile of tailing material- leftovers from the heaviest mining operations. He warned me to stay away from 'the pit' and told me to dig; "Not enough people listen to me and dig- theres far too much surface collecting goin' on and I' seen some good stuff collected when people start t' dig!" I pledged to break the surface and Brian returned to his work in the giant hole to the side of the pile.
Another two miners inside the hole- on the opposite side from a large track hoe. "HIGHWALL" read a sign staked at the edge of the pit- orange flagging warned of the sudden drop on the edge of THE PIT.
An old, grey car and a big white pickup were in the lot, but I saw nobody on the small red hill that I was supposed to dig in.. I knew what to do and carried a large tin, a shovel and a screwdriver to a boulder on the truck-face of the mound, about two-thirds up. An hour or two went by- I collected some great stuff from a deepening hole next to the boulder. My hands will be red for a while, my tools are also sealed with the clay. I peeled the mound apart- a sticky blob of clay at a time. Some of the clay was yellowish and another handful could be grey- the colours were a surprised.
"OOh's" and "Aww's" and a "Holy Crap!" from the other side of the hill and a fast plastic bucket launched from the broken view of the opposite face of the hill. It careened towards the parked cars-propelled by the wind and perhaps fleeing the dumpy woman who stumbled down the hill in hot pursuit.
I took another shovel-full of heavy material from the hole. An exciting hand-sized crystal smeared from the clay. It was beautiful; I examined the long thing for several moments before wrapping it in a handkerchief and adding it to the tin- the metal barrel was almost half full! Hours passed and I took a break- 'Sat on the boulder beside me and needed to check up on the giant- It is not a very clear point- a thick, almost opaque layer of rust coats most of the surface. The quality, though, was not what made this one so valuable. I set it on top of the others in the bucket- most of my stuff was too crusty and muddy to appear worthwhile, but there were a few eye-catching faces where I had rubbed a surface clean of any clouding mud.

The surface of the mound did not glitter, but not because the crystals were not there; they simply did not show like I would expect them to at the National forest site.

Here, surface collecting would be hard; the muddy stones could not easily be told from any other piece of the monotone mountain. It took only seconds, though, to adjust to these strange-looking points and collecting from the exposed gravels became as easy as the rain-washed crystals of Crystal Vista. I filled the bucket to three quarters before Brian approached me at the tin. "We're gonna' be doin some blastin here in while. 'Going to have to ask ya' to move your vehicles to the top a'the hill there." he pointed to the road that led from the mine and glanced over to a digging man on the side of the hill. Brian went on to explain the run-and-hide procedure that was to be adopted when "Fire in the hole" sounded.

Myself and the other visitors went about our business through the afternoon- the clouds disappeared and crystals were abound!
I spoke to a visiting man from Murfreesboro, a couple from New Jersey and a Conway trio who celebrated a thirtieth birthday. Everyone enjoyed themselves, though the New Jersey folks appeared disappointed and frustrated with their finds, or lack of.
One of the drunken Arkansans stumbled onto my stash and sounded a loud "wow!" Her accomplices soon showed and echoed the woman's expression. One woman offered a short, wandering story to whomever listened "... it's just like fishin" she said- Another warned LOOK, but dont touch.
Other comments surfaced between them and some for the whole group of us. Most refered to me as the quiet one and an exaggerated description of my largest find was made by the woman's hands spread far apart. She would be carrying a bucket of rocks, crushed cans and empty bottles from the mine.

Found an online journal of a 2003 visit to Crystal Vista- In the photos, the area looks bare compared to what it is now! I dont know if it has anything to do with the burnt bark on the base of some of the pies on the mountain?? A quote, too, advertised by one of the local quartz mines...

"Crystals grew inside rock like arithmetic flowers. They lengthened and spread, added plane to plane in an awed and perfect obedience to an absolute geometry that even stones -- maybe only the stones -- understood." Annie Dillard

The remaining portion of my excursion was well-spent with a day-trip to the kimberlite near Murfreesboro on a diamond hunt, a quick stop at Larry's crystal shop for instruction and a nerve-racking race with a nasty line of Missouri's best storms !
Kimberley's rainy Kimberlite, a huge vertical pipe of volcanic upchuck, was formed with it's diamonds about 100M years ago. The greenish-grey material that is currently mined within the state park is estimated to be about one-third the age of the surrounding Ouchitas. Diamonds were first discovered by the man who farmed the land in 1906 and were made available to tourists after a few failed commercial attempts before the 1950's. On a wintry day like my visit, the mine is occupied by a portion of the most enthusiastic local crowd. Part-time miners operate their arsenals of equipment in an almost business-like manner. Most people seem to keep to themselves; they will sell their finds through some of the local shops by consignment.

I fooled around in the mine only long enough to stuff my jacket with colourful jaspers- lost my hope for finding a gem on my last visit to the park. I washed the mud from below my waiste and shot back to mount ida in time to catch a break from the weather there.
The grim forecast for the area was not as bad as the one given for Kansas City. Days of rain for the Ouchitas and an ice storm for back home. The storm would hit sometime tonight.
Larry brought out a few flats of his favorite crystals to show me. HE scrambled abound the little shop like an overly-excited child to bring me all sorts of wonderful things. I announced early that I was visiting to ask about a few local spots, but I dont think that he was trying to sell me anything, either.
He placed a few crystallized Orpiment specimens delicately on the counter between us and explained the process which I should take to collect rare Wavellite on county property as legally as possible. "The Mayor.." he said. Thats who I should visit to get permission. Larry's gorgeous was beautiful; he offered to let me copy down the supplier's information and told me to contact here to go collect it in the tiny private mine in Nowhere, Nevada. He wrapped the crystals up quickly and ran to the back to retrieve another flat(s) that he Had to show me.
Both were of local quartz points, but much more. One was stacked high with large, loose points. The crystals in this shallow box were a colour that I can describe to you only as 'piss-yellow.' The colour was strong, and somehow beautiful. Larry went on to explain that the flat was one of only two like it offered to dealers in the region- he was so proud to have it! Another flat was filled with smaller, brilliant points similar to the ones I'd come to collect. "jewelry points"
All of the points in this container were also special; A vivid green blob- defined like a tall storm cloud and coloured like a dull lime- came from the base of each. "green phantom's.. goin' out to collect some with the man next week!"
Id never hear of such a thing, but I'd not heard of the surprisingly appealing piss-quartz either. A bought a trio of the green guys- larry gave me a good price after all that braggin' he did about how much he'd sold them for in the past. A long, clear rod, "wand," that is no longer than an inch, but it's got a beautiful phantom running right through the center and a shorter, wider one with a similar growth. I took a small cluster, too, of many tiny green wands. Larry through a pink tourmaline crystal that I found on the floor of the shop and went on to draw a map to his favorite fee-collecting spot. One of the Coleman brother's mines up just a little way's north.
I thanked larry and got to the toughest part of my trip. I wanted to stay. My tent was soggy from last night's scattered storms, but I could do with the rain. Ice, though, scares me.
. I decided to split- leave the little mining town and make it home before I should have to deal with any nasty conditions. Larry waved me off.
It clouded up again- soon after I passed Dardanelle and it's gigantic nuclear tower. By Bentonville it wanted to spit and in Jane, near the border, I found myself breathing the thick, beautiful smell of a severe T-storm. Gusts here would test me and I got out of the strongest bouts of wind before they got too bad.
THE AIR WAS COLD- almost bitter on the back-side of Jane's storm. It simply changed from rain to slow and I feared that I might be driving into the catastrophe that I intended to avoid. the snow turned into ice and windsheild-wipers couldnt win. It all stopped though, only an hour after it began it stopped.
A woman at whatever gas station I stopped at warned of a huge ice storm that would be in by morning. It was dark- 'had been since Jane, but it was still only 6 or somethin'.
The weather was back before too long- It wasnt playin' this time. Sleet came every few minutes harder that Ive ever seen it in my life. It served only to blast the frozen rain from my windshield and turn the road slick. Everything was white- almost instantly! The roads went empty and the semi's lined up at the top of each ramp. Im sure they were laughing at me.
The ice only got worse- I had to pull over to convince myself that that the roads were in better shape than they appeared- I put on the breaks and and got a shot of adrenaline.
Archie was like a lightshow. Greens and blues and even some whites- Every second or so meant another blown transformer. I began to regret heading home and with only shattered confidence now, I considered pulling over for the night.
The snow-plows were like a miracle! I followed them for the first glance of exposed pavement in many miles. A few slips and slides later, and past a few dozen car wrecks and I was home. A neon thermometer across the highway read 8 degrees and it the news made the storm even more terrifying than I'd found it to be!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow on the HILL

Hit the HILL today for only a quick walk over the glades. Rocky point is somethin' else under the season's first real snow! The hogan, above.
Other than the ice, though, there's not much happening up there... I was surprised at the lack of birds out on this beautiful day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Arkansas, anyone??

The entrance of the 4-acre abandon mine area on Gardner Mountain- There is a pair of huge tailings-piles to either side of the mine entrance and the pit is strait ahead. The mound of red and white (grey and gray) here is to the left of the trail.I don't know anything about the mine, though many similar quartz operations were active in the 1980's; The National Forest adopted the area as a Crystal collecting one because of the amount of points loose on the ground.

Yes, Kansas City is frozen, but Crystal Vista is still crawling with such critters as spiders and grasshoppers! The small National Forest spot south of Mt Ida, AR was a welcoming 50+ degrees and sunny Saturday when I skipped out on the Cedar tree event. A coral berry-lookin bush stood taller than me on the edge of the dirt parking area. The clusters of berries on this bush were much larger and more colourful than those on our buckbrush; Any Idea? ?

Lots of daddy longlegs, Harvestman spiders, crawled over the crunchy trail and I was easily distracted by an orange ball of micro-spiders on a sunflower skeleton. There was less than two hours of daylight left and I didn't spend too much time photographing them.

Hiking up the steep Crystal Vista trail takes about half an hour. There are no buildings or structures of any kind and no water is available. The Crystal collection area is one of only two free areas available to the public and is the only one where you are allowed to dig. Other mines in the area, such as the Arrowhead and Wegner's crystal mine are private and collection requires a fee.
Only a very light wind brushes through the pine trees- The trees are what keep the Ouachita Mountains Green in December. The rest of the trees are Oaks and they are all bald.
Ferns keep some of the understory green. There is a good patch of them on the backside of the pile of mining debris to the right of the entrance and several more lower on the mountain. I spent enough time on my knees this evening to gather up a water bottle full of small points; The smaller piles on either side of the old road are an excellent spot to gather these. Many sparkling, brilliant points can be found on the trail just below the mine, but these rarely exceed one inch. Larger points are hard to find loose anywhere on Crystal Vista, but a worthy cluster of points is certainly not impossible!
'Haystack' and "Cactus" formations are beautiful and common here. Most of the crystals are very clear and nothing else can be found except for a Milky variety (No amethysts or Smokey Quartz)
I got back in time to gather a few armfuls of wood for a fire. I didn't notice the freezing temperatures until several hours after dark, when the warmth failed to travel as far from the flames as i needed it to. Temperatures in the mid-twenties were forecasted with northerly winds that never showed up.
My sleeping bag, a thick blanket and an extra pair of socks were enough to fend off any numb toes, but I did not expect what was the worst part of the night. December's temperatures and dangerous precipitation are to blame for the lack of campers in our part of the country. I have never tried it for such reasons, but these iffy factors are not what will discourage me from camping in December again.
I slept well for the usual seven or eight hours and woke refreshed, alert and excited for a full day of Crystals. The cold snapped at any exposed skin when I removed myself from the cozy bags and my frozen boots were a bit of a shock. I walked about for a few moments in the light and shadows cast by a bright moon, but I noticed no sign of dawn.
It is always dark when I wake in a tent, but I can be confident that sunrise is on its way! Not this time. An hour later and the sky only grew darker with the decent of the white moon. I found myself shoeless and back under the pair of chilled blankets which delivered more of a shock than when I originally left them for the icy night. I relaxed and enjoyed the wonderful sounds of the coyotes and owls and screeching tires that may accompany any Saturday night here... tossed and turned and tried simple math to calculate how much longer this frustratingly long night would last and the warmth seemed never to return to the tent. I noticed that though the fire was out, a thin cloud of smoke still hovered over the ashes and began to wonder how long it was that I had even been sleeping? Is it possible that the night is still young? I could not smell the morning; It was not in the air.
In fact, Saturday's disturbed night lasted more than fourteen hours. The moon set, according to a table Ive found online, around 1:18am and I had many, many hours before sunrise.
I got back to sleep, eventually, and any loss of sanity I experienced would surely be healed with a day on the mountain.A frost much thicker than that which I encountered in the dark coated everything as the MUCH anticipated sunrise began. It was a great relief and this sunrise was much more beautiful than it could have been after any summer night. The fragile ice frosted the edge of every fallen leaf and branch like gold in sunlight that spotted the earth through the trees. I did not hesitate to throw on my boots for a needed ascent. My legs had certainly waited long enough for the swift march- it felt as if I was shaking a crust that had accumulated with the irritating longevity of stillness and the night.
It was not long at all before the ground's frost disappeared and some very stiff Opiliones hugged any dark rock they could reach. I suspect that the lack of frost here, only a quarter-mile from the trail head, has more to do with a gain in elevation than it does with a dim sunrise.
I crawled around the mine area for only a few minutes before I spotted an old hole of mine. the small dig, high on a ledge opposite of the entrance, would be almost invisible if you didn't expect it. A thin slide of fine red clay marks the spot below the sandstone wall. The hole had been very productive on previous visits, but I am sure that it's treasures are taken.
(above) The "crack" in the sandstone that turned into a trio of fine pockets. The two holes seen here spilled out gallons of the 'reddest, greasiest' crystal-filled clay in the area. Each forfeited about fifty loose points and still display walls of intact crystals. Some of the nicer points, like the crystal BELOW, exceeded two inches in length and exhibit many marvelous highlights like rainbows, ghosts, intriguing faces and, off course, mind-blowing clarity!
... And taken they were; I shifted through the sandy material that was my spot and found nothing. A little further and a hopeful crack in the orange-tan sandstone became uncovered. I spent upwards of four hours slicing and dicing my hands in that crack with my favorite tool.
Mt Ida-area quartz operations have claimed many a pocket knife, I am sure. It wouldn't be too hard to go back and find bits and pieces of my own 'tools' that have disappeared into cracks and rocks similar to my new find. My pocket knife, however, stayed intact through three small pockets and a few feet of rock today. I collected only a few pounds of crystals from the trio of miniature caverns and left in the midst of the excavation of the largest cluster I have ever found here. I left in fear of splitting my hands worse than they already were on the razor-like shards that stick firmly from the walls of each hole and of the fear of injuring a beautiful plate of rock quartz.
that large, gorgeous cluster of crystals (above) sits exposed now for any creature to admire. I hope to return soon to reclaim my discovery: hopefully with something a bit more helpful than a knife.
As the crystals sit, now, they really do display a PERFECT example of a quartz pocket. Though I would love to be the one to have the treasure, it is a rare opportunity that no interested person should miss to see such a fine representation of the area's crystals. Anyone interested in finding the exposed pocket is welcome to contact me for directions to the sight. I will be back to find it again!
ATLANTIS FOUND is the name of one of Mt ida's larger crystal shops. Unlike the majority of rock shops that dot any highway leading to or from the town, Atlantis Found is not owned or affiliated with any mine. The quartz here is local and beautiful and the shops owner sells at nice prices, but I dont need to buy my crystals! I asked about collecting Wavellite on Mauldin Mountain and about some of the commercial mines that I spotted on Owley road. Mauldin mountain is now closed to collecting!? The old county quarry is famous for it's crystals, but the man here tells me that it has been closed due to overuse. He went on a short rant about how the NFS has been tightening regulations on Quartz collecting in the area, too. The NFS land, which is much of what surrounds the Quartz Belt, is now limited to only surface collecting and plans are in place to reduce the amout of material that can be removed. I'll have to visit the office next visit to get a more complete list of rules.
Had a long, pleasant drive home on scenic hwy 7 and US65.
The trips spoils! THIRTY-SIX hours, 800miles and a few dozen gems for my collection!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

SquawCreek NWR

Wanna know what 250,000 snow geese look like? How about 266 bald eagles? A couple-dozen swans? Or how about all of the above? Those were Friday's Numbers!
It was a a little bit cold for me, but I think that the freezing and defrosting sensations in your fingers and toes are a small sacrifice for the opportunity to 'chill out' with so many Geese!
Snow gees, Canadas and even a few small Ross' Geese coated much of the Pelican pool the other day, when numbers were not nearly as high!
The daytime high is to be only 21 degrees and the winds are rushing from the north! Ive already circled the refuge once; Lots of swans and eagles, as many snow geese as Ive ever seen at once and one mob of mallards. I found the bubbling effect of handfuls of squirming, frozen tadpols to be interesting! The desperate things beat at the wrong side of the ice- What were they doing? The refuge is still fairly icy from last weekend's snow and I dont know as though parking on the side of the loose gravel road would be the brightest thing to do!
The air isnt too bad without the wind, but a gust that rocks the truck is able to cut through to your bones! My toes are numb and my fingers are screamin' but this is so cool!
The noise of the birds is met only by that which is made when a strong gust howls through the thin row of bald trees that border the water, except when the Snow geese are spooked. The nearest birds waddle down the road in front of me- they are a hundred feet away and still goin' at it.
A small group of them sit on and float around a sheet of ice not too much further from me than the couple that flee by foot. They don't seem to be doing anything in particular- not eating, sleeping, cleaning or anything else that you might find them doing; They are just sitting and floating. Waiting, I guess- maybe for the wind to die or the cold to go away?
A few dark ones float on their legs and kick the water until the perfect spot is achieved. There is a small, white goose standing on the iceberg who certainly doesn't belong with all of mottled, marbled friends. This one is tiny compared to the average snow goose. A Ross'?
They explode- burst with the millions behind them up and off of the water and into the air- A young, dark eagle isnt too far off the ground to the right of all the hunted.
A large pickup rolled to a stop on the other side of the road. The window was down and I approached it's driver. A mound city couple- enjoying the nice weather? Yes, there were two people, though whomever occupied the passenger seat was no more than a round pile of blankets with a thin strip of skin and glasses. Her muffled voice described the group of 1.3million snow geese that visited their refuge this past March. The older, male driver went on to describe a Bobcat they'd seen last month. "'Had two kittens with r', and they just sat there by the side a'th road until we's finished lookin' at 'em!" He pointed me to the far eastern side of the wetland area. The woman interrupted his story with a bit of sympathy for a near goose that appeared to have a broken wind held above his head. "...Poor thing; That kinda thing just happens too often."
Another eagle swooped the Goose-island and a Camera-phone popped out of the blankets. They wished me well and warned me not to let myself get too cold-
The geese flushed into a HUGE FLOATING MASS that seemed to float above the remaining sitting birds. The mass rose to about thirty feet and began to break into many stringy groups. Each bird in the top half of the mass found its place in a string of geese that continued to into the air; The stings morphed into 'V's' and the V's separated from each other. The tangle of wings that had emerged from mess of them was made into about two dozen groups of birds following each other's butts in all sorts of directions. It seemed, for a moment, that the one silly eagle had scared almost a quarter of the birds off into the sky.
A good gust sent the floating birds and ice across the surface of the water. The result was a whole lot of birds scrambling to escape a wind-driven ice-jam in the very center of the 'Pelican Pool". Wings, feet and flung water were blown into a chaotic splash of adrenaline for many of the brids that came to return from the shy mass with such bad timing.The eagle disappeared and it took the last 1/4 of the panic-struck birds, which still circled in the thick mass only a few seconds to return to open water.
I watched a large blue-phase attempt an ice landing (and awkwardly avoid the splits or an icy face plant.) He fell dumbfounded into a few of his swimming companions. I had to take a break to sit on my own frozen fingers before I did anything else. Even the sight of the shocked bird hitting that icy water was enough to make me shiver. I have to wonder how they experience the temperature of their environment- Im sure that extended contact with that same water would send me into much pain!
It was a long, loud series of gunshots from the other side of the road that was the 'sugar-on-top' for the cold waterfowl's relaxing day on the refuge. They roared out of the water for the last time during my visit and those long-lost, high-altitude guys that fled from the top of the mass that the eagle spooked dwindled back to the mob.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Mo

The river is lower than is has been in many months now; It goes even lower every day. Those log-jams and sandbars that we love so much are becoming accessible to anyone willing to brave the cold.
At Parkville, not too far upstream of kansas city, this means that all of my favorite sandbars have a fresh stock of trash and treasures piled where nobody else has looked!

To find the spot, head to parkville and hang a left. At the river, in between some farm-land and a baseball field you can park. Here, you are on the channelized side of the water and a worthy sandbar requires only about a mile's walk upstream on the fenced-off dirt road. There are plenty, but even now, at 7.7ft, many of the gravel bars are submerged.

I found the ordinary- tires, the four-wheeler, a scummy boot and a surplus of plastic bottles. Among my finds, however, were several interesting and even beautiful things. (this is the treasures-part of the river!)
Five and a Half little mushroom heads sat on a soggy piece of driftwood. They resembled some rusty-coloured oyster mushrooms and they didnt smell too bad. I took none.
A dead gar- slender and pointed with teeth that belong in a nightmare. The creature certainly has it's place near the top of the food chain! A pair of whatever that colourful stone is that is common almost everywhere downstream of here- fire opal? Carnelian? Agate? One is definitely a fiery-red and the other is more of an amber-colour; both of today's stones are fairly translucent.

There was (still is!) a beautiful old wine bottle that has been polished gently there on the nearest sandbar. The aqua-blue glass stands tall with a very long, thin neck and a bulky base. no date or any kind of markings that would give any clues to its origins, but the thing should be interesting and pretty nonetheless. For a further look into our rivers' history, it would be easy enough to dig up some old bones or pottery. Most of the skulls, ribs or vertebrae you'll find on these greasy beaches have been dyed a nice red, similar to the colour of the mushrooms, by the clays that they have been fossilizing in. Some of them may have been brought south by the last bout of glaciers- most died here near the river during the last ice age. Whatever creatures they belong to lived and traveled along the protective river here, where the ice was the furthest south it would be. I see alot of bison and deer, and even some bones that came from a mammal much larger. One thoratic vertebra here at the water's edge on the second sandbar measured over two feet!
Pottery is white, glazed or brown clay decorated with whatever markings and patterns it's modern culture thought fit to put on it. Today's nicest find, a hand-sized hunk of clay pottery has primitive bands of geometric patterns etched into it. Handfuls of cracked and shattered cups and dishes litter the bed where the gravel is most coarse. Much of it displays an english-looking blue pattern of complex, rounded vines and leaves, birds, people and trees.
I am surprized and disappointed at the complete lack of any waterfowl or even an eagle on my several visits to the river this week!

The banks of the missouri are covered in honeysuckle, garlic mustard and impermeable surfaces- here, anyway. The whatever-plant across the river spews gallons of dirty, steaming water where the fish like to stay. A big pipe drools an unpleasant tan syrup not too far upstream from the city's park and all sorts and kinds of joggers and walkers and runners enjoy their scenic rip-rap for miles of trails and river.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jerry Smith Park

Ive discovered a bunch of photos that were taken a few weeks ago at JSmith. The folder was buried under some other files, but seems to be worth sharing. I visited the park an afternoon just a few days before I left for California. Nothing too exciting, though the Gentian was a nice surprise. The little orange and black guy in the photo was everywhere. I dont know what exactly it was.. would love to learn about it if you know!? Some wierd earth-tongue kind of fungi. The mushrooms were small and yellow, but they were more jello-y than the "earth Tongues" that I found in Colorado.
I did also find a very cool carrion beetle, Nicrophorus I think. The thing was pretty quick for a big clumsy beetle; I only got a few blurred photos. Here is him diving off of a log that i set him on.
I noticed a pile of mite-things swarming his underside. A bunch of tiny, salmon-egg coloured tick things. They especially liked the joints where his limbs came to his body.