Sunday, May 4, 2008

Thomas Range Pt. 1: Agate Hill


What a way to kick off a new season. We spent yesterday in the Thomas Range and added some great new locations to our collection.

First, a note about the Thomas Range. It is only 20 miles long, but contains an amazing variety of mineral occurrences. As the mountains formed, mineral-rich gases were trapped in the cooling magma, and over time the minerals condensed and crystallized into fluorite, topaz, garnet, quartz, beryl, and many other things. This is a magical area to visit--it's easy to get to and fairly remote at the same time; you get to view amazing and bizarre scenery; and of course, the minerals are spectacular.

Our first destination was a little hill near the ghost town of Joy, that we heard was covered in agate. We made our way down toward Delta, turning from I-15 and traveling through Leamington before turning NW onto Brush Road and heading toward the Thomas Range. This road is always paved and well-maintained, thanks to Brush Wellman, a mining company that owns a beryllium mine at Spor Mountain nearby. The scenery is fairly bleak on the way--pretty flat and colorless, except for Fumarole Butte--a weird, black shield volcano. We passed by the turnoff to the hot springs there. Don't know that I'd want to get in that water, but it might be nice to visit some day.

Another 20 miles down the road we started to see mountains again. Remnants of dirt roads turned off to the left, and eventually we found the road to Agate Hill. It was newly-graded and straight--I guess there must be current activity around the Black Boy mine further south. A mile after turning off the road we came to a black lava outcropping and knew we were at the right place. We followed the trail to the left up the hill and the ground was littered with agate chips. I was expecting to find nodules, but didn't see any. It seemed like the gods had dropped tons and tons of loose chips on the ground. Here and there you could see where someone had dug and worked at a seam of jasper and agate. Maybe the entire hill is made of the stuff...

Most of the material appears to be brown, purple, or salmon, usually accompanying a layer of white or blue chalcedony. You could probably pick any random spot on the ground, sit down on it, and in five minutes fill a gallon bucket with nice-looking agate chips. We attempted breaking some material off the exposed rock, but this was much more difficult and yielded the same results. So all in all, we spent 30 minutes and gathered quite a bit.

We could have stayed longer, but the garnets were calling...

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