Sunday, October 27, 2013

Topaz Mountain Field Trip

Even though we had mostly finished our study of rocks and minerals, I wanted to squeeze in one more field trip before the weather got too cold or wet, and Topaz Mountain sounded like it would be really fun. But it was pretty far away, and it didn't sound like it would be as easy as our other field trips for just picking things up off the ground! You actually have to hunt for the topaz, and to know what you are looking for. So we waited for a day Sam could come with us!

We found directions to Topaz Mountain on the Utah Geological Survey site, but I liked these directions even better because they have little pictures to show you what the signs look like at each turn! Very helpful. That guy's site also has suggestions of what to bring and where to look for the topaz crystals.
We set off early in the morning. The sunrise was beautiful! We prepared the kids for the expedition by telling them how topaz was quite rare and we probably wouldn't find any---and if we did find some it would be VERY very lucky and surprising---but we were going to have fun even if we didn't find any! Low expectations are the secret to successful outings, I've found. :) And it was true, I didn't know if we'd be able to recognize the rhyolite that the topaz was in---or to break open any to find the crystals! Our Utah topaz is a lovely pink or brown color in its natural state, but after being exposed to sunlight for even a short time it becomes clear and colorless. I thought even the clear crystals would be pretty and was hoping we'd at least find some of those, but we had a picnic packed and we do love a long car ride, so it was going to be a fun day regardless.
There's a great site for collecting obsidian (the smooth rounded kind called "apache tears") only about seven miles away from Topaz Mountain, so we stopped there first. (I'll write about that in another post.) Then we slowly drove out the dirt road up to Topaz Mountain. It was pretty flat for the most part, but rocky, so we had to take it slow in our minivan! It was doable, though.

We weren't quite sure, in spite of our good directions, where to start looking at first. We hiked up a hill nearby and just started looking for veins in the rock that looked like crumbling mortar. Once we got started it was pretty easy to see what to look for. The topaz is embedded in this light-grey rhyolite:
And you can see the sort of porous parts that run through it. That's where you're most likely to find the crystals, I think.

It was pretty hard work chipping away at the rock, so mostly the older boys did it, but Daisy enjoyed having a hammer and chisel to bang some rocks with too.
Junie found a Juniper tree
It was a really windy day---not very cold, but so sandy that we kept our rock goggles on most of the time. I mostly stayed by the car with Marigold and Junie, and we could see a storm was coming, so we didn't want to get stuck out there with only muddy roads to get back on. It was really fun searching for the crystals, though---like a treasure hunt. Next time we will bring heavier-duty sledgehammers to break rock with, and we only had one chisel between us. But we had quite a bit of success just hunting for loose clear crystals among broken rock at the bottoms of the hills. It got way easier every time the sun came out, because you could see the crystals glinting in the sun. The rhyolite often had teeny-tiny crystals (too small to separate out) embedded all through parts of it, and it was very pretty in the sunlight.

We were glad we had brought little containers to put our crystals in, because they are easy to drop and, in the dust, very hard to find again! A container with a screw-on lid is very useful.

Finally it was time to go, so we reluctantly packed up and headed out, with the stormy wind getting stronger and stronger as we drove! We saw lots of tumbleweeds.
We stopped to eat our picnic in one of those tiny towns we'd passed on the way. The trees were whipping in the wind!
Seb played with this piece of styrofoam that was blowing around
Brrr! We were glad we'd left for Topaz Mountain early enough to get our collecting done!

When we got home and could clean and really examine our crystals, it was so exciting! They were so beautiful! We had found some of the pink ones and we liked those best of all, but the clear ones were great too. I read that topaz are often used for fake "diamond" jewelry because they are so clear and sparkly.
Some of our very favorites were these that Abe and Sam found when they split open this rock. They are too delicate to remove from the rhyolite matrix, but I like them just as they are. You can see the perfect hexagonal crystal shape of the one on the far left. Gorgeous!
We definitely would like to go back to this site on a warmer and sunnier day, with more chisels, when there's no approaching storm and we can really take our time hunting and sorting through all the rocks. We are already planning it for next Spring! But we felt so lucky to have found some topaz (even some pink topaz!) and to have had such an adventurous day. We love where we live!

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