Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Trona Trek: Year 2

We've just returned from our 2nd annual Trona Trek, and was it a doozy!

Our new field trip and rockhounding partners,
Mark, Sarah & one of their twins.

First, a big shout out to our new Field Trip Partners! Mark, Sarah and their twins came to us through the magic of Craigslist, and serendipitous synchronicity. Mark put up a post looking for Rockhounding partners, and 3 hours later, I "just happened" to act on the same impulse, going to Craigslist to post the same message. I answered his post, and after getting to know them, they accompanied us on this trip. They made it our best trip ever, and we look forward to a long, and profitable association.

View Fresno to Barstow in a larger map

View Directions to Lavic, California in a larger map

Now, for the trip! After driving down to Barstow and catching a few hours sleep at Motel 6 & breakfast at Bun Boy, we made our first stop at Lavic siding near the Pisgah Crater. Actually, it was a ways west of Lavic, in a wash created by a Railroad abutment. I'd never stopped that far west of the actual collecting area, but figured it would be educational.

Pisgah Crater, from the east side.
The black is a huge lava flow, with sand drifts throughout.

Well, wouldn't you know, Mark ended up finding the "Rock of The Day" and "Trip Rock!" at our first stop! We all piled out, everyone looked around and said "Well, what do we look for here?"
I looked at 'em all and said, "Don't know yet ... lets look!"
My partner Laura, Sarah & the twins followed my lead and headed down the wash, while Mark took care of a few loose ends and got a bucket for the twins. We began our finds with some creamy white opalite with moss & iron stains, and continued down the wash. Cutting grade lilac rhyolite followed, in modest amounts and tumbler sizes.

Mark started after us, and proved my assertion on why it's best to Rockhound in numbers.
Where we'd started out looking for fist sized material, Mark was out to find a BOULDER! And a boulder he found!
Now known as the "Gray Ghost" and at least 150+ pounds, it's gray-blue agate, translucent, and from external appearance, shot through with red, gold & mustard yellow spider webs! It was literally overwhelming!
Whether or not it will prove to be great sculptors material is yet to be seen, but it's a most impressive and lovely find. We're raring to get it on the 18" slab saw.

Lavic Siding, circa 2009 - Solar power is no problem here!

From there, we proceeded to Lavic siding and collected some of the great Rainbow Jasp-Agate the area is famous for, as well as "bubbly" chalcedony and magnetite with jasperoid veining.
With a total area of over 6 square miles, this area begs cliches like "uncountable tonnage" and "the rocks jump into your bucket!"
My first piece was, as usual, found literally right outside the car door. It was heavy for its small size and I thought that it was hematite in jasper, until I checked it with a magnet. It was strongly magnetic, indicating magnetite with jasperoid. I'll try cutting most anything, so this'll hit the wheel and I'll show some pics soon.

This is the desert pavement right outside the car door ...
and yes, it gets better & better! Large piece is 2.5" x 3.5" x .75"

Everyone spread out across the desert next to the siding, and as the ladies walked slowly further through the scrubby brush, we fellows started up the adjacent hill. We soon found the hills to be nothing but porous basalt, and went after the ladies.
Sarah & Laura had started with tiny tumble and cab sized material, and found that the sizes quickly expanded as they walked further from the train tracks. Mark and I headed out further, since the ladies needed to keep an eye on the twins. They were actually pretty angelic, for 6 year old girls, and quite into the play of the hunt.
As always happens, we were calling each other across the sands to "look at this!" and, "Yo, come see!" The true difference at Lavic is that no one was exaggerating in the slightest! If you haven't been there, GO! Senator Feinstein and the Enviro-Hypocrites are trying to make the entire desert off limits to Rockhounding, and we need your support and enthusiasm to fight their conniving ways.

Looking westward from Lavic Siding, you can see I-40.
Thankfully, you can't hear the cars from the collecting area!

Lavic Rainbow Jasp-Agate is some of the most unusual jasper you're likely to see. It comes in nearly every color, with nearly every possible color combination in rainbow stripes, blotches and swirls.Add frequent lines of blue to clear chalcedony, veins & blobs of hematite, and the very frequent "WHOA!" piece, and you have a premier collecting site.
One of the best parts is that it's what we call "fast-food" collecting, with little need for digging. It's reasonably close to civilization, motels and all the amenities. Add to that the friendly folks of Barstow, and reasonable prices on everything you'll need or could want, and it's a must-do for a Mojave trip.
There are tons of other sites nearby, and I'll write of them later.

The parking area at Lavic Siding.
If you can't find enough cutting material here, you'll need another hobby!

As the sun passed it's zenith and we started to become jaded in our choices, we decided to move on to lunch, then westward to Aerial Acres and the Sierra Pelona Travertine Claim.

View Directions to Aerial Acres, California in a larger map
Silence surrounds us ... and we travel these lonely roads.

Some of the digs at the Sierra Pelona Travertine claim.

This is another "fast food" trip, though somewhat more remote from the highway. It offers Travertine (Calcite) Onyx, with highly contrasting colors. Some of the material is what we call "Banded CalSilica," with quartz replacing the calcite. It can also feature faintly blue tube opal, and is found in sizes from chips to boulders of many pounds. We collected mostly golf ball to fist sized chunks on this trip.
The travertine is bedded in volcanic ash, which is from the surface to several feet below. It can range from screw driver and shovel work to "darn near impossible" digging, though there's usually plenty of surface material available. The toughest part of digging this material is the fact that it's coated in ash, muting colors and patterns, and makes a spray bottle of slightly soapy water a must have.
We had nowhere near as much time at this site as we wanted, so I'm certain that Mark and I will be returning to this claim sometime soon.

The sun setting, the breeze rustling silently through the brush ...

A great day of collecting ends.

With the sun setting, we mounted up in our Iron Horses, and headed off to Ridgecrest for Motel 6 and the hearty dinner bastion of the perennially weary digger ... Taco Bell, where they got my order wrong (again). Still, it was a filling dinner, but not as filling as our signal day of collecting.

Bright and far too early Sunday morning, we set out for Trona, picking up a little bit of breakfast at Mickey D's. The drive to Trona was as lovely as last year, and flew by too fast. Perhaps we simply needed more sleep!
We drove into Trona, and noticed that the aroma of the lake seemed tamer than we'd remembered it to be. Ah, we were back in halite country! As we pulled into the Show area, it's bustle was familiar, and we smiled and waved at familiar faces from last year. There he was, the "Wagon Master," making sure that everyone went the right direction and obeyed the Boy Scout traffic "cops."

Just a few of the hundreds of cars lined up for the halite dig!

After buying our field trip tickets, we took a quick turn around the Searles Valley Gem & Mineral Society show, checking in with Internet friends Karl Zelner of Ridgecrest, and Scott Blair of Scott's Rocks in Oregon, then made our way out to the vehicle parking area to await the starting gun.
We'd parked on the north side of the lot this year, and took the longer way into the pink halite area. This is perhaps the largest organized Club Field Trip in the Western U.S., and it's an amazing site to see hundreds of earnest and potentially happy diggers making their way onto the stark white of the salt lake.

In all of the field collecting I've enjoyed in nearly 30 years of rockhounding, there is nothing that comes anywhere close to Searles Lake. The white glare of the salt lake, the tang of salt that enters your mouth as soon as you open your car door, the amazing colors and stench of the salt ponds ... and that's before you get started digging!

This is the place! Yep, looks like halite is here!

Digging Searles is a truly different experience. Imagine ... Well, there's no way you can imagine it. You look for open brine ponds, and when you find one that "looks good" (whatever that means!) you kneel down and begin remembering how to do this kind of digging. It's not easy to remember, since it's totally different, and you only get to do it for about 3 hours a year.

A great big "decorator" piece of halite!

I remembered that you wanted to find "ledges and floaters" of halite, and halite on nahcolite. Nahcolite is literally Baking Soda, which is colored a number of distinctive colors, including an amazing cranberry purple.
Mark seemed somewhat skeptical of his chances, but I assured him that we'd go home with plenty of great specimens, if we worked with diligent patience and kept our eyes open.

This is the third layer in this tote!

It wasn't too long before we were all in the swing of the hunt, and the twins proved to be quite able to look past the weird smell. Mark truly enjoyed chopping away at the crusted surface, and the inevitable splashing evinced protests from the ladies, and a grin from me. Seeing my grin, Mark redoubled his splashing, knowing I was right there with him.

Yes, those are my digging gloves ... and this is a medium sized piece.

Suddenly, Laura called from far across the salt ... Oh, at least 100 yards. Trust me,, strolling down the mall, that isn't far, but on the salt, it's a haul! She motioned us to look at what a young couple had gotten part way toward us, perched on their 'lil red wagon.
The "specimen," if one could call the gargantuan alkaline boulder that they were slowly inching across the salt a mere specimen, was several HUNDRED pounds of nahcolite and halite, of the most distinctive fuschia color I'd ever imagined, much less touched with my own hands. Imagine a purple cauliflower head nearly 3 feet across and at least a foot deep, with the loveliest hoppered & cubic halite crystals in the world ... and you'd still fall short of this magnificent giant.

One of our lovely halite specimens.
The large single crystal is 9+mm, the other side is encrusted in "Cranberry" crystals ...

Just like this specimen!

"They need help getting it across the salt and to their SUV!" Laura cried out. we hurried to get nearer to this wonder, promising that we'd be glad to help if they told us which pond it had come out from. The young newlywed diggers pointed out the pond, and Laura hurried to stake out the now abandoned hole.
We marveled over the boulder for several moments, then set out steadying it while Mark pulled the wagon toward the waiting mini-4 wheeler.
As we approached the 8 foot climb to the road, a gentleman approached and solved our biiggest problem ... no one seemed to want to help finish the job. I was chagrined, since I had always touted the generosity of Rockhounds, and felt dismay at the selfishness I was witnessing. Bless that gentleman and his ingenious answer:
Pick up the entire wagon and carry it up the short, yet VERY rough path to the awaiting vehicle.

A lovely hand/small cabinet "Ghost" Pink halite, featuring skeletal crystal form.

Once there, I was left to decide how to fit this too big boulder into a too small SUV. By now, curiosity had overcome selfish impulse and jealousy, and we had a large group surrounding our project. Mark & I looked it over, and the young groom found cushioning clothes to prop it up in the cargo area. We 3 lifted it carefully into the trunk and gingerly propped it with a minimum of damage. Success!

Marveling at the rock, and our acheivement, we bade the young folks good fortune, and ehaded back to digging. Mark continued with his pond, which had produced a few decent specimens. I moved over to the pond the boulder had emerged from, probing it with my shovel, but it was too deep to penetrate the bottom. Looking around, we decided to try probing the surrounding ponds, which had been ignored by others.

This lovely "Raspberry' halite sparkles with every motion of the onlooker!

I found the two closest ponds to hard with massive nahcolite, but the third and forth were a bonanza of lovely deep cranberry to port wine crystals, mostly cubic, but with some lovely hoppered crystals, too! I hollered to Mark that I'd found "the Mother Lode!" which brought him quickly across the salt.

Soon, Sarah, Laura and the twins were helping us to pull out shovel after shovel full of lovely halite. We'd fallen into the spell of the "Goddess of the Salt," and she seemed well pleased with our sincere efforts, and our thankful attitude.

Here's a wholesale flat of 2 to 3+inch mixed color halite specimens, with crystals up to 8mm

Sweat dripped, our hands grew salt-rimed and sore, yet the pull of the crystals was irresisitible to us all. All too soon, we knew we must begin packing our bounty, and grudgingly gave up our digging, slogging back across the salt to retrieve our totes and buckets. Carefully packed away, our bounty proved worth all of the sweat and toil.

Yep, this one is about the size of a Turkey platter ...

With treasures packed carefully into our Camry & Mark's Frontier (mostly the pickup, which we were supremely thankful for) we set off for the nearby Gas Station, and cold beverages. In our impatience, we missed connections with our new partners, and so had to wait to bid them farewell by cellphone.

Returning to the Show, we spent awhile cleaning up a bit, talking with dealers and club members, and having a "Pepper Belly" & Pulled Pork sandwich lunch. I was able to give Karl a couple of flats of satin spar for the Indian Wells Gem & Mineral members, who'd been gracious enough to promise us access to the fabled "Rainbow Ledge" the following day.

Mid-afternoon, we reluctantly but wearily left Trona, and headed back toward Ridgecrest. Laura asked if there were any collecting areas along Hwy 178 on the way back, but I declined. I was exhausted, covered with salt, and constantly thirsty!
We got to the motel, and as we repacked the car and halite specimens, chatted with curious guests, exchanging collecting stories. We were glad to see that the selfish attitudes had been left behind us, and our specimens were objects of delight!

Showers, naps & dinner at Kristie's took the rest of our day, and sleep took us away, back to the salt in our dreams.

Monday dawned cooler, with variable clouds and higher winds. Mickey D's was again our haven for breakfast, a more leisurely affair this morning. After 2 hard days collecting, we really needed the great coffee that Motel 6 gave us before leaving. We were early for our collecting trip to Rainbow Ledge.

David, of From Mother Earth and the Indian Wells G&MS had been an occasional Internet correspondent, and had volunteered to lead us when we'd inquired about accessing Rainbow Ledge. I'd long read of this famed site in the El Paso Mountains east of Red Rock and Last Chance Canyons, but had never gotten there. This proved to be a rich icing to our multi-layered collecting cake!

The ride wasn't too long, though Laura did have some worries about the Camry, all unfounded. Her trepidation turned immediately to delight, as she found neat material even when we stopped part way for a "break." We soon arrived, and found a steep yet rich collecting area, with agates, jaspers and chalcedony of all possible descriptions. We recommend it to all who can arrange to attend the Indian Wells Show in November, or any other time, for that matter.
The material there occurred as large nodules in volcanic ash, and there is curently little reason for the average collector to bash away in the rare times that the Rainbow is open to those who aren't Club members. If you do decide to bash, bring heavy sledges, and be aware that this rock create splinters that will cut the careless. I'd recommend a full face shield for any serious bash master.

I'm currently puzzling over the deposition stages of this material, which varies, sometimes within a single boulder, between opal, jasper, agate, and drusy quartz, with spots, lace & fortifications, moss of different colors, and a true rainbow of colors. It fractures like obsidion, and often seems to be a cross between obsidian & crypto-crystalline quartz. I have pieces that have an island of bright color in a black ground mass. Wild stuff indeed!

All too soon, and with much less material from this location than we wished we could carry, we headed on homeward. We send our everlasting thanks to David and our fellow diggers for a day that will last a very long time in our memories. We look forward to joining them for more field trips very, very soon!

The trip home was uneventful, other than the usual insane drivers along Hwy 99. We prayed and drove, drove and prayed, and soon were home with our cats, dog and Laura's dear daughter.

We look back on this weekend with fond memories, and as Laura said with teary eyes on Subday evening "Call Mark & Sarah, and tell them to come back! I miss them!" I missed them too, and longed for the close camaraderie of those kindred souls. I assured her that, while they had to return home, we would soon be smiling, laughing and enjoying each others company and all of the treasures that we'd gathered on our Trona Trek.

We can't wait for next year, and the next Trona Trek! Wanna come along?