Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Searles Lake Adventures, and comments ...

Wow! I didn't realize it would be so long before I got to post again, so my apologies to any readers who've petrified while I've been having a life!

As promised, here are some more pictures from my capacious collection of Searles Lake Halite. I'm still working on my photo techniques, so please be patient if they don't look like the Van Pelts, or Tony Petersons pictures. After all, it'll give me yet another thing to aspire to!

As any mineral collector, or for that matter,
any collector of ANYTHING knows, the hardest thing to do is sell one of your collectibles.

For an aspiring gem, lapidary and mineral dealer such as myself, it's doubly difficult, since I get to sit down with the loveliest of my hard wrested earth treasures and pick the best of them, the ones that mean the most to me. Then, I get to turn around and put them up for sale!

This little lovely is one such piece. On the salt of the lake bed, it looked so modest that I almost left it sitting next to the path we'd blazed. But it called to me.

It was only after I'd examined it much more closely that I noticed the secrets it held. Not only did it sport water clear crystals that would make the Mortons salt girl's mouth water (which makes sense, being salt, eh?), the largest and best of the sparse crystals was zoned ( or phantomed, I'm unsure of which is proper nomenclature,) and from up close looked like a water clear flourite. The sparseness of the crystals made each one just a little more special.

Here it is from another direction. and a bit closer. My heart skipped a beat when I realized that I'd best offer this one for sale, since my cabinet would only hold so much halite. As well, as many top dealers have written, you can't keep all of the best stuff for yourself. You have to make sure that your customers have the opportunity to own the best, too.

In the world of mineral collecting, these may be modest and everyday specimens, but I'm sure that some other collector will find them as entrancing and amazing as I do, and reward us for our dilligent collecting and preservation efforts.

The next photos show how much of a difference lighting makes in a specimens color show. I took photos of this specimen in both natural and halogen generated artificial light. Guess which is which?

Being the photo expert you are, I'm sure that you knew the upper photo was taken in indirect natural light. The bottom one was taken using a halogen desk lamp, donated by my partner Laura's youngest daughter. It provided great lighting for the halite, and I have hopes for it with many minerals. Still, I have to wonder whether it will make a difference in photographing my opals. As anyone who's done it knows, opals are most vexing. sometimes, it can be nearly impossible to coax the fire onto the photo!

These photos show the pearlescent perfection of halite, with the most delicate shade of pink!
The vermiform massive & crypto-crystaline halite that the exquisite hoppered cubes rest upon provides a tough and extremely stable base. I expect this specimen to be a lovely addition to a proud collectors case for many, many years.

They also demonstrate how different orientations can effect the overall impression of the piece. Which perspective do you prefer?

I hope you've enjoyed these few specimens, and I look forward to hearing from you. Please let me know if you visit, and if you enjoy my wares, and writing. Also, be sure to check for our auctions on eBay, under the seller name lapidary_specialties.

Below is the Searles Lake trip report that I posted to The Rockhounds Elist:

Without a doubt, one of my top 5 "most enjoyable" collecting experiences was this years Searles Valley Mineral Society Gem-O-Rama! Nestled in the arid wilderness, Trona is a dusty, sulfurous oasis between the bustling (yawn!) Metropolis of Ridgecrest (pop. 25,000) and Death Valley.
The home of the Searles Valley Mineral Corp, Trona produces many different evaporate minerals in world class quantities.
For the mineral collector who craves evaporates, Trona is THE place! Most, specifically, it's THE place one weekend out of the year!

For over sixty-five years, rockhounds have come to Trona the second weekend of October to brave the smelly mud, flying crystals and stinking brine that are the trademarks of this great collecting event. 2008 was a great example of just how great collecting can be on Searles Lake.

We (my partner Laura and myself) arrived late in the evening of October 11 at Motel 6 in Ridgecrest. We're both of the belief that, even when in a motel, "roughing it" is an essential part of any collecting trip! So, in the interest of economy, we settled for a queen bed, and cable TV.

Eye rubbingly early the next morning, we lit out for Trona, and hopefully, something to eat. Note to all: Get up early, if you expect to eat before the first field trip.

Arriving in Trona after a 30 minute drive, we found and stood in the appropriate lines. Welllllll ... I stood in line, while my paramour went "in search of" comfort facilities. Let me state right here, the Searles Valley folks do a bang up job, and put on one of the best "small town" shows I've seen. They also have what is the most impressive "clubhouse" I've ever seen! Still, the word for the smart collector is to get there eartly. There are great dealers, great club members who actually KNOW where things are, and to warn those with sensitive noses, an ever present sulfurous stink! Only when a stiff wind blows does the "rotton egg" odor abate.

After standing in line to buy donuts, only to find the last were sold to the folks ahead of me, we were able to get a banana! (Blessings to the lovely club member who gave us her banana! Get there EARLY!) That, Pepsi and cornchips were our breakfast, while we waited for the "Mudpile" field trip to begin.

One of the great pleasures of collecting at Trona is the brief drive from the show grounds. The "dry" lake bed is IN town ... or is it the other way around? Anywho, the organisation of the field trip is flawless, and within 5 minutes we arrived at the most impressive pile of stinking, sticky muck I've ever had the pleasure of getting my shoes stuck in. Found within these mudpiles are rare hanksite crystals, trona crystals, borates and other evaporates. Also to be found were throngs of people who were VERY serious about getting the best and biggest hanksites!

Runnning around, getting stuck like ants in honey, were throngs of children of all ages, some of whom were making their first ever trip away from inner city L.A. The looks on the faces of those kids made me feel as young as they were, as they pulled out and washed off hanksites the size of soda cans and larger!

There were troughs of lake brine for washing these crystals, which easily and quickly melt in any less than a saturate saline soloution. These quickly became elbow to elbow affairs, and I generally had at least one small child under each arm washing away as I smiled down on them. I seemed to be the least serious (or the most amused) collector there, and recieved many scornful looks as I chuckled and cracked jokes with harried parents. Of course, these scornfull looks came from small children, who knew I couldn't possibly appreciate the gravity of the situation!

And, being friendly and marginally knowledgible, I soon had children approaching with the ever present question: "What's THIS one worth?"

Being my first time for hanksite collecting, I made many "educated" guesses, hoping I wasn't too far wrong!
No matter what my opinion was, the young digger would run off in search of "the BIG One!" Many of the smallest kids found crystals that dwarfed mine!

Having filled the plastic file boxes we brought for hanksite (keep your hanksite moist, but not wet, until you can clean it completely) we left with the "last call." The drive back was short, and the food and hospitality at the Clubhouse were great! After a sandwich and soda, we joined the bull session in the field trip parking lot, and waited for the call to mount up!

As always, the bull session was one of the best parts of collecting, and we made new friends from far places.
John hailed from Minnesota, and entertained me with tales of gold propecting in Alaska and sapphires in Montana. A noisome throng appoached, students from the University of Arizona at Prescott. We traded collecting tales, and I showed them my "pet" Shaver Lake amethyst, which always goes propecting with me.

The afternoon trip was the fabled "Blowhole" trip, of which details can be found at the linked "SLG&MS" site. It was truly impresive to watch the video at the clubhouse & see the explosives in use by the Navy Ordnance officers, and the crystals being pumped out of the ground. As luck would have it, the pumping that we'd seen as we passed the site that morning was the only we'd be seeing.
As the drilling rig was working the last hole, the salt crust below gave way, and the whole rig tipped on its side! However, we, the eager collectors, were barely affected. Aside from looking wistfully toward the now "off limits" hole with drill rig waiting for a tow truck, we gave our attention to sorting through the tons of freshly pumped crystals.
Again, as in the morning, the children were happy to have someone who'd give them an identity for their discoveries, and what discoveries they were! My own crystals paled before their glories, and I wished that I were 9 years old again.

I made friends with a 9 year old named Mathew, and his somewhat frayed father, who was quite busy trying to herd 4 kids and still gather a few crystals for himself. Matthew had the sort of luck I can only wish for, showing up with handful after handful of rare top notch hanksite. The toppers were a fist (that is, MY fist!) sized, museum clean "root beer" brown hanksite and a very rare, 1/2" sulfo-halite.
Now, my eyes nearly left my skull when I saw that hanksite, since the usual hanksite is green to amber colored, and clear. This one derived its color from the dreamy, creamy "cumulous cloud" clay inclusions that floated below its surface. When he asked the inevitible "How much?" I overcame temptation, and looked into his eyes. "Matthew," I slowly said, "I can't tell you." His small brow furrowed as I continued,"That crystal is so fine, if I were you, I'd never sell it." His Dad smiled and appreciated the moment. I'm sure that I'll see them again next year. Dad said I would!

We quickly met up with several new friends whom we'd met at lunch, Nancy & Kim, from Illinois. Kim is a GIA Graduate Gemologist, who'd decided to come with her Mom to see what field collecting was all about! They asked sweetly if I'd help them to identify thier finds, and as always (especially for pretty ladies!) I said "Sure!" My darling Laura had invited them to sit with us, and found us 2 new friends!
I was in my own glory, surrounded by young and old collectors, and gave the lions share of my attention to the collectors. Kim told us how she'd been a "nail artist" with a special love for gems, and had recieved her G.G. quite recently. When I said I'd love to do the same, she urged me on. "It's easier than you think!"
We'll see!

I did come away with my own "special" crystal. When they were leaving, Matthew and his Dad came over, and after Dad thanked me for my help, Matthew held out his hand, and gave me a perfect 1/2" twinned hanksite! That crystal now resides in my Favorites cabinet, smelling faintly of sulfur.

After that we packed up, redolent of hydrogen sulfide and feeling salt chapped, with a constant breeze blowing our hair in our faces. While I was packing away our new treasures, Laura, Kim & Nancy wandered over to the edge of the collecting area, and out onto the adjoining salt. After getting the ok to dig in, they pried loose the foamy grey surface salt, and found enchanting "fairy towers" of dew deposited, snowy white salt "frost!" Now, these pieces aren't small or cabinet sized, they're HUGE! We have five, nestled carefully among dessicant packs in our garage, awaiting my attention. They'll soon make lovely additions to someones *very* dry living room! We had quite a time finding tubs to transport the still wet, fragile specimens 250 miles home.

After returning to the motel and cleaning off the accumulated muck, we had a delicious dinner at one of Ridgecrest's fine Chinese buffets, then returned to watch "Stay Alive!" on cable.

Bright and early the next morning, we slept through the alarm! So, instead of a liesurely breakfast, we hurried and made it to Trona in time for the "Brine Pond" collecting trip.
This was the one we'd made the trip for! The world famous "Searles Lake Pink" halite would soon fill our hands, stinging them where blisters had developed in our search for "the Best."
We met up with John at the Lake, and headed out eagerly onto the icy white halite surface crust. The only way to learn where the best halite (a truly subjective task!) lies is to break through that crust, a task which raised the aforementioned blisters.
After finding a delightful array of crystal forms, and very little of the "Prime" Pink halite, we heard a shout, and saw Kim waving for our attention! She'd gotten some help from experienced hands, and had found a deep port wine colored brine pond, with several "shelves" of halite crystals. These varied in form, but all were a lovely pale to cranberry pink!

The time passed too quickly, and our totes filled too fast! I quickly became used to the sting of the brine, and took over from Kim in clearing out the pond. As we'd been told, the halite grew in shelves, and the sharp crystals could definitely cut! Thankfully, the brine tanned my blisters a deep red and kept ANY infection away!
John wanderd off, but Laura kept her focus, looking far and wide for great specimens that would become the delight of friends and customers alike. Meanwhile, Kim & Nancy had consulted with me on transport problems, wondering how they'd possibly get they're unexpectedly rich haul of crystals home safely. As it turns out, we later heard, they ended up adding an extra day to the trip to ship thier bounty home!

Leaving the Lake was truly difficult, especially since we felt like we'd just found out what to look for. Kim & Nancy gave us hugs, and said fond goodbyes. Isn't it amazing how fast collecting friends become? Reluctantly, we carefully packed up for home, and started back across the salt.

With a little foresight, I'd left some room in the totes, and had left a tote at the car. On our way back, we collected from abandoned holes, and had great luck. We filled every possible corner, and carefully packed for the trip home to Fresno.

After slaking our thirst with Pepsi at the gas station conveniently located across from the Lake entrance, we wandered back to the show, where we joined many folks who'd come out for the dealers, and grinned at others who looked as salted and dusty as we. After a filing lunch of Polish Sausage & Frito Boats (the 6th & 7th food groups!) and missing our new friends already, we wandered amongst the now packing dealers, making connections and some shrewd deals, reluctant to call it a weekend.

A tired but uneventful trip back found us planning to return in 2009, and discussing who we'd like to bring with us!

In my next post, I'll detail the details (?) of properly collecting, cleaning, storing and displaying Searles Lake halite.