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Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.10.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

I’ve posted some amazing aragonites from a new find this year, in this Aragonite Update (click here).

These aragonites are from a Mamsa, north of Sidi Ayed, Morocco – a completely new locality. The best from Mamsa rank among the aragonites from the top historic aragonite localities. The vast majority of Mamsa specimens found to date have been poor quality, many were contacted across the cavities, and almost all recovered specimens were significantly damaged.

The specimens in this Update were selected by Tomasz Prazkier in Morocco – he estimated that he went through a few hundred flats’ worth of material to bring back around twenty top quality specimens. These specimens are the top ones available from that group of specimens.

As the workings have gone deeper, the rock has become much tougher, and recovery of the fragile aragonites has become increasingly more difficult – these were from the weathered zone near the surface.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

 Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 7.5 cm

ragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 7.5 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 8.0 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 7.5 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 5.0 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 6.9 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

 Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 5.0 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 6.0 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 6.5 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.02.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

 

In a valley in the Vosges region of France, the quiet town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines transforms into a bustling mineral and gem extravaganza every June. This is the most beautiful setting for any of the world’s major annual mineral shows, and attending is a great experience.

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016 mineral show

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, 2016

Although there was much stormy and unsettled weather across France and Germany this year, the towns of this area escaped the more significant flooding damage that affected so many communities elsewhere. The Rhine was certainly swollen with much more water than usual – and thunderstorms left debris on the roads – but for the most part, the rains just meant lots of green across the countryside.

Orschwiller, France

Vineyards, near Orschwiller. Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg is perched above, in the Vosges mountains.

I love the region’s idyllic small towns – quiet, with the calls of blackbirds overhead.

Saint Hippolyte, France

Saint Hippolyte, Haut-Rhin, France

Saint Hippolyte, France

Beautiful Alsace architecture bathed in a warm evening light

In the town of Ste. Marie itself, one of my favourite things about its setting is that the valley is quite steep, and so the forests and pastures form a backdrop for many of the views from down in the middle of the town.

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, France

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, Val D’Argent, France

The river and waterways of the town are channeled behind the houses and other buildings – and normally at this time of year there isn’t much water. This year, there was lots!

Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, France

Bubbling water channel running through Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

One thing that really stood out this year was the temperature – it was HOT! Humid too. Lots of sun and haze… and you also had to watch for the late-afternoon thunderstorms.

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Signs of impending rain at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016

So I did see this one coming…

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Thunderstorm coming from up the Val D’Argent

…and I thought I had time to make it back to the car, but… ended up sheltering part way there, when the skies opened up!

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Rainwater streaming from waterspouts directly into the water channel that runs behind the houses – efficient!

The storms were short and did not make life uncomfortable for long – they were actually refreshing. In fact, there was something that made things far more uncomfortable at the show…

Halogen

300W halogen lights on stands. It is hard to find a hotter mainstream light source (!) – these were all over the indoor dealer displays.
I love the colour quality of halogen lights, but these things are stoves on sticks.

Sainte-Marie-aux_Mines, France

One of the tent-lined streets at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

For me the most exciting new find at Ste. Marie was actually not on public display. Tomasz Praszkier brought out the top new Moroccan aragonite specimens and they are truly superb! Aragonite is not a rare mineral, of course, and some aragonite localities are rather abundant producers, so, for example, we typically see lots of aragonite available from Tazouta, Morocco, and also from Minglanilla, Spain. (Even in those instances, truly fine specimens are not the rule, as the vast majority are damaged). These specimens exhibit twinning, with pseudo-hexagonal cyclic twins of aragonite. However, these new specimens from Mamsa are classic, elongated, tapered orthorhombic crystals in groups of radiating spikes and make for dramatic specimens.  Even though aragonite itself is uncommon, it is very hard to acquire high-quality specimens of this most classic habit.

In this case, Tomasz went through hundreds of flats (yes flats (!)) of material in Morocco, and the specimens I acquired from him are all in the top 20 to date (top 20 pieces, not flats!). Almost everything he saw was badly damaged. This bulk of lower quality material will undoubtedly begin to show up at future mineral shows, but – interesting – it was almost entirely absent among the Moroccan dealers in Ste. Marie.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 7.5 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 6 cm

It is notable that the aragonite at this locality does also occur in other habits, including as elongated pseudo-hexagonal twins, so we may see those in future. The locality itself is well-exposed in a barren area north of Sidi Ayed. The difficulty is that the material closer to the surface has been extracted, and this was the matrix that was easier to collect – as they’ve gone deeper, the matrix has been tougher, and the material from these deeper excavations has been damaged. Most collecting there has been by local collectors who are more often digging agates, and of course collecting these delicate aragonite sprays required different techniques and care – hence the high level of damage with most of this material.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

 Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 6.9 cm

As usual, there were many Moroccan dealers with the usual – most had very typical material, in moderate condition. One interesting new find was some purple fluorite, from very narrow seams at a locality Elyachi, near Tatouine.

TatouineFluorite

 

Fluorite, Elyachi, nr. Tatouine, Meknes-Tafilalet, Morocco – 8.2 cm

One last note from Morocco is that the production of the beautiful blue barites from Sidi Lahcen (these ones) is reportedly finished. Although we always have to be skeptical when we are told that a locality is exhausted, the marketplace confirmed it in Ste. Marie this year, with almost no truly high-quality specimens available.

Speaking of high-quality specimens one cannot track down… I had hoped to bring back a few more of the bright yellow stilbite ball specimens from Mali (if you aren’t familiar with them, some are here). Although there were some at the show, they were all too damaged for our collections – I’m not sure that any were new. I suspect that most were the low-quality pieces from the original collecting of this material. I continue to keep an eye out for them, as they are some of the nicest yellow stilbite specimens I’ve ever seen, and they look so great in the cabinet. We’ll see what the future brings. In the meantime, I was able to pick up some excellent prehnite/epidote specimens from Mali, along with a sharp, lustrous vesuvianite.

Prehnite Mali

 Prehnite, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 4.3 cm

New from France, French collector Grégoire de Bodinat recently collected some beautiful specimens at the Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France. The Mésage Mine was originally explored in the early-nineteenth century for iron, and the underground workings have been abandoned since the late-nineteenth century. Grégoire had a nice selection of high quality specimens from this classic region – siderite with quartz, ankerite crystals, and sharp bournonite crystals with white barite.

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 6.6 cm

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 4.9 cm

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

The Mésage Mine specimens are on the website here.

Finally, another great new find is from the Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland. This is of gypsum, var. selenite, with inclusions of herbertsmithite (a rare copper chloride mineral), making the specimens a vibrant green colour. These are gorgeous cabinet specimens! There were not many of these, and only a handful were top quality – I acquired all of the top quality ones.

Gypsum, var. Selenite, Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland

Gypsum, var. Selenite, with inclusions of Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland
Crystals up to approximately 3 cm

Displays

The Saint-Marie-aux-Mines show has hosted super displays in recent years.

This year, the main theme was Minerals and Wines (“Origines Pierres et Vins”), with some cases dedicated to matching mineral colours and wine colours, and others featuring the wines and minerals of a particular region.

DisplayRioja
Rioja, Spain – home of great wines and the incomparable pyrites of Navajun
Display by Pedro Conde

DisplayChessy4
The minerals and wines of the Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône

The Chessy case had some amazing specimens – here is a closer look at a few:

DisplayChessy1

Cuprite crystals, Chessy-les-Mines

DisplayChessy2

Azurite, Chessy-les-Mines – a gorgeous specimen,approximately 9 cm

From the Origines Pierres et Vins cases, I loved this Chanarcillo Prousite from the Collection of the Museum National d’Histoire Natural in Paris.

DisplayProustite

Proustite, Chanarcillo, Atacama, Chile – approximately 4 cm

The exposition also included a few cases dedicated to colours in minerals, explaining what causes the colours in certain minerals. These cases included many stunning specimens and here are a few.

DisplayAdamite

This adamite was an amazing hue – approximately 5 cm

This next one looks at a glance like it’s a classic from Amatitlan, Guererro, Mexico, but look at the label… (!)

DisplayAmethyst

Amethyst, Traversella, Piedmont, Italy, approximately 20 cm

This photo doesn’t do this crystal justice – an astounding, lustrous, old-time Red Cloud wulfenite, pristine…

DisplayWulfenite
Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, La Paz Co., Arizona – crystal approximatey 4 cm
Collection of the Musée Mineralogie de Mines, Paris Tech

And finally, while we’re on the subject of the causes of colour in minerals, and leaving the displays… I wandered into one dealer with new crystals of “Amegreen” (!). These are Uruguayan amethysts that have been subjected to radiation in a lab, to turn them green. Blech!! (At least the dealer was openly disclosing the origins of the colour.)

Amegreen

Quartz, originally var. amethyst, tortured and turned green in a lab using radiation – marketed as “Amegreen”
Artigas, Uruguay

 Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is such a great show. I already can’t wait for next year, and hope to see you there!

St. Hippolyte, France

 Beautiful summer evening in Alsace

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 01.13.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

I’ve added a new Morocco Update (click here) with some particularly fine specimens. I have managed to obtain five more blue barites from the Sidi Lahcen Mine in Nador that are worthy of including on the site. Although almost all barites from Sidi Lahcen have some amount of damage (many are badly damaged) these ones are in excellent condition – they are great high-quality pieces.

Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Morocco

Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Morocco – 10.7 cm

Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Morocco

Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Morocco – field of view approximately 10 cm

This update includes several wonderful individual specimens. A startling hot pink cabinet specimen of cobaltoan dolomite from Bou Azzer, a super sharp thumbnail-sized specimen of, and also a great glassy miniature of green fluorapatite from Imilchil, a sharp, gemmy brown titanite from Imilchil, a Tounfit fluorite that will have you looking a while to sort out the morphology, and an unusually fine specimen of sprays of goethite crystals included in quartz crystals from Tizi-n-Tichka.

Dolomite, var. Cobaltoan Dolomite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco

Dolomite, var. Cobaltoan Dolomite, Agoudal Mine, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 10.8 cm

Fluorapatite, Anezmy, Imilchil, Morocco

Fluorapatite, Anezmy, Imilchil, Morocco – 4.3 cm

Fluorapatite, Anezmy, Imilchil, Morocco

Fluorapatite, Anezmy, Imilchil, Morocco – 3.0 cm

Titanite, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Titanite, Imilchil, Er Rachidia, Morocco – largest crystal 1.5 cm

Goethite, Quartz, Tizi-n-Tichka, Ouarzazate, Morocco

Goethite in Quartz crystals, Tizi-n-Tichka, Ouarzazate, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra, Morocco – crystal approximately 1 cm

Finally in this update, I have included a group of new specimens of yellow fluorite cubes with barite and quartz. Although Moroccan yellow fluorite is often attributed to “Aouli”, an abandoned historical mining complex which is not producing specimens, contemporary specimens are in fact from an area near Sidi Ayed. It is road-accessible, but it is relatively remote in a barren, windswept area, which sees sandstorms in the dry weather and roads washed out in the rain. These fluorites are nice for Sidi Ayed specimens, for a few reasons – they are isolated on quartz crystals rather than massed together, some of the quartz has some nice red colouring from hematite, and a few of the crystals show tiny irregular zones of greenish blue colour.

Fluorite, Sidi Ayed, Boulemane, Morocco

 

Fluorite, Sidi Ayed, Boulemane, Morocco – crystal 0.8 cm

Fluorite, Sidi Ayed, Boulemane, Morocco

Fluorite, Sidi Ayed, Boulemane, Morocco – crystal 1 cm

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

Mibladen1

Why is Morocco one of the world’s great countries for minerals? No glaciers! Many of the world’s most colourful minerals are found in deposits at the surface, formed over time by the interaction of water, air and rock. Glaciers remove all of that good stuff (as happened in Canada recently, geologically speaking) –  and with no recent glaciation, Morocco hosts many fantastic occurrences of minerals unlike any in parts of the world stripped bare during the last Ice Age.

My collecting partner David Joyce and I jumped at the chance to go to Southern-Central Morocco. The trip was organized by Mindat.org and the Spirifer Geological Society, and included the Second Annual Mindat Mineral Conference in the city of Midelt.

Morocco is an amazing place.  Hopefully this comes through in the photographs – it is a beautiful region with stunning landscapes, rich in history, harsh in climate. And… it hosts gorgeous minerals.

Marrakech

Founded almost a thousand years ago, Marrakech has historically been the imperial capital of Morocco – and in fact from Medieval times until the beginning of the twentieth  century Morocco was known as the Kingdom of Marrakech. Today, Marrakech remains the major economic centre in this region, hosting at its centre the largest Berber market in the country. The market area is comprised of many individual markets (souks).

Minaret

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

Market1Wares in an alleyway, in one of the souks

Mara6

The market at night

Market2

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

Arch1Intricate decor in historic Marrakech

Sidi Rahal

Not far from Marrakech, miners work the basalt deposit at Sidi Rahal by hand to produce geodes containing agate and quartz (some of which is amethystine). The geodes from Sidi Rahal can include beautiful stalactitic growths, and rarely box epimorphs of quartz after fluorite. Groups of world-class goethite crystals have been found in geodes at Sidi Rahal – barite, calcite and aragonite have also been found.

Some of the excavations are quite deep – and fun to explore.

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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.

ouar2

View of part of the kasbah

ouar1

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.

BAz1

  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.

BAz5

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

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

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

BAz6

The Bou Azzer district has produced 215 mineral species, including the world’s finest specimens of erythrite, roselite, wendwilsonite, roselite-beta, talmessite, skutterudite and gersdorffite . It was not possible to enter the working areas of the mines, and so collecting was quite limited but certainly enjoyable and it was great to see these famous mines!

We headed out to Aït Ahmane, which is renowned as the source of the world’s best gersdorffite crystals. This was quite a trip, as the road rattled our vehicle for about an hour each way, until it seemed like it simply might fall into pieces. Out there, you’re in the middle of true nowhere, so an intact vehicle is a plus! Ultimately our driver refused to drive the last stretch of road, so we hiked for a few km in the hot desert sun to get to the mine. (Who bothers to notice such things when on the verge of seeing a famous mine…)

BAz7

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

BAz8

Hiking back by a different route – along a track near the valley – we could  eventually see the village of Aït Ahmane ahead.

Although we found small interesting things (including lots of tiny picropharmacolite crystals), it was only later in the trip that I managed to procure a better gersdorffite.

Gersdorffite

Gersdorffite, 3.5 cm, Aït Ahmane

While still in the Bou Azzer District, we also visited the Agoudal Mine, which has recently produced very fine cobaltoan calcites.

CoCalcite

Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – 6cm

CoCalcite2

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

CoCalcite3

Cobaltoan Calcite from the Agoudal Mine – 6.1 cm

Dave found a nice vug containing sphaercobaltite crystals.

Sphaerc

Sphaercobaltite, Agoudal Mine – Field of view 5mm.  (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo)

During the course of the trip we were able to obtain other interesting minerals from this district, including excellent crystallized silver from the Bouismas Mine and beautiful roselite from the Aghbar Mine.

Bouismas

Silver crystals on calcite, Bouismas Mine – 5.2 cm

Rose2

Roselite crystals, to 0.9 cm, Aghbar Mine

The Northern Sahara

Sahara1

Prior to this trip, I knew little – when I thought of the Sahara Desert, I thought mostly of the sand dunes from Lawrence of Arabia, with some hills, cliffs and valleys interspersed. (Interesting side note: much of the movie was filmed in Southern-Central Morocco.) I was really not expecting the desert to comprise of such massive open stretches of rocky terrain. There are of course sand dunes – the spectacular dune system at Erg Chebbi is one of many sand dune fields in the Sahara – but much of the landscape actually looks similar to the tumbling rocky landscapes NASA’s rovers photograph on Mars.

Sahara2

Rocks strewn all over the ground and stretching to the horizon

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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

Taouz5

Miner looks out over a basic hoist – this  shaft (covered with corrugated sheet metal anchored with rocks, when not in use) is only about 3 feet wide

Taouz6 Miners’ dwelling at Taouz workings

Taouz2

Collapsed tunnel underground at Taouz

Taouz3

Typical quartz crystal veining underground at Taouz

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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…

Sh15

Oasis sunrise in the Sahara

… and then we were on the road to Midelt and the amazing mines and minerals of Mibladen… Continued in Part 2

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

Midelt1

Midelt and Mibladen

Midelt and Mibladen are in a high plateau region, well north of the Sahara and in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains. Midelt is a regional capital with a population of approximately 45,000 people, and primarily it is an agricultural market centre.

Midelt2

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

Midelt9

Promenade with shops in central Midelt

However, there is an interesting fact about Midelt: it was estimated to me (by local government officials and also by local mineral dealers) that approximately 10% of Midelt’s annual GDP derives from sales of collector mineral specimens and mineral/fossil products, and related businesses. Whether or not this is exactly accurate, it is clear when you drive through Midelt and look at the storefronts that minerals are an important component of the local economy.

We attended the Second Annual Mindat Conference at the Taddart Hotel in Midelt and it was a super event, with speakers from all over the world. We also had the chance to buy specimens from mineral dealers at the museum/store attached to the hotel, and also generally, in and around Midelt.

However the true trip highlights in this region were out at Mibladen!

Mibladen2

Mibladen was a mining centre where the French mined for lead in the first half of the 20th century, and the mines continued to produce until commercial operations ceased in the mid-1970s.

While the small village of Mibladen iteself is located about 18km east of Midelt, a large area about 10km in length comprises the “Mibladen” referred to by mineral collectors.  This Mibladen mining district hosts mining workings that access two important and distinctly different mineral assemblages, and we spent time exploring both.

Mibladen3Open lands and skies on the way to Mibladen

(1) Vanadinite and Barite: Coud’a and the ACF Mine

Mibladen is famous for its spectacular vanadinite crystals – the world’s best.  They occur in all hues of red through brown, often associated with wonderful bladed barite, which occurs in beautiful specimens with and without vanadinite. This is the one mineral assemblage – where there are vanadinites, you will not find the famous Mibladen cerussites or wulfenites – these are in the second mineral assemblage, discussed in the next section below.

The two main vanadinite producing localities at Mibladen are the ACF Mine workings and the Coud’a workings. The vanadinite and barite crystals occur in mineralized zones that occur at various depths from the surface – some can be accessed by vertical shafts about 20-30 feet deep, and some are deeper. In the case of the ACF Mine, the vanadinite-bearing zones are accessed by workings that have been extended underground from the mine workings buy miners in search of specimens. In the case of the Coud’a workings, they are narrow shafts excavated by hand tools from the surface.

We were able to visit the Coud’a workings, and our guide Abdellah took us down two shafts where he had mined beautiful specimens of vanadinite and barite.  A visit to these deposits is a bad idea for anyone who doesn’t like small closed spaces…

Midelt3 Dave took the rope and headed down the shaft

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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!