My artist friend Johanna and I set out VERY early Friday morning, as we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. She had done a lot of online research beforehand, so she had additional information about the roads we would be taking, several distinct landmarks to identify the collecting spots, and so on.
To my shame, I had done very little research at all. I knew where the general locations were, and I had my trusty Gem Trails of Arizona guidebook, and that was about it, other than confirming the roads via Google Earth. I always do that. Oh, and I brought the collecting bags and rock hammers.
Along the way, we were trying to decide between three different places for our final destination. All were in the same part of Arizona and within fifteen to twenty minutes' driving time of each other. Site #1 according to the book was the most promising, Site #2 was the most distant, and Site #3 was listed as the most difficult for driving. Johanna has a great big pick-up truck, which is great for negotiating rough roads but not so great if there are a lot of deep washes to cross as shown on the map for Site #3. After considerable discussion -- we had nothing else to do for a couple hours on the road -- we chose Site #2. If it didn't pan out, we would go to Site #1 on the way back. Site #3 was set aside for another trip, until we could determine for sure if her truck could handle it.
The directions I had to Site #2 were basic and probably sufficient, but Johanna had checked via a few other online sources to confirm certain details. We realized after we got there that without her additional information, we might have missed an important turn-off.
Though most of the trip was on nicely paved highways, the last several miles were on a pretty rough road, but it was clearly the right road. There wasn't much in the way of Really Neat Rocks yet, but we did see a few here and there as we bounced along going very, very slowly.
We were looking for a particular landmark that was supposed to indicate where the best hunting ground was. Johanna had screenshot pictures of it, and I had references to it in my minimal research, but we reached the next landmark without having seen the first. This second landmark happened to be at a previously unmentioned fork in the rough dirt road. Did we take the left fork that appeared to go in the direction we wanted, or did we take the right fork hinted at by the landmark?
Knowing we could always come back, we chose the left fork. It quickly took us into much rougher territory than any of our collective information suggested we would encounter. We plunged into a couple of dry washes, and climbed out again. As we went, we were constantly peering out the windows. The quantity of attractive material continued to increase. Even though there was a possibility we had taken the wrong turn at the fork, we were seeing better quality material -- right on the surface! -- than we had been told to expect.
Finally, we reached a point where we could see a massive and deep wash ahead, one Johanna didn't want to risk trying to drive her truck through. From what we could see out the windows, there was plenty of potentially good material at this location. She pulled off the road and parked.
One of the reasons we had decided on Friday for this trip was the weather. Saturday was predicted to be 100% rain over a huge swath of Arizona, including both the Phoenix metro area and the place of our expedition. Friday, on the other hand, was expected to be warm and sunny.
It was neither.
When we got out of the truck, we were hit with strong and steady wind. It never let up all day long. There was no sun, just thick grey clouds all day long. There was no warmth; I doubt it got much above 50 degrees all day. My nose started running almost immediately -- I stuffed my pockets with tissues -- and my fingers were numb most of the day.
But that didn't matter in the face of such abundance of material. The ground was carpeted with chunks and globs and nodules of chalcedony. Not just littered, mind you. Carpeted!
I'm used to being selective about what I pick up because I want only the best and only what I can actually use to make jewelry. It was virtually impossible to be "selective." In any given square yard/meter of ground there might be three or four dozen beautiful chalcedony nodules. Most were round or egg-shaped, but some were more irregular. Some were more flat on one side than others. The dominant color was white, but many were surface-stained a rusty red-brown.
In addition to the nodules were the more lumpy bumpy chunks.
I don't even know if I picked this one up or if it's just a random picture. It was at least six inches long, maybe longer, and was one of just hundreds, thousands, millions all over the place.
I should have picked up more of these, now that I think about it, to see what they look like when cut. But they're not as easily accommodated to the saw, so I didn't take many. There were so many of the other, more symmetrical nodules that would make lovely slices . . . .
Each of us collected two bags full of "choice" selections. We walked slowly, trying to decide which gems to pick up and which to leave. It wasn't easy with so much to choose from! But we were cold, too, and I was starting to have some discomfort with my contact lenses due to the incessant wind. There wasn't a whole lot of dust in the air, but the wind alone was irritating my eyes.
We loaded our rocks into the back of the pick-up, then backtracked to the "second" landmark and took the other fork in the road. Somewhat to our surprise, we passed another group of rock hounds, or at least we assumed that's what they were doing with their buckets and rock hammers in hand. They were in an area that, unlike where we had just been, boasted few of the large, beautiful nodules we had seen. So we waved and drove on.
Not too long after that, we came to what should have been the "first" landmark. This man-made structure bore no obvious resemblance to its description in all the references, but there was no doubt in our minds that this is what the guide books and online reviews mentioned. Again, it was in an area where there were virtually no Really Neat Rocks.
How had we stumbled upon the fantastic area and other folks hadn't? Why was this a landmark to what was described as the "better" collecting site when it couldn't hold a candle to what we found?
So we drove on further. We were approaching another fork in the road that, according to all our information, would lead back to the main highway from which we entered the desert. Just before this fork we came upon another group of rock hounds. Their compact passenger vehicle would never, we knew, negotiate the rough road and dry washes further in, so we assumed they were staying in the safer area. Again, we waved and drove on, knowing that we had found treasure they could probably only dream of!
Almost immediately, however, we found ourselves facing a wide but shallow and sandy wash, one the passenger car had probably had a tiny bit of difficulty crossing. Our surmise was that they had survived the wash and decided not to venture further and risk more dangerous crossings. The fork back to the highway and civilization was in sight from the wash, but we decided to stop and explore a little bit. Both of us had seen some interesting possibilities in the sand.
The truck climbed to the other side, and we parked just off the road. Then we headed into the wash.
I should have taken more pictures, but it was cold and windy and our eyes were focused on the ground.
Here the material wasn't as plentiful, but it was still spectacular in quality. More of the nice round-ish nodules. A few pieces of pink chalcedony that I love to work with. A couple of small fire agates.
One thing I did get a picture of was one of the nodules poking out of the vertical wall of the wash. These things must be buried in the entire site!
I then loosened it and tucked it in my bag!
Another example I found was a small agate nodule still encased in the host matrix. Whether the matrix is basalt or rhyolite or tuff, I'm not sure. I'm still researching the geology of this location . . . and not finding much information.
I found one other very unusual rock in that wash, and I've not been able to find any conclusive explanation for it at all.
It's basically the same dull grey basalt/rhyolite/tuff as the other blah rocks, except that it has tiny green/bluish-green nodules in it.
The largest is maybe a quarter-inch in length, but most are much smaller. However, there are indentations in the rock that indicate larger green nodules have been separated from the matrix. One of those holes is at the bottom of this picture:
Although turquoise does form in matrix, I'm under no illusion that this is "real" turquoise, like this piece from Bisbee, AZ.
The bits in my rock are more green than blue and they're more uniformly oblong in shape that the usual knobby, irregular nuggets of turquoise.
So I just don't know what they are . . . yet.
We are talking about planning another trip to the same location -- and hoping for better weather, too -- but logistics have to be worked out.
After today's torrential rain, I'm looking forward to getting on the rock saw tomorrow and starting to cut some of these beauties.