Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy has been famous among mineral collectors for a long time. In fact, these coastal cliffs were internationally-known for their zeolites before Canada existed as a country.
Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy shoreline occurrences are early classic Canadian mineral localities, and have been producing superb specimens of many mineral species since the mid-19th century. For perspective, this is well ahead of the recovery of mineral specimens from other well-known Canadian localities like the Jeffrey Quarry at Asbestos or Mont St. Hilaire (Quebec), the Bancroft Area or Thunder Bay District (Ontario) or Rapid Creek (Yukon) – in some cases, over 100 years before the minerals of these localities were even discovered.
Specimens from the Bay of Fundy were noted in late 19th century texts and reports in Canada and internationally, and crystals of of gmelinite from Pinnacle Island (albeit as “Pinnack Island”) are included in Victor Goldschmidt’s early 20th century Atlas der Krystallformen.
Today, fine mineral specimens are still periodically recovered along the coasts of the Bay of Fundy, making this area one of the most productive contemporary regions for Canadian fine mineral specimens.
This post focuses on three classic localities: Wasson’s Bulff, Amethyst Cove and Cape D’Or. Part 2, a second post, is about two more classic localities, Two Islands and Five Islands – a link is at the end of this post.
First, just a bit of orientation. As shown to the left of centre on the map below, the Bay of Fundy is a large, elongated bay on the Atlantic Ocean. The area of interest for mineral collectors is at the northeastern area of the Bay of Fundy, including the Minas Basin, in the centre of the map. From Cape D’Or on the north shoreline, to the Morden area on the south shore, the linear length of shoreline to travel to the various mineral occurrences is over 400 km (approximately 250 miles).
Note in particular the tiny hook-shaped feature (the Blomidon Peninsula) poking up in the middle of this map, separating the triangle-shaped Minas Basin from the wider Bay of Fundy.
Zooming in closer, with the “hook” of the Blomidon Peninsula in the centre of the map below, I’ve plotted just a few of the most important Bay of Fundy mineral localities. These are to give a general idea, but in many cases the names of localities on the Bay of Fundy are used to refer to a stretch of shoreline, not one specific plotted point. The town of Parrsboro, right of centre, hosts the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show every August (a long-established show, it has passed its 50th anniversary), and is home to the Fundy Geological Museum.
In this post, I use the term “Bay of Fundy” to include the area that is known as the Minas Basin, east of the Blomidon Peninsula.
Background – World Class Mineral Specimens
From the 1830s on, the Bay of Fundy began to attract attention for its mineral occurrences, particularly the zeolites and associated minerals.
Several minerals occur in world-class specimens from the Bay of Fundy localities: analcime, chabazite and gmelinite are the classics.
Excellent specimens of natrolite and thomsonite are also found. Even certain more common minerals, known in spectacular specimens from other world localities, occur in rather unique specimens from the Bay of Fundy – for example, stilbite colours range into distinctive and beautiful golden yellow and cinnamon brown, while heulandite can be various colours, including brilliant orange. The type locality for mordenite is Morden, on the south shore of the Bay of Fundy.
It should be noted that the Bay of Fundy is also known for agates and pretty amethyst specimens.
About the Bay of Fundy
The coastlines along the Bay of Fundy include many exposures of rock, including cliffs up to about 100m (300 ft) high. The Bay of Fundy mineral localities are typically exposed rock the base of the cliffs themselves, and also some large rock falls where cliff sections have collapsed onto the beaches.
Unlike many other mineral localities, the Bay of Fundy occurrences are constantly refreshed by strong forces of nature. The Bay of Fundy itself does a lot of the work. The ocean here is particularly powerful, with incredible tides, periodic major Atlantic storms and occasional hurricanes.
The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world: the difference between high and low tide can be about 16 metres (over 50 feet) (!).
The waves and the pounding action of the tides, compounded by storms, scour the shorelines. Of course they also have the power to pile lots of unwanted rock on top of a good vein and bury it – so one never really knows what to expect at a locality on any given visit! The cliffs themselves are highly susceptible to erosion from heavy rain storms, and particularly from the freeze-thaw cycle in winter. Huge sections of the cliff walls crash down onto the beaches, and sometimes those rockfalls contain excellent mineralized zones.
All this action from the ocean is helpful, but it is also a power to be respected, both on the water and on the shore. From low tide to high tide, 14 cubic kilometres (14 billion tonnes) of water race through the relatively narrow gap between Cape Split and Cape D’Or. It is said that during a rising tide, at mid-tide, the channel by Cape Spilt is filled at a rate of 4 cubic kilometres of water per hour, equal to the combined flow of all of the world’s rivers and streams. This causes turbulent tidal currents and can create treacherous boating conditions.
It goes without saying that one needs to be very careful when collecting along the Bay of Fundy. (Please read the Please Use Caution section at the end of this post.) Collecting trips are timed exactly with the tides – at some locations, getting caught on the shore against the cliffs in a rising tide would be fatal. In addition, one must be careful about being anywhere near the cliffs, and obviously hard hats are worn in these areas. True, with the rare rockfalls that exceed the size of a car, the hard hat would be about as useful as Wyle E. Coyote’s umbrella, but most of the time what falls is small enough that a hard hat can save you a nasty headache, or save your head from becoming cratered.
Overview – Geology
The geology of the cliffs and surrounding Bay of Fundy formations reveals a complex history, far beyond the scope of this post. The rock formations exposed in this region include Carboniferous, Triassic and Jurassic deposits. Various rock types outcrop in the cliffs, including basalts, sandstones and siltstones. Many of the sedimentary rocks in the Bay of Fundy host important fossil occurrences, notably the early reptile fossils in the outcrops at Joggins, and dinosaur fossils in the sandstones near Parrsboro and Wasson’s Bluff.
Of greatest interest to mineral collectors are the basalt exposures. These relate to many separate lava flows during the late Triassic period (a little over 200 million years ago) and they host cavities and vein structures in which well-crystallized minerals are found. The cavities, known as amygdules, were originally formed as gas bubbles trapped in the lava as it cooled and hardened. Later, water flooded the amygdules and minerals formed. (Among the most commonly seen examples of amygdules from basaltic-host environments are the large amethyst cavities from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Artigas, Uruguay).
Small amygdules containing zeolite minerals in fractured basalt at Amethyst Cove.
Within the Bay of Fundy deposits, in addition to the amygdaloidal basalt occurrences there are significant breccia zones, where fluids filled cracks and mineralized veins resulted. Most often, as in the photo below, these are narrow seams with minimal potential for mineral specimens, but some of these veins are of sufficient size and complexity that they include excellent hollow zones and cavities in which crystals formed. Crystal-hosting zones are often very narrow and must be collected with extreme care, while it is very common to see crystals that just didn’t have adequate open space to fully develop. Certain seams have allowed for the development of crystallized copper.
Typical breccia zone seam containing small chabazite crystals on the beach at Wasson’s Bluff
Collecting Minerals Along the Bay of Fundy
At some localities along the Bay of Fundy, collecting is not for the faint of heart (figuratively or literally).
As one might expect, access is over the cliffs, down to the shores. In places, ropes are needed.
Of course it’s hard to isolate a single Bay of Fundy locality, but if one had to choose, perhaps the most prolific one through mineral collecting history has been Wasson’s Bluff, which has been collected since the mid-nineteenth century.
Wasson’s Bluff is known for superb chabazite crystals, balls of natrolite crystals, analcime crystals and golden-yellow stilbite fans.
It should be noted that Wasson’s Bluff has a protected designation under provincial law. Collecting is only permitted on the beach, and not in the cliffs. (All specimens depicted herein were obtained legally.) It is also important to observe that some of the access requires the crossing of private land and permission must be obtained.
One can access Wasson’s Bluff via different routes. One of them follows a narrow gully carved in the sandstone by runoff waters.
David Joyce took this photo of me descending the rope through the gap in the cliffs.
(Note the background expanse of the tidal flats at low tide. At high tide, the water is up at the driftwood by the cliffs.)
The name Wasson’s Bluff is used to refer to a fairly long stretch of shoreline cliffs, rather than a single cliff or outcrop.
A late spring scene at Wasson’s Bluff, tide receding
Some good collecting can be done when cliff sections have come down onto the beach as rock falls. A current one is the “Analcime Fall”, where lustrous glassy analcime crystals can be found.
I use the term “current” for the Analcime Fall because even though it is large, just as with everything else on the Bay of Fundy, the ocean will devour this rock pile.
Other mineralized zones outcrop when the tidal waters have scoured the beach clear, making beach collecting possible. For example, in the zones known to host chabazite crystals, some veins and vugs are exposed in the rocks down on the beach. These openings are often very tight, interconnected cavities with little open space for the crystals to have developed. The intergrown crystals are fragile and the basalt is friable, making these very difficult to collect as fine mineral specimens.
Sadly, the largest crystal in the above photo was cracked, as you can see if you look closely. However, the next photo shows a fine specimen that was successfully collected from the vug above:
Chabazite with Heulandite and Calcite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 7.2 cm
After a good day on the beach, there are specimens to haul back.
Returning along the beach at Wasson’s Bluff. David Joyce photo.
Here are some specimens from this classic locality:
Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – crystal ball 2 cm
Natrolite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 5.7 cm
Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – balls to 1.1 cm
Natrolite with Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 5 cm
Chabazite with Heulandite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm
Twinned Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia - crystal 1.1 cm
Chabazite (beautifully twinned), Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm
An interesting note about Wasson’s Bluff chabazite, as we’re strolling through some of the various chabazite colours from the locality… At one time, the dark brick-red crystals (such as in the photo below) were given the mineral name “acadialite”, after Acadia, the name (L’Acadie) of the French colony that was comprised of modern-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and parts of eastern Quebec and Maine. However, when it was ultimately determined that there was no composition distinction between acadialite and chabazite, acadialite was dropped and is now an obsolete name for chabazite. One still sees the name acadialite on old labels once in a while.
Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – crystals to 2.0 cm
Stilbite with Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 4.5 cm
Even though the arrival of fall in Canada is a sad signal that we’re almost done collecting until spring, we nonetheless appreciate that the woods above Wasson’s Bluff are beautiful in the fall!
Amethyst Cove is one of the well-known localities on the Blomidon Peninsula, between Cape Blomidon and Cape Split. The mineral locality name “Amethyst Cove” is usually used to refer to a significant stretch of the coastline between Cape Blomidon and Cape Split, and not only the cove itself.
Collecting at Amethyst Cove presents a more significant expedition than most other localities on the Bay of Fundy. The hike is a bit involved, with forest sections, rocky beach sections, and of course the ropes. Lots of ropes.
A nice gentle start greets you at the top of the rope section.
But the fact that the Minas Basin is so far below, visible looking down through the trees…
… means that this is what I think of when I think of Amethyst Cove.
Down at the base of the cliffs, the scenery is stunning.
As the name would suggest, Amethyst Cove has long been known for vugs of amethyst crystals. Often a mid-purple colour, most frequently the vugs and crystals are relatively small (comparatively speaking, in relation to world localities). They are quite distinctive and attractive, often with pale agate in association. Amethyst Cove and the Blomidon Peninsula host seams of agate of various kinds, and people hike the beach searching for them. The colours and aspects of these agates vary considerably (and it’s beyond my field of experience in general) – here is a typical one from Big Eddy.
Agate and Quartz, Big Eddy, Blomidon Peninsula, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 8.8 cm
However, among mineral collectors, the true classics for which Cape Blomidon and Amethyst Cove are best known are the analcime crystals. The finest analcime crystals from here rank among some of the finest from anywhere.
Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 3.3 cm crystal
Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 1.3 cm crystal
Cape Blomidon has also produced excellent specimens of thomsonite (thomsonite-Ca) in mounds and balls of small bladed crystals.
Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view 1.5 cm
A pocket opened up by David Joyce at Amethyst Cove in 2015 produced a few crystals of apophyllite that are quite large for this species along the Bay of Fundy.
Apophyllite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 4.4 cm crystal
One absolutely great thing about ropes and cliffs… is that they make you think long and hard about how much rock you really want to haul out from the site. (You already have your equipment weighing down your pack…)
David Joyce and Terry Collett on the ropes as we start back up
As soon as you get to the top of one section, you have a nice clear view of… the next section. Up, up, up!
Back on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, Cape D’Or is spectacular, both for its cliffs and its minerals. The hike to Cape D’Or is moderate, with ropes to assist, but the route is not as steep or as long as Amethyst Cove. The last stretch down the rock face at the shore can be done by rope down the small waterfall, or by ladder. Down at the shore, the rugged cliffs stretch on in either direction.
The Cape D’Or cliffs are huge. In the following photo, Terry Collett gives a sense of scale, at the small bottom section of one of the large cliff walls.
Everything at Cape D’Or seems large – the boulders and rocks on the shoreline require a bit of careful navigation if you want to make any progress (and remain upright!)
Some of the pocket zones along this shoreline are impressive.
Earlier in 2015, a large wall section came down from high on the cliff face, and crashed onto the beach – it is full of mineralized cavities and seams. Shown in the photo below, this is an example of a rock fall where neither your hard hat nor Wyle E. Coyote’s umbrella would save you.
George Thompson and David Joyce examining vugs and seams
This fall was informally named the “Apophyllite Fall”, as it yielded large numbers of specimens hosting sharp colourless apophyllite crystals. The rocks in this fall zone also contained significant amounts of mesolite and some associated stilbite. (The mesolite we found exposed at surface was cool to see, but not fine mineral specimen-calibre).
In recent years, Cape D’Or has perhaps best been known for the native copper specimens that have been collected from tight seams in one zone of basalt at the base of the cliffs. Some great crystallized copper specimens have been found.
As a locality note, there is more than one Cape D’Or copper occurrence, and the one that has produced many of the specimens (including the ones that follow) is on the shore near the historic workings of the Colonial Copper Mine. As a result, most labels use “Colonial Copper Mine” to identify that it is from these seams, where the mine workings are.
The fact that a number of these have been on the market might suggest two thoughts: (1) that they are easy to obtain, or (2) that they will become plentiful. I can personally confirm that the first thought is categorically false (!) and the second one is unlikely to become true. At present, a zone of exposed and fractured material yielding excellent copper specimens has been removed, and although copper can still be found, most of the remaining exposed rock is tight bedrock, with few signs of continuing copper at this time. (Hopefully the ocean will help a bit over time, but this is back from the usual reach of the waves, and even the metal detector isn’t encouraging, for now.)
In any event, I thought you might like me to illustrate my rejection of the “easy to obtain” idea. The copper occurs in narrow seams of celadonite cutting through the basalt. The basalt is solid stuff – when you are wailing away on it, it’s not something weathered or loose on the surface. You’ve hit solid Canada – hard rock. Meanwhile the copper is delicate, thin, and as if it is filigree. The copper is still very attached to Canada. A challenge, particularly if your goal is to remove the copper with a little bit of nice matrix!
To immerse yourself in the full Canadian-weather Cape D’Or experience in the next couple of photos, add a chilly wind, and note that the water in these photos is due to a cold November rain. (Yes, feel free to cue the Guns N’ Roses if you like, but there was no holding of candles.)
This photo shows nice crystallized copper, edge-on, in solid rock.
Copper in situ at Cape D’Or
Eventually, after a major effort, Terry Collett successfully extracted this section of copper, and here is a specimen:
Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – copper 4.8 cm across
One can work around a group of copper crystals, chiselling the hard rock as I did with this one…
Copper (about 3 cm) still attached to Canada, at Cape D’Or
… but ultimately after about an hour of hard work, the crystal aggregate sadly popped off with no matrix, and it was not as interesting as it looked like it might have been. C’est la vie!
Some nice specimens collected in recent years:
Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia
Field of view 3.5 cm
Cape D’Or is known for fine specimens of many minerals, including the zeolites and associated species. Finds of particular interest have included thomsonite and some super stilbite epimorphs after mesolite.
Thomsonite-Ca, Cape D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 6.9 cm
As winter settles in, we all hope that over the coming months with the freeze-thaw cycles and storms, the cliffs at Cape D’Or will drop more nice, big mineralized blocks full of amazing crystal pockets down onto the beach, just in time for the next collecting season. (Who dreams of “sugarplums” for Christmas? I mean really. There are so many better things to dream about. Mmmmm… pockets of gleaming crystals…)
The End of Collecting Season
In most parts of Canada, November heralds the end of collecting season. There’s no need to bother telling this to the hardest-of-hard-core Bay of Fundy collectors because they will sometimes be out year-round, with equipment to facilitate climbing on the ice and snow (!). However, for Canadian collectors with local mineral localities inland from the coasts, the ground freezes solid, localities fill with solid ice and are buried in snow… we know the signs of late fall mean that it’s time to allow Canadian winter to run its course again.
White pine with early-November blueberry bushes above the Bay of Fundy,
in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia
About the Mineral Specimens in this Post
Many of the mineral specimens in this post are, or have recently been, available for sale on this website. I do my best to source Bay of Fundy minerals regularly, and to ensure that there are excellent specimens available (click here for Bay of Fundy Specimens).
I should note that the specimens photographed in this post (and the ones on the website at the above link) were collected by several people, including those mentioned in the next section, over years of visits to Bay of Fundy localities. While it is certainly possible to personally collect a good specimen during a visit, most of the specimens that come to light are the result of regular year-round visits to the most productive localities by a number of hard-working Nova Scotia mineral collectors. As with all mineral collecting, sometimes these visits produce fine specimens.
Just a quick note to express my thanks to some friends in the Nova Scotia mineral collecting community. To Terry Collett, with his encyclopedic Nova Scotia mineral knowledge and amazing memory – he may know almost every mineralized seam and outcrop along the Bay of Fundy. (It’s a bit scary.) An extraordinary field-collector and our generous friend in the field – thank you!
Terry Collett descending the ropes at Cape D’Or.
(Photographing wildlife – always challenging – is easier than catching Terry in a sharp still photo,
thanks to his enthusiasm and energetic speed when out field collecting.)
Thanks to Ronnie Van Dommelen for hosting us to learn from your amazing collection, and for making so much superb Nova Scotia mineral information available to all of us on your definitive Nova Scotia mineralogy website (please see References below). Thanks to another well-known superb field collector, Doug Wilson, for great time at Wasson’s Bluff (Doug and Jackie run the Amethyst Boutique in Parrsboro) and of course for all of your hospitality.
Thanks to Dino Nardini (who runs Nova Scotia Agate) for hosting our collection visit.
And thank you very much to Rod and Helen Tyson (Tyson’s Fine Minerals, in Parrsboro) for your warm hospitality.
As always, thanks to Dave Joyce, for all that goes into our adventures. (For the contributed photos too!)
Please Use Caution!
There are serious accidents every year along the Bay of Fundy. Provincial emergency rescue teams are required to respond to evacuate hikers and others, and unfortunately these stories do not always have happy endings. People have lost their lives here. It may look gentle and mild in some of the photographs here (taken on the calmest of days), but absolutely don’t underestimate it – please be careful if you ever visit.
Any arrangements in this area must be made with careful consideration of the tide times and the weather conditions – mistakes in this regard can literally be fatal. Weather conditions on the Bay of Fundy can change incredibly rapidly. One must always have an eye on the time, the tide and the weather: always have a plan for managing a safe exit.
No visit to any Bay of Fundy locality should ever be made alone. Even some of the most careful, experienced Bay of Fundy mineral collectors have required the assistance of one or more additional persons to safely exit a Bay of Fundy mineral locality, either due to injuries or storms.
Many of the trails and access areas are steep and dangerous. The beach cobbles and shore bedrock can be super-slippery, particularly when wet. As between the trails and the shorelines, I think we’ve all fallen somewhere at some point along the way on these excursions.
Use of many of the access trails should not be undertaken without an accompanying guide.
The rocks comprising the cliffs along the Bay of Fundy can be loose and very unstable – some of the rock units are particularly weak. Always wear a hard hat and do not climb the cliffs.
Most of the collecting localities along the Bay of Fundy are unsafe and are certainly not appropriate for children. Beach collecting in a few of the very easy-access beach areas on the Bay of Fundy, away from cliffs, may be fine for children of an appropriate age, provided that it is conducted with continuous adult supervision to ensure, among other things, careful observation of the tides and avoidance of the strong undercurrents that can occur all around the Bay of Fundy.
This post does not constitute advice or recommendation to travel to the localities mentioned, and any decision to do so is each person’s own risk and responsibility. Adherence to applicable law and respect of private property are fundamental, and each of us is individually responsible – for ourselves, families and friends, and to the mineral collecting community as a whole – to be compliant and respectful at all times. If you are crossing or conducting any activity on private property, appropriate permissions must be obtained.
If you would like to read more about Nova Scotia minerals or research Nova Scotia mineral localities (including beyond the Bay of Fundy), I highly recommend Ronnie Van Dommelen’s great website, The Mineralogy of Nova Scotia
For additional reading, see also Van Dommelen, R. and Collett, T., “An Introduction to Minerals in Nova Scotia and a Report on Recent Collecting” in Rocks and Minerals 81:1 (Jan/Feb 2006), pp. 54-61
I’ve added a new Nova Scotia Update (click here), with minerals from the Bay of Fundy. This update accompanies the new post about Nova Scotia Mineral Collecting – The Bay of Fundy, with specimens from the classic Bay of Fundy localities highlighted in that article: Wasson’s Bluff, Amethyst Cove and Cape D’Or.
This is the first of two Bay of Fundy updates. Next week’s update will feature specimens from different localities – the islands (particularly the gmelinite localities) and Cape Split. An article about these localities is also now on the site, Mineral Collecting on the Islands – Bay of Fundy (click here) to give a little sense of what is behind the specimens from the islands.
To see mineral specimens from the Bay of Fundy currently available for sale, click here.
This update features superb analcime crystals and chabazite crystals, beautiful balls and sprays of natrolite crystals, delicate crystallized copper and more.
Analcime with Stilbite, Amethyst Cove, Kings Co., Nova Scotia – 3.3 cm crystal
Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 3.0 cm
Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 2.8 cm
Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 4.1 cm
Analcime, Mackay Head, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 4.1 cm
Natrolite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia – 5.7 cm
Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Natrolite crystal balls to approximately 1.1 cm
Natrolite on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately cm
Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – cm
Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 3.5 cm
Copper, Colonial Copper Mine, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 8.3 cm
Thomsonite, Cape Blomidon, Kings Co., Nova Scotia
Field of view approximately 1.5 cm
Stilbite epimorph after Mesolite, Cape D’Or, Nova Scotia – 7.0 cm
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.
After a long, harsh northern winter, most people in this part of the world look to the arrival of the red-winged blackbirds and robins, buds and flowers to mark the arrival of spring. But let’s be honest, spring only truly arrives with “Rochester” (the annual Rochester Mineralogical Symposium). For fun, sense of community, contribution and cameraderie – and for the excellence of the presentations and displays – this is by far one of the best mineral events of the year, anywhere. (And speaking of contribution, please note that the speakers were all generous in sharing their photographs for this post – thank you all!) Organized by Steve and Helen Chamberlain, along with a team of dedicated volunteers, it is not to be missed.
Just a word about it, if you’ve never been: Come!
Rochester is a symposium meant for people who love minerals. It is not purely academic or technical – it is rich in substantive content, with cutting edge discoveries and research in specimen mineralogy, yet accessible to people at all levels of expertise. The overall content is a super mix of mineralogy, photography, historical content, research, collecting information and glimpses of amazing places and people around the world.
The symposium (April 24-27) was incredibly high calibre, with excellent presentations by speakers from many different countries. In case you were not there – or even if you were – I hope you will enjoy reading about it and looking at a few of the photos. All of the speakers have kindly contributed photographs from their talks.
Michael Bainbridge’s “Grenville Grunge? Dispelling the Myth!” launched the symposium but lived on through the weekend. “Grenville Grunge” refers to the fact that some minerals found in the Grenville Geological Province, including parts of Ontario, Quebec and New York, can be dull, dark, and lacking sharpness, lustre or colour. It is a disparaging name coined by someone hopelessly misguided and misinformed. But I digress.
You may know Michael is an excellent mineral photographer, and so his presentation photos helped put an aesthetic face on Grenville Province minerals. However, the catchy alliteration “Grenville Grunge” seems to know no bounds. In a baffling development, it was repeated derisively by people around the symposium all weekend, and so the phrase lives on. It might even inadvertently have been granted a bit of new life… but don’t go propagating it. You can easily find shapeless lumps of mineralogical ugliness at awesome localities the world over. (It’s truly a ridiculous moniker – I will make it a mission of this website over time to help you see whether you agree. Because in fact, the sophistication, complexity and cool subtleties of Grenville minerals can be downright addictive.)
Tremolite, near Minden, Ontario – 12 cm. Michael Bainbridge specimen and photo.
Michael collected this specimen in 2010.
John Jaszczak gave a fantastic presentation “Mineralogical Miracles at Merelani”, about some of the interesting mineral finds at Merelani, Tanzania beyond tanzanite and tsavorite. John spoke about the amazing crystals of graphite and diopside, and also about the recent finds of killer alabandite and wurtzite crystals. A Mineralogical Record article about the latter is in the works – can’t wait for it.
Diopside with graphite from Merelani, Tanzania. Larger crystal 1.8 cm. A.E. Seaman Museum specimen, John Jaszczak photo.
A super talk about one of the world’s most classic localities, the famous Herodsfoot Mine, was presented by Roy Starkey (“Herodsfoot Mine, Richard Talling and Bournonite”). Meticulously researched, with excellent mix of historical background and great minerals, and supported with lots of great photographs.
Herodsfoot, postcard from ca 1900. Mining buildings and tailings at centre and left. Roy Starkey photo.
Bournonite on Quartz from the Herodsfoot Mine, 9 x 7 x 3 cm (crystals to 4 x 1 cm).
Photo by Roy Starkey – Image copyright British Geological Survey.
One of my favourite subjects of the symposium was the Sulfur Mines of Sicily, featured in the Friday night presentation by Dr. Renato Pagano.
I have a confession here (mineral connoisseurs might say a huge confession). And I guess it’s a bit embarrassing, since I swear I really thought I had read Dr. Pagano’s (and other authors’) writings on this. But somehow it was only now that I finally have come to understand that Sicilian sulfur deposits are not volcanic deposits – it’s just so natural to assume that the famous active volcanoes on Sicily gave rise to and host the famous sulfur deposits, but this is not the case. Sulfur in Sicily occurs in a sequence of Miocene evaporitic formations including limestone and gypsum.
Anyway, now that my admission is out of the way…
Dr. Pagano included wonderful photographs and shared some amazing specimens with us – he provided a couple of my favourites for this post. The following are two specimens from the Pagano collection, photographed by Roberto Appiani.
One of the best things about Rochester is that every year we end up in so many different mineral places, near and far. Over the years, Dr. Peter Lyckberg has made many visits to the Chamber Pegmatites of Volodarsk, Ukraine, and gave just an amazing talk on this – really, this presentation was so good you felt like you were right there, underground, collecting beryl and topaz. The mining of the chamber pegmatites has an interesting history, including massive state-sponsored investment during the Soviet era, without which, none of this could have been possible. However, it is a story that may be at an end, as the last mining has stopped as of January, 2013. Peter clearly sensed that the chances to visit Volodarsk could be time-limited, and we’re so lucky he did!
“Peter’s Dream Pocket” with giant topaz and zinnwaldite. Pegmatite 569, Shaft 3, Volodarsk, Ukraine. Photo by Peter Lyckberg January 2013.
Peter Lyckberg with 29 kg topaz and smoky quartz from pegmatite tube near pegmatite 569 at 96 m level,
Shaft 3, Volodarsk, Ukraine. Photo by Alexander Chournousenko.
Peter at the symposium with a topaz and a heliodor.
Peter brought this beautiful topaz to show us at the Symposium – I’m guessing almost 15 cm across.
(The “matrix” in this photo is the dry-cleaning plastic we all use for packing specimens.)
Mark Jacobson took us to Mount Antero, Colorado, the classic Western American aquamarine locality. To me, the approach taken in presenting this really made it – the talk highlighted many of the collectors themselves, and their finds over the years. This was a great approach and a very engaging talk. The presentation included lots of photos of specimens of the “big three” from Mt. Antero – beryl (variety aquamarine), phenakite and bertrandite.
Beryl, var. aquamarine from Mt. Antero – 16.8cm. Collected by Steve Brancato,
this specimen is in the Bruce Oreck collection. Mark Jacobson photograph.
Bertrandite from Mt. Antero – 1 cm. Mark Jacobson photograph.
Collected by Jeff Self, this specimen is in his collection.
Phenakite from Mt. Antero. The largest crystal is 3.1 cm. Originally collected by Curtis Abbott and
Cliff Robertson, this specimen is in the Dave Bunk collection. Mark Jacobson photograph.
Ted Johnson spoke on the pegmatite occurrence at Branchville, Connecticut. This is a locality for some very unusual minerals and interesting mineralogy/genesis. Unfortunately the locality is closed to collecting – a house is very nearby, and a road runs very close to the water-filled pit. However, analytical work by dedicated amateurs continues, and this is a great example of such contributions being made to specimen mineralogy.
Eucryptite, photographed in UV light, 7.5 x 5 cm. Ted Johnson specimen and photograph.
Eucryptite, with remnant spodumene core, photographed in UV light, 15.2 x 12.7 cm. Ted Johnson specimen and photograph.
Often, we are lucky enough to have key speakers give us a reprise on a separate subject to close out the symposium on Sunday morning.
Roy Starkey presented on the Cairngorm mountain range in Scotland. If you have read any older field guide, monograph or text, you have likely seen that the Cairngorms are a classic locality for smoky quartz crystals – so much so that they were sometimes themselves called cairngorms. There was lots of great information in this talk – I had no idea that excellent topaz has also been found in the Cairngorms. I also had no clue that Queen Victoria had done any field collecting for minerals…
Cairn Toul, Angel’s Peak and Braeriach from flanks of Ben Macdui, Scotland. Roy Starkey photograph.
Smoky quartz and citrine from the Cairngorms, Scotland. Royal Scottish Museum. Roy Starkey photograph.
Dr. Peter Lyckberg gave us our grande finale, with “Highlights of 50 Years of Mineral Collecting”. The personal nature of this talk really resonated with me. He began his fascination and collecting of minerals when he was very young, and he has pursued it passionately ever since – many of us could truly relate. With a whirlwind tour, we visited localities worldwide, and had a chance to see some truly spectacular mineral specimens that have become part of his great personal collection – often after some rather dedicated pursuit!
Peter Lyckberg was the first western visitor since 1917 in the Alabashka Pegmatite Field, Mursinka,Urals, Russia.
In this photograph, he is with Pocket 4 at 30 m depth, Kazionnitsa Pegmatite January 1993.
Mining a gem pocket next to pocket 201 at 30 m depth in the Kazionnitsa Mine, Alabashka Pegmatite Field,
Mursinka, Urals, Russia, January 1993. Photo by A Kasyanov.
Beryl, var heliodor and aquamarine – the largest heliodor is 12 cm tall. Peter Lyckberg collection and photograph.
Every year, Friday afternoon of the symposium is reserved for the technical session. This session is always packed with tons of information – each presenter is limited to 15 minutes. Abstracts from these talks are included in the symposium program, and are also published during the year in Rocks and Minerals magazine.
The symposium includes some consistent high-level features every year.
Saturday morning always features Jeff Scovil presenting What’s New in Minerals and Localities. Jeff’s world-leading mineral photography dazzles us all for an hour, as he covers finds from around the globe that were uncovered in the prior year or so. Some of these are photographs that we see in the Mineralogical Record, Rocks and Minerals, and other publications during the year and other photographs may make their debut at Rochester – and when they are all together in one show, it’s a bit mind boggling. I’ve never once seen Jeff do What’s New without having the audience draw breath collectively over some of the specimens. (People might even pass out over the experience – I mean it’s always dark during the slideshow, so how would we know – although miraculously no-one is on the floor at the end.)
Following Jeff, “What’s New in Minerals and Localities II” is the chance for short contributions from other symposium registrants – we never have any idea what will come out during this hour, but always new, and one of the neatest sessions of the Symposium, where we can share with each other.
Frank Melanson spoke about the new Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Museum – I will post a separate piece on the blog about this one, coming soon, so stay tuned.
I presented briefly on some recent new mineral finds, including the amazing magnesiofoititite tourmaline crystals from Tsitondroina, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.
I also presented on a remarkable Canadian find. One of Canada’s top field collectors, Mike Irwin, has discovered and collected some very fine specimens of the rare mineral serendibite from near Portage du Fort, Pontiac Co., Quebec. Many of the specimens include some level of overgrowth and/or replacement growth by a combination of dravite-uvite and spinel. In some of the material, the serendibite is a nice blue, mottled in a lighter host rock which includes very pale diopside. The blue is an understated, blue-jean blue (suits us Canadians) rather than an outspoken copper oxide zone blue. So far, extremely few euhedral crystals have been recovered – vugs are rare at the locality.
Sharp serendibite crystals, up to 0.5 cm, with pale diopside – near Portage-du-Fort, Pontiac Co., Quebec.
R. Peter Richards has presented many fascinating topics to us at Rochester over the years. This one was to follow up on a remarkable find. There is a locality along the Huron River, near Milan, Ohio, discovered thanks to smoke rising up out of a crevice. The smoke, from a natural shale fire underground, deposited micro-crystals, which at the time of the original presentation had not yet been identified. Subsequent work has now confirmed that these are sabieite-2H and -3R, intimately mixed in single crystals. They are new polytypes of sabieite 1-T. Unfortunately the material was incredibly limited and no specimens are available.
Sabieite -2H and -3R crystal, 0.5 mm, Huron River, near Milan, Ohio. R. Peter Richards specimen and photograph.
Finally, Gloria Staebler (of Lithographie LLC) spoke about what I think is a great development for the hobby: Lithographie is going to be publishing a new edition of the classic, Mineralogy for Amateurs by John Sinkankas, originally published in 1964. (If you’ve read my Favourite Mineral Reads post, you’ll know this is one of my favourite mineral books of all time.) The new edition is undergoing significant work, in order to update the information, although it is fundamental to the project that the voice, tone and approach remain true to the Sinkankas original. The new edition will be published as a two-volume set, with major revisions to update the mineral descriptions. Gloria has many people involved, and is keen to involve more. For example, she is planning to have given minerals updated by a single experienced individual (one person will do hematite, another will do pyrite and so on). There is lots to be done, and if you would like to contribute to the revision of this classic, please contact Gloria and let her know of your interest at Gloria@lithographie.org .
As always, there were some great displays this year, both from museums and private collections.
Super display of Nova Scotia Minerals by Canadian collector George Thompson.
John Betts had a great display of U.S. minerals, including this great smoky quartz (ca 12 cm) he collected in 1992.
Excellent display of pseudomorphs (specifically, these are perimorphs, which are formed when one mineral is encrusted by a second mineral, and the second mineral (crust) still remains while the original mineral has dissolved, leaving a hollow interior). Cincinnati Museum Centre display of specimens on loan from the Terry Huizing Collection.
Remarkable brucite specimen, ca. 15 cm across, from Texas, Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania. Formerly in the famous William Jeffris Collection, then acquired by Andrew Carnegie in 1904. Now in the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum collection.
Wonderful copper specimen in the collection of David K. Joyce – about 7 cm tall – it stands up straight like this and has been referred to as the “Copper Man”.
As great as the presentations, program and displays are, a lot of what Rochester is about happens up on the famous fourth floor, where the dealers’ rooms are full of life well into the morning hours.
David K. Joyce plays and sings his mineral and mining songs every year at Rochester – it’s always a highlight, hanging out with friends and singing along.
(In this photo Dave is between songs, while Canadian dealer and collector Jonathan Zvonko looks on.)
If you have not yet heard Dave’s tunes, they are available on CD and downloadable from iTunes – and you can check them out here.
In another fun fourth floor moment, to the amusement and laughter of all in the room, John Betts made a presentation to me, welcoming me as a new internet mineral dealer. He presented me with an Internet Mineral Dealer’s Kit, to help me on my way. Some of the contents of that kit simply can’t be discussed here. Suffice it to say that it included screws, mineral oil, Preparation H, a candle, a guide to ordering beer in 26 different languages… and other helpful items. The egg timer in the kit is meant to speed up my photography (a particularly good laugh). And John feels strongly that I am not writing enough in bold all-caps (particularly the word RARE), and I’m using far too few exclamation marks.
John Betts presenting me with a printed sheet full of exclamation marks and multiple examples of the word “RARE!!!” to give me an idea
of what a mineral dealing website should really look like. David K. Joyce photo.
John has been one of the leading online mineral dealers since the beginning of the internet age – if you have not been to his website, it is truly one of the best. I mean BEST EVER!!! and MOST COMPREHENSIVELY AWESOME!!!! SUPER RARE!!!
Rochester is all about good times with good friends in mineral world.
Until Next Year…
It is true for most Rochester fans – once you have been, you really do your best to never miss another one. So if you haven’t been, come and experience one of the best events of the mineral year with those of us who wouldn’t miss it (April 23-April 26, 2015). And of course to all the Rochester friends who are there each year, thanks for the great time together and see you there next year.
I have a just posted a small group of wonderful Canadian native copper specimens, collected in 2013 from the Colonial Copper Mine, Cap D’Or, Cumberland Co., Nova Scotia, Canada. These are beautiful intricate branches of copper crystals, some on matrix and some free floating. Really nice!