Archives

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 04.07.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

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

 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

Fluorite, Chebka Sidi Said, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco – 4.o cm

 Fluorite, Chebka Sidi Said, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz var. Amethyst, Sidi Rahal, El Kelaa des Sraghna Province, Morocco
Field of view – 5.0 cm

Cerussite, Touissit, Jerada Province, Oriental Region, Morocco

Cerussite, Touissit, Jerada Province, Oriental Region, Morocco – 3.1 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 02.10.2014 | Filed under: Adventurers, Latest | Comments (0)

Mibladen1

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.

Marrakech

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).

Minaret

 A merchant takes his wares to the souk, passing in front of the 12th century Minaret of the Khoutoubia Mosque

Market1Wares in an alleyway, in one of the souks

Mara6

The market at night

Market2

Steam and smoke rise from the food stalls at the night market in Marrakech

Arch1Intricate decor in historic Marrakech

Sidi Rahal

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.

sr2

I clambered down into the tunnel on the left

sr3

Amethystine quartz geode in the wall underground

sr4

Climbing back out the tunnel to daylight

sr5

Small quartz/chalcedony geode (6cm) in basalt.

sr6

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.

atlasmtn1

Farms in the foothills

atlasmtn2

A small Atlas Mountain village on the road to Tizi-N-Tichka Pass – even here, there are satellite dishes…

atlasmtn3

Atlas Mountain Valley – at the bottom, green with lush vegetation

atlasmtn4

Up and over the Atlas Mountains

Ouarzazate

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.

ouar2

View of part of the kasbah

ouar1

Traditional Berber design on the kasbah walls

ouar3

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.

BAz1

  The highway winds over and around rugged, parched hills…

BAz3

… and clearly there is not enough vegetation to obscure the strata…

BAz4

… 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.

BAz5

There are occasional signs of settlement attempts, where ultimately the climate has proved too harsh – sustenance in this land requires an oasis or valley.

BAz2 It seems that this small oasis was not enough to sustain the dwelling that was once here.

Upon arrival at Bou Azzer, we stopped at Shaft #9, where the head frame and mining works stand up over the landscape.

BAz6

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…)

BAz7

At the mine, the small valley gathers enough water to sustain vegetation – the rest of the landscape is quite barren.

BAz8

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

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.

CoCalcite

Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – 6cm

CoCalcite2

Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – field of view 4.3 cm

CoCalcite3

Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – 6.1 cm

Dave found a nice vug containing sphaercobaltite crystals.

Sphaerc

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.

Bouismas

Silver crystals on calcite, Bouismas Mine – 5.2 cm

Rose2

Roselite crystals, to 0.9 cm, Aghbar Mine

The Northern Sahara

Sahara1

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.

Sahara2

Rocks strewn all over the ground and stretching to the horizon

Sahara6

Escarpment in the distance breaks up the flat expanse of rockiness

Sahara3

Even signs of failed settlements are sparse

Sahara7

Nomadic Berber tent

Sahara5

The camels wander nearby the Berber camps

Sh1

The Erg Chebbi dunes rise over the stony desert

Sh6

Light and shadow shift subtly on the dunes

Sh16

The sand flows in the wind, almost like water in slow motion

Sh7

In places, the contrast between the sand dunes and the rock is striking – here, the transition zone included a few trees

Sh2

This seasonal lake forms every two or three years at the base of the northern edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes – a true oasis

Sh17

View out to the dunes from our lodgings at Erg Chebbi, the Yasmina Hotel

Sh9

What adventure to the Sahara would be complete without camels… so Dave and I headed into the dunes…

Sh8

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.

Sh12

From the summit, a sea of dunes

Sh11

Also from the summit – the seasonal lake beside the Yasmina Hotel

Sh14

Dave and our Berber guide

Sh13

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.

Sh3

Inside an oasis, which is divided into plots and farmed by local families

Sh18

Collecting grass (for the goats) and vegetables

Sh5

Looking after camels, perhaps 50 feet outside of this same oasis (behind me it is lush vegetation (!))

Taouz

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.

Taouz1

View from Taouz workings, Algeria in the distance

Taouz5

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

Taouz6 Miners’ dwelling at Taouz workings

Taouz2

Collapsed tunnel underground at Taouz

Taouz3

Typical quartz crystal veining underground at Taouz

Taouz4

Typical specimen of manganese oxide mineralization at Taouz

TaouzVanad

Beautiful vanadinite crystals to 6mm on manganese oxides from Taouz

TBarite

Blocky barite from Taouz – 4.5 cm

Ironcross

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…

Sh15

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