by Eric Greene
I was invited to visit Jon Herndon’s home in Ossipee, New Hampshire in late July, 2010. Jon not only offered to put me up for 4 days, but also said that we could collect together over the weekend. Directly behind Jon’s home is a path that leads out to the ledges overlooking Folsom Gulch (also known as Ossipee Gulch or Raccoon Gulch). These ledges are full of miarolitic cavities (crystal lined irregular cavities or vugs most commonly found in granitic pegmatites), with hole sizes ranging from under an inch to a over a foot. The most commonly found minerals are smoky quartz and microcline feldspar. Other minerals which turn up occasionally include siderite, fluorite, topaz, pyrite, molybdenum, zircon, and more. Jon regularly invites mineral clubs to come and dig at this prolific locality, and charges no fees. He also puts on a kid’s Rock Camp a few times each summer, when local scouts, school groups, children and teenagers are invited to come and learn about geology and minerals, try some collecting, etc. Every time I have visited the site Jon has left out hundreds of fair, good and even very good specimens that he has found, and left them for visiting rockhounds to take home. Jon’s renowned generosity is delightful, and much appreciated by many New England collectors.
Date: Saturday, July 24, 2010
Locality: Site #5, Folsom Gulch, Center Ossipee, NH
Mining Crew: Jon Herndon, Paul Beaudette, Paul Smith, Eric Greene
I left Greenfield at 7am, and didn’t arrive at the dig at Site #5 in Folsom Gulch until 10:30 am. By the time I reached the mining area, Paul B was drilling with his 2” Cobra drill, as Jon busily swept away rock dust from the top of the hole. Paul B is a big man, with an ample girth. Since the temperature was already 85º, with humidity to match, he had taken off his shirt to drill bare-chested. The sight of his belly jiggling atop the bouncing drill as Jon scurried busily beneath him was worthy of a Laurel & Hardy movie. Finally the drill bottomed out, and Paul pulled the 2’ drill bit out of the hole. Jon helped out when the bit jammed at a point where it had mushroomed inside the hole. This was the 3rd and final hole for the morning, so Jon quickly loaded feathers & wedges into the holes and began hammering on the wedges. Paul joined in and the percussion of 8-pound hammers beating on steel filled the gulch. Even more satisfying was the gritty, crackling, crunching sound of rock fracturing that accompanied the drumming of the hammers. Soon a 3’ wide, 2’ high and 1’ front-to-back section of rock broke off the immovable granite ledge. Attacking the 1” wide crack at the back with pry bars, the rock was inched forward until it rolled over out of the gaping socket. Under the boulder, the crack ran right through the weakest point in the rock: a 6” pocket full of microcline feldspar and smoky quartz crystals. Jon was a blur of activity, with hammers and chisels and wedges being applied rapidly to various near-invisible cracks and joints in the rocks, and within a few minutes he handed me the best half of the pocket, with all the crystals intact.
Now I’ve collected with a lot of people over the years, but never have I seen anyone as fast, knowledgeable, and successful at collecting smoky quartz and feldspar crystals in miarolitic cavities than Jon Herndon. He is a whirling dervish of intensely focused collecting energy, and I am grateful just to have watched him at work first hand, let alone to have had the opportunity to collect (and learn) alongside him. And then it got better… Jon adopted me as his assistant, so I played the role of operating room nurse, handing Jon a chisel, pry bar, or whatever surgical instrument he called for. With this help, he moved even faster, and the flurry of activity produced a steady stream of good- to excellent-quality mineral specimens. We hit several very high quality pockets, and left them in larger chunks of rock to be trimmed out later. When Jon was busy, I swept away debris and handed specimens to Paul S. He brushed them off, trimmed them, and laid them out on every available flat surface within 10 feet for later review and selection. Every now and then Jon would take a break and Paul B would jump into the hole, to continue the mining, so with almost no breaks we worked straight through until 3:30pm. Jon and Paul B (and his drill) packed up and headed out, leaving Paul S and me to continue digging, then to divvy up the spoils. Either they were being very generous, or none of the material collected was up to their demanding standards. Either way, I was able to high-grade out enough specimens to fill a 5-gallon bucket, with 3 large specimens in the backpack to boot. After a thorough rinse under the hose followed by a shower, I drove into West Ossipee for dinner, then fell into bed by 9:30, pretty well worn out by the long day of hard labor.
Date: Sunday, July 25, 2010
Locality: Somewhere in the White Mountains of New Hamphsire
Mining Crew: Jon Herndon, Brian Hill, Paul Smith, Eric Greene
I was up at 8am for a planned departure at 9am to go collecting. Jon had seen the weather at 5:30, and thunderstorms were predicted for midday, so he suggested we work site #10 in the Gulch behind his house. I suggested he check the weather again, and the forecast looked better, so we rushed to pull things together and headed out. We reached the trail head by 10am, and began to pull our gear together for the hike in. How excited was I about the day of collecting ahead? Silly me – when we left Jon’s house I had forgotten to bring my work boots, so it looked like I would have to hike and work in moccasins. Luckily, Jon had an extra pair of sneakers that just fit: WalMart wonders with Velcro fasteners. Cursing my forgetfulness, I knew I would just have to make the best of it. It would be another couple of hours before I would realize that I had also left my sandwiches behind on the kitchen counter, and would have to skip lunch, too!
The hike in wasn’t very challenging, even though we had packs full of the required gear for a day of hammering and splitting rock and prying it out of the way. When we arrived at the spot Jon had in mind, we were pleased to see Jon’s friend Brian with his head in a promising pocket, with Paul S ably assisting, taking the material Brian handed him and stockpiling it. We went right to work. Jon pointed out a pocket he had emptied the week before, and then began exploring the thick quartz/microcline seam that ran off to the left. In a matter of moments, he had located a pocket, and began handing me specimens. He found several good plates of microcline crystals with smoky quartz crystals, a bunch of loose smokies, and some particularly fine microcline feldspar crystals that were exquisite Baveno twins. Between handfuls of crystals, I shoveled out rocks, dirt & debris from the area directly in front of a second promising area that Brian had begun to explore. Jon’s pocket was about 6 feet to the left of Brian’s good pocket, and the new spot was almost exactly half way between the two. Soon, Jon’s pocket was producing so much material at such a rapid rate that I was enlisted as the “catcher”. This job is probably the most enviable job on any mining project. To empty the pocket, Jon had to maneuver his body into all kinds of awkward angles, with extremely pained facial expressions and appropriate grunts and gorans to go along with each contortion. Every time he pulled a new handful of crystals from the pocket he handed them to me, sight unseen. So I just sat there, brushing the dirt off the specimens and admiring each new find. Tough job, but somebody had to do it. Just as I was thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Brian breached a new area in his pocket, and he began handing out specimens, too. Taking advantage of my strategic position half way between the two pockets, I was now the catcher for both pockets. Jon and Brian began a friendly competition, as they handed off crystals and specimens from their respective pockets – a phenomenon we called “dueling pockets!” Keep in mind that these weren’t just any old specimens. Some were plates consisting of 1” Baveno-twinned microcline feldspar crystals interspersed with terminated smoky quartz crystals to 2” (and some even larger!). Then came the handfuls of pocket debris, dumped onto newspaper to sort out, each load chocker-block full of loose smoky quartz points, Baveno twins, and groups of microcline or feldspar. It seemed like this went on for hours, but it probably only lasted about 20 minutes.
The fun was rudely interrupted when Jon announced that he had cleared out his pocket, and productivity stopped (though Brian was still keeping up his blistering pace). Jon went to work on the area halfway between the 2 pockets, and in about 20 minutes he opened another pocket! Now we were back to dueling pockets again, and the guys produced 2 steady streams of crystal specimens, covered with Baveno twin feldspar crystals, smoky quartz crystals, or both. Large specimens were followed by double-handfuls of pocket debris to be sorted out, with the occasional batch of 2-4” specimens. We were all in top spirits, enjoying one of those rare collecting moments when you’ve hit the jackpot, cried Eureka!, and mother earth’s treasure chest is opened in front of you.
All too often you do all the hard work of prying and hammering and cracking and chiseling your way through many feet of solid rock in search of a pocket, only to have your hopes smashed. Either there is no pocket there at all, or the pocket is tiny, or the crystals were all broken to smithareens when the pocket de-pressurized, or someone else got there first (I wish I had a nickel for every rusty pull-tab beer can from the 1960’s I’ve found), or any of a dozen things that can go wrong. That makes an expectation of disappointment standard fare for the dedicated field collector. It also makes times like this – one of the few-and-far-between collecting trips when the crystal gods smile on you – all the sweeter and more precious. I am proud to say that this time, I stopped for a minute and just sat there and “smelled the coffee”, savoring this precious moment. Too many times I was so frantic that it never occurred to me to take a minute to just sit back and enjoy what was happening.
It was after 2:00 pm, and Jon was going to have to leave at 3pm, so I turned my catcher’s mitt over to Paul, and began going through the specimens we had found to organize them. In less than 3 hours we covered a 4’ x 8’ blue tarp with large specimens, and had also decorated 4 opened, full-size sections of newspaper with smaller crystals: smoky quartz single crystal points on one paper, microcline feldspar crystals on another, and small clusters of mixed crystals on the other two. I didn’t really have a clear idea of the magnitude of our haul until I had them all spread out, and it was staggering. How would we ever be able to haul all of these crystals out of this remote spot, an hour’s hike from where we had parked our vehicles?
Finally, Brian decided he had finished emptying his pocket, and Jon pronounced his second pocket cleaned out soon afterward. Then we undertook the enviable task of divvying up the loot. Like a bunch of pirates with a treasure chest on some tropical beach, we drew straws to see who would pick first. Jon cut four twigs of different lengths and concealed the ends in his hand. Brian took the longest piece, so he picked first – a gorgeous 3” smoky quartz crystal with a 1” Baveno twin microcline crystal attached near the base of the crystal. Jon won second pick, and he selected what he thought was the next best specimen, followed by me, then Paul. We did a second round, then a third, and then a fourth. Bear in mind that all 4 of us are experienced collectors, with sizable collections of New Hampshire smoky quartz and feldspar already, so we aren’t easily impressed and didn’t want to have to haul out any specimens that weren’t darn good. I didn’t keep an exact count, but I’m pretty sure we each made over 20 selections before anyone would quit (that’s over 80 top-rank specimens!). And when we were done picking, we left on the ground another 50 or so specimens of fair to pretty good quality for future “scavengers” that no one wanted to bother hauling out. Jon finished packing up his tools and his choice picks, and we shook hands all around, and he headed off into the woods.
Before he was out of sight, I was back to work on the middle pocket, trying to enlarge the opening and get deeper into the hole (we were already over 3’ below the surface). Soon I had removed a bunch of rocks that blocked the entrance, and I invited Brian to plunge head-first into the hole. He cleared away debris deeper in the hole to make access easier, when bingo! – he had reached a part of Jon’s original pocket that was previously inaccessible. Soon the specimens were flowing out of the hole like presents coming out of Santa’s sack, and I resumed by role as catcher. Brian was handing out specimens that were arguably of even better quality than what had come out earlier, including a few 8-10” plates of undamaged smokies with microcline completely covering one side. These had detached from the pocket roof, and were sitting atop the pile of debris that filled the pocket. Once the crystal-rich muck pile was removed, these pretty much just dropped into Brian’s hands and were passed out of the hole for me to brush off and exclaim over in delight. The lack of air in the pocket and the difficult of sliding down head-first into a 2’ wide hole (and struggling back uphill to get out) made it pretty arduous for Brian to work the pocket for long, so we invited Paul to go next. I’m 6’2”, and he is at least a couple of inches taller than me, with a slender build and extra-long arms that were perfectly suited to the task at hand. Though he had not done this kind of work before, he went at it like a seasoned veteran. His long arms made it “easy” for him to get his hands into the further reaches of the pocket, producing even more specimens of stunning beauty and excellent quality. I took a turn, too, but with my wide shoulders and not-so-slender waist, all I could do was plug the opening of the hole. I couldn’t free my hands enough to work the pocket. It was pitch black in the bottom of the hole, with only a tiny flashlight to illuminate the scene. When the air started running out, I decided this was not meant to be, and I tried to wiggle my way back out. I was stuck! I couldn’t go down any more, and I couldn’t back up. And I so completely blocked the opening that my muffled cries for help were inaudible on the surface (I just wanted them to grab me by the feet and haul me out). Luckily, (or not so luckily), I’ve encountered this dilemma more than once in my collecting career, so I knew what to do. I held still for a moment, took a couple of deep breaths, and collected my wits. Then I very slowly and carefully pushed myself back up and out of the narrow hole, freeing one body part at a time, inching my way backwards up the tunnel-like hole. Finally I was freed, and I dragged my body out of the hole. Brian and Paul had a good laugh when I confessed that I was just too big for the pocket, and would have to leave that part of the digging to them.
While Brian fielded a cell-phone call from his wife, who was wondering when he would get home, Paul re-entered the hole and worked the pocket for another 20 minutes, still handing out top-quality material. At 6:00 pm we quit mining. Once again we drew straws to determine the order of picking, with Paul going first this time, me second, and Brian last. Amazingly, there was enough good stuff that we picked for a total of 15 rounds – which meant we had mined another 45 specimens that looked good enough to our now-seasoned eyes to be worthy of adding them to our burden and then staggering down the faint trail with our over-laden packs for the hour-long hike.
Finally, after a half-dozen rest stops for my out-of-shape body to catch a breath, we reached the vehicles and I unloaded my burden on the tailgate of Paul’s pickup. It was after 8:00, and getting dark. After carrying nearly 100 pounds of heavy tools and rocks for an hour, taking off my backpack gave quite a sensation of floating about a foot off the ground! We shook hands all around, and Brian headed home. Paul gave me a ride to Jon’s house, arriving there after 9:00pm. What a day!
Date: Monday, July 26, 2010
Locality: Site #1, Folsom Gulch, Center Ossipee, NH
Mining Crew: Dick Holmes, Eric Greene
Monday dawned sunny and cool, with low humidity and a fresh breeze. This was going to be a stellar day for mining! Before I headed out to the digging area, I unpacked all my finds from the first 2 days and wrapped them in newspaper so you could see the crystals on each piece. I packed the specimens into 8 beer flats (3 from Saturday and 5 from Sunday), and laid them out in the back of my pickup so Jon and Dick could see what I’d found so far.
By 10:00 I was out at site #1, ready to work, but still no sign of Dick. No one had worked the site since we were there earlier in July, so I did some quick clean up work, then started looking for signs of pocketing in the granite boulders. Similar to many of the other sites in Folsom Gulch, site #1 features large rectangular blocks of granite, separated at regular intervals of 4′ to 8’ by cracks that are usually distinct enough to have broken the block off from it’s neighbor. At this site, the blocks are each roughly 4’high, by 4’ deep by 6-8’ long. The best chance for finding a good pocket is to move enough rock so as to expose one of the corners where 8 such blocks come together. This is what Jon refers to as a joint set. There are frequently mineralized veins of smoky quartz and microcline along each joint as it leads into the joint set, and so the area where 8 joins come together is where the biggest and best pockets are typically found. Of course, the amount of mineralization can vary widely from joint to joint, and from joint set to joint set. Some joint set pockets are small or barren, while others are large and produce excellent crystals; sometimes the mineralization and crystallization along one or more of the joints leading into the joint set is better than at the corners; etc. So while nothing is set in stone (pardon the pun), this idealized geological formation is the best available predictor of where the pockets (and therefore the crystals) are hiding (barring the use of ground penetrating radar).
At 10:30 Dick showed up, and we set to work, clearing away rubble and debris, trying to better understand where the joints are, and where the joint sets lie. We found a number of good to very good specimens during the exploratory work, and so were encouraged to keep working. For the first time in memory, we worked at what I would call a reasonable pace, with almost no frantic frenzy. We took frequent water breaks, and enjoyed the refreshingly cool breezes that wafted through the tree tops and stirred the lower branches of the maples and pines in the forest. Dick and I have been collecting partners for about 15 years, and we are a very good match. We’re about the same age (within a couple of months), are both in pretty good shape (for our age – 64), and combine our talents well in the field. Dick is a trained geologist, and I am a self-taught mineralogist, and we put a lot of thought and effort into our mining ventures. If you hear Dick claim that he is both the brains and the brawn of the outfit, just ignore him. Part of the fun is that we both work hard and smart, and get a lot of rock moved. This means we almost always find good stuff, and always share whatever we find 50-50. We also have a great time together, telling jokes and bantering all day while driving to and from the site, and while digging. I couldn’t ask for a better digging partner.
For this dig we used a new-to-me type of rock wedge that Jon had shown me on Saturday. He calls these wedges “hersheys”, because they are roughly the size and shape of a Hershey bar. They are excellent tools for splitting pegmatite with hairline cracks, since they are only about 3/8” thick, 6” long, and they taper from about the mid point to a sharp chisel edge point. Jon lent me his set, and Dick and I put them to good use, splitting and cracking
By noon we had enough overburden cleaned off enough rock so that we could finally “read” where the major joinst were, 3 horizontal and two vertical. With this information we concentrated on finding the pockets in the two joint sets we thought we could get into. Dick worked on one, while I worked the other. Later, after lunch, we switched off, and wouldn’t you know it, Dick immediately opened a cantaloupe-sized pocket! This proved to be the best pocket of the day, producing several very good cabinet size plates of mostly smoky quartz crystals with a few microclines thrown in for good contrast. Feeder veins running along the joins leading into the pocket produced a steady flow of specimens, so we had a lot of fun moving rock and opening pockets. At the end of the day, Dick found a 3” wide horizontal crack, running along the back wall to the right of the big pocket. It would take too much work to get into it that day, so Dick suggested I explore it the next day, my last day of mining on this expedition.
We cleaned up and Jon returned in time to admire our new finds, showing keen interest in the treasures we had dug out of the ledge. You really can’t find a nicer, more generous mineral collector than Jon. He is always giving us advice on where and how to dig, taking us to the latest hot spots, teaching us about the geology and mineralogy of the area, and giving us a place to dig in Folsom Gulch, right in his back yard. He suggested we try a nearby seafood restaurant for supper, which we did, and ate and enjoyed an excellent dinner.
Date: Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Locality: Site #1, Folsom Gulch, Center Ossipee, NH
Mining Crew: Eric Greene
This was the last day of the Expedition, and I have to admit I was pretty well worn out. At age 64 I just don’t have much energy left on the final day of a 4 day dig. I was very grateful that I only had to walk about 100 yards to the site, with just one uphill stretch for about 20 yards. I spent most of the day prepping the site for my next visit here in a couple of weeks with Dick. This meant splitting and moving as much rock as possible, so I did hit about a dozen small pockets, which produced several nice plates of crystals. When I was done the site looked very promising for our next visit, so I achieved my goal. This day was not a stunning collecting day, but it definitely beat working in front of a computer all day!
Here are some photos of some of our best finds from the 2010 Expedition.