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Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 02.23.2018 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

 

It’s hard to believe that another Tucson has come and gone already. In the middle of a cold Bancroft winter, Tucson’s wonderful warm sunshine was sure welcome.

Santa Rita Foothills, Arizona Santa Rita Foothills, southeast of Tucson

I was very fortunate to be able to experience Tucson’s natural surroundings this year. I stayed with my good friend and collecting partner David Joyce (David K. Joyce Minerals), with Carol Teal and their dog Riley at their new place in the beautiful Santa Rita Foothills, southeast of the city.

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 Dave and Riley on their sitting rock

In the foothills

Photo of me taken by Don Doell – Santa Rita Foothills, with Tucson in the distance

The Sonora Desert is a remarkable place in the world. In places, and at many times of year, it appears harsh and unforgiving. As to flora and fauna, the Sonora Desert gives the superficial impression that it is inhabited only by the hardiest very few species.

Saguaro SceneSaguaro Cacti

Immerse yourself in it a little, and the truth reveals itself – the variety of plants and animals is amazing (600 plant species and 200 animal species).  As with everything in life, the more quiet observation you do, the more you see. The foothills and desert areas around Tucson are full of life.

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Deer paying a visit to Dave and Carol’s place

Cactus flower

Cactus bloom

Saguaro armSaguaro arm

On one of our mornings in the desert, the moon put on a show of its own.

Mesquite EclipseUnder the mesquite trees with the lunar eclipse before dawn, Santa Rita Foothills

The Minerals

OK OK. I know, we all really want to read about minerals. Of course, what Tucson means is the fun of midwinter urban field collecting, and there were lots of great specimens this year.

Some beautiful and interesting specimens have continued to come from Pakistan and Afghanistan. From Pakistan, the recent brucite specimens are super – some of the finest brucite I’ve ever seen. The Killah Saifullah brucite were first noted to me by John White after he saw a couple in Munich, 2016, and since then, the quality of the finest has greatly increased over those early days. It seems that most of these are occurring in very tight seams, or with a fragmented or brecciated matrix, and so most have contacts and grey spots around them. The colour of most of them is a cream-to-very-pale-yellow, but the best have a bright yellow hue. Many are very finely crystallized, but on some, like these ones, one can easily see many crystal faces. These Pakistan brucites are amazing for the mineral.

I’ve done my best to colour-balance them accurately (daylight, shade). I always do that anyway, of course, but some mineral specimens are susceptible to really skewing away from daylight appearance when photographed.

Brucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, Pakistan
Brucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, Pakistan – 6.1 cm

Brucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, Pakistan

Brucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, Pakistan – 7.2 cm

Brucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, PakistanBrucite, Killa Saifullah, Balochistan, Pakistan – 3.2 cm

From Afghanistan, a small number of excellent specimens have continued to come from some of the best-known occurrences, and I just want to highlight one in particular. From Sar-e Sang, Dudley Blauwet has recently brought out a couple of particularly excellent diopside specimens, and I am including one here. Given that diopside is not an uncommon mineral, it’s surprising that great matrix specimens are so hard to find. This one is striking.

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Diopside, Ladujar Medam, Sar-e Sang River, Kokcha Valley, Badakhshan, Afghanistan – 8 cm

Moving on to South America, there have been a couple of particularly interesting new finds. In Potosí, Bolivia, there has been a discovery of very pretty amethyst crystals. There isn’t more specific information about the locality at this time – I’m told that this is because it is in an unnamed area of Potosi, not near to any named settlement or geographic feature. The specimens were discovered by farmers, at the edge of a field area, bordering hills. These have somewhat similar habit and appearance to some of the amethyst crystals from Peidra Parada (Las Vigas), Mexico. They are sharp, with top lustre and excellent transparency. Some are doubly-terminated, and some show a great reverse-sceptre habit. These are really sweet – I only found them available from one person, and I acquired the nicest for the website.

Quartz, var. amethyst, Potosi, BoliviaQuartz, var. amethyst, Potosí, Bolivia – 5.3 cm

Quartz, var. amethyst, Potosí, Bolivia

Quartz, var. amethyst (reverse sceptre), Potosí, Bolivia
Field of view 1.5 cm

Quartz, var. amethyst, Potosí, Bolivia

Quartz, var. amethyst, Potosí, Bolivia
Field of view 2.5 cm

In Peru, there has been a new discovery of clinozoizite. I understand that the workings from which these were produced are only operational on a sporadic basis. The specific zone from which these specimens were recovered is apparently now done, and they have encountered a bit of epidote as the work has advanced. Excellent display specimens of clinozoisite are generally uncommon – one thinks of the famous finds at Alchuri in the Shigar Valley in Pakistan, and few other localities come to mind. These clinozoisite specimens are all clustered groups of crystals. I have seen no single isolated crystals. The crystals themselves are very sharp and well-defined, lustrous, with some twinned and some not.

Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Canete, Canete Province, Lima Dept., Peru

Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Cañete,
Cañete Province, Lima Dept., Peru – 4.3 cm

Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Canete, Canete Province, Lima Dept., Peru Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Cañete, Cañete Province, Lima Dept., Peru

Clinozoisite twin, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Cañete,
Cañete Province, Lima Dept., Peru – 3.5 cm

Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Canete, Canete Province, Lima Dept., Peru Clinozoisite, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Cañete, Cañete Province, Lima Dept., Peru

Clinozoisite twin, Cerro San Cristobal, San Vincente de Cañete,
Cañete Province, Lima Dept., Peru – 8.6 cm

I want to highlight one other great find that is relatively recent – the spectacular iron-cross twins of pyrite from Gachalá, Cundinamarca, Colombia, discovered about a year ago (I believe the ones available in Tucson were from the original find, as opposed to new production). The term “iron-cross twin” refers to twinned pentagonal dodecahedra, the edges of which cross at right angles. Well-defined iron-cross pyrite twins have always been uncommon and sought-after. Most are small, and often incomplete. These are quite large for iron-cross twins – they are pretty spectacular. One note about these: they have been mislabeled as goethite or limonite after pyrite. They are not pseudomorphs. In fact, they are pyrite, with a very thin surface layer of goethite.

Pyrite Iron Cross Twin, Gachalá, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Pyrite Iron-Cross Twin, Gachalá, Cundinamarca, Colombia – 5.0 cm

Over to Africa, some great specimens. In Tanzania, the Merelani occurrences continue to produce very fine specimens of a number of minerals, while a few specimens from finds in recent years have surfaced as well.

Merelani Diopside

 Diopside with graphite, Merelani Hills, Lelatima Mountains, Manyara, Tanzania – 3.7 cm

MerelaniPrehnitePrehnite, Merelani Hills, Lelatima Mountains, Manyara, Tanzania – 5.3 cm

From the finds in 2012-13, I managed to acquire a world-class alabandite crystal.

Alabandite, Merelani Hills, Lelatima Mountains, Manyara, Tanzania

Alabandite, Merelani Hills, Lelatima Mountains, Manyara, Tanzania – 6.8 cm

From Malawi, there have been more first class specimens available from the the occurrences at Mt. Malosa and Mulanje, including arfvedsonite, eudidymite and zircon.

Zircon, Mount Malosa, Zomba District, Malawi Zircon, Mount Malosa, Zomba District, Malawi – crystal 3.2 cm

Over the years, the very well-known almandine occurrence at Vrondolo, Madagascar, has produced some unusually fine crystals. This occurrence is a fair distance up a small mountain – it takes hours to reach it on foot. Most often, the crystals from here are slightly to heavily chipped when extracted, because they are found frozen in solid rock. However, I found a small recent group of specimens including crystals that grew into open spaces, as well as other crystals extracted in super condition. These are really nice garnets!

Almandine, Vorondolo, Antananarivo, Madagascar

 Almandine, Vorondolo, Antananarivo, Madagascar – 4.5 cm

Last from Africa, Morocco continues to produce excellent specimens of many minerals – the golden age of Moroccan minerals continues. Because these finds have been known generally or written up by others, I won’t dwell too much on them in this report – there will be many fine Moroccan specimens coming on the website over the next few months. However, I want to highlight some Imilchil material that I think is noteworthy. For some time, we have seen small dark garnet crystals from Imilchil. Some of these crystals have been found to be the titanium-rich garnet group member, schorlomite, while I’m told most analyzed specimens are actually titanium-rich andradite, not enough titanium to be schorlomite. A new find at Anemzi (the same Imilchil-area locality that produces the fine green fluorapatite crystals, and has produced nice magnetites) has produced some of the nicest of these dark andradite crystals I have seen from Imilchil. At their finest, the crystals are sharp with beautiful morphology, and a good number of the specimens are comprised of a stack of these crystals. Some specimens have small, sharp, octahedral magnetite crystals in association – they are sparse, but a neat pairing. Independent from the andradites, Anemzi has produced some sharp magnetites lately as well, making for very nice specimens.

Andradite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Andradite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 7 cm

Andradite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Andradite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 3.5 cm

Magnetite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Magnetite, Anemzi, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 4.4 cm

My final mineral entry is from China. I feel that the find of fluorite from Fujian deserves a mention, even though China has produced so much fluorite over the years. These new ones are the fluorites that have been dubbed “tanzanite fluorite” by several dealers. These have been available since early 2017, and they were not widespread this year at Tucson. The ones available were quite expensive. This locality has produced a range of fluorite – the most tanzanite blue-purple is from the one 2017 find, while other blues and purple hues have been recovered as well. I’ve been told there is “no more” – of course!!! – and we’ve all heard that so many times before, so skepticism is certainly warranted! I personally will believe it when I see it. However, I didn’t see as much as I expected and hoped, so we’ll see. Moreover, most of the specimens I did see were significantly contacted and/or damaged. I believe this is not only reflecting the way they were collected (perhaps in some cases with less care than we’d like), but also due to the nature of the occurrence. Many of these seem to have formed in very tight and narrow spaces, and would have been exceptionally difficult to extract without any contacting issues. I think the overall story of this locality will be clearer over time. Given that there are several colour hues and crystal habits from this locality, so it seems likely there was more than one pocket. These are beautiful fluorite specimens!

Fluorite, Xiayang, Yonchun Co., Fujian, China

 Fluorite, Xiayang, Yongchun Co., Fujian, China – 5.3 cm

Fluorite, Xiayang, Yonchun Co., Fujian, China

Fluorite, Xiayang, Yongchun Co., Fujian, China – 3.4 cm

Fluorite, Xiayang, Yonchun Co., Fujian, China

Fluorite, Xiayang, Yongchun Co., Fujian, China – 5.2 cm

A Remarkable Emerald

My friend John White came upon a remarkable emerald specimen from Pakistan and I want to share a photo. I’ve never seen anything like it, and much more important, John (you likely know, the former curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s mineral collection) has never seen anything like it! It is available.

Beryl var. Emerald - Pakistan 28-1-25

 

 Beryl, var. emerald, Guijar Kalay Valley, Swat District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.
The larger crystal is 3.5 cm tall.

Friends

Tucson 2018 was a great time, with lots of great friends and the beauty of the Sonora Desert. Thank you all!

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Evening shadows  (I believe the order is Don Doell, me, John Betts)

Mineral Song Campfire

Mineral songs around the campfire, led by Dave (of course!)
From left: Malcolm Southwood, John Veevaert, John Betts, Don Doell, David Joyce and Angela Southwood

Thank you again Carol, Dave and Riley, for a wonderful time!

Carol Dave Riley

Until next year, so long, Tucson…

Palo Verde Sunset

Home! And… Rudy!

As great as it was, it’s wonderful to be home. The warm sun of the Tucson desert having recharged me, I’m happy to be back out in the winter woods.

Snowy Road, Bancroft, OntarioOur snowy woods, near Bancroft, Ontario

SnowWoods 2

Sunny winter morning, Bancroft, Ontario

And as many of you know, this means I’m back to once again sharing fun with young Rudy, our Labrador Retriever puppy.

Rudy McDougallDad, can I join you on the couch?

Rudy McDougall

First shipping run to Bancroft.
Dad, I’ll drive.

In only a couple of months he has transformed from tiny puppy to young dog. He’s gleeful about pretty much everything.

Rudy McDougallSnow? Love it!

Rudy is of course new to all this mineral business. Our founding Labrador Retriever, Emery, supervised all operations – he was the Chairman of the Afternoon Snooze Committee and comprised our IT Department, although he slept through most of our business operations. It will be a while until Rudy is ready to step into Emery’s higher roles, but he is a great little supervisor. For now, he is happy to be a particularly active part of all packing, shipping and particularly unpacking operations. He has delighted in founding our Playful Mayhem Department.

Rudy McDougall

What do you mean, my office chair is for “sleeping” while you work?

With lots of Tucson minerals to come, Rudy and I will do our best to get them online over the next few weeks!

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).

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 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

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The market at night

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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.

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I clambered down into the tunnel on the left

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Amethystine quartz geode in the wall underground

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Climbing back out the tunnel to daylight

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

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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.

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Farms in the foothills

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

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

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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.

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View of part of the kasbah

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Traditional Berber design on the kasbah walls

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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.

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  The highway winds over and around rugged, parched hills…

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

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… 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.

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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…)

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

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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

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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.

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Rocks strewn all over the ground and stretching to the horizon

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Escarpment in the distance breaks up the flat expanse of rockiness

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Even signs of failed settlements are sparse

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Nomadic Berber tent

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The camels wander nearby the Berber camps

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The Erg Chebbi dunes rise over the stony desert

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Light and shadow shift subtly on the dunes

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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From the summit, a sea of dunes

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

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Dave and our Berber guide

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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.

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

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Collecting grass (for the goats) and vegetables

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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

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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

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Collapsed tunnel underground at Taouz

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Typical quartz crystal veining underground at Taouz

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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…

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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.

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

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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

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I followed him down…

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Not a ton of room down there…

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But enough room to work for vanadinite

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Barite with Vanadinite, Coud’a workings – 5.6 cm

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Barite with Vanadinite, Coud’a workings – 5.2 cm

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

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Vanadinite on barite, Coud’a workings – 5.2 cm

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Vanadinite on barite, Coud’a workings – 4.9 cm

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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.

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Les O Mine

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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…

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…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)

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Galena-barite-cerussite veining in a pillar

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

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Cerussite, 2.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine

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Cerussite, Mibladen Mining District – 7.6 cm

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Cerussite, Les Dalles Mine – 5 cm

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Cerussite, 1.3 cm, on barite, Les Dalles Mine

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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.

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The road to Aouli

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

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River bridge and large adit at Aouli

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

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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.

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

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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!