Spring Fluorite Machine Dig

This year I started planning for the machine dig at the Eureka Mine in northwest Kentucky back in January. From several trips last year it was apparent that I had several friends that were interested in joining my small core group this year, contributing to the cost of the machine as well as physical labor during the dig after the machine was shut down. We have always utilized the machine for a day and then the second day, any digging needed is done physically by hand and strong muscles. I stayed in touch with Bill Frazer, who was able to arrange the trackhoe from the excavation company that we again wanted to work with. Bill also let me know about six weeks out that he and his brother had purchased more land right down the road from the Eureka Mine and this year we could also dig into the tailing piles at the MaryBelle Mine. Bill also was able to acquire a backhoe that we could use for two days, which would keep our machine costs down quite a bit, so we decided to make a donation to the museum in addition to the investment in the trackhoe.

After a few months of getting things in place we set the machine dig dates for Saturday and Sunday, March 18th and 19th,  and I kept the other fifteen rockhound friends that were going to join me and my core group updated along the way, including the update that we would also visit the blue fluorite mine on Sunday morning, then return to the Eureka Mine to dig the afternoon….everyone was excited and looking forward to the trip, with some rockhounds traveling down from New York state, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, northwestern Illinois, and eastern Texas, to join us. Two of the New York state rockhounds would be instrumental on this dig due to the fact that they had both dug in the pit after we dug there last year with the machine, and they had removed quite a few nice plates of cubes during their digs. 

A few days out from the week of the machine dig, I received a call from Bill advising me that there were some legal issues that needed to be worked out on his end, before we could proceed with the machine dig, and it was going to take possibly the remainder of this year for him to work through those issues…so the decision was made to cancel all public and private digs for this year.  I know for a few seconds at least, I was at a loss for words or thoughts even, as many of us had taken off work and invested money in equipment that we planned to use all weekend at the dig, not to mention the reservations made at area hotels. Bill told me he was advised of this all of a sudden and that it had nothing to do with our group, but was something that they needed to work through and get back to the business at hand eventually.  He was very worried about us, knowing we had a large group coming to help them out, as we have done this for more than the past ten years. I told Bill not to worry about it, we would stand ready to go as soon as he was able to work through it and resolve the issues, and we would figure something out for the weekend.

I immediately reached out to one of my core group rockhound buddies on Facebook to let him know what was happening, and then made a phone call to the landowner of the blue fluorite mine, to see if my group could come to his farm both days instead. I explained the situation to him, told him the group would be a bit bigger than the group I had when we visited his mine last fall. I had secured his permission a few weeks before, to come to his mine on Sunday morning, March 19th and dig for a few hours, before returning to the Eureka Mine. After a few minutes of thought, he called back and gave us the go ahead to come dig at his mine on Saturday and Sunday all day instead. I told my buddy on Facebook that we could go dig at the blue fluorite mine instead and he was just fine with that. I then sent out another update by email to let everyone know of the change in plans and the reasons for it.

By the next day, eighty percent of the group had advised me by email that they still planned to make it down for the dig. That night, the northeastern section of the US was hit with a huge snowstorm, dumping over thirty inches of snow on New York state and beyond…despite all that, three of the four New Yorkers who had planned to drive down and dig, emailed to let me know they would still be there for the weekend dig. Talk about dedication !!  I told everyone to bring some rocks and minerals to swap on Saturday morning at the mine, and to bring some extras for the landowners daughter, to add to her budding collection, as we did on our prior fall trip, especially since the landowner was gracious enough to allow us back and wasnt going to charge us anything either.

I had taken a week of vacation as I usually do, giving me a few days to ready and pack the truck, so Onyx and I drove down on Thursday the 16th and stayed overnight at Marion, Illinois. I had been in contact for a few weeks before with a coal miner in the Harrisburg area, who had an old fluorite collection for sale. I visited with friends from southern Illinois Thursday evening and then drove over to his home on Friday morning to take a look at his collection and make an offer. He had some beautiful clusters of large cubes, some with barite attached to them, as well as some barite clusters, some calcite clusters, and some quartz crystals and clusters, even one smokey quartz crystals, all from mines in the Rosiclaire area, that his grandfather had left to him…his grandfather had been a miner at some of the Rosiclaire Mines about seventy five years ago. I had seen photos of some of the pieces in the collection and wanted to see them in person before making an offer. Here are some of the nicer pieces that were in the collection….

As you can see, he had some very pretty and unique pieces in his grandfathers collection, over 100 pieces, many were of the barite clusters, which I had never seen before as something coming from the fluorite mines of Southern Illinois. I have to say I was a bit skeptical that the large quartz crystals and two smaller quartz clusters came from the fluorite mines, especially the smokey quartz crystal..mainly because they resembled Arkansas quartz crystals, but he pointed out two small quartz plates, both of the type commonly sold in the spirit quartz genre, and he told me that he had purchased those somewhere because they appealed to him. It was verified to me later that day, that indeed, smokey and clear quartz crystals were found in several of the fluorite mines in the Rosiclaire area. I made an offer to him and he accepted it…while his collection was not extensive, he had to sell it due to moving to another house soon and no room for it there. I did leave him with a few key pieces with great sentimental value that tied him directly to his grandfather. After wrapping up each piece and loading them into the cab of my truck. Onyx and I headed down to see and photograph some waterfalls that I had heard about, also located in southern Illinois.  Burden Falls is located in the National Forest about a twenty minute drive south of Harrisburg, just west of Hwy 145 on Burden Falls Road…if there has been heavy rain in the area and one suspects the creek feeding the falls will be flooded, one can also come in from the south on Water Tower Road, which merges to the right with Ozark Road after a few miles, and then you make a right turn on to McCormick Road/Burden Falls Road. The creek runs across the road and the first set of falls is just a few feet from the creek crossing on the north side…

…and the lower falls are even higher than the upper falls near the road…this trip I chose not to shoot the lower falls from the base though…

Onxy finally got to stretch his legs a little bit…we didnt stray down the path very far, as I wanted to get on down to Gary`s place and check out the beautiful new fluorite that he had told me about, a few days before, that they had been hitting in some new pockets where he mines it with his son. He also told me that he had purchased an old collection of fluorite with some ” butterscotches ” in it…those are the cubes of fluorite that came from certain mines and are a butterscotch yellow color and are quite gemmy…these butterscotches that he purchased with the collection were quite old and had been buried in the forest on the guy`s property…Gary dug them out and cleaned them up and said they were quite pretty.

We headed south, and on the way,  came upon the Iron Furnace that my buddy, John Oostenryk, always talks about, on Big Creek…..Onyx and I stopped to check it out briefly…

…this was probably the neatest Iron Furnace location I have ever seen, mainly because someone went above and beyond installing a historical storytelling sequence of small columns around the front perimeter of the site, in color no less. We drove further south to Gary`s house,  and found he did indeed have alot of gorgeous fluorite for sale…this was without a doubt the prettiest fluorite I have seen for sale at his place since I started going there…

…the photo above and next few below of fluorite, include some of the ” Butterscotches ” that Gary purchased in that old collection….

…the clusters that are whitish and a lighter yellow are also butterscotches, just faded out by the sun.  Gary also had some beautiful two color fluorite cube clusters that were quite pretty, some from the old collection and many from some new pockets from the mine….

…he had a lot of clusters of cubes that appeared to be stacked one on top of another that were such a deep purple they nearly appeared to look black…he also had a whole area full of the raspberry colored fluorites…this color really appeals to me when thy are lit properly…

I purchased a few pretty crystals from Gary that day…even a couple of octohedrons that he chips out himself, one was a pretty small one with a pyrite chip in it, and another one was a two color octohedron..purple and clear or white colors…some call them fluorite diamonds, and they are very popular worldwide. Gary is a good ole country boy and great to visit with and purchase from, he always has some beautiful fluorite for sale.

Onxy and I took off shortly after, crossing the Ohio River on the ferry at Cave-In-Rock,  and drove over to the Clement Mineral Museum at Marion, Kentucky, where we barely caught Tina and Sherry before they left for the day. I visited with them for about 30 minutes, then we headed to the Days Inn hotel at Kuttawa…we always stay there because its a nice and clean hotel, rooms are always reasonably priced and a few doors down is the Oasis Southwest Grill, which is a great steak and seafood restaurant with great atmosphere and good food. Right before we got to the hotel, Slade Harvin texted me to let me know he had arrived from Hickory, North Carolina, as well as Dale Walker and his wife Barb from New York state, so I met up with them shortly after checking in. Fred Mahaffey was driving in from Eastern Texas but arrived soon after, and Chuck Reed had to wait til 3 pm before he was able to leave St Louis County, so we waited til 6:30 pm before we all headed over to the Oasis, joined there by David Bruce from northern Georgia, who was staying at the Relax Inn over on the north side of I-24. We had a great supper there, their menu offers a great variety of steaks, chops, seafood, and smoked bbq there, so if you go away hungry, there is definitely something wrong with ya. We all walked back to the hotel stuffed full and ready for bedtime…I let everyone know we were gonna meet on the south side of the hotel about 7 am, and then drive over to the mine to meet up with David and Janyce, who were bringing their medium tractor with a backhoe attachment, and John Oostenryk and his friend Mary, who were staying at Harrisburg.

Despite a little fog on the way over to the ferry crossing, we made good time getting over there…I nearly struck a deer on the way there, coming around a curve in the valley to find a big doe tentatively stepping out into the roadway, but luckily for me she turned and hightailed it back to the field, sailing over a barbed wire fence like it wasn`t even there. We pulled up a few minutes later to the crossing as the ferry was coming back to the Kentucky side to pick us up….

…we picked up Matt, another New Yorker, in the parking lot on the other side of the Ohio River a few minutes later, and drove on over to the blue mine, where we found David and Janyce as well as John and Mary, waiting for us. While David and Janyce were unloading the tractor and did some initial preparation digging into the tailing pile, the rest of us swapped crystals from our respective areas…an hour later, the rockhounds new to this mine, started sifting thru the dirt that David had laid out on one side, so they could get an idea of what to look for….

….sometimes you will pick up chunks of ugly chert that resemble the fluorite, til you hold it up to the light and figure out you cant see thru it and know that its the ugly chert instead. It takes a little while to get used to it, and the rest of us were helping them acclimate to finding the good stuff….although I have to say, I still make mistakes and bring home the ugly chert too. I just add them to the potholes in my driveway. 

Left to right on the front line are Mary, Dale Walker, David Bruce, Slade standing, Chuck Reed kneeling in the overalls, Fred Mahaffey, Janyce carrying buckets, and far right is her husband David, they brought the tractor to help us dig into the tailing piles…this pile behind the tractor is the main one….David dug into the end of it where we left off in November, and where we were finding much of the pretty fluorite on that trip. Eventually everyone began moving around to look for fluorite in other locations, below you see Slade, John, and Chuck up on the right side of the large tailing pile…

…and soon after I joined Slade down there on the face of the tailing pile where I started digging in at the same lower level where we found several nice fluorites back in November…I showed Slade where to dig to find the better ones and he was soon finding as many good ones as I was….and soon others were gathered around us and digging in as well. Doug, the landowner, stopped by to check on us several times throughout the day and see how we were coming along, we handed off several minerals and crystals to him to give to his daughter for her collection as well.

Dale and Barb wound up over on the backside of the tailing pile by the creek and after digging there a long time that day, Dale uncovered  a very pretty plate of cubed fluorite crystals, giving the rest of us hope that more cubes could def be found there.  We just kept digging and finding beautiful blues…..

…well we dug all afternoon til we were too tired to do anything other than drive back to the hotel to clean up and get some more good food at Oasis….so we loaded everything up and headed out…this is how the tailing pile looked after digging all day Saturday….

….and as we approached the ferry crossing at Cave-In-Rock, I noticed the setting sun on the  Ohio River, turning the water to a shimmering bright yellow color….so I set the parking brake, grabbed my camera and walked down to the waters edge to shoot some images…



While I was down there shooting, Chuck took a photo of me shooting the sunset….

The ferry came in to unload and then load us all up for the trip back over to the Kentucky side….

…and once we were on the ferry, I kept on shooting that beautiful sunset…a first for me, shooting a sunset from a ferry, even shot some video of it….first one is looking upstream on the Ohio River….

We had another great evening at the Oasis, more good food…it seems David Bruce decided to try the marinated chops that I have been having their for years and he found out why I like them so much. The plan the next morning was to drive over to Gary`s house and do some shopping first, then go back to the blue fluorite mine…at breakfast we were joined by Mark Bishop, who had driven up from northern Georgia early that morning. We all loaded up and headed out at 7 am once again, this time seeing deer once again on Hwy 91, but this time no close calls. We arrived to find the ferry making its way across the river to get us….

…and then drove on over to Gary`s place at E-town…his son Walter and his Dad, named Guy, were there as well and we had a great time talking to them….I purchased some more fluorite, another couple of flats, including a ” butterscotch ” plate…it has some holes in a couple of the cubes, with jagged edges…some of us thought that maybe they were from acid of some type with rain possibly washing out the acid and stopping the process of eating thru the fluorite. After an hour or so there, we all headed over to the mine and began digging once again.

It was a bit crisper temps this morning than Saturday morning, so many of us stayed bundled up a little longer, but we again had a great time digging for beautiful crystals. Some of us wandered up the hillside in search of other areas to dig into and David followed us with the tractor and dug into a few areas for us. However, we didn`t find anything of any quality like we had been finding below, so we returned to the big pile and resumed our digging there. Above and below, you see Mark Bishop in the yellow rain pants, David Bruce in the blue pullover and white pants, and John Oostenryk in the bright blue pullover and blue jeans with a woolly hat on. 

Doug came by and suggested that we check out the creekbank along the field so after David and I started finding some nice blue crystals along that bank, a few of us dug in and started pulling several pretties out of the dirt. Fred joined us and within moments pulled out a huge pretty yellow crystal…I am hoping he will take a photo of it and send to me, when he held it up to the light it just glowed with a very pleasing luminescence !! Chuck had to head home that morning to get ready for a father – daughter dance, and Mark headed home that afternoon with a bucket or two full of blue fluorite. We stopped digging a little earlier on Sunday afternoon, tired and a bit sore yet from all the digging we did on Saturday, but we all left very happy with what we had found. David did a great job of widening the roadway we had created with the fluorite free tailings at the foot of the pile, as you can see here….

Most of us were driving home early on Monday morning, so after cleaning up, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and have yet another great supper at Oasis. I believe I was the last one out of the hotel Monday morning, other than Dale and his wife, who were staying in the area for a few days as part of their vacation. David sent me a FB message a few days later, letting me know that he found some nice crystals while washing off his tractor tires….

…and here is one of the pretty ones I found after I washed it off with soap and water only….

As to the situation at the Eureka Mine in Kentucky, I can only hope that they are able to resolve the legal issues soon and get things back on track…the Eureka Mine and the folks at the Clement Mineral Museum have been a bright spot in the lives of many rockhounds across the USA and around the world for many years, they provide a great service and location to go and dig for crystals in a time when its becoming increasingly difficult to find such places to go to. As I told Bill Frazer, we stand ready to return to help at any time.