Saturday, November 3, 2007

Eureka Agate and Vernon Wonderstone

I had a friend who was marginally interested in rocks, so I decided to try convincing him to take up rockhounding. I had to design a trip that would reel him in and hook him, so I decided on this one. We drove down toward Eureka and enjoyed the scenery, then turned off the road a mile before the road turns south into town. You drive for about half a mile and then park and hike up a hill to an agate quarry. I had never been to this spot before, so it was a gamble. hiking to the spot, we could see red jasper pebbles on the ground, so that was a good sign. We eventually came to a road curving around the hill, and between the hill and the road was a gully. We could see that many cuts in the hill had been made, so we hopped down to investigate one. I didn't see much agate, but there was a lot of really neat dendritic jasper. The jasper is yellow, and it develops cracks in it where the metals deposit in fernlike patterns. I have seen cabs of it, and can't imagine how they do it, because the dendrites are only found in thin layers. Really cool stuff that could be made into something nice.

We picked up a few pieces of brown looking agate. We wanted to look at some of the other cuts in the hill, but we wanted enough time to get to Vernon, and some guys were having a little shooting practice around the other side of the hill, so we started heading back. We kept our heads down to minimize the risk of being seen and mistaken for deer, and that gave me an excuse to pick up a few jasper pebbles.

When we got back to the car I noticed that the power locks weren't working. That was a little puzzling, until I put my key in the ignition and realized I the car wouldn't start either -- I had left the headlights on, we were a mile off the road in a rural area. I didn't want to hunt down the guys with guns either. Ironically, after the five seconds it took me to realize all these things a pickup truck came barreling down the road past us. I immediately jumped out and waved them down. They happened to be some more rockhounds, so they gave us a jump and we gave them some directions. It turned out to be a good thing, if not a little miraculous.

I was slightly disappointed by our first site, and I could tell my friend Jeremie wasn't hooked yet, so we drove in to Eureka and turned north toward Vernon. I had underestimated how long we would have to drive and was starting to think I had made a wrong turn, when we saw the train tracks and knew we were okay.

Just before you get to Vernon, you will see some train tracks. Just after crossing them you turn north onto a dirt road and follow the tracks for a mile or two. Eventually the road turns away from the tracks and dead ends in a little quarry. That is where you find the wonderstone.

I could tell this would be much better when I saw the red tailings of specimens and could make out the bands from a considerable distance away. We parked the car and ran excitdly into the pit. Wonderstone lay a foot thick like gravel on the ground. The colors varied from brown and orange to yellow, and there were veins of bright red and pink stone. Jeremie started picking rocks off the ground. For some reason I went to the edge of the quarry and started hacking away at the walls. Guess I needed to get some aggression out.

You really need to try this spot out. It's about the easiest collecting area you can think of, and the material is spectacular. You can find wonderstone in other areas. The stuff in Salina has grey bands in it. This stuff is very dramatic -- my favorite was cream white with thin, intricate bands of bright red through it. I couldn't wait to get home and polish some of it.

We had gathered more wonderstone than we could carry home (or store at home), and the stinkbugs were staging a revolt, so we decided to head out. Thinning out our haul was a little painful, but the stinkbugs helped motivate us, and we headed back home. Overall, the trip was a success. I could tell when Jeremie asked me when I was heading back for another trip. I knew he was hooked.

The wonderstone was soft, but still polished up nice. One thing I hadn't realized was the cracks. It seems many specimens had little cracks in them that didn't polish out. Oh well.

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