Always hard to contain my enthusiasm about Tucson… The world’s largest annual gathering of mineral people and mineral specimens from around the globe never disappoints – it is a great time full of great minerals.
OK, I admit it’s also a sunny and warm break from Canadian winter. While many others in North America seem to be having a bit lighter winter than usual, we’ve had lots of snow this year in the Bancroft area. It began in November and now the snow is high. A February 2017 snowbank by our house:
Tucson’s surroundings are obviously a real contrast to home, both as to weather and scenery.
During the show, there is so much to see and do with the minerals and mineral friends that, in the limited time of a Tucson trip, there is precious little chance for exploring the surroundings. However, every step out in the area is worth it!
As every year, the mineral events around Tucson are spread over many different show venues, over a few weeks. From one year to the next, dealers come and go, and move about. New shows pop up, older shows wane and sometimes disappear altogether, and then some rise again from the ashes. So, always something new and interesting to discover out there in the urban field-collecting jungle.
I thought maybe I’d start with my favourite warnings and signs from around the shows.
I didn’t take a photo of the one in my rental car, but it was a winner: every time I turned on the car, a bright, bold electronic notice told me not to operate the car stereo while the car is operating, because it’s dangerous. (Thanks so much to the Mensa-candidate lawyer who came up with that one.)
At one show:
(People do this?)
I quite liked this lawn sign:
And at that same show, within about 40 ft of the one above:
Anyway… On to the minerals!
On the whole, there were some excellent finds, mostly of the small and isolated variety (rather than large-scale splashes of new discoveries). I’m going to start with Brazil, because over the past year, it has produced many fine specimens.
A small number of new wodginite crystals have been found. These are sharp and great for the species!
Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 2.6 cm
Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 3.2 cm
If you’d like to see more of these, I’ve posted them in the Wodginite Update (click here).
The workings at Novo Horizonte have produced more excellent hematite-rutile specimens. Most of these are not in very good condition, but a few are really super.
Rutile on Hematite, Novo Horizonte, Bahia, Brazil – 4.8 cm
Novo Horizonte has also been the subject of some additional mineral analysis, with very interesting results over the past year. One of these is a new mineral, published in 2016. The work on this mineral began with our late friend, Luiz Menezes – one of the most observant and careful people in mineral world, who never missed something new, never assumed an identification, and whose work contributed to the description of several new minerals. The work on this material was continued by a group of mineralogists, and in June 2016, the new mineral, parisite-(La), was officially regognized by the IMA. (The full group: Luiz A.D. Menezes Filho, Mario L.S.C. Chaves, Nikita V. Chukanov, Daniel Atencio, Ricardo Scholz, Igor Pekov, Geraldo Magela da Costa, Shaunna M. Morrison, Marcelo Andrade, Erico Freitas, Robert T. Downs and Dmitriy I. Belakovskiy.)
I am including a photograph of one of the best specimens – there are not many in existence. This one was available from Luisa at Luiz Menezes Minerals.
Just before leaving Novo Horizonte, I have a small final update. In November 2015, I had a few specimens from this locality on the website, sold to me under the label “synchysite”, and so-labeled on the website. Subsequent analysis by Don Doell has confirmed more about their identity. Having conducted semi-quantitative EDS at SGS Labs, Don found that these are in fact phosphate mineralization, and they are likely a combination of rhabdophane-(La), rhabdophane-(Ce), possibly including monazite-(Ce). They appear to be pseudomorphs after a REE carbonate, probably in the parisite group, given that this new parisite-(La) has been found at Novo Horizonte in crystals with a similar aspect and appearance, at a similar time. They could also be after bastnasite-(La), which has been described from the locality. For now, I’m labelling them rhabdophane, pseudomorph after parisite, with the proviso that the above is the technically closest identification information to date. Thanks very much to Don for this analysis! Very cool for rhabdophane. (If you’d like to see what these looked like, they are here.) Mine are all sold, but Carlos Menezes had a few thumbnail-sized specimens of this fascinating material available in Tucson.
Also from Brazil, there has been one I think will be underrated and missed by many collectors. From Mantena, Minas Gerais, there has been a find of beautiful muscovite crystals. Yes of course the mica group minerals are very common minerals, and one might be jaded and tempted to overlook them on that basis. However, it can be a challenge to acquire a genuinely good muscovite specimen. These muscovite crystals from Mantena have nice colour, giving depth and presence. I picked out the finest few I could find and they will be online in a coming update.
Muscovite on albite, Mantena, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 7.3 cm
I have always loved the blue fluorapatites from Ipira, but, although I always look for them, I am almost always disappointed. This is not because there aren’t any – it’s because very few of them are sharp and collection-worthy. The deposits mostly contain corroded-looking crystals with poor definition, and most crystals are broken crystal segments. This past year, Daniel Foscarini Almeida conducted significant mining operations in a zone that contained small, sharp crystals. Almost all had small chipping, but I went through hundreds and these best ones are extremely good. The colour with backlighting is hard to believe.
Fluorapatite, Ipirá, Bahia, Brazil – 3.2 cm
And finally from Brazil (for now), Minas Gerais yielded some very fine phantom quartz crystals this year, from the deposits at Presidente Kubitschek. As always with Brazilian quartz, it can be very hard to find specimens in excellent condition, but some of these are just great.
Quartz with phantoms, Presidente Kubitschek, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Crystal 2.0 cm wide
Moving on from Brazil to the African continent next, still on the quartz theme, there was a pocket of spectacular quartz with red phantoms from Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Red quartz has been produced from this locality for many years, however, long-time South African dealer Clive Queit told me he has never seen any he liked as much as these, because these have such distinct red phantoms enclosed in sharp, clear quartz crystals – in his view they are the best. The crystals themselves are relatively small, and my favourite specimens were the ones that had good proportions (of crystal size to the piece), so the ones I consider the best are not large specimens. They are superb.
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 5.0 cm
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 4.0 cm
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 6.1 cm
Further north in Africa, there’s something a bit different and new from Arrondissement Diako, in Mali. We’ve seen thousands of loose single garnet crystals from here over the years, and occasionally we’ve been lucky enough to see matrix specimens. A new find, at Diabe Sira, has produced some very attractive specimens with sharp, lustrous grossular crystals on matrix. As is the case with all localities, and particularly much of the Mali material (of the various minerals), so much is damaged – the devil is in finding fine, collection-quality specimens. I worked through a lot of this material and I found a few – they are really nice!
Grossular, Diabe Sira, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 9.7 cm
Further north still, I think we’ve all become a bit spoiled by the constant flow of excellent mineral specimens from Morocco in recent years. So it felt like a bit of a disappointment that there wasn’t a spectacular new find, and that some of the material we’ve seen in recent times is drying up. As I mentioned in my Ste. Marie post last summer, the Sidi Lahcen barites are no more – I love those specimens, and good ones are now already hard to find (and in some cases very expensive). Speaking of production that seems to have dried up, I was also surprised that there were hardly even any signs of the Mamsa aragonites (the ones posted here last fall). I had expected to see some of the lesser material at very least.
However, from Morocco there were some beautiful erythrites from the Bou Azzer district.
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 1.3 cm crystal
China seems to have produced less in the way of truly new material. There are some new bluish-purple quartz specimens, highly priced and different dealers were giving different locality names – we’ll see what the future holds for these. From Huanggang, there were a few of the flat, discoidal calcites that made their debut last fall in Denver – here is a sweet small one.
Calcite, Huanggang Mines, Hexigten Banner, Ulanhad, Inner Mongolia A.R., China – 3.3 cm
From Russia, the mines at Dal’negorsk continue to operate and there was a new pocket of sharp datolite crystals found at the Bor Pit. These crystals are a beautiful light green and they are highly lustrous.
Datolite, Bor Pit, Dal’negorsk, Primorskiy Kray, Russia – 5.0 cm
As you’ll know if you’ve read my posts from the past, I love Peru and Peruvian mineral specimens. Over the years, the large polymetallic mines have produced a variety of excellent specimens, and several workings undertaken purely for mineral specimen mining have provided spectacular pieces. However, this was really not a great year for new Peruvian specimens. Ucchucchacua has now produced no new specimen material in three years, and a new piece of unfortunate news from Peru is that the Lily Mine has ceased operations. Lily was operated for copper and is known to collectors for a few minerals – chrysocolla, and most notably some of the best atacamite and clinoatacamite specimens that have been found anywhere. I obtained only a few more of these, as good specimens are already scarce, and I’m told any future production is questionable.
In much better news, a Peruvian collection and the workings at Mundo Nuevo have provided some excellent specimens.
Pyrite and Lautite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad Dept., Peru – 2.9 cm
Back to North America, I was lucky to pick up a couple of nice little wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud Mine, including this one – it’s not big, but this thing is a red window pane.
Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Trigo Mountains, Arizona – 2.3 cm
(Crystal 1.0 cm across, 0.8 cm on edge)
Over the coming weeks, many of these finds – and more new material – will be posted on the website, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, as nice as it is to have had a break, it’s so great to be home. (You can take the Canadian out of the winter but you can’t take the winter out of the Canadian – at least not this Canadian.) It’s beautiful out here in the winter woods in February, as always!
Yes, the snow piles are high.
Another 9 ft tall snowpile. Granted, it reduces the view for a while.
And we probably shouldn’t expect this part of the garden to emerge until late May.
This year’s snow-management issues aside, it’s gorgeous and peaceful, with lots of active local residents in our woods…
Blue Jay, near Bancroft, Ontario
And there’s this one guy who loves winter more than any being I’ve known:
Every day from the first snows until the last snow patches are too small in spring, Emery does snow angels.
Well, that’s it, until the Rochester 2017 report.
If you haven’t yet seen them, this year’s Rochester Mineralogical Symposium program and registration materials are online here. Hope to see you there!
Meanwhile, of course these specimens will be coming online soon!
I’ve added a few colourful new specimens in this Morocco Update (click here). This update includes some particularly fine and unusual pieces, including a super azurite-malachite from the Tasalart Mine, Tafraout, exceptional fluorites from Sidi Said, hot pink cobaltoan dolomites, a glowing jewel of a cobaltoan calcite from the Agoudal Mine in the Bou Azzer district, a mirror-bright skutterudite from the Bouismas Mine and a beautiful, classic twinned cerussite from Touissit.
Azurite and malachite pseudomorphs after azurite, Tazalart Mine, Tafraout, Tiznit Province, Morocco
Field of view 4.5 cm
Fluorite, Chebka Sidi Said, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco – 4.o cm
Fluorite with quartz, Chebka Sidi Said, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco – 5.2 cm
Dolomite, var. cobaltoan dolomite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 5.7 cm
Dolomite, var. cobaltoan dolomite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
Field of view – 3.0 cm
Calcite, var. cobaltoan calcite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 13.7 cm
Calcite, var. cobaltoan calcite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District,
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
Field of view 2.2 cm
Calcite, var. cobaltoan calcite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
Field of view – 3.0 cm
Calcite, var. cobaltoan calcite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
Field of view – 2.5 cm
Skutterudite, Bouismas Mine, Bou Azzer District
Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
Field of view – 2.5 cm
Quartz on Chalcedony, Sidi Rahal, El Kelaa des Sraghna Province, Morocco
Field of view – 3.0 cm
Quartz var. Amethyst, Sidi Rahal, El Kelaa des Sraghna Province, Morocco
Field of view – 5.0 cm
Cerussite, Touissit, Jerada Province, Oriental Region, Morocco – 3.1 cm
In the new Morocco Update (click here), I’ve added some super new specimens of erythrite from Bou Azzer, along with excellent new barite specimens from Bou Nahas.
Erythrite crystals from Bou Azzer are generally regarded as the finest in the world. The challenge with erythrite, however, is to obtain fine-quality specimens – the mineral is so soft and delicate that most specimens are damaged in the removal process or subsequent transportation. The erythrites in this small lot are superb quality specimens of this beautiful mineral.
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenahkt, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 1.0 cm crystal
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenahkt, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – field of view 2.8 cm
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenahkt, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – field of view 2.2 cm
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenahkt, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – field of view 2.6 cm
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenahkt, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – field of view 3.3 cm
Barite is one of the most common minerals at Bou Nahas. Specimens of barite and associated sulfide minerals (particularly pyrite and chalcopyrite) from Bou Nahas have been reaching the market since about 2011. In 2014, blockier, glassy, lustrous barite crystals made their debut, and since then we’re continuing to see more specimens of barite and associated sulfides from this locality. High-quality isolated barite crystals and crystal groups remain relatively scarce at this point, as most of this material to date has been damaged either during extraction or during transportation – but the top quality pieces are excellent barite specimens.
Barite, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 4.7 cm
Barite, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 5.6 cm
Barite, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 4.4 cm
Barite with pyrite crystals, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 5.4 cm
Morning sun on cobblestones, flowers spilling out of window boxes, the sounds of church bells and songbirds, swallows dipping and weaving through the village, the smell of fresh baked goods wafting from the boulangerie… fine cheeses and wines, scenic hills of vineyards and lavender-filled gardens… I mean really, what could be better than France in June?
Minerals in France in June. (Obviously.)
The annual mineral show at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is so different from all others. Sure, we all love the large exciting mineral-filled halls and general mineral mayhem of the large shows, and the hotel shows in Tucson and Denver. But Ste Marie’s character and charm, from the theatre and the tent-lined streets within the show, to the town and the countryside beyond, make this an experience not to be missed.
Ste Marie is in Alsace, a region known for its beautiful small towns, distinctive architecture, hills, valleys and vineyards.
Beyond the gardens and planters, there are beautiful wildflowers.
Wild foxglove (digitalis) at the edge of the forest
The woods and countryside are beautiful, home to a variety of animals. I wasn’t close enough for a good photo of the two deer grazing at the edge of the trees one morning, but I did catch this scene (granted, not so deep in the forest!)
The town of Ste Marie itself is situated in the heart of an historic mining district, the Val d’Argent (the Valley of Silver). This region’s mining history is remarkable, with underground mines dating to the 16th century. They say that within the greater valley and all its hills, there are more than 20,000 km of underground tunnels (!) – not sure how anyone would have calculated that, but even a lesser fraction of that would be astounding, as there is of course almost no evidence of this above-ground.
Such a great coat of arms.
Certain of these historic mines have been opened for organized visiting, and it’s well worth the time to go and explore. One such mine is Tellure. Major work has been done at this site to make it accessible to the public, with a modern interpretation centre and underground infrastructure to facilitate tours of small groups. Today, access to the old workings is via an adit which has been driven into the hillside to intersect older workings at various places – an amazing undertaking. This is well done – visitors experience workings of various vintages, from the 16th to the 19th century.
Most of the 16th century workings are irregular and require a small bit of clambering to walk through, as they were cut using only hand tools, advancing at an average of 15 cm per day in the hard rock areas. The workings from this era are narrow and not as high, as the miners were typically not as tall as we are today.
An unusually straight 16th century working, through softer rock – this one is believed to have been exploratory, in search of the extension of the silver vein.
More recent workings were larger in scale, of course, as equipment and blasting were used.
A section of 19th century workings, with supports.
19th century hoisting apparatus
The museum at the Tellure interpretation centre includes many artifacts, although the collection of local minerals is currently very basic/elementary. A highlight at the Tellure interpretation centre was a temporary display – this year, a local collector of mining lamps had put on a super exhibit, absolutely first class in all respects.
In the exhibit, many historical photographs were used together with the lamps, showing the given types of lamps
in use. Featuring the French symbol of the rooster, this lamp was used in the Val d’Argent.
OK, on to the main event – Ste. Marie 2015!
Ste. Marie – the river channel behind buildings and homes.
Of course, as one of the world’s premier mineral shows, Ste. Marie has the strengths that come with this reputation in Mineral World. Top dealers and smaller dealers from all over the world offer specimens of all kinds. In particular, Ste. Marie includes truly stunning thematic displays. At the same time, Ste Marie reflects other regular trends in Mineral World too – scarcity of new material and lots of high prices.
This year the show’s tents and exhibits opened under sunny skies, with lots to look through.
One of the many tent “streets”. There is no grid or obvious pattern to the layout (as it is in the old part of town)
so navigation back to that particular specimen you remember is a good challenge.
The theatre rises above the surrounding tents. Hidden in the deepest shadows in the centre of this photo
is Alfredo Petrov, who was visible when I was waiting for the break in pedestrian traffic to take this shot.
Does he not want to be seen? What mineralogical secret has compelled him into the darkness?
If you’ve read other reports of mine from past shows, you may have noticed that I am regularly baffled by the torture to which some mineral specimens are subjected. It’s one thing to toss tumbled agates together, but here is the Ste Marie 2015 winner, for me – the two flats of reddish material at upper right and lower left.
Yes, this one is pretty low. Those are – or were – cuprite crystals from Rubstovskoe.
Sure, to be fair, they were undoubtedly not the top ones, but there were good
crystals among them and I just can’t see how this could ever be a good idea.
Searching the show, I found a few excellent things.
Despite the host country, the show is truly not full of French mineral specimens, given their relative scarcity. The ones that are there are highly prized. Nonetheless, I was able to acquire a few really interesting French pieces.
There are beautiful deep golden barite crystals from a find at La Côte d’Abot, near Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France. This was in fact a sizeable find however it seems that the pockets were either collapsed or at least partially collapsed well before human eyes ever reached them – many of the broken surfaces have faint recrystallization textures on them. As in so many cases in mineral collecting, even the most careful of collecting cannot help specimens that were damaged by nature, so I did not acquire many, but the ones I did pick out are very cool specimens. Many demonstrate late-stage layered crystal growth, to create sceptres and capped sections – really neat crystallization patterns on these.
Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France – 7.1 cm
Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France – 4.3 cm
I also found a small stash of bournonite crystal groups from the contemporary classic locality, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. As with the barites, many of the broken rear surfaces have faint recrystallization textures (and even micro crystals, in some cases) on them, and so again with these pieces there is the problem that many of them detached with just too little that was complete or in excellent condition. I did manage to come up with a very small number of great ones.
Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 6.8 cm
Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 6.1 cm
From Buxières-les-Mines, there was one fluorite specimen that really caught my eye. We are used to seeing fluorite from occurrences where the habit is one of stacked cubes, but how often do we get to see stacked dodecahedra?
Fluorite, Buxières-les-Mines, Allier, Auvergne, France – field of view approximately 3.0 cm
One last item of interest from France – from an uncommon locality for fine mineral specimens, some brilliant, sharp alpine hematite.
Hematite with quartz, L’Alpe d’Huez, Oisans, Isère, France – 10.1 cm
Ste Marie regularly includes a large number of sellers from Morocco. However, one really has to dig to find truly excellent specimens – they are few and far between!
Bou Azzer has for many years been known as the locality for the world’s finest erythrite specimens, but specimens are sporadic, and the quality is usually poor (to be fair, this is a very soft mineral and hard to bring from mine to market without damage.) This year a seller had a small lot of erythrite specimens of exceptional quality.
Erythrite, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 8.8 cm
Erythrite, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – crystals to 1 cm
One other Morocco item – in my Tucson 2015 post, I mentioned some beautiful arite crystals from Bou Nahas. There has been a fair bit more material from this locality, but most of the barite groups and crystals are not particularly distinctive – and in fact I don;t find much of this material to be interesting. However, the isolated crystals and crystal pairs can be pretty special, and I found three more of those at the show – here’s one of them.
Barite, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane mining area, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 5.0 cm
You may recall that the beautiful yellow stilbite balls from Mali made their debut at Ste Marie last year. There almost none of these in Denver 2014, and I saw no high quality ones in Tucson this year (maybe I missed them?), so I wondered what the story was. Early after my arrival in Ste. Marie, I caught up with the same sellers from last year and went through their specimens. It turns out that the one digging, known simply as Diamonkara, has produced a number of further specimens over the past year, and although most were damaged, I was able to acquire some excellent pieces.
If you read about Diamonkara on my site last year, or if you were in Ste Marie either last year or this year, you may have noted that there has been a push to sell these as specimens of stellerite. When I asked one of the sellers last year as to what had been done to confirm that identification, I was told that “they look like stellerite” (because they often occur in the habit of spherical aggregates). Clearly, that is not enough to label them stellerite – not to mention, there are wheat-sheaf aggregates and individual crystals of this material too. So yet again this year in Ste Marie, the name stellerite was used. I am aware of one set of analyses that was unable to demonstrate that any of these are in fact stellerite – this is second-hand information, but it is certainly consistent with the prior identifications of stilbite from the deposits of the region.
As for the specimens themselves, the good Diamonkara pieces are absolutely some of the nicest and most distinctive stilbites I’ve ever seen from anywhere, with beautiful colour and form. They are perhaps not yet appreciated for what they are – these are striking display specimens of a mineral that is often pale and drab.
Stilbite, prehnite and epidote from Diamonkara, Bendougou, Kayes Region, Mali – 6 cm
Of all of the minerals that have been caught up in the rise of specimen prices, sadly, elbaite tourmaline stands out. It would be hard not to love a fine tourmaline, but these days it is hard to find excellent quality tourmaline specimens that can be purchased for prices that can be justified by that love. In Ste. Marie I was fortunate to be able to acquire a small number of wonderful-quality specimens from the classic Pakistan locality, Stak Nala. The seller’s family had mined these very recently.
Stak Nala, Gilgit-Skardu Road, Northern Areas, Pakistan – 4.5 cm
Moving on from the dealers, the thematic displays this year were spectacular. The theme was minerals of the Alps, and many kinds of mineralogical environments were represented, including the classic alpine deposits and many others situated in the region. Just a couple of photos to give a glimpse:
Fluorite, Massif de l’Aiguille Verte, Chamonix-Mont Blanc, Haute-Savoie, France – approximately 12 cm.
Collected by J. Couttet in 2004. Now in the Musée des Cristaux in Chamonix.
Group of twinned yellow titanite crystals – approximately 7 cm.
Famous (world’s finest) jordanite crystal from Lengenbach Quarry, Fäld, Finn Valley, Wallis, Switzerland –
approximately 7 cm. British Museum of Natural History collection.
Needless to say, I revisited the display area a few times, just to soak it all in. The organizers and contributors did an amazing job – thank you!
Until next time, goodbye to the Val d’Argent.
Why is Morocco one of the world’s great countries for minerals? No glaciers! Many of the world’s most colourful minerals are found in deposits at the surface, formed over time by the interaction of water, air and rock. Glaciers remove all of that good stuff (as happened in Canada recently, geologically speaking) – and with no recent glaciation, Morocco hosts many fantastic occurrences of minerals unlike any in parts of the world stripped bare during the last Ice Age.
My collecting partner David Joyce and I jumped at the chance to go to Southern-Central Morocco. The trip was organized by Mindat.org and the Spirifer Geological Society, and included the Second Annual Mindat Mineral Conference in the city of Midelt.
Morocco is an amazing place. Hopefully this comes through in the photographs – it is a beautiful region with stunning landscapes, rich in history, harsh in climate. And… it hosts gorgeous minerals.
Founded almost a thousand years ago, Marrakech has historically been the imperial capital of Morocco – and in fact from Medieval times until the beginning of the twentieth century Morocco was known as the Kingdom of Marrakech. Today, Marrakech remains the major economic centre in this region, hosting at its centre the largest Berber market in the country. The market area is comprised of many individual markets (souks).
A merchant takes his wares to the souk, passing in front of the 12th century Minaret of the Khoutoubia Mosque
The market at night
Steam and smoke rise from the food stalls at the night market in Marrakech
Not far from Marrakech, miners work the basalt deposit at Sidi Rahal by hand to produce geodes containing agate and quartz (some of which is amethystine). The geodes from Sidi Rahal can include beautiful stalactitic growths, and rarely box epimorphs of quartz after fluorite. Groups of world-class goethite crystals have been found in geodes at Sidi Rahal – barite, calcite and aragonite have also been found.
Some of the excavations are quite deep – and fun to explore.
I clambered down into the tunnel on the left
Amethystine quartz geode in the wall underground
Climbing back out the tunnel to daylight
Small quartz/chalcedony geode (6cm) in basalt.
Many walls at Sidi Rahal are constructed of block comprised of mud and straw
Over the Atlas Mountains
To get to the great mineral localities of southern-central Morocco, the route leads over the Atlas Mountains. South of Marrakech, it is not long before the road is into the foothills.
Farms in the foothills
A small Atlas Mountain village on the road to Tizi-N-Tichka Pass – even here, there are satellite dishes…
Atlas Mountain Valley – at the bottom, green with lush vegetation
Up and over the Atlas Mountains
After crossing the mountains we arrived at the city of Ouarzazate, an important regional power for centuries. The regional governor reigned over the area from within the protected and fortified kasbah, which lies at the centre of what has now become the city.
View of part of the kasbah
Traditional Berber design on the kasbah walls
Night falls over the kasbah in Ouarzazate
Bou Azzer District
To make a pilgrimage to Bou Azzer – one of the world’s great mineral districts – there is no way around it, you are into some rather arid countryside. The trip into this region is spectacular.
The highway winds over and around rugged, parched hills…
… and clearly there is not enough vegetation to obscure the strata…
… although some hardy plants give a tinge of green to the landscape in places.
The highway eventually leads down out of the hills into an incredibly dry landscape that stretches on and on.
There are occasional signs of settlement attempts, where ultimately the climate has proved too harsh – sustenance in this land requires an oasis or valley.
Upon arrival at Bou Azzer, we stopped at Shaft #9, where the head frame and mining works stand up over the landscape.
The Bou Azzer district has produced 215 mineral species, including the world’s finest specimens of erythrite, roselite, wendwilsonite, roselite-beta, talmessite, skutterudite and gersdorffite. It was not possible to enter the working areas of the mines, and so collecting was quite limited but certainly enjoyable and it was great to see these famous mines!
We headed out to Aït Ahmane, which is renowned as the source of the world’s best gersdorffite crystals. This was quite a trip, as the road rattled our vehicle for about an hour each way, until it seemed like it simply might fall into pieces. Out there, you’re in the middle of true nowhere, so an intact vehicle is a plus! Ultimately our driver refused to drive the last stretch of road, so we hiked for a few km in the hot desert sun to get to the mine. (Who bothers to notice such things when on the verge of seeing a famous mine…)
At the mine, the small valley gathers enough water to sustain vegetation – the rest of the landscape is quite barren.
Hiking back by a different route – along a track near the valley – we could eventually see the village of Aït Ahmane ahead.
Although we found small interesting things (including lots of tiny picropharmacolite crystals), it was only later in the trip that I managed to procure a better gersdorffite.
Gersdorffite, 3.5 cm, Aït Ahmane
While still in the Bou Azzer District, we also visited the Agoudal Mine, which has recently produced very fine cobaltoan calcites.
Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – 6cm
Dave found a nice vug containing sphaercobaltite crystals.
Sphaercobaltite, Agoudal Mine – Field of view 5mm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo)
During the course of the trip we were able to obtain other interesting minerals from this district, including excellent crystallized silver from the Bouismas Mine and beautiful roselite from the Aghbar Mine.
Silver crystals on calcite, Bouismas Mine – 5.2 cm
Roselite crystals, to 0.9 cm, Aghbar Mine
The Northern Sahara
Prior to this trip, I knew little – when I thought of the Sahara Desert, I thought mostly of the sand dunes from Lawrence of Arabia, with some hills, cliffs and valleys interspersed. (Interesting side note: much of the movie was filmed in Southern-Central Morocco.) I was really not expecting the desert to comprise of such massive open stretches of rocky terrain. There are of course sand dunes – the spectacular dune system at Erg Chebbi is one of many sand dune fields in the Sahara – but much of the landscape actually looks similar to the tumbling rocky landscapes NASA’s rovers photograph on Mars.
Rocks strewn all over the ground and stretching to the horizon
Escarpment in the distance breaks up the flat expanse of rockiness
Even signs of failed settlements are sparse
Nomadic Berber tent
The camels wander nearby the Berber camps
The Erg Chebbi dunes rise over the stony desert
Light and shadow shift subtly on the dunes
The sand flows in the wind, almost like water in slow motion
In places, the contrast between the sand dunes and the rock is striking – here, the transition zone included a few trees
This seasonal lake forms every two or three years at the base of the northern edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes – a true oasis
View out to the dunes from our lodgings at Erg Chebbi, the Yasmina Hotel
What adventure to the Sahara would be complete without camels… so Dave and I headed into the dunes…
Our guide led us on camels part way
Once we got to the base of the larger dunes, we dismounted and hiked to the top. Our guide instructed us to leave our hiking boots behind, as it would be easier in the sand – so we hiked it barefoot.
From the summit, a sea of dunes
Also from the summit – the seasonal lake beside the Yasmina Hotel
Dave and our Berber guide
Sunset in the Sahara
One of the most amazing things about the Sahara is how stark the difference can be, inside and outside of an oasis.
Inside an oasis, which is divided into plots and farmed by local families
Collecting grass (for the goats) and vegetables
Looking after camels, perhaps 50 feet outside of this same oasis (behind me it is lush vegetation (!))
The famous mineral locality in this part of Morocco is an old mine and series of workings near the town of Taouz. Over the years, the workings of Taouz have produced beautiful specimens of several minerals. Taouz is most noted for its vanadinite crystals (usually very distinctively on a black matrix of iron/manganese oxide mineralization), and also beautiful specimens of cerussite.
Taouz is the end of the road – heading south, this is the last settlement in Morocco before one reaches the closed border with Algeria. We were advised to stay away from the border, as we were told it has been laced with land mines in places.
View from Taouz workings, Algeria in the distance
Miner looks out over a basic hoist – this shaft (covered with corrugated sheet metal anchored with rocks, when not in use) is only about 3 feet wide
Collapsed tunnel underground at Taouz
Typical quartz crystal veining underground at Taouz
Typical specimen of manganese oxide mineralization at Taouz
Beautiful vanadinite crystals to 6mm on manganese oxides from Taouz
Blocky barite from Taouz – 4.5 cm
Iron-cross twin of pyrite, 1 cm, purchased from a miner at Taouz. He told me that this specimen was from an outcrop on a ridge beyond the main workings.
On to Midelt and Mibladen
On our last morning in the Sahara I was up before dawn…
Oasis sunrise in the Sahara
… and then we were on the road to Midelt and the amazing mines and minerals of Mibladen… Continued in Part 2
Midelt and Mibladen
Midelt and Mibladen are in a high plateau region, well north of the Sahara and in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains. Midelt is a regional capital with a population of approximately 45,000 people, and primarily it is an agricultural market centre.
Farmer on the way to morning market with a load of vegetables
Promenade with shops in central Midelt
However, there is an interesting fact about Midelt: it was estimated to me (by local government officials and also by local mineral dealers) that approximately 10% of Midelt’s annual GDP derives from sales of collector mineral specimens and mineral/fossil products, and related businesses. Whether or not this is exactly accurate, it is clear when you drive through Midelt and look at the storefronts that minerals are an important component of the local economy.
We attended the Second Annual Mindat Conference at the Taddart Hotel in Midelt and it was a super event, with speakers from all over the world. We also had the chance to buy specimens from mineral dealers at the museum/store attached to the hotel, and also generally, in and around Midelt.
However the true trip highlights in this region were out at Mibladen!
Mibladen was a mining centre where the French mined for lead in the first half of the 20th century, and the mines continued to produce until commercial operations ceased in the mid-1970s.
While the small village of Mibladen iteself is located about 18km east of Midelt, a large area about 10km in length comprises the “Mibladen” referred to by mineral collectors. This Mibladen mining district hosts mining workings that access two important and distinctly different mineral assemblages, and we spent time exploring both.
(1) Vanadinite and Barite: Coud’a and the ACF Mine
Mibladen is famous for its spectacular vanadinite crystals – the world’s best. They occur in all hues of red through brown, often associated with wonderful bladed barite, which occurs in beautiful specimens with and without vanadinite. This is the one mineral assemblage – where there are vanadinites, you will not find the famous Mibladen cerussites or wulfenites – these are in the second mineral assemblage, discussed in the next section below.
The two main vanadinite producing localities at Mibladen are the ACF Mine workings and the Coud’a workings. The vanadinite and barite crystals occur in mineralized zones that occur at various depths from the surface – some can be accessed by vertical shafts about 20-30 feet deep, and some are deeper. In the case of the ACF Mine, the vanadinite-bearing zones are accessed by workings that have been extended underground from the mine workings buy miners in search of specimens. In the case of the Coud’a workings, they are narrow shafts excavated by hand tools from the surface.
We were able to visit the Coud’a workings, and our guide Abdellah took us down two shafts where he had mined beautiful specimens of vanadinite and barite. A visit to these deposits is a bad idea for anyone who doesn’t like small closed spaces…
I followed him down…
Not a ton of room down there…
But enough room to work for vanadinite
The rock is solid and tough – tons of hard work goes into finding and extracting these specimens (D.K. Joyce photo)
The underground tunnels were pretty narrow, cut through solid rock using only hand tools (D.K. Joyce photo)
And this was the view ahead of me, a photo I took while lying where I was in the last photo, and looking further ahead into the tunnels. Red vanadinite/white barite mineralization was still visible in the ceilings and walls where specimens had been extracted during specimen mining.
Abdellah was up first, in case we needed help getting back out
Once any of the workings like these get too narrow or dangerous – or are simply collected out – Abdellah goes back to square one and starts again: he goes back to the surface and for the next 8 weeks he will sink a new shaft further along the deposit until he intersects the vanadinite-barite mineralization again. The condition under which the miners are allowed to work these deposits is that they may not use power tools or explosives, so all of the shafts and tunnels are cut by hand.
Beautiful specimens come from the vanadinite/barite workings at Mibladen.
Barite with Vanadinite, Coud’a workings – 5.2 cm
Barite with vanadinite, Coud’a workings – Field of view 5.5 cm
Vanadinite, ACF Mine – 7.7cm
(2) Cerussite, Wulfenite and Barite – Les Dalles Mine and Les O Mine
The second assemblage has produced world-class specimens of cerussite, along with barite and orange wulfenite (beautiful but uncommon at the locality). These minerals are found in the old large-scale lead mining workings, principally Les Dalles Mine and Les O Mine. These are large room-and-pillar mines – nothing like the narrow winding subterranean vanadinite tunnels carved by artisan miners.
Les O Mine
Pillars in Les O Mine
So here’s the thing about room and pillar mining like this. The pillars are left there for a reason. There’s a lotta rock overhead. However, the pillars of course are the one remaining source of the mineralization from the layer that was mined out… and so when specimen miners want specimens…
…say goodbye to your pillar… sometimes not a lot of pillar is left!
(Apparently there have never been any collapses due to robbing of the pillars)
Galena-barite-cerussite veining in a pillar
Series of barite crystal pockets in the ceiling at Les O Mine
Cerussite, 2.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine
Cerussite, Les Dalles Mine – 5 cm
Cerussite, 1.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine
Cerussite, Les Dalles Mine – 4.5 cm
As there have been many other write-ups online about the conference, I have been light on that topic, but I would be remiss if I did not at least include a mention of the “Surprise Dinner” as the conference Grande Finale. We were simply told to change into decent clothes and that we would be driven to dinner. It was after dark as we set out and it was hard to figure out where we might be headed. The conference shuttles pulled up into an area lit with temporary spotlights and we could see that we were in fact at one of the entrances of the Les Dalles Mine. A section of the room and pillar structure was converted – specifically for this night of this conference – into an underground dining area, large enough to host dinner for the whole conference, plus formally attired servers and a group of local musicians. We were served a multi-course meal on fine china, and I think most mineral collectors in the group were completely blown away by the vision behind the idea – and then the experience itself. It was an audacious concept and it was spectacular. (And after all, most of the time when we eat something at a world famous mineral locality, it is something from a packed lunch we’ve just pulled out of our backpacks…)
Aouli – Sidi Ayed
We made one final mineral locality pilgrimage on this trip – we went out to see Aouli and Sidi Ayed. Many mineral specimens are labelled “Aouli” (often yellow fluorites) but in fact Aouli has not produced minerals for decades and even in its producing days it was not a big specimen producer. We learned that the specimens labelled Aouli usually come from an area of workings around Sidi Ayed, which is perhaps half an hour or more beyond Aouli, over very rough winding roads.
This final adventure was all rough when it came to the roads. The roads themselves were strewn with rocks and had minor gaps where rivers had taken their toll during storms. We were driven in a car that looked like it might disintegrate at any minute. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but it was a train wreck. Here’s what we saw on the inside of the door when we got into this thing:
Actually it was not a day for rolling down the window anyway – it started out blustery with high winds, then came the blasting sand and finally by afternoon we had blowing sleet and hard rain. The latter of which of course came in down my neck through the hole in the car roof, but I digress. The car held together and the roads did not get washed out by the afternoon storm as our guides feared they might.
As collecting days go, there wasn’t much in the way of fine minerals out there, but it was an interesting trip through canyons and hills.
The road to Aouli
This bridge looked only slightly better than the car we were in, but it was solid and supported all kinds of traffic
River bridge and large adit at Aouli
Deep surface workings in the Sidi Ayed area – malachite, azurite and fluorite were all abundant
Sandstorm in the Sidi Ayed area – this settlement is abandoned, with all roofs gone from the buildings
Snow Closures – in Africa
You know, if you want to have snow closures and cancellations anywhere – even in Africa – just bring a few Canadians along. The stuff follows us wherever we go.
The end of our trip was a bit colourful, as a snowstorm hit the Atlas Mountains and surrounding areas. Highways were closed in all directions for about a day, and our route through the mountains back to catch our flight in Casablanca was in doubt. However, the morning of our departure the roads were reopened and although we passed accident scenes, our own travels were safe and smooth driving all the way to Casablanca.
The guardrail saved this one – it was a steep slope over the edge
On the open road, beginning our journey home
Minerals from Morocco
Some of the minerals described in this post are for sale on here our website. Some even come from the same holes and tunnels. If you are interested in minerals from Morocco, click here.
Back to Part 1: If you have landed here directly without seeing the first half of this adventure, it’s here at Part 1.
Special thanks to Tomasz Praszkier of Spirifer Minerals and Jolyon Ralph of mindat for their amazing efforts as the lead organizers of this trip and the conference – thank you both! The planning, logistics and the trip itself were all superb and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it. I’m afraid I will miss mentioning someone – thanks to Agatha, Ida and Abdellah, and to all of the organizers on the ground in Morocco, hosts, guides and drivers, for this unforgettable experience. And thanks of course to all the friends who took part in the journey!
I have refrained from delving into a lot of technical information on the localities, geology or mineralogy because there are super references already available, if you are interested.
For excellent references on Bou Azzer and Mibladen:
Favreau, G, Dietrich, J.E., Meisser, N., Brugger, J, Haddouch, L.A. and Maacha, L. (2007) Bou Azzer, Morocco. The Mineralogical Record. September-October, 2007, vol. 38, no. 5.
Praszkier, T. “Mibladen, Morocco.” (2013) The Mineralogical Record. May-June, 2013. vol. 44, no. 3.
A great German language book on Morocco (not available in English):
Jahn, S., Bode, R., Lyckberg, P., Medenbach, O., and Lierl H.J. (2003). Marokko: Land der Schöenen Mineralien und Fossilien. Bode, R., ed.
And a new book on the minerals of Morocco (anticipated to be two volumes) is anticipated soon from Tomasz Praszkier – can’t wait!