I`m going to dedicate this story to our good rockhound friend Abbigail Evans of Nashville…bless her heart, she really wanted to go back to this mine with us, she was sick the last time we went in November but persevered through it so that we could def go back then, we had some folks bail out on us after setting it all up and it jeopardized the opportunity to actually go there. This time around, she was recovering from a serious back injury and made the prudent decision not to go with us, due to the very rough road in there and out in the safari type truck. We hope to see her soon and wish her a very speedy recovery !! Chin up girl…you were definitely there in our thoughts both days !!
A few weeks ago, I was sitting here at my computer talking to a few rockhound friends by email, enjoying my early retirement from nearly 16 years of fire and police dispatch work in St Louis County. There were several reasons I retired early, and while I do miss some of my co-workers, many firefighters, police officers, and Command Staff/Chiefs, as well as some of the work, there were also alot of things and people there that created a great deal of stress, those things and folks I do not miss at all… and as it turns out, that stress may have been the cause of a serious eye infection that I suffered through from the 6th of February to the 2nd of March.
During those three weeks I was down with the infection and secondary infection of my right eye, I didn`t enjoy much of anything…I pushed through it and got things done with limited vision, albeit at a slower pace much of the time and had to wear extra dark sunglasses when outside or in my sunroom due to sensitivity to bright light, similar to having your eyes dilated and then multiply that sensitivity to brighter light by about 50 and you will have a good idea what I was going through. It nearly cost me a short trip to southern Arkansas as well.
During the first few days of February, one of my rockhound friends Mary Gratsch, of Cincy, Ohio, emailed to ask if I thought anyone would be interested in returning to the Blue Phantom Mine near Mt Ida…I told her there was no doubt in my mind that most if not all of the group, would love to return there, but it would be a matter of timing as to how many could go. She was suggesting we go during February and I told her that it would likely be physically impossible for many of the group to travel down there in February as that was normally the coldest month as well as the snowiest month, especially for Missouri and states farther north and east. I told her I would send an email out to everyone tho, and see who might be interested. Normally, as in years past with the exception of last year, we are digging at a fluorite mine in western Kentucky by the end of March, however we have not received word as to whether we will get the green light to proceed this year.
I sent the email out the next day and about fifteen rockhound friends answered and were interested in returning to the Blue Phantom Mine early March. Everyone let me know when they were free and we narrowed the time frame down to two days in a row at the mine, with the owner`s approval, for March 5th and 6th. Initially we had 15 interested and once we all arrived down there, we had exactly ten of us committed to go both days, however we had to scramble and replace four on Tuesday…the requirement to go to this mine is a group of at least ten people…we were all staying at the Royal Oak Inn, which is under new management, and our Hotel Manager there, Adam, was able to find some replacements for us for Tuesday. Most of us traveled down there on Saturday and Sunday…I opted to leave Onyx with Mom this trip, since he didn`t like the road going to and from the mine and he probably didn`t appreciate the ride in and out of there itself, either. I left the house about 4:30 Sunday morning, March 4th, and took Hwy 63 down this time….traveled thru Mammoth Spring at the State Line about 7 am, and stopped briefly to photograph and video the fog rising up off the waters at the spring….
….this route actually shaves an hour to ninety minutes off my trip due to the passing lanes on 63 and then I pick up four lane Hwy 67 at Hoxie, Arkansas…ninety minute drive down to Little Rock, sashay around LR on 440 and that blends into I-30 South about a thirty min drive and pick up Hwy 70 west to Hot Springs. Arkansas DOT started converting 70 to a four lane highway last year and are nearly completed on it, just waiting on two bridges completion and then stripe it..I was really surprised they did not have it completed yet, but I have to keep in mind when it comes to contractors that build and re-build highways, it`s really hard to find good help these days.
John started texting me about an hour north of Little Rock…he and Mary were just leaving LR after spending the night there and headed south to Mt Ida, and it was raining down there he said….told him I could see dark clouds ahead and it was pretty wet in the fields on both sides of the highway where I was at. There were also some pretty sunbeams showing up to the east of me….
I crossed the large and wide White River soon after and thought to myself it looked more like the brown and muddy river instead. It was out of its banks and fields north and south of it for a few miles were under water at least a foot deep. I drove thru some short spotty showers about 30 minutes later and that lasted all the way to Hot Springs and then it cleared off to just cloudy skies. Every creek between Hot Springs and Mt Ida was up and rolling pretty good and I saw several waterfalls, the pretty one across from the old Monte Cristo Gas Station and Rock Shop was up about a foot and looked really nice. I heard from Fred and Mark just west of Hot Springs, Mark was waiting for me at the Subway on the west side of Mt Ida and Fred was about ten minutes from the Subway. I stopped off briefly at Burl`s Country Smokehouse to get a couple of sandwiches for my lunch the next couple of days and some pork jerky as well. Love that place !!
When I pulled into the Subway at Mt Ida, I found Mark and Fred finishing up their lunch and we loaded up and headed over to the quarry to meet up with John and Mary…they were already there and looking for wavellite, but finding alot of planerite so far. I texted Justin to see where he was…still at home in Hot Springs, but said he would be on his way soon and see us there as well. We arrived at the quarry soon after and there was John, in his blue rainsuit and floppy hat too, over by the quarry pond….
…he and Mary had been looking around and found some stuff before we arrived…Mark found some nice stuff and was quite happy about it too….
….Mary was doing well looking thru the piles of rock….
…we also walked over to the other side of the pond to an area we had found some thin veins of wavellite or planerite, last fall when there….
….this time Fred walked over and started finding some big stuff right away…
…while poking around and digging near Fred, we also found some gray colored orbs, some clusters of them, and John identified them as Crandallite, psuedomorphs of wavellite balls sort of…meaning they started out to be balls of wavellite but didnt make it to that stage, is how I interpreted John`s explanation of it…
John also found a vein of quartz with either planerite or wavellite in it, a bright turquoise color in seams…sure was pretty stuff and even prettier when wet….
…naturally, we all liked it so we all took home lots of it as well…by this time, I think we all had at least a bucket full of pretty stuff…we kept digging into the thin vein of it and it was going right into the pond, we pulled several pieces out of the water that were quite nice too….
here is one of the nicer wavellite pieces I found, in and around a pretty quartz vug as well….
…we were waiting on Justin to get there so he could take us to a special spot where it could be found in mass…he showed up shortly and we followed him to the spot, where we all agreed, there was some very nice stuff to be found there…here are a few that Mark found…..
….we had been there a couple of hours by then and relatively cloudy skies and dry, but from the looks of the horizon, that was going to change soon…the dark skies were northwest of us and I figured moving northeast or easterly, however it turned out they were moving counterclockwise, so they were moving southeast and headed right for us. I think we missed the brunt of it tho, as we only suffered under a short steady sprinkle for the most part…or at least, that is all I remember of it, we were finding so much good stuff at that time, I prob just blocked the rain out of mind…
…the view above is to the northwest, and the view below is northeasterly toward the entrance of the quarry where that valley on the left side would be straight north….
By the time 6 pm rolled around, we were all quite happy with our finds and getting hungry, John and Mary headed for town to get something to eat, and the rest of us drove over to visit Mr. Manley at his Rock Shop and see if he still had some of the smokey quartz crystals from Shane and Tony`s new mine near Jessieville…he had told us about them back in November when we were down there, and he invited us to come by and take a look. John stopped by there on the way in earlier in the day and told him we might be by that evening and he told John he would be around there all day.
Sure enough, we found him there with some other folks who were buying some stuff from him, so he naturally invited us on inside and showed us the smokeys that he had on hand…some beautiful stuff, let me tell ya, he had clusters, single points, small clusters, some double terminated crystals, big points, small points, and he had flats for sale as well as singles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he also had some drusey quartz crystals there, too, likely from some dealers that had picked some up in Missouri near me….gorgeous stuff for sure. We told him we would be back the next evening and then we all headed to the motel to get checked in before finding some place to eat supper. John texted to say that the Mexican Restaurant was closed, so he and Mary had wandered next door to the PIzza Shack…I told him we would prob go to the Dairyette, near the motel…Justin drove over there to wait for us. After getting checked in at the motel, Mark, Fred, and I joined Justin at the Dairyette and found out they still make great sandwiches there. We were all tired and wore out, but if today was any sign of what was to come, we were all looking forward to the two days ahead.
We met at the Mt Ida Cafe the next morning at 7 am for a great breakfast….that cafe reminded me of my teenage years heading to deer camp and stopping off at the Lazy L Cafe in Houston, Missouri, great down home atmosphere and good cooking…. before driving down to Wegners to sign in for our trip to the Blue Phantom Mine. Just like last fall, we saw alot of deer grazing in the pastures as we drove down Owley Creek Road, always a good sign in my book. As we were getting our gear, tools, buckets, wraps, and lunch/water to take with us to the mine, our driver pulled up alongside our vehicles so we didn`t have to carry everything so far. We gave Mary our waiver forms and money so she could go inside the crystal shop and take care of the paperwork for us. Her husband Pete and her sister Judy made the trip down this time with her and they loaded her stuff up while she was inside.
It turns out that I knew our driver, Mike…his Mom used to have cabins for rent down on DeGray Lake years ago, and my dog then, Missy, and I stayed at one of her cabins for a family reunion at the State Park nearby. I met Mike there back then, he was collecting quartz and selling it on Ebay at the time, even purchased some from him back then and he even gave me some just to get them out of his way for newer stuff. He was the driver last fall first week of November, the week before we arrived, for the MAGS Club, and they were telling me they really liked him as their driver. The gals rode up in the cab with Mike and us guys rode in the back, we had plenty of room, removing the middle bench seat with Mr. Wegners approval. Today it was Mary, Pete, and Judy from Ohio, John and Mary from NW Illinois, Fred from Tyler, Texas, Mark from near Dallas, Texas, Justin from Hot Springs, Phil from Central Kentucky, and me from Central Missouri. I had my camera with me, but left it in my backpack, so Mark shot a few with his phone of the trip in the truck…I think he took these on the way back tho…
It took us about 35 to 40 minutes to get to the mine…Mike took it easier on us this trip across one of the roughest Forest Service Roads I have ever been on…I swear, I think the FS roads in Colorado are generally smoother than the Arkansas FS roads are…this time we were riding in the biggest truck they had, so we would have optimum room for rocks and tools and riding room too. Our worst concerns were confirmed while we were loading up tho, when Mr. Wegner told us that the pit was full of water, after they received 18 inches of rain the week before, so we knew there would be no way we could get down into the pockets we were anticipating. We would pretty much be confined to the large tailing pile and the smaller one, however they believed all the rain had washed off the crystals in the tailings and should be easier to find stuff. We were looking forward to it no matter what. We also took our rain jackets as the skies were cloudy and we didn`t know if we were gonna have showers yet or not, even tho the weatherman down there said the skies would clear by noon. As it turns out, he was correct, the blue skies returned and it actually warmed up to 70 degrees that afternoon. Everyone headed out in different directions on arrival, I grabbed my first bucket and headed down the old tailing piles by the entrance road in……
…..and found several nice small clusters all over the place…everyone else headed to the large pile on the other side of the truck and spread out….
…that is Mike our driver on the left above and John on the right….and Mark showing off one of his finds below….
…and below is the pit from my vantage point up on the old tailings pile…the wall directly across is the one that that huge cluster of crystals was attached to, near the top, last fall…the cluster that I could not reach…the water was probably six to ten feet deep there….and deeper still down to the right at the end of the pit…
By the time I reached the end of the pile along the entrance road and turned back to walk along the top of the pile, I had filled my bucket, so I decided to take a break, and wrap up the crystals I had, eat half my sandwich, and then hunt some more. Just as I finished, Fred came over and decided to walk the old tailings that I had not covered yet, and I walked down below on the pit side..in the first thirty feet he started finding small clusters just like I had before, and then spotted a nice larger crystal cluster. I had found a lot of golden healer crystals and clusters in the old tailings pile, even several in hot spot areas where I was finding three or four after I began raking down the sides of the piles a bit. We came to an area of large boulders and Fred spotted a few plates on some and climbed down to remove them from the boulders….
…you can see the back wall of the pit down below Fred…last fall we were able to walk up to that back wall, it was prob thirty feet up from the floor of the pit…very deep down there…btw, Fred found some nice plates while down there….
…in the next photo you see the far side of the pit where that ramp comes down to the floor of the pit…that is where the blue phantom quartz vein is believed to have started and it runs along that far wall down to the end of the pit…they started digging into the grayish brown colored bench above the wall and found crystals, so they drilled holes down that left side and are prepared to blast that out eventually, they tried to dig into it but found the jacks fork sandstone to be incredibly tough on the bucket teeth. Right now there is no time frame as to when they will blast that open…..
…and here is a golden healer crystal cluster that I found with some blue color at the base, partially buried in the dirt…
Mark came down and photographed me in my bib overalls looking along the top of the original piles….
which I really appreciate and my Mom does too, so thanks again Mark…..and by the way, that is an A for Arkansas Razorbacks red hat I have on, not the Angels…lets just get that straightened out right now, lol….and here is one of my buckets full of crystal clusters….
John found a huge boulder, one that he actually left there by accident last fall when we were there, and he re-discovered it still sitting where he left it…this time it went home with him…I didnt get a good photo of it, he sat it down half in sun and half in shade, so I shot it half and half to compensate….bottom half first…
..and the top half below…
…and a couple of large clusters John found in addition….
… above is the top view of John`s medium sized cluster and next two photos of one that Fred found as well….
Mike rounded us all up when it was time to load up the truck, and believe me, that took a while cause John, Phil, Fred, and Mark had a few medium to large clusters between them….they loaded the truck down with between a thousand and two thousand pounds of crystals…Mr. Wegner came out and was quite impressed with the amount we came back with as well…so much so, that he asked to take a group photo of us so he could advertise for his mine. We were too tired to care, and after loading up our vehicles with our crystals and tools, we headed back to Mt Ida and the first stop was the Mexican Restaurant for supper. I had never been there, and when we first walked inside the door, the beautiful and vivid colors of the dining room just jumped out at ya….I was amazed at the color of the booths, tables, and chairs…the booths and chairs had murals painted on them…I have been in a few Mexican Restaurants before, but never one this colorful and beautiful !!
…Fred took the last two photos for me and a friend sent me the first one…btw, the food there was good too and by the time we headed out the door, the place was half full with local folks…several of us drove up to Mr. Manley`s Crystal Shop west of town to see the smokey quartz again, John and Mary along this time as well as Mary, Judy, and Pete, as they missed out on our stop there the evening before. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised at the quality of crystals that he had from Shane`s mine, as well as the material he had from other places as well. He is also a pleasant guy to talk to and can give you the low down on any mine up there, as quartz mining is what his family has been all about for many years. His youngest son Justin was there as well, and we were able to meet and talk to him for a little while as well.
By the time it became full on dark, we all headed back down the hill to town and on to the motel…many to re-arrange their vehicles in anticipation of collecting more crystals the next day, Fred and Mark were leaving on Tuesday, Mark early morning headed home and Fred after breakfast with us. I had re-packed my truck at Wegners when we returned from the mine so I was good to go. Justin wasn`t going to be able to go with us the next morning either, so John talked to Adam, and Adam had four motel guests signed up to go with us the next morning…two had been there a couple of days already…Mark and Wendy…they had been to a couple of mines and were looking for another adventure before they headed home to Milford, Pennsylvania. We met them the next morning at Wegners, after another good breakfast at Mt Ida Cafe and bid Fred a safe trip home. The other two from the motel apparently called Wegners that morning and cancelled, and Phil told Mary that he wasn`t going with us that day either…despite being two short and the fact that they waited til that morning to cancel on us, Mr. Wegner allowed us to go to the mine so we loaded up the truck and headed that way. Mike selected a truck with more bed space this time, anticipating that we might just need more space and this one had four wheel drive just in case we needed it after loading it down. We had a good talk with Mark on the way over, found out that he is a hard rock miner like us, so we knew he and Wendy would fit right in well with us, and they did…they were pleasant to visit with and dig with too.
This time when we arrived, Mike drove us down to the end of the road and parked by the machines, as he intended to start up the Case Trackhoe and stir up the small pile first and then walk it up to the big pile and stir it up too. I had asked his permission the day before, to walk down to the ledge above the pit, at the bottom of the original tailing piles, to remove some plates from a couple of boulders down there, and he said it would be okay, just be careful. First thing I wanted to do tho, was check out the huge tailing pile, especially an area about fifty feet in that Fred told me about, was the first area that he actually found some color in the crystals. I grabbed my buckets and backpack and made a beeline for that area, followed by a couple of the gals who wanted to work that pile once again too. Fred was right, I started walking around that area and was finding small cluster and single points that were either golden healer deep yellow/orange, or had the blue color in them, and a few of the clusters had both colors. I stayed up there for about 90 minutes and filled one bucket completely full and found a couple of medium sized clusters. I called Mark over to one boulder, thinking he might want the nice plate on it…to my surprise, he chipped three plates off and handed me one to take home with me…very nice of him and I thanked him for that….it even had a little color on it….
I decided to take a short lunch break and eat my other ham sandwich from Burl`s and photographed a few of the clusters and plates I found in the big pile too…
On this second trip to the mine, I didn`t shoot many photos, which saved me more time to rockhunt this time around. After my short lunch break, I grabbed my other bucket, hammer, and chisel, and walked down to the ledge below the original tailings and found that boulder I had seen the nice crystals on. I was able to chip off a small plate, but the big plate on there, didn`t want to cooperate, so it is still there, maybe the group that is going there tomorrow can take it off..here is the small plate all cleaned up that I removed….
I was down there on that ledge the rest of the afternoon, going from boulder to boulder and finding a small cluster here and there. I was down at the very end of the tailing piles when Mike came over to check on me, he was also looking for a good single point crystal for Judy, Mary`s sister, as she had not found one yet…he thought he might be able to find one down in the area I was at, so he started looking around there with me while we were talking and catching up on old times. I found this small plate down there a few minutes before he walked down to me…
…and I showed him a huge boulder that I found sitting at the foot of the tailings that I thought John would prob like to take home…so when I got back to the truck, I took John back down there to show it to him…
…he seemed to like it…I told him we could carry it up to the road above us and Mike would stop and pick it up to put on the truck on the way out if he wanted to take it home…so he pulled it up to size it up and the next thing I knew, he had hoisted it up on his shoulder and up the hill to the road we went…he sat it down in the dappled sunlight roadside and I photographed him with it…
We got back to the truck and John took off down the road to get his stuff gathered up to load on to the truck…the first two people walking up the road with their stuff, was Mark…
…and his wife Wendy right behind him….
…we started loading up the truck as Mike walked back down the road to make sure we didn`t leave anyone behind or any tools or crates….
…and we finished loading everything and everyone up, by the time Mike came walking back up the road…. emptyhanded of course….
…he stopped around the bend to pick up the boulder that John was gonna take home and then the next stop was the ranch and crystal shop. Back at the parking area, we all packed our vehicles with our finds and then most of the crew headed to the Mexican Restaurant again…John, Mary, and I were the last ones to head out, I was headed north to Waldron to have supper with family, spending the night at a hotel there, then headed home the next morning. Everyone else were spending one more night in Mt Ida before heading home on Wednesday as well. I am still cleaning up some of my crystals and hope to get some of my wavellite in the iron out this weekend when our temps climb to around seventy degrees. I will post more photos of my in the next day or two, here are a few….
For a short trip down and back, it sure was filled up well with some great crystal collecting, was great seeing everyone again too. 🙂