Christmas Pocket 2000, Blue Smoky Claim

The following story originally appeared on our old web pages. The photographs were taken during the same time except for a couple of them. These are early digital photographs so the quality is lacking. The bottom two photographs show the two best specimens to have been recovered. 

The summer of 2000 we were finally able to get some equipment onto our new Blue Smoky Claim. I had located the claim finally in December of 1998 after having prospected the surrounding area for several years. This side of the mountain was the opposite side of a very rich area near Crystal Peak; however, there were no claims here. I had never seen any crystallization to entice me to want to explore the area seriously. Hand digging with my two sons over the past several years had only yielded a few single scattered amazonite crystals and a few wormy looking smoky quartz crystals. This appeared nothing like the north side which had recently produced some world-class pockets

In the summer of 1998, we were prospecting down the hill a bit farther than we previously had. The area was thickly covered by mountain mahogany and grass. It was difficult to see any broken rock let alone any which might show a crystal face or color. Then, near a large pine, I thought I noticed an old shallow pit. Investigating showed it was an old, old dig which grass and brush had completely recovered. Only the mound of the dump and a few large rock fragments showed that someone had actually dug a prospect here. On examining the fragments, I was surprised to see some bright blue-green amazonite and some rather glassy looking smoky fragments. The material was heavily stained red, but it was clear it had potential. We worked it by hand for a few hours but failed to turn up any pockets. We found only a few single quartz points, but these were of good quality. Perhaps the long-ago prospector had found some decent crystals here. I wondered why he hadn’t continued work.

Scouring the surrounding hillside produced no other signs, and I figured this was the reason. One pocket was hardly worth the effort. Now, I was faced with a similar dilemma. If a pocket of good quality remained, it probably did so well below the surface. Only sporadic surface sign showed within the surrounding acre, and none of it was amazonite. In order to adequately assess the potential, I’d need to stake the area, get a backhoe out here, and dig down about 10 feet. I was reluctant because this would mean a good deal of work surveying and putting in claim stakes, not to mention putting out some scarce dollars. One pocket might not be worth the effort.

We went ahead with the work. We hadn’t found much elsewhere recently, and maybe, just maybe, this would prove better than it looked. The claim ended up overlapping one of my friend’s claims to the west, but otherwise, it covered open ground which the records showed had never been filed on. This was surprising considering how heavily the Crystal Peak district has been prospected and how many active claims covered the nearby areas.

It wasn’t until December of 1998 I had all the paperwork and filing done. By June of 2000, the Forest Service had approved our operations plan, and we were finally cleared to prospect using machinery. Again, funds did not allow us to do much work during the summer. So, discussing it with my two sons, we decided on three of the most likely areas which we had been prospecting. The first we called the Timber Prospect because we had discovered another old dig with light-colored amazonite fragments in a heavily wooded area. The second was called the Gravel Prospect. The nature of the ground here appeared to be granite gravel; however, we were willing to prospect this since several small fragments of bright blue amazonite had been turned up. The third prospect we called the Mahogany Prospect. This was the area where the old prospect had been located in the midst of all the mountain mahogany.

Lower section of Blue Smoky Claim. It was impossible to find any float due to lack of outcrops and old digs.

This is a photo looking across the Blue Smoky Claim.

Mahogany Prospect

It was mid-June 2000 when we began work with the backhoe. Our efforts were almost immediately rewarded. Within four buckets we hit some small cavities which contained large, well-colored amazonites. We continued the excavation to the east and exposed several small pegmatite seams for a distance of about 25 feet. Now digging by hand, we carefully cleaned out the cavities and followed the pegmatite seams. This was a rich prospect. Seams opened everywhere we dug! Even when one petered out, a few swings with the pick would reveal another. Many contained amazonite and smoky quartz, and we spent several days collecting.

Unfortunately, only the first two cavities had produced crystals of any size, and they were all single amazonites. The seams, though opening sometimes for several feet at a time, only opened at most an inch or two. As a result, all crystallization was small. So far, the largest smokies from the seams were less than an inch in length. But the indications of a big pocket were present. I kept reminding myself the size of the surface fragments in the old prospect indicated something big, at least at one time, had existed here.

Below are photos of our initial digs at the Mountain Mahogany Prospect. Most of what you see are common microcline crystals. We did hit a few isolated amazonite and were trying to determine from where.


Thanksgiving 2000

I had planned not to get back to the Mahogany Prospect until the summer of 2001. My son Scott had other ideas, however. Coming home from college during Thanksgiving break he wanted to try to go mining again. Both he and Tim are avid and skilled collectors and always anxious to dig so I wasn’t surprised. I thought about it. It had snowed only a couple of times, and most of the snow had melted. I called George. He agreed it’d be fun to try, so Thanksgiving weekend saw us once more off to the Mahogany Prospect. The weather was cold, but the sky was bright blue. What could be better than digging crystals, anyway? Especially after three months of school!

We dug deeper below the main structure where the large amazonites had been found. Eventually, we opened up two small cavities. Both contained large amazonite singles and a few small groups. Tim began working on one while Scott began working on the second. Meanwhile, I worked the backhoe to the east where George again uncovered several new pegmatite seams. The seams now began to open into large cavities. Some of these were actually large enough to stick your head and shoulders into! Scott and Tim had finished their small amazonite pockets and now tackled these newly exposed cavities. Excitement was keen until they discovered the material completely lacked color. Nevertheless, these cavities produced some large quantities of faint green amazonite and pure white microcline with nice smoky quartz crystals. We filled over two dozen flats with these specimens.

Discouraged, because we had not found good amazonite, I began working under a fir tree on the west edge with the backhoe. Here the pegmatite seemed larger, but concerned it wasn’t opening up, I stopped. I didn’t want to take out the tree unless it was necessary. Scott had been checking the pegmatite structure as well and neither of us had seen any indications of crystal faces or a cavity. It was now growing dark and we decided to spend the rest of the time excavating the cavities we had opened. It was just as well. The material we had already mined would keep us busy cleaning the remainder of the winter. We were pleased our year had been so good on the Blue Smoky. 

The Christmas Pocket

When Scott returned for Christmas break we were examining some of the specimens we had recovered earlier. Suddenly we three found ourselves looking at each other and nearly unanimously asking, “Do you suppose we can get the backhoe in again?” It had only snowed a bit since Thanksgiving. Soon I was on the phone. Again, George thought it was worth a try.

As luck would have it, it began snowing after I hung up. Nevertheless, I called George the morning of December 16. He replied he thought he could get in. “Heck, if you’re willing to wait on me, I’ll plow the road for you!” I reminded myself again how lucky I was to have George as my backhoe operator. He too enjoyed mining and I know he felt the same as we all did when we were following the sign.

We arrived at the Mahogany Prospect, sky blue, weather, crisp and cold. I decided the pegmatite under the fir tree where we had left off looked more promising than the rest of the excavation, and I had George take a scoop into the pegmatite. Then he took a second. The second scoop peeled back large chunks of pegmatite. I didn’t want to overreact, but I could swear, I saw an open cavity behind those chunks. I stopped the backhoe and pulled loose the chunks. They peeled away, revealing a substantial cavity. With excitement and hope, I began searching for crystal pieces. Frequently, pegmatites have a habit of fracturing and collapsing which leaves a false cavity devoid of crystallization. And often if they did have crystals, they didn’t have good color. I’d been skunked before. We had gone a long time without a good pocket, and I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. I pulled a large chunk out, turned it over, and found staring back at me a large crystal group. The broken edge was unmistakably green!

I turned to my two sons and to George who was peering from the backhoe cab. “We’ve got one!”

POSTSCRIPT: We collected the Christmas Pocket over several days. Late the final day, with temperatures in the low teens, we packed the car to leave, and it wouldn’t start. The starter had gone out. We hiked out with our new pup, Smoky, leading the way in pitch dark except for light from the snow. It was about a three mile hike to George Quist’s home. He let us use the phone and took us on in to Lake George where Susan came out from Colorado Springs and rescued us. Talk about cold. It dropped to zero before she arrived. Below are scenes of the Christmas Pocket while we collected it. 

Cleaning the Christmas Pocket

The true enjoyment was in finding the pocket. Work began when we got the material home. We laid the pieces out on three tables in the order they were recovered. This proved to be important in reconstructing a few specimens.

We were surprised to find some specimens had fluorites and a few had zinnwaldite mica. The quality appeared good, but only after the first cleaning could we really be certain of the color. The amazonite turned out to be a beautiful blue-green, certainly one of the best colors recovered. The smokies were not lustrous, as is typical of Lake George, but they did have excellent shape and they were jet black. Already, we could see the combinations would be striking.

Realizing how rare a good pocket is, we had been careful to remove all the chips and the smallest of crystals. If possible, we’d be able to repair some of the larger plates. In fact, the largest piece (shown above as the museum cluster) had a small cleavage off the largest amazonite. Otherwise, it was intact and displayed four minerals in combination: smoky quartz, zinnwaldite mica, cleavelandite, and amazonite. If we could find the missing chip, we’d clearly have a great specimen. Unfortunately, the missing piece was small, about 3/4 inch in width and about 1/4 inch thick. Most likely we had missed it at the pocket.

We spent days searching for the cleavage fragment, but without luck. I checked and rechecked every amazonite shard and finally decided to give it up. I started to examine fluorites to determine if any of them fit other specimens. (Fluorites rarely detached from amazonites, but if they had detached from the smoky quartz, we had discovered they left a distinct outline from where they had detached.) That’s when I noticed the fluorite cluster on the amazonite chip. This was the missing chip, and on it was crystallized a cluster of light purple fluorites! The museum piece was now a five species combination plate!

We finally completed cleaning and preparation work on most of the pocket by September 2001. As a result, we were able to offer some of the pieces at the Denver show.

Above are two photos showing the layout of the Christmas Pocket while we were trying to find missing fits. This is when diligince paid off and we found a chip of amazonite with a fluorite cluster that went to the largest group.

Below are a series of photographs of some of the finalized pieces from the Christmas Pocket. 

POSTSCRIPT:  The Christmas Pocket was one of our first fine-quality pockets. What made it incredible was the color of the fluorite, which was a deep purple. We have since found several pockets with fluorite attached to either smoky quartz or amazonite, but so far very few have had the deep purple color the Christmas Pocket had.

This pocket encouraged us to permit the Smoky Hawk Claim, which was on the other side of the mountain. 

Photo above is the museum piece from the Christmas Pocket. It has five species: amazonite, smoky quartz, cleavelandite, fluorite, and zinnwaldite mica. Very rarely is a zinnwaldite euhedral, meaning formed within the pocket. 

To the right is a rare specimen with fluorite on smoky quartz with amazonite. Both these pieces are historic pieces in our private collection.

(Both photos were taken by Joe Budd)