Always hard to contain my enthusiasm about Tucson… The world’s largest annual gathering of mineral people and mineral specimens from around the globe never disappoints – it is a great time full of great minerals.
OK, I admit it’s also a sunny and warm break from Canadian winter. While many others in North America seem to be having a bit lighter winter than usual, we’ve had lots of snow this year in the Bancroft area. It began in November and now the snow is high. A February 2017 snowbank by our house:
Tucson’s surroundings are obviously a real contrast to home, both as to weather and scenery.
During the show, there is so much to see and do with the minerals and mineral friends that, in the limited time of a Tucson trip, there is precious little chance for exploring the surroundings. However, every step out in the area is worth it!
As every year, the mineral events around Tucson are spread over many different show venues, over a few weeks. From one year to the next, dealers come and go, and move about. New shows pop up, older shows wane and sometimes disappear altogether, and then some rise again from the ashes. So, always something new and interesting to discover out there in the urban field-collecting jungle.
I thought maybe I’d start with my favourite warnings and signs from around the shows.
I didn’t take a photo of the one in my rental car, but it was a winner: every time I turned on the car, a bright, bold electronic notice told me not to operate the car stereo while the car is operating, because it’s dangerous. (Thanks so much to the Mensa-candidate lawyer who came up with that one.)
At one show:
(People do this?)
I quite liked this lawn sign:
And at that same show, within about 40 ft of the one above:
Anyway… On to the minerals!
On the whole, there were some excellent finds, mostly of the small and isolated variety (rather than large-scale splashes of new discoveries). I’m going to start with Brazil, because over the past year, it has produced many fine specimens.
A small number of new wodginite crystals have been found. These are sharp and great for the species!
Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 2.6 cm
Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 3.2 cm
If you’d like to see more of these, I’ve posted them in the Wodginite Update (click here).
The workings at Novo Horizonte have produced more excellent hematite-rutile specimens. Most of these are not in very good condition, but a few are really super.
Rutile on Hematite, Novo Horizonte, Bahia, Brazil – 4.8 cm
Novo Horizonte has also been the subject of some additional mineral analysis, with very interesting results over the past year. One of these is a new mineral, published in 2016. The work on this mineral began with our late friend, Luiz Menezes – one of the most observant and careful people in mineral world, who never missed something new, never assumed an identification, and whose work contributed to the description of several new minerals. The work on this material was continued by a group of mineralogists, and in June 2016, the new mineral, parisite-(La), was officially regognized by the IMA. (The full group: Luiz A.D. Menezes Filho, Mario L.S.C. Chaves, Nikita V. Chukanov, Daniel Atencio, Ricardo Scholz, Igor Pekov, Geraldo Magela da Costa, Shaunna M. Morrison, Marcelo Andrade, Erico Freitas, Robert T. Downs and Dmitriy I. Belakovskiy.)
I am including a photograph of one of the best specimens – there are not many in existence. This one was available from Luisa at Luiz Menezes Minerals.
Just before leaving Novo Horizonte, I have a small final update. In November 2015, I had a few specimens from this locality on the website, sold to me under the label “synchysite”, and so-labeled on the website. Subsequent analysis by Don Doell has confirmed more about their identity. Having conducted semi-quantitative EDS at SGS Labs, Don found that these are in fact phosphate mineralization, and they are likely a combination of rhabdophane-(La), rhabdophane-(Ce), possibly including monazite-(Ce). They appear to be pseudomorphs after a REE carbonate, probably in the parisite group, given that this new parisite-(La) has been found at Novo Horizonte in crystals with a similar aspect and appearance, at a similar time. They could also be after bastnasite-(La), which has been described from the locality. For now, I’m labelling them rhabdophane, pseudomorph after parisite, with the proviso that the above is the technically closest identification information to date. Thanks very much to Don for this analysis! Very cool for rhabdophane. (If you’d like to see what these looked like, they are here.) Mine are all sold, but Carlos Menezes had a few thumbnail-sized specimens of this fascinating material available in Tucson.
Also from Brazil, there has been one I think will be underrated and missed by many collectors. From Mantena, Minas Gerais, there has been a find of beautiful muscovite crystals. Yes of course the mica group minerals are very common minerals, and one might be jaded and tempted to overlook them on that basis. However, it can be a challenge to acquire a genuinely good muscovite specimen. These muscovite crystals from Mantena have nice colour, giving depth and presence. I picked out the finest few I could find and they will be online in a coming update.
Muscovite on albite, Mantena, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 7.3 cm
I have always loved the blue fluorapatites from Ipira, but, although I always look for them, I am almost always disappointed. This is not because there aren’t any – it’s because very few of them are sharp and collection-worthy. The deposits mostly contain corroded-looking crystals with poor definition, and most crystals are broken crystal segments. This past year, Daniel Foscarini Almeida conducted significant mining operations in a zone that contained small, sharp crystals. Almost all had small chipping, but I went through hundreds and these best ones are extremely good. The colour with backlighting is hard to believe.
Fluorapatite, Ipirá, Bahia, Brazil – 3.2 cm
And finally from Brazil (for now), Minas Gerais yielded some very fine phantom quartz crystals this year, from the deposits at Presidente Kubitschek. As always with Brazilian quartz, it can be very hard to find specimens in excellent condition, but some of these are just great.
Quartz with phantoms, Presidente Kubitschek, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Crystal 2.0 cm wide
Moving on from Brazil to the African continent next, still on the quartz theme, there was a pocket of spectacular quartz with red phantoms from Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Red quartz has been produced from this locality for many years, however, long-time South African dealer Clive Queit told me he has never seen any he liked as much as these, because these have such distinct red phantoms enclosed in sharp, clear quartz crystals – in his view they are the best. The crystals themselves are relatively small, and my favourite specimens were the ones that had good proportions (of crystal size to the piece), so the ones I consider the best are not large specimens. They are superb.
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 5.0 cm
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 4.0 cm
Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 6.1 cm
Further north in Africa, there’s something a bit different and new from Arrondissement Diako, in Mali. We’ve seen thousands of loose single garnet crystals from here over the years, and occasionally we’ve been lucky enough to see matrix specimens. A new find, at Diabe Sira, has produced some very attractive specimens with sharp, lustrous grossular crystals on matrix. As is the case with all localities, and particularly much of the Mali material (of the various minerals), so much is damaged – the devil is in finding fine, collection-quality specimens. I worked through a lot of this material and I found a few – they are really nice!
Grossular, Diabe Sira, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 9.7 cm
Further north still, I think we’ve all become a bit spoiled by the constant flow of excellent mineral specimens from Morocco in recent years. So it felt like a bit of a disappointment that there wasn’t a spectacular new find, and that some of the material we’ve seen in recent times is drying up. As I mentioned in my Ste. Marie post last summer, the Sidi Lahcen barites are no more – I love those specimens, and good ones are now already hard to find (and in some cases very expensive). Speaking of production that seems to have dried up, I was also surprised that there were hardly even any signs of the Mamsa aragonites (the ones posted here last fall). I had expected to see some of the lesser material at very least.
However, from Morocco there were some beautiful erythrites from the Bou Azzer district.
Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 1.3 cm crystal
China seems to have produced less in the way of truly new material. There are some new bluish-purple quartz specimens, highly priced and different dealers were giving different locality names – we’ll see what the future holds for these. From Huanggang, there were a few of the flat, discoidal calcites that made their debut last fall in Denver – here is a sweet small one.
Calcite, Huanggang Mines, Hexigten Banner, Ulanhad, Inner Mongolia A.R., China – 3.3 cm
From Russia, the mines at Dal’negorsk continue to operate and there was a new pocket of sharp datolite crystals found at the Bor Pit. These crystals are a beautiful light green and they are highly lustrous.
Datolite, Bor Pit, Dal’negorsk, Primorskiy Kray, Russia – 5.0 cm
As you’ll know if you’ve read my posts from the past, I love Peru and Peruvian mineral specimens. Over the years, the large polymetallic mines have produced a variety of excellent specimens, and several workings undertaken purely for mineral specimen mining have provided spectacular pieces. However, this was really not a great year for new Peruvian specimens. Ucchucchacua has now produced no new specimen material in three years, and a new piece of unfortunate news from Peru is that the Lily Mine has ceased operations. Lily was operated for copper and is known to collectors for a few minerals – chrysocolla, and most notably some of the best atacamite and clinoatacamite specimens that have been found anywhere. I obtained only a few more of these, as good specimens are already scarce, and I’m told any future production is questionable.
In much better news, a Peruvian collection and the workings at Mundo Nuevo have provided some excellent specimens.
Pyrite and Lautite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad Dept., Peru – 2.9 cm
Back to North America, I was lucky to pick up a couple of nice little wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud Mine, including this one – it’s not big, but this thing is a red window pane.
Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Trigo Mountains, Arizona – 2.3 cm
(Crystal 1.0 cm across, 0.8 cm on edge)
Over the coming weeks, many of these finds – and more new material – will be posted on the website, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, as nice as it is to have had a break, it’s so great to be home. (You can take the Canadian out of the winter but you can’t take the winter out of the Canadian – at least not this Canadian.) It’s beautiful out here in the winter woods in February, as always!
Yes, the snow piles are high.
Another 9 ft tall snowpile. Granted, it reduces the view for a while.
And we probably shouldn’t expect this part of the garden to emerge until late May.
This year’s snow-management issues aside, it’s gorgeous and peaceful, with lots of active local residents in our woods…
Blue Jay, near Bancroft, Ontario
And there’s this one guy who loves winter more than any being I’ve known:
Every day from the first snows until the last snow patches are too small in spring, Emery does snow angels.
Well, that’s it, until the Rochester 2017 report.
If you haven’t yet seen them, this year’s Rochester Mineralogical Symposium program and registration materials are online here. Hope to see you there!
Meanwhile, of course these specimens will be coming online soon!
I’ve posted a small number of beautiful atacamite specimens in this new Peru Atacamite Update (click here). These are sharp, lustrous, terminated atacamite crystals in vugs, from the Lily Mine, near Pisco, Ica. Many of the smaller crystals are transparent and intense green. One piece in the Update features a water-clear selenite crystal perched on perfect atacamite crystals. Other minerals in the update include quartz-covered chrysocolla, malachite on quartz and a green quartz (with dioptase inclusions).
Atacamite, Chrysocolla, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru
Field of view 3.0 cm
Atacamite, Chrysocolla, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru
Field of view 1.5 cm
Atacamite, Chrysocolla, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru – 7.0 cm
Atacamite, Chrysocolla, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru – 7.3 cm
Atacamite on Chrysocolla, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru
Field of view 3.0 cm
Calcite on quartz-covered chrysocolla with atacamite, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru – 6.4 cm
Malachite, quartz, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru – 4.0 cm
Quartz with dioptase, Carbonera Mine, Nazca, Ica, Peru – 7.5 cm
I love arriving back in Tucson. Urban field collecting at its finest!
There’s an excitement about the Tucson shows – we all feel it.
A bit similar to the way a the Christmas tree each year is evocative of the fun of past Christmases, in Tucson we have our ornamental orange trees in the courtyard at the Hotel Formerly Known as The Inn Suites…
The mornings at the start of Tucson 2016 were not quite tropical.
Palm trees through the frost on the car windshield.
However, the Tucson sun is great and by the afternoon there’s a warm sunlight casting shadows.
So, into the car and off to the shows all over town in search of fine minerals… but can I just make a small random observation first?
Our rental car flashed this at us regularly, throughout the trip:
I’m sorry, but if your brain is not already subconsciously running this question in the background for you every day, you’re gonna have issues. Waiting until a car prompts the thought is inadvisable.
OK. I’m done. On to the minerals. (It’s safe to move.)
There were great mineral specimens in Tucson this year and this post is just a small glimpse of a few fun things I managed to acquire. Each of the following will be the subject of an update on the website over the coming weeks.
Let’s begin with a new find of gorgeous yellow fluorites from Morocco. These are from the classic fluorite locality, the El Hammam Mine, they are unusually sharp, yellow cubes.
The hue of these fluorites varies, depending on the light source (common for fluorite), from a warmer honey-yellow under halogen, to a slightly brighter yellow in daylight and even a bit bolder under cool-temperature LED lighting. (This effect is different with each specimen, some show it more and some less).
Upon close inspection, many of the crystals contain delicate, fine-lined purple phantoms.
This was not a large find, and I chose the best quality ones available – if you’d like to see more photos, they are in the Morocco Fluorite update (click here).
Next up is the amazing Milpillas Mine in Mexico. It’s no surprise that we are continuing to see more azurites, and a few other things are trickling out too, but this time I was particularly interested in the brochantites. There are not so many (certainly nothing like the azurites) but these are super for the species, and I found a few excellent ones available this year.
Brochantite, Milpillas Mine, Cuitaca, Mun. de Santa Cruz, Sonora, Mexico – 3.9 cm
Brochantite, Milpillas Mine, Cuitaca, Mun. de Santa Cruz, Sonora, Mexico
Width of this group is 3.2 cm
A bit further away from home, there was a relatively small new find of axinite at Dalnegorsk, Russia. Of course, over the years, some beautiful axinite specimens have been found at Dalnegorsk, some have been identified as axinite-(Mn), some as axinite-(Fe), and I’m told that these ones are axinite-(Fe). As is always the case with axinite, it is incredibly difficult to obtain damage-free specimens, and most from this find did have chipping. However, a few were in superb condition!
Also from the Dalnegorsk mining complex, a newer mine has produced some wonderful new calcite specimens. The Yushnoe Mine is a newer mine and to date has produced virtually no fine mineral specimens. In 2015, a pocket of calcite crystals contained some beautiful twins. This was not a large or prolific find at all, and I found almost no specimens were undamaged, but I did find them! They show excellent twinning, with the same form as the now-classic twinned yellow calcites from the Sokolovskoe Mine, Rudniy, Kazakhstan. Beautiful!
From Canada, a recent expedition to Rapid Creek, Yukon, produced some fine lazulite specimens. This is a very remote locality and collecting there is so expensive that it is rarely undertaken these days. Many specimens from the find debuted in Tucson, and we (David K. Joyce and I) acquired the finest.
Lazulite, Rapid Creek, Dawson Mining District, Yukon, Canada
Largest crystal 1.5 cm
One of the great things about Tucson is of course the chance to reconnect with mineral friends and colleagues from all over the world, and sometimes they have brought some pretty amazing things along with them. Not all of these are new finds by any means, but sometimes some remarkable specimens surface in Tucson.
One such find was strontianite from an Austrian collection. Strontianite is a relatively common mineral, but great specimens are not common. Typically when we think of the mineral strontianite – let’s face it, IF we even think of it at all – we think of fuzzy-looking aggregates of tiny crystals or relatively unattractive specimens. Perhaps that’s not fair (sorry strontianite!) and there are of course exceptions, including a small number of specimens from Scotland, Illinois and the Alps. And some of the finest strontianite crystals in the world come from Oberdorf an der Laming, Laming valley, Bruck an der Mur, Styria, Austria. The crystals occur in a variety of habits, with quartz-like prisms, blocky hexagonal prisms and elongated dogtooth-style crystals. I was very happy to have found a small suite of exceptionally well-crystallized strontianites from Oberdorf an der Laming in Tucson.
Strontianite, Oberdorf an der Laming, Laming valley, Bruck an der Mur, Styria, Austria
Field of view approximately 2 cm
Another great thing about reconnecting with everyone in Tucson is the chance to learn from mineral friends. You know, we all end up with these specimens from all over the world, and then we take them back to our little lairs, and inevitably we have more work done on them. So there are always new finds, identifications, and re-identifications of minerals.
In Tucson this year, I learned that last year’s find of super tetrahedrite crystals at the Mundo Nuevo Mine was in fact a find of crystals of tennantite. Of a large number of specimens tested at Harvard, only one turned out to be tetrahedrite. Almost all turned out to be tennantite (a small number were intermediate, tennantite-dominant). Which is fun – they were already great tetrahedrite, but they are super for tennantite. I have a few left and although they are presumably tennantite, I have taken them off the site pending confirmatory analysis, and then they will be back on. For those of you who might not have seen them when I posted them originally, they are sharp and lustrous – here are a couple.
Tennantite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, Sanchez Carrion Province, La Libertad Dept., Peru
Field of view 4.0 cm
Related to this finding, it was also discovered that there are some tennantite specimens with the rare mineral lautite on them. These are microscopic crystals and rosettes – a mineral that is rarely found at all, let alone in crystals. Here’s a photo. (By the way, Dave still has a few of these lautites available on his website – I’m including a link to them at the end of this post, if you are interested.
Lautite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, Sanchez Carrion Province, La Libertad Dept., Peru
Field of view 2mm.
David K. Joyce photo.
Speaking of identifications, one find that first came to light last year has turned out to be something special. Last year you may have seen (and may even have acquired) specimens of “chrysocolla over malachite pseudomorphs after azurite” from the Luputo Mine, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thanks to analysis conducted by Dr. Hexiong Yang at the University of Arizona, we now know they are in fact not chrysocolla, but ajoite. This is a remarkable development – ajoite has not been known in display specimens, so this is a first! (Ajoite is best known from the ajoite-included quartz crystals from Musina, South Africa). I was very happy to be able to acquire a few of these specimens in Tucson!
Ajoite over Malachite pseudomorph after Azurite
Luputo Mine, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Field of view 2.5 cm
Tucson Beyond the Minerals
I’ll spare you the stories of all of the great get-togethers with mineral friends, but I’d like to share a couple.
Canadian collector and dealer Ray Hill hosts fun dinners at his rented place in Tucson each year. Not only is he a great cook, but he also assembles such good groups together that it is always both interesting and a good time. The group included Ray Hill, David Joyce, John Montgomery, Marie and Terry Huizing, David Wilber and Larry Venezia. I wish I had a photo from this evening’s highlight, but it was too dark out to capture the mood without a proper camera setup. Ray had brought a portable propane campfire from Canada. (Never seen one before…) After dinner we moved outdoors… and what is a campfire without a song or two? Many of you know that David Joyce has written, and plays and sings, great mineral songs (link at the end of this post) – so Dave brought out his guitar and we had good fun singing mineral songs around our Tucson campfire under the stars.
The other one I’d like to share is a photo from a dinner we look forward to every year, with Si and Ann Frazier, and Frank and Wendy Melanson. Always a fun evening, with good food, stories, laughs, and some mineral show-and tell, so it’s hardly a time that prompts serious reflection (!). However when I was looking at this photo afterward, I was struck by the knowledge and experience in this room. You are looking not only at five of the most knowledgeable mineral people out there, but the five people in this photograph have been responsible, directly and indirectly, for the preservation and placement of uncounted tens of thousands of the world’s fine mineral specimens into museums and private collections.
From left to right, Si and Ann Frazier, Wendy Melanson, David K. Joyce and Frank Melanson
Although we all wish Tucson would never end, somehow it ends too soon every year…
Last sunlight, as Tucson shadows fall
Happy to be back home, to the forest shadows…
… and where the snow crunches underfoot with each step in the winter woods.
(1) For the lautite specimens at davidkjoyceminerals.com, click here.
(2) For the mineral songs click here (“The Mineral Dealer” is an awesome song for Tucson season.)
I’ve added a group of diverse minerals in this Peru Update (click here). I have selected these out over various trips – each is a beautiful specimen for the mineral! This update includes a gorgeous rhodonite from Chiurucu, a brilliant alabandite, a super specimen of bournonite cogwheel twins on matrix, a specimen of scheelite coated with bright green stolzite, fluorescent fluorapatite crystals and more.
Enargite, Quiruvilca Mine, Santiago de Chuco Province, La Libertad Department, Peru – crystal 2.4 cm
Chalcopyrite on Sphalerite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru – 4.8 cm
Galena and Seligmannite on Quartz, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province,
Huancavelica Department, Peru – 4.6 cm
I’ve posted a small group of great specimens from recent work at the famous Mundo Nuevo Mine in Peru on the website in this Mundo Nuevo Update (click here).
Mundo Nuevo is best known for its hubnerite, quartz, fluorite and augelite. However, in recent years there have been occasional excellent finds of tennantite and tetrahedrite. Specimens analyzed in prior years have had varying compsoitions of tetrahedrite-tennantite (depending on the As and Sb content) – many tennantite, some tetrahedrite and some have been called truly intermediate. These specimens, mined during recent specimen recovery efforts, were labelled tetrahedrite – I have not had them analyzed. They are excellent sharp crystals. After the crystals had formed, a late-stage fragmentation and recrystallization event seems to have occurred – the specimens have uneven naturally-fractured surfaces on the back/underside, and these surfaces are recrystallized.
Tetrahedrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – 8.9 cm
Tetrahedrite with Sphalerite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – field of view 4.2 cm
Tetrahedrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – field of view 3.5 cm
Pyrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – 6.7 cm
Tetrahedrite on Pyrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – 5.6 cm
Tetrahedrite and Pyrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – 7.0 cm
Tetrahedrite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru – 8.1 cm
Tetrahedrite, Pyrite, Sphalerite and Quartz, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad, Peru
Field of view 4.1 cm
Excellent specimens from travels in Peru, including a trip to the Quiruvilca Mine. This Peru Update features barite, hubnerite/quartz, epidote, a great pearceite, pyrite and more. I hope you’ll find them interesting. If you are curious about Quiruvilca and what it is like to be searching for crystal specimens at the mine, have a look at Into the Andes: Quiruvilca, Peru.
The Road to Quiruvilca
You might think that a career working with mining companies and executives around the globe was surely a ticket into countless famous mineral localities everywhere. Oh, if only. (In fact, of the thousands of active mining and exploration projects worldwide, most are not famous mineral localities, nor do they produce anything approaching fine mineral specimens.)
So when my friend Adolfo Vera called me at home late one cold December night to talk – in his capacity as President of Southern Peaks Mining Company – about a new deal, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. (Ok let’s be honest, I didn’t actually try to contain it.)
Adolfo: “Ray, can we talk about negotiating the purchase of a mine in Peru? You may never have heard of it – it’s called the Quiruvilca Mine.”
Ray: “Umm… I’ve more than heard of it…” (After all, it is one of the most important mines in Peru’s history, famous among mineralogists and collectors for fine specimens of many minerals.)
Adolfo laughed and responded that if we were successful, I was welcome to catch the next plane and he would love to host… and when we did finally close the deal, I took Adolfo up on his kind offer and set off on an adventure to Quiruvilca with my collecting partner David Joyce (www.davidkjoyceminerals.com).
A trip to Quiruvilca is a bit involved. Like many of Peru’s most famous polymetallic mines, Quiruvilca is high in the Andes. After a flight to Trujillo, the drive from sea level takes a few hours, beginning among sugar cane plantations.
The main highway services not only Quiruvilca, but other towns and mining developments, including Barrick’s Lagunas Norte (Alto Chicama) project.
Although construction and improvements continue on the road, it was still a treacherous affair at the time of our visit. (A week later, a bus with 60 people crashed off of this same road into the river gorge, killing all on board.) The highway is full of large vehicles with interesting cargo.
And this main highway gets messy during the rainy season…
Traffic is all over the road. Coming around one corner, this is the view out the front window. (Yes, the front.)
In part, vehicles are all over the road because of the potholes. You can see a few small ones in the photo above, but here is a view of larger ones – each one enough to swallow even a tanker truck.
The highway climbs up and up, into the Andes. Many afternoons in the rainy season all you get are glimpses across the mountains through small holes in the clouds.
Once you get to Quiruvilca, you have climbed to an altitude of 3800 metres (12,500 ft). By the way, the name “Quiruvilca” means “sacred tooth” in the Quechua language, and refers to this formation (photo below) which rises off the top of the mountains into the sky (and which is actually a few kilometres away from the town and mine).
Upon arrival at the Quiruvilca Mine, we were invited to stay at the nicest residence within the gated executive housing area, near the company offices and labs. A wonderful place to stay, this complex dates to the time when Asarco owned the mine. (As the town of Quiruvilca developed as a typical mining company town, I am not sure if there would even have been any public accommodations, had we been independent visitors and not guests of the mine). As it was, we were spoiled.
Our house had a nice fireplace (helpful, as it was chilly during our stay, between 4 and 10 degrees C).
In the vicinity of the housing area and the company offices, there were trees, and yet you could still catch glimpses of the valley and mountains beyond.
Looking back at it all from the hills across the valley, the view includes the mill at the top, the company offices in the middle section of trees and our housing area was in the group of trees below and to the right of the middle of the photo.
Looking at the above photo for context, the Quiruvilca Mine and the town of Quiruvilca are still further up the valley (to the left in the above photo – and the highway from Trujillo comes in from the right in the above photo). A mountain scene with the mill and company complex was visible from higher up the valley by the water tower, above and just beyond past the town and mine.
Town of Quiruvilca
The town of Quiruvilca packs a lot in – there isn’t much unused space.
Rocks are sometimes used to add extra weight to the roofing material.
We had a look around the central area – this little guy took a good look at us, but wasn’t inviting us for a drink.
Sunny breaks brought people outdoors again and the sun highlighted some of the colour in the streets.
Many of the structures and houses date back to earlier times in the life of the mining town.
The Quiruvilca Mine
The Quiruvilca Mine is an amazingly large complex of mining operations. Although mineralization was first discovered at Quiruvilca in 1789, commercial mining did not commence until the beginning of the 20th century. The mine has produced copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc – the latter three are key in the current operations. The workings consist of several different access adits leading underground to labyrinthine networks of tunnels, raises and stopes on many levels. These workings are so extensive, having been developed and worked continuously since 1907, that no-one was able to say for sure how many kilometres of workings there are underground. A guess from having been shown the maps and plans (including the areas that are now flooded) is that there could be between 100-200km of tunnels, and possibly even more.
Although working in these kinds of mines is dangerous, the company has rigid and extensive safety rules and regulations in place. When we arrived at Quiruvilca on our first night, we were immediately given a full session of safety training and testing – about two hours’ worth. We also had a visit that night with the company doctors for testing – which came in handy later for me when the altitude got me! These high altitude mines – particularly those with legacy workings like Quiruvilca – can be tricky places, and running one safely is a complicated business.
Part of the mine is serviced by the headframe over the Elvira shaft – the Pique Elvira. I thought I’d convey the feeling of being there in a black and white photo.
Today, mining at the Quiruvilca Mine involves small teams working stopes all over the workings – at any given time, approximately 60 separate stopes are producing and contributing to the ore going to the mill. When you think about it, this is an amazing amount of active development of headings at any given time! A total of nearly 1000 people work at the Quiruvilca mining/milling/office complex.
As for the mine itself, many of the tunnels are timbered, and some of them are constructed to accommodate rail cars to haul the ore.
The timbers are replaced every two years (water weakens them over time) and the rails are replaced approximately every 6 years.
Outside the adits, the ore cars are emptied – the photo below shows ore cars outside the Morrococha adit, with the Pique Elivira in the background on the hill.
We received detailed explanations of the workings from senior geologist, Edgar. Note all the timbers stacked on the right. We had the chance to visit a few zones in our time at Quiruvilca.
Underground, the tunnels and galleries are supported with timbers at various places – the walls are also bolted and caged in places. Some of the areas worked in the past are still visible from active areas. (Small note: you will notice bright spots in the underground photos – this is dust reflecting the flash on my camera – there is a lot of dust in the air underground when nearing active areas of the mine.)
After walking for perhaps 1.5km underground, we arrived at the raise – a series of ladders to be climbed to get to the working stope.
Up the ladders…
And at the top, we arrived at an actively working stope.
Significant amounts of woodwork have been put in place where the walls have little structural integrity – but even in these places it was possible to see minerals. The next photo below is a pocket that contained chalcopyrite and tetrahedrite – interesting, and some micro crystals but nothing that would be considered a fine mineral specimen.
We were taken to several working faces and given a chance to look for specimens. Senior geologists and supervisors joined in helping with our visit, and we could not have been given a better introduction to Quiruvilca.
Dave with senior geologist, Jose.
Between Dave and me is Mauro, senior supervisor in the Moroccocha workings, who led us up ladders into working stopes for collecting.
As mineral specimens go, being at Quiruvilca is similar to most mineral localities – you have to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, if you are to find fine specimens. If you stop and think about it, if the mine has 60 working faces operating for 365 days a year, the few specimens that you do see come from Quiruvilca each year come from all of that ongoing work. You would have to be in 60 places at the right time, every day, all year long, so that you were in the right place for the few fine specimens that are actually encountered. Doesn’t bode well for one’s chances on a short visit! (even though the company geologists did their best to take us to the places they felt would have the best chance on the days of the visit). We had a great time and found a few interesting small reference specimens, but that was all that was possible on this visit. We were able to examine the walls, collect what we found, and it was a super experience.
View of the sulfide veining at a working face.
As you can see, there aren’t exactly pockets gaping with crystals. In fact, the rock in the mineralized zones includes a lot of very soft material with poor competence – it just crumbles. As soon as the stope face has advanced, new timbers are put in place to support the walls. (Walking up the stope you simply climb over or under these.)
All along the stope, the sulfide-sulfosalt mineralization is evident.
Seeing lots of chalcopyrite-tetrahedrite veining, but sadly I’m not seeing any pockets or vugs here! (D.K. Joyce photo.)
Underground, we waited for the lift to return us up the shaft for the hike back out.
About that Altitude…
An elevation of 3800 metres may not sound that high. With no snow and no jagged peaks, it certainly didn’t look as if we were in thin air. But if you drive that whole ascent in a short few hours, and then dive into hiking with backpacks up and down mine ramps, and maybe add in a nice big dinner… I didn’t react that well. Two of my best friends at the mine were Miguel, the company doctor, and Mr. Oxygen Tank. Miguel grounded me from any collecting at all on Day 2 (bummer!) after I woke up in the middle of the overnight with crazy racing breathing (it was easier to breathe standing up than lying in bed (!)). They take the altitude issue very seriously – for example, once I mentioned to our house hostess Marina that I had had a small issue breathing overnight, an ambulance was at the house in under 2 minutes. And to go to the medical office for some oxygen that first morning, I felt I could easily walk, but that was refused – ambulance only. No chances are taken! With oxygen and some adjustment time, I was able to be more active after that, and was obviously more cautious, but for those of us who do not live at altitude, that rapid ascent is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, Quiruvilca is a dry camp – had I had wine with that first dinner, I’m sure my issue would have been compounded.
Excellent references include a discussion of the geology at Quiruvilca (see the list at the end of this post). As a basic overview, the geology is Miocene age – very recent in geological terms (the Miocene period is from approximately 23 to 5.3 million years ago). The host rocks are a mix of andesites, basalts and dacites, and the mineralization is concentrated in mesothermal and epithermal veins. The key to understanding the occurrence of the minerals at Quiruvilca is the classification of the four mineral zones, along with the occurrence of the vein structures.
The map below (provided by the company) gives an overview of the four zones – and note the veins (“vetas”) indicated as red lines.
The inner (orange) zone is referred to as the Enargite Zone. At one time, mining was concentrated entirely in this zone, and the workings here are extensive, though many are now flooded. This zone produced enargite, pyrite, chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, wurtzite, tennantite, the famous orpiment specimens, realgar, and the world’s best hutchinsonites. Sadly for mineral collectors, little mining is done here now, but some ramp work and development work have led to occasional interesting finds.
The next (deep yellow) zone, the Transition Zone, includes predominant sphalerite, with pyrite, tetrahedite-tennantite, chalcopyrite, galena, marcasite, arsenopyrite, covellite, seligmannite, jamesonite, quartz, calcite and rhodochrosite. Company records also indicate alabandite has been found in this zone.
The third (light yellow),the Lead-Zinc Zone, has been an area of high mining activity in recent times, in part due to the silver content. Mineralization includes galena, sphalerite, pyrite, chalcopyrite, tetrahedrite-tennantite, marcasite, jamesonite and arsenopyrite. Crowley, Currier and Szenics (1997) report gratonite and wurtzite from the Lead-Zinc Zone. Other minerals from this zone include quartz, calcite, dolomite and rhodochrosite. The company reports clinozoizite and manganaxinite from this zone.
Finally the outer (beige) zone is the Stibnite Zone, which is mostly beyond the area of the Quiruvilca Mine workings. Minerals of the Stibnite Zone include stibnite, arsenopyrite, arsenic, pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite and galena.
Vein mineralization and paragenesis are discussed well in Crowley, Currier and Szenics (1997).
We did our best to procure minerals from Quiruvilca! Underground work did not result in anything spectacular, although on the day I was grounded with altitude sickness Dave found some pretty great seligmannites. These are microscopic crystals only, but they have great form and iridescent colour:
We tried to buy in Quiruvilca, but specimens were incredibly scarce. We knocked on doors at miners’ homes…
…mostly to no avail, but we came up with a few things…
…including a beautiful pyrite with octahedral crystal forms, totally overgrown by a second generation of pyritohedral crystals. 8cm across.
Most specimens make their way out of town within a short time of extraction from the mine – usually with runners who transport them ultimately to the mineral dealers in Lima. From there, many specimens go on to international mineral shows. One’s chances of intercepting fine mineral specimens at Quiruvilca itself are very low!
In any event, here are a few additional mineral specimens from Quiruvilca:
Arsenic – 10 cm
Enargite with pyrite – a great specimen from earlier mining days in the Enargite Zone – 8 cm
Bournonite crystals on quartz – 6 cm
Orpiment – 5.5 cm
Realgar crystals up to 1 cm on orpiment.
Wavellite balls (to 5 mm) on quartz, from recent mining.
Wavellite balls to 5 mm
Hutchinsonite crystals to 6 mm with tiny orpiment crystals.
Field of view approximately 3.8 cm.
Hutchinsonite with barite, orpiment and baumhauerite-2a, field of view 3 cm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo.)
Iridescent Sphalerite with micro Seligmannite and Quartz – Field of view 1 cm
Please note – the specimens photographed for this post are not available for sale on this website, but great Peruvian minerals are available here.
From Quiruvilca Along the Rio Moche Valley
We had a lucky break in the weather for our trip through the mountains and along the valley, so I thought I would end this post with some scenes from along the way.
Andes Mountains, from near Quiruvilca
Upper Rio Moche Valley (some limited farming along the valley)
Rio Moche Valley
Farms further down the valley
Picturesque small farm
Veranda in Otuzco (Might not hold party on this one)
Back to paved highway (thankfully!). Note traffic racing down middle of road.
Andes Mountains, with the clouds just beginning to move in
First, of course, this could never have happened without an amazing effort organized by Adolfo and his team at Southern Peaks Mining. Thank you Adolfo! Thanks also to Pio, Edgar, Jose and Mauro for great geological, mineralogical, historical and technical insights. Thanks to Wilder, not only for all the driving around us Quiruvilca, but for dodging all those potholes on the road to and from Trujillo – and thanks to Marina for all the great meals. Special major thanks to Miguel and Mr. Oxygen Tank!
Excellent references for Quiruvilca and other Peruvian localities:
Crowley J.A., Currier, R.H. and Szenics T. (1997) Mines and Minerals of Peru. The Mineralogical Record. July-August, 1997, vol 28, no. 4.
Hyrsl, J, Crowley J.A., Currier, R.H. and Szenics T. (2010) Peru – Paradise of Minerals. Soregaroli, A. and Del Castillo, G., eds.
Hyrsl, J and Rosales, Z. (2003) “Peruvian Minerals: An Update” The Mineralogical Record. May-June 2003, vol 34, no.3.
Southern Peaks Mining website: www.southernpeaksmining.com