Archives

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 01.14.2017 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

I’ve posted some beautiful new specimens in this Morocco Update (click here).  The pieces include azurite from Kerrochen and Bou Beker, vanadinite from Taouz, pyrite-coated fluorite from El Hammam, purple fluorite from Tounfit, twinned cerussite from Mibladen and quartz on siderite from Gourrama.

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Crystal 2.5 cm

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Crystal 3.1 cm

Azurite, Bou Beker, Touissit-Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco

Azurite, Bou Beker, Touissit – Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco – 9.7 cm

Azurite with Malachite, Bou Beker, Touissit - Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco

Azurite with Malachite, Bou Beker, Touissit – Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco – 6.3 cm

Vanadinite, Taouz, Er Rachidia Province, Morocco

Vanadinite, Taouz, Er Rachidia Province, Morocco – 5.2 cm

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco – 6.0 cm

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco – 4.2 cm

Cerussite with Barite, Les Dalles Mine, Mibladen Mining District, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Cerussite with Barite, Les Dalles Mine, Mibladen Mining District, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 2.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 4.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 3.5 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 2.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 3.0 cm

Quartz, Siderite, Gourrama, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Quartz, Siderite, Gourrama, Er Rachidia, Morocco
Crystal 3.2 cm

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 07.03.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

In this Broken Hill Update (click here) I’ve added a small group of fine specimens from the classic locality, Broken Hill, Australia. Today the best sources for classic specimens from Broken Hill are old collections – these are from the collection of Milton Lavers, who was a well-known collector from Broken Hill.

Anglesite, Broken Hill, Australia Anglesite, Broken Hill, Australia – 5.7 cm

Smithsonite, Broken Hill, AustraliaSmithsonite, Broken Hill, Australia – 8.0 cmAnglesite, Broken Hill, AustraliaAnglesite, Broken Hill, Australia – field of view 4.0 cm

Calcite, variety manganoan calcite, Broken Hill, AustraliaCalcite, variety manganoan calcite, Broken Hill, Australia – 4.8 cm

Anglesite pseudomorph after Cerussite, Broken Hill, AustraliaAnglesite pseudomorph after Cerussite, Broken Hill, Australia – 4.2 cm

Smithsonite, Broken Hill, AustraliaSmithsonite, Broken Hill, Australia – 4.5 cm

Smithsonite, Broken Hill, AustraliaSmithsonite, Broken Hill, Australia – 4.8 cm

Coronadite, Broken Hill, AustraliaCoronadite, Broken Hill, Australia – 4.9 cm
(You can’t say this one doesn’t have character…)

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 06.12.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

I’ve added a new Namibia Update (click here) with selected excellent specimens from the Tsumeb Mine and also from the Kaokoveld Plateau in Namibia.

 Cerussite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaCerussite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 4.4 cm

Cerussite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaCerussite and Goethite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 4.9 cm

Cerussite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaCerussite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 5.2 cm

Copper, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaCopper, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – crystal group 1.5 cm

Malachite pseudomorph after azurite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaMalachite pseudomorph after azurite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 5.8 cm

Malachite pseudomorph after azurite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia Malachite pseudomorph after azurite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 7.2 cm

Smithsonite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaSmithsonite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 5.7 cm

Tennantite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, NamibiaTennantite, Tsumeb Mine, Otjikoto Region, Namibia – 5.2 cm

Dioptase, Okandawasi Pit, Kaokoveld Plateau, Kunene Region, NamibiaDioptase, Okandawasi Pit, Kaokoveld Plateau, Kunene Region, Namibia – crystal 1.4 cm

Dioptase, Okandawasi Pit, Kaokoveld Plateau, Kunene Region, NamibiaDioptase, Okandawasi Pit, Kaokoveld Plateau, Kunene Region, Namibia – field of view 2.4 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 11.21.2014 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

This China Update (click here) features a diverse group of excellent specimens, including super fluorite, ilvaite and löllingite from the Huanggang Mines in Inner Mongolia. There are connoisseur level pieces here.

Fluorite and Quartz from Huanggang Mines, Inner Mongolia, China

Fluorite on Quartz, Huanggang Mines, Inner Mongolia, China – 5.6 cm

Ilvaite from Huanggang Mines, Inner Mongolia, China

Ilvaite, Huanggang Mines, Inner Mongolia, China – 4.5 cm

The update also includes beautiful individual pieces from the Yaoganxian Mine and other well-known Chinese localities – an aquamarine from Xuebaoding with amazing morphology (almost no presence of prism faces), a gorgeous group of twinned cinnabar from Tongren, colourful blue hemimorphite from Wenshan, a wonderful little twinned cerussite from the famous mines at Daoping and an exquisite barite from Lushi.

 Barite from Lushi, China

Barite from Lushi Co., Henan Province, China – 5.7 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 03.13.2014 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

Cactus

Urban Field Collecting

Each year when “Tucson” nears, I’m like a kid who can’t wait to race downstairs on Christmas morning. Just the chance to experience the sprawling mineral shows all over the city (known collectively in Mineral World simply as “Tucson”)… there is so much to see and we all come away with different impressions.

This is just a brief blog post about a few favourite finds from Tucson 2014 that you might find interesting. I’m also including a few words below about Bisbee and the great little museum there, but not before Tucson (!).

I have been travelling to Tucson with my collecting partner David Joyce every year for a long time now. Finding what we’re after can be tough! We embark on excursions involving long trekking, backpacks, headlamps, loupes… sledge hammers and drills… Ok, ok, no sledges and drills. But it’s still urban field collecting. We work through a lot of rock in hopes of finding something great – and eventually we do.

The Music

Before I get to mineral specimens, I’ll start with something that was entirely new to Mineral World. Dave premiered his new CD – Nuggets and High Grade: The Mining and Mineral Collecting Songs of David K. Joyce. So, it was no ordinary Tucson. The guitar, the fans, the autographs, the crowd control barriers, the police escorts… (or something like that, anyway…)

Dave played small gigs around Tucson, including a great evening of Krupnik and Kielbasa hosted of course by Spirifer Minerals, and wine and cheese hosted by Dave Bunk Minerals up at the Westward Look show.

Music

The songs and instrumentals were played around the show, including at the Main Show – and they could be heard on sound systems coming from dealers’ rooms as you walked by. Light-hearted with good laughs, these are songs for mineral collectors. (If you haven’t heard Damn The Glaciers or The Mineral Dealer, you haven’t lived.) I feel safe predicting that many of these songs will be played live during the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, if you’d like to sing along in person. In the meantime, they are available on CD and downloadable from iTunes. If you have not yet heard these tunes, check them out here.

The Minerals

Moving on from the Rock Star to the rocks themselves… here are a few of the mineral finds I thought were special. (Some are new, and some are minerals that have debuted before now, where the prices, quality, or quantity have really improved.)  Specimens from all of these finds will be available on our website in the coming weeks.

China remains at the forefront for new and interesting mineral specimens.

There are amazing new calcite specimens from Chenzhou Prefecture, Hunan Province, China (specifics on locality were not freely forthcoming as yet – if you know more I’d love to hear from you (email or here).  These are comprised of first generation scalenohedral crystals capped by second generation flattened calcite crystals, giving wonderful aesthetic form, including even an almost mushroom-like appearance.  Unfortunately most that I saw from this find were damaged, but I managed to find a few that were in super shape. These are very cool specimens!

Calcite, China

Calcite, Chenzhou Prefecture, Hunan Province, China – 4.1 cm

Another interesting new one was a find of beautifully twinned cerussite at the famous Daoping Mine, Gongcheng Co., Guilin Prefecture, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, which is most famous for pyromorphite. Although nice specimens of blocky yellow cerussite crystals were found a few years ago at the locality, these ones are distinctly different – they are flattened, twinned and nicely coloured. I only acquired one (photographed below), because for the most part prices were high for what they are, and I saw only a very few that were high enough quality. Nonetheless there may be a few others around so keep your eyes open for them. I only saw them with the one dealer in Tucson – who knows if there could be more?

 ChinaCeruss

 Cerussite from the Daoping Mine, Gongcheng Co., Guilin Prefecture, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China – 3.1 cm

The latest specimens of chalcopyrite on siderite from Kaiwu, Hezhang County, Ghizou Province, China, are higher quality than most that have been coming out in the past, with sharp chalcopyrites and a new twist on a couple, which include tennantite (confirmed by post-Tucson analysis).  When these were first coming out, so many were badly damaged, and even so, they were incredibly expensive.

 Chalco

 Chalcopyrite and Siderite from Kaiwu, Hezhang County, Ghizou Province, China – 9.6 cm

The Huangguang mines in Inner Mongolia have continued to produce some wonderful mineral specimens. Many prices asked are still beyond the reach of mere mortals… but with some serious searching, fine specimens of several minerals were obtainable, including sharp ilvaites, some lollingites (most are still pricey) and others. What a great contemporary mineral producing region!

 Inner Mongolia

 Jewel-like Fluorite among dark-tipped sceptered Quartz, Huangguang Mines, Inner Mongolia, China – 5.3 cm

Moving on to the other world famous deposit with some strikingly similar mineralogy to the Huangguang Mines, some fine specimens continue to come from Dalnegorsk, Russia.  In particular, there were some nice fluorite crystals. There were also really neat quartz crystals with overgrowths of beta quartz, and also a few tabular-style pyrrhotites. 

DalFluoriteFluorite, Dalnegorsk, Russia – 5 cm

Coming further west, the famed type locality for  dioptase at Altyn-Tyube in the Kirghiz Steppes, Karagandy Province, Kazakhstan is producing some beautiful specimens and operations continue, with hopes of more in the future. A couple of  gorgeous ones are here.

100231(1)

New Dioptase from Altyn-Tyube in the Kirghiz Steppes, Karagandy Province, Kazakhstan – 12 cm

A truly new find was the pocket of wonderful black tourmalines found at Tsitondroina, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar – they are magnesiofoitite. The crystallography on these is pretty amazing. I acquired the best of them and they will be posted on the site soon.

Madagascar

Magnesiofoitite Tourmaline from Tsitondroina, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar – 6.5 cm

And the last one for now – some really great datolite crystals have recently been found at Charcas, Mun de Charcas, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. The datolite crystals can reach several centimetres across and range from pale green to pale blue. Some of the datolite crystals show a preferential crystallization habit, with highlighted white faces representing certain crystal forms. A number of the datolite specimens are accompanied by sulfide mineralization – primarily pyrite and chalcopyrite, crystals of which even occur fully included within datolite crystals.

DatoliteDatolite from  Charcas, Mun de Charcas, San Luis Potosí, Mexico – 7 cm

 

Where Minerals Go to Die

Just as an aside, have you ever wondered where minerals go to die? During real field collecting, the answer is usually the mine dumps. But what happens in the context  of urban field collecting?

There are places in Tucson where mineral specimens are thrown on top of each other, piled, crunched, maybe bathed in oil, bleached under the intense Arizona sun…

hwyshow1

Imagine a fine mineral specimen surviving this mayhem  (not sure why we need the pretext of boxes here)

Urban Field Collecting Can Wipe a Guy Out 

davsnzHard-working mineral dealer David K. Joyce, “power-napping” in the middle of the courtyard at the height of the busy Tucson City Centre Inn Suites Hotel Show.

(Dave likes to call it “power-napping.”  Possibly because it sounds more productive than “snoozing on the grass.”)

World Famous Bisbee

Although I could look at minerals all day every day an never tire of it, there’s something attractive to a change of pace and scenery, so we headed to Bisbee. The trip to Bisbee leads through Tombstone, famous in its own right as one of the roughest towns of the American Old West, best known for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Many of the lives of the early inhabitants of Tombstone ended prematurely.

boothillCemetery at Boot Hill, Tombstone

(Interesting about the name “Boot Hill”: This name was commonly given to cemeteries in the American Old West and was derived from the notion that this was where the gunfighters – the people who died with their boots on – were buried.  The Cemetery at Boot Hill, Tombstone was not limited to gunfighters.)

If you’ve never done the day-trip from Tucson to Bisbee, it’s worth it.

Headframe

Headframe at Bisbee

Of course Bisbee is best known among mineral collectors for its historic copper mines, which  are among the United States’ most prolific mineral specimen localities (325 different minerals have been found at Bisbee).  The old mining operations feature prominently on the modern landscape of the Bisbee area.

Bismine2

 The Sacramento Pit and Lavender Pit are the large (inactive) open pit mines at Bisbee

Bisbee itself is a neat town with lots of older buildings, artists’ studios and shops.  But (as you might guess) the highlight of the visit for me was the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. This little museum is so well done!  A member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliation Program, the displays were designed with the Smithsonian’s assistance. They are fascinating, informative and easy to walk through for however long (or not) you might want to stay. The museum is housed in the building that was once the corporate headquarters of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company (eventually purchased by Phelps Dodge Corporation, which was subsequently acquired by Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc.) – it is a beautifully preserved building and a National Registered Landmark.

bismus6

The upper floor of the museum’s displays includes underground mine scenes and some mineral specimens from various collections:

Bismus1

Gibbsite stalactite with Malachite and Azurite on Goethite from the Copper Queen Mine – approx. 15 cm
(James Douglas Collection, Smithsonian Institution Collection)

Bismus3

Calcite on Malachite from the Copper Queen Mine – approx. 12 cm
(James Douglas Collection, Smithsonian Institution Collection)

Bismus7

Malachite pseudomorph after Azurite from the Holbrook Mine – approx. 15 cm
(M.J. Cunningham Collection, Bank of America)

Bismus4

Gorgeous Cuprite from the Czar Mine – approx. 10 cm – largest crystal perhaps 1.2 cm
(M.J. Cunningham Collection, Bank of America)

I stumbled out of the museum, as those unforgettable red cubes were making my head swim!  Nice way to end the day in Bisbee.

Back in Tucson, it was time to wrap and pack specimens for shipment! We had a few last fine meals with mineral and mining friends before saying goodbye and heading back to the Great White North.

sunset2

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

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 02.09.2014 | Filed under: Adventurers, Latest | Comments (0)

Midelt1

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.

Midelt2

Farmer on the way to morning market with a load of vegetables

Midelt9

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!

Mibladen2

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.

Mibladen3Open lands and skies on the way to Mibladen

(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…

Midelt3 Dave took the rope and headed down the shaft

Midelt4

I followed him down…

Mibladen4

Not a ton of room down there…

acf1

But enough room to work for vanadinite

acf2

The rock is solid and tough – tons of hard work goes into finding and extracting these specimens (D.K. Joyce photo)

acf3

The underground tunnels were pretty narrow, cut through solid rock using only hand tools (D.K. Joyce photo)

acf4

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.

acf5

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.

ACF7

Barite with Vanadinite, Coud’a workings – 5.6 cm

Barite2

Barite with Vanadinite, Coud’a workings – 5.2 cm

Vana6

Barite with vanadinite, Coud’a workings – Field of view 5.5 cm

Vana2

Vanadinite on barite, Coud’a workings – 5.2 cm

Vana3

Vanadinite on barite, Coud’a workings – 4.9 cm

MibVana1

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.

lo2

Les O Mine

lo3

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…

ld1

…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)

ld2

Galena-barite-cerussite veining in a pillar

lo1

Series of barite crystal pockets in the ceiling at Les O Mine

MibCer2

Cerussite, 2.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine

MibCer6

Cerussite, Mibladen Mining District – 7.6 cm

MibCer4

Cerussite, Les Dalles Mine – 5 cm

MibCer1

Cerussite, 1.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine

MibCer3

Cerussite, Les Dalles Mine – 4.5 cm

Dinner Underground

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…)

dinner1Entering the mine for dinner

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:

cardoorTry rolling down the window

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.

Aouli1

The road to Aouli

Aouli2

This bridge looked only slightly better than the car we were in, but it was solid and supported all kinds of traffic

Aouli3

River bridge and large adit at Aouli

Aouli5

Deep  surface workings in the Sidi Ayed area – malachite, azurite and fluorite were all abundant

Aouli4

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.

snow2

The guardrail saved this one – it was a steep slope over the edge

snow1

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.

Thanks

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!

References

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!