My apologies to all of those who have been watching for my story on my latest trip to Southern Illinois to dig blue fluorite a couple of weeks ago…between catching up and my schedule at work increasing in the past few months, its been tough to find some free time to work on my story…and getting the photos edited up is half the battle as well, but here goes….
I had taken off the entire second week of November for my annual fall vacation to Arkansas for the elusive quartz crystals, and had been talking to a landowner in Southern Illinois by email all summer, who has an old fluorite mine on his property. The trip to Arkansas was a success and by the time I returned from there, I had about a week to prepare for the trip to Southern Illinois, but luckily with the help of good friends who were going to join me there, it all came together quite nicely.
Joining me on this trip were Chuck Reed, David and Janyce Sorrells, John Oostenryk, Pete Stoeckel, and Virgil Richards. Pete had the longest drive in, 14 hours from Philadelphia, Virgil a close second with an 8 hour drive from Tulsa, and John in third with a 7 hour drive from Fulton, Illinois…talk about dedication and a love for fluorite !!
When I began looking at lodging in the area back in October, Chuck and I were able to book the last two log cabins close by, just down the road from Garden of the Gods. Unfortunately there was no pet friendly lodging in that entire area, so I left Onyx with my Mom this trip. It worked out for Chuck to bring his entire family with him, while I was able to offer John Oos and Pete a place to stay as well, since they are two bedroom cabins with a sofa bed couch as well. I also researched a few places to eat at nearby…nearby meaning at least 15 to 20 miles away where the closest towns were located from where we would be, deep in the sticks. Luckily there was a gas station closeby that had a little convenience store and warm food and sandwiches served daily, where we could meet each morning for breakfast. Chuck arrived on Friday afternoon, Nov 25th, about 30 minutes before I did…I was taking the scenic route getting there, going through some of the old coal mining areas on my route, while he skirted around Harrisburg to get there. Soon after pulling up in front of my cabin, Pete called me to let me know he was nearby and would arrive soon…little did I know that he was up on top of the nearby hill at Garden of the Gods, til we all drove up there to catch the last rays of the setting sun and found him at the entrance gate. We got up there with a cloudy sky and just enough light to allow me to shoot a few photos at 400 speed ISO….
Trust me, the images look like I shot them mid afternoon, but thats what good editing can do for you and a good editing program as well. it was dark up there and luckily the paths going to the rocks are brick lined and nicely put together, so you arent tripping over rocks and tree roots all the way down there and back…we had just enough ambient light to see our way in and less on the way out.
Garden of the Gods is one of those magical places that just has to be seen to be appreciated tho and it never fails to amaze me…
Trust me, the images I shot at Garden of the Gods look as though we were there in mid afternoon, but as it was, we had only ambient light to walk to the overlook, just enough light to see the path in forest that the USFS created with bricks so that one doesn`t have to trip over rocks and tree roots to get there. Thanks to an amazing editing program, my images just look great in low light sometimes. Garden of the Gods is an amazing place to go to, magical in the right light, thankfully we had enough ambient light to see that evening, mainly due to the cloudy skies in place all day. Had the skies cleared off, we probably wouldn`t have been able to see by the time we arrived.
We drove back to the cabin and got Pete settled in, then headed to Harrisburg to have supper at Morellos Italian Restaurant on Main Street…highly rated for fine dining there. Finding a parking place proved to be a challenge and after driving into the third lot, located across the street, we were able to find one finally. We walked inside to find a fairly well packed dining area and we were greeted warmly by staff and seated quickly. I had every intention of having Italian food that evening, but when I found out they had a special on filet mignon, I changed my mind and ordered the steak instead. Everyone else ordered Italian and said it was all good, as was my steak and food. Afterward, on the way back to the cabin, Pete and I stopped off at DQ so I could get a blizzard for dessert…shortly after we arrived at the cabin, John showed up and moved his stuff inside…Chuck came over shortly after and we had a pretty good mineral jam session til it was time to retire for the night.
The plan was to meet up with David and Janyce the next morning, they were bringing up their tractor on a trailer to assist us with digging into the tailing piles at the old mine. John rode with me to save parking space at the mine, so we drove over to a local meeting place at 7 am, and after Virgil showed up, we all went inside for some breakfast…the place has a deli inside and can grill up biscuits, gravy, and eggs, plus they have sausage and egg sandwiches too. Afterwards, we drove down to the landowners residence, so he could lead us down to the old mine. I had stopped by to see and visit with him earlier this summer on my way to a dig at the Eureka Mine, and he had offered to allow me to bring my group to his mine and dig into the tailings to see what we could find. We stayed in touch and he decided to let us bring and use the tractor as well. He led us down to the location and helped us with parking, directing David to a flat spot so it would be easier for him to unload the tractor. After introductions, we all gave him some nice crystals and minerals from our respective areas and he then showed us where we could dig and hazards to avoid, and soon after we had all spread out all over the huge tailing pile in front and began there…I brought a rake with me and used it to rake down the heavy carpet of forest leaves from the pile…John had offered to bring a gas powered leaf blower to make things easier, but I told him it would take up a lot of room in his car, and possibly deprive him of space in case we hit the jackpot in goodies there.
David unloaded his tractor and started digging around in various spots up and down the hill around the main tailing pile….
…and pretty soon we were all finding some pretty blue colored fluorite in the pile….
David continued to move up the hill digging in various spots with his backhoe attachment, while Virgil and Janyce combed the dig areas to find the elusive fluorite pieces. Pete, John, and I were mainly working on the back side of the tailing pile, concentrating on the lower end where it met up with the creekbed on the other side from the others, while Chuck and Mackenzie were digging into the top of the pile….
…and by noon, after a break for food and water, we all wound up down at the northern base of the tailing pile looking for goodies, which seemed to be naturally just falling out of the dirt and into our hands each time David made a pass with the bucket into the pile…David spotted me taking photos and said I had better get down there cause everyone was finding some nice stuff….
We all got a good workout in that day, digging out the loose dirt and pulling out the gems hiding inside, covered by the clay, discovering not only blue fluorite, but colors of green, yellow and clear as well. David would dig into the hillside of the tailing pile with the bucket and drop it out at our feet, and then we would rake it back and spread it all out to find the hidden gemstones…lots of fun and lots of hard work..we dug this way for about four hours, stopping as it began to get dark. Here is some video on the dig above….click on ” Download File ” then double click on the file name below and it will pop up in a separate window for you to view it….
The landowner stopped by to check on us a few times and see how we were doing, we showed him our finds and he was happy as well. We loaded up the tractor and tools, to head back to the cabins to get cleaned up before heading to Golconda for supper. Virgil headed back home before that, antsy to see his new grandson and wanting to stop off at a quarry on the way. Since John had never seen Garden of the Gods, I drove him up there to see it at sunset and snapped a few photos of it again as well…
Over on the left point, above image…there were some guys from Texas that were admiring the view and in front of us, below image…there was a young couple admiring the view…
…and an entire family on the point to our right…below image….
By the time John and I returned to the cabin, everyone was ready to go get something to eat, so we followed David and Janyce to the small town of Golconda. While researching places to eat at, I had come across a bar and grill named Diver Down, located on Main Street in Golconda, known wide and far for their catfish fillets, chicken fingers, and steaks, all fresh food prepared and cooked to order. We arrived soon after dark and walked in to find the place nearly empty, the staff seemed a bit surprised that we had a group numbering nine but quickly seated us and provided us with menus. I discovered that they had a special on prime rib that night as well as catfish fillets…so naturally I ordered the prime rib and everyone else decided on nachos and chicken fingers. The wait was long and there were a few smaller groups that came in after us that seemed to get their food quicker than we did…but the food was good when we did finally get it and true to their word, it was definitely fresh food, not frozen at all. The chicken fingers at this place are large, but they don`t come with fries or anything else, so you have to order fries or anything else with it, possibly because they are so big. I helped Chuck`s wife Lynn, who wasn`t able to eat all of her chicken fingers, that is how I know they were freshly cooked and good tasting.
We headed back to the cabins and had another mineral jam session, this time John bringing in some crystals and minerals to share with us from the Iowa quarries that he goes to collect at, and some barite specimens to buy from his dealer friend Craig….
We woke up the next day to a very frosty cold morning, a bit on the froggy side too and frost so heavy it looked like a dusting of snow everywhere….
David left the tractor and trailer with us at the cabin, so the next morning they arrived about 7 am and then we all drove down to the local meeting place for breakfast again. After arriving at the old mine and digging for about an hour, still finding alot of blue fluorite pieces during that time, we decided to stop and head over to Etown and visit with Gary, who mines fluorite in yellow and purple colors nearby….Gary also sells the fluorite and makes octohedrons by hand as well. I met him and his son at the Eureka Mine Show earlier this year and found out they have some beautiful stuff that they sell by the flat. David has bought from them as well so he and Janyce led us to Gary`s house. Gary had several pallets completely covered by purple and yellow fluorite, plus he had some raspberry colored fluorite as well, so we all grabbed a flat and started selecting what we would like to buy from him. While we were doing that, he chipped out a couple of octohedrons for Janyce….
I shot some video of Gary creating these octohedrons for David and Janyce….click on ” Download File ” and it will come up and play in a separate window for you….
…that is Gary`s dad, named Guy….in the background he is talking to Gary about lottery tickets while Gary chips away at the fluorite piece….and carrying on a conversation with David as well. Here is a video showing a pallet full of beautiful purple fluorites that he has for sale there….
When we got back to the mine, Chuck headed home, leaving Pete, John, David, Janyce, and I to continue digging for a couple more hours..
David and his tractor made the work much easier for all of us and helped us enjoy the dig and hard work we all put into it as well….thanks for bringing your tractor David….
We thanked the landowner once again before heading home. I arrived home about 7:30 pm Sunday evening and by midnight had heard from everyone but Virgil and Pete…luckily this time John made it home safe and sound without any mishaps along the way as he did on the conclusion of his journey home from Arkansas…Pete arrived home about 4 am safe and sound, and from the looks and sound of it, everyone was pretty happy they had made the trip down there as well. Here are some of my cleaned up goodies….
and one of the only ones I found with any cubes on it in deep blue color no less….
…another successful and enjoyable trip to wrap up 2016 very well….if you have any questions, give me a shout at email@example.com
Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years !!