SOME GEOLOGY & GEMS
(A TRIP TO THE USA 2009)
In 2009 I was fortunate to spend some 8 weeks travelling through many of the national parks in the
western half of the USA. As part of that trip I visited a number of museums which had excellent
mineral/gemstone collections as well as 'rock shops' and national parks that demonstrate vividly many
aspects of the science of geology. The following photos are a very brief summary of some of the many
wonders to be seen in the western half of the USA.
L: Crater Lake N.P. in Oregon. Formed from the shattered
remains of an eruption some 7700 yrs ago, the lake is some 592m
deep and 9.6km across at it's widest point.
R: The pinnacles, beside Crater Lake, are a colourful collection of
30m tall spires that are being eroded from the canyon walls. The
spires are 'fossil fumeroles', each marking a spot where volcanic
gas rose up through hot ash deposits, cementing the ash into solid
L: The 'John Day Fossil Beds', (Oregon) Painted Hills Unit. The
hills are the result of the erosion & weathering of volcanic ash
under a variety of climatic regimes. The area has yielded many
R: The 'John Day Fossil Beds', Sheep rock unit has the visitor
information centre with fossil exhibits. This fossil skull has been
distorted by pressures underground, making it difficult to identify.
L: A staff member at The 'John Day Fossil Beds' undertaking work
on fossils recovered locally.
R: A fossilised skull at the 'John Day Fossil Beds', Sheep rock unit.
L: Butte, Montana, has been a major copper mining area, with a
large open cut pit replacing underground mining in 1955. The
mineral museum has a nice display of minerals and gemstones.
R: Butte museum, Butte, Montana. Sulphur specimen. The
museum is located on the Montana Tech Campus. It has over
1300 minerals on exhibit, including a 27.5 oz gold nugget.
L: Butte museum, Butte, Montana. Flourite specimen.
R: A geyser in Yellowstone N.P. The last major volcanic eruptions
occurred around 640,000 yrs ago. The central caldera, some
75km across, is still underlaid by magma which still powers the
parks geysers, hot springs and mudpots.
L: Old Faithful Geyser, erupts at intervals which have varied from
40 to 126 minutes. The time of the next eruptions can generally be
predicted to within about 10 minutes at present.
R: The Badlands N.P. in South Dakota show the effects of
sedimentation and erosion over some 75 million years. It is a
source of many fossils.
L: Mt Rushmore, South Dakota. This is a rather impressive
example of stone 'carving' compared to what most lapidaries do!
Constructed between 1927 & 1941, using dynamite and
jackhammers plus 400 workers; each face is 18.3m high. The
presidents (L to R) are George Washington, Thomas
Jefferson,Theodore Roosevelt , Abraham Lincoln
R: There are plenty of rock shops in the mining states such as
Montana, South Dakota, Colorado & Arizona. Lapidary shops are
L: Some of the petrified wood on display. Note the 'wood' from
arizona (red, white & yellow). I saw magnificent polished sections
of tree trunks (1m in diameter) of this material at Bryce canyon in
R: There are many nice agate specimens in the rock shops in the
USA plus fossils & minerals on display.
L: The shop had a wide range of rocks, fossils & minerals on
R: You can purchase more than just 'rocks' at this shop.
L: A place well worth visiting is the 'Mammoth site' at Hot Springs
in South Dakota, just south of Mt Rushmore. A large number of
male mammoth fossils are preserved in situ in what was a
sinkhole. The site dates to approx. 25,000 years ago.
R: The many mammoths that died in what was a sinkhole, are
slowly being excavated by paid staff and volunteers. The site
dates to approx. 25,000 years ago.
The Denver Museum of Natural History
L: This specimen was dug up in the last few years by a fossicker. It
measures approx. 1m high!
The Denver Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit by
lapidaries and mineral collectors. It has a fantastic collection of
minerals & gems. To the immediate left are some crystals of
aquamarine and tourmaline.
L: This specimen is covered by gem quality beryl crystals, up to
10mm wide. The full specimen is shown above (the photo does
not do it justice). One of many high quality specimens at the
Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado
R: A display of agates at the Denver museum of natural history.
L: Some of the lovely Rhodochrosite specimens at the museum.
R: A display of gold leaf specimens at Denver Museum,
Colarado. Part of a larger collection of gold specimens.
L: The 'rhodo pocket' from the famous 'Sweet Home Mine',
covered with gemmy rhodochrosite crystals. Approx. 3m long by
R:A closer view of the 'rhodo' pocket from the Alma King mine.
L: The 'Alma King' specimen measures some 1m high and is
covered with fine quartz, calcite and flourite crystals as well as the
magnificent 'Alma King crystal'. Well worth a visit.
R: The famous 'Alma King' rhodochrosite specimen. The main
crystal is approx. 6" across.
The Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum, in
Golden, Colorado, has been in it's impressive new two storey
building since 2003. The current director, Bruce Geller & his staff
are very welcoming and informative. Well worth visiting!
R: A lovely specimen of Elbaite on Albite (200mm wide). One of
many high quality specimens at the Colorado School of Mines
L: Flourite on Sphalerite, Colorado School of Mines Geology
R: Shorl on Albite v. Cleavelandite
L: A view of a small part of the interior of the Colorado School of
Mines Geology Museum.
R: Apophyllite with Stilbite from India, Colorado School of Mines
L: The fossil displays at the museum are set up in a clear,
informative way. Grouping the fossils into their relative geological
eras provides a good sense of the progression of fossils through
R: One of many displays of gems at the Colorado School of Mines
Geology Museum. The museum has very informative labelling of
L: Part of another display of high quality gems at the Colorado
School of Mines Geology Museum, the peridot in the centre is a
flawless 130.47ct gem.
R: A Rhodochrosite specimen to die for!
L: The 'Colorado Fire Necklace', featuring a magnificent collection
of faceted Rhodochrosites, is one of the attractions at the
Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum.
R: A lovely Aragonite specimen at the Colorado School of Mines
L: Monument Valley, Arizona.
R: Bryce Canyon, a classical example of differential erosion, is
one of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S.A. and a 'must
see' for any visitors. Water erodes the rock both mechanically
(when fast moving water, carrying sediments, abrade the rock)
and chemically (as slow moving water enters the rocks and
dissolves the 'natural cements' holding the grains of rock together).
A FANTASTIC EXPERIENCE -ATTENDING THE
2007 TUCSON GEM SHOW
I was fortunate to travel to the U.S.A. for the first time this year
and I made a point of visiting the Tucson Gem show. I am glad I
did the trip and would recommend it to other gem
collectors/hobbyists if they get the opportunity. The show is big,
really big! It consists of some 38 locations/'shows' around Tucson,
of which 13 were wholesale only.There are hundred and hundreds
of dealers covering all aspects of lapidary work/mineral
collecting/jewelry manufacturing etc. Many of the shows are there
to supply the professional jewelry trade but there are also many
applicable to the amateur lapidary enthusiast/mineral or fossil
A large range of equipment manufacturers were present
covering all areas of lapidary work (faceting equipment, laps,
saws, cabbing equipment, tumblers, sphere makers etc). I found
the the 'Tucson Electric Park Gem & Mineral Show' had the
greatest concentration of equipment suppliers this year.
Mineral specimens were available at many of the shows, but the
most spectacular/high quality specimens I saw were at the 'Tucson
Westward Look Mineral Show' and at the 'Tucson Gem and
Mineral Show' (in the convention centre during the last 4 days of
'Tucson'). Faceting and cabbing rough was available at several of
the shows, including the JG & M show in Palo Verde (a suburb of
Tucson) and at the 'Globe-X/Days Inn' show in the centre of town.
Photos: by row, L to R
1st row: The Globex show at Days Inn, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.,
2007. The show filled the motel plus a large number of marquees.
; Some of the traders at the Globex show. There were hundreds of
traders at 'Globex', as there were at several of the 38 sites around
2nd row: Some of the cathedrals and caves at the Globex show
3rd row: L Some of the cathedrals and caves at the Globex
show; R The 'Gem Mall' had a large range of beads,
manufactured jewelry and other items for sale
4th row: L to R
An impressive display of minerals including
Golden beryl crystals and rubellite/// The size and quality of the
crystals on display was most impressive, as this kunzite crystal
shows/// A magnificent azurite specimen.
5th row: L to R Goran (A geologist from Canada/Serbia),
holding a magnificent rubellite specimen at the Westward Look
Mineral Show/// A close-up view of the rubellite specimen./// A
large and rather magnificent aquamarine crystal valued in excess
of $80,000 (U.S.D.)
6th row: L to R An impressive malachite specimen./// A lovely
aquamarine specimen./// This large quartz crystal was covered
with a coating of multi coloured calcite, making a most attractive
The Tucson Show Guide, which is provided free at the shows,
gives a detailed listing of where all the dealers/traders are located,
and should be studied carefully to ensure you make good use of
your time at the shows. Regular visitors to the shows are also a
great source of knowledge.
During the 2 weeks duration of the 'shows', a free shuttle bus
service enables visitors to travel around the various locations.
Based on my limited experience this year, I would say that you do
not really need a car when attending the Tucson shows.
There were plenty of Australians at the show this year, with
Australian gems/minerals being a special feature at this years
show. I attended several lectures by Australian
miners/cutters/dealers and was impressed by the way they
represented Australia. Well done!
One of the advantages of attending the show was meeting a lot of
friendly and knowledgeable fellow lapidary enthusiasts and mineral
collectors. A second positive was the quality of gems and minerals
on display. They were better than anything I have seen in the past
and I now appreciate what people mean when they talk of really
top quality gems and mineral specimens.
View the slide show to the left for more photos.
THE GIA AT CARLSBAD
As well as the Tucson show I visited the Gemmological Institute of
America's Campus at 5345 Armada Drive, Carslbad in California (it
is almost next door to 'Legoland'). If you are in California it is well
worth a visit, the GIA run tours of the facility and you will see a
great selection of crystals, cut gems and the like. It is necessary to
phone ahead to book in if you wish to visit the campus.
Photos: L The entrance to the GIA campus at Carlsbad in
R The musical instruments for an orchestra
produced from carved gem material and gold.
WASHINGTON DC, USA, 2011 TRIP
During 2011, as part of a trip in the eastern half of the USA, I was
fortunate to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, in
Washington D.C. I had read that it had a fantastic mineral & gem
collection, and I was not disappointed. Well worth a visit if you
have the opportunity. Some of the collection is shown below,
though the photos do not do the collection justice. However I am
sure you will enjoy the mineral specimens and gemstones shown, I
went back to the museum on 3 consecutive days to try to absorb
the beauty of the collection!
L to R: A magnificent Apophyllite and Prehnite
specimen; Some botroyoidal
Hematite; A specimen of Azurite with Malachite.
L: A typical display in the museum, well labelled and
R: A fine collection of metal/mineral specimens,
showing a variety of forms.
L: A collection of copper based minerals from the well
known location of Bisbee, Arizona, U.S.A.
R: A display highlighting the aesthetic appeal of
Magnificent ‘blue cap’ tourmaline specimens in their
L: An attractive display including Rhodochrosite and
L: A spectacular specimen of Rhodonite.
R: More Rhodochrosite
L: A display of Indian zeolites from the Poona district.
R: Some impressive Elabaite (tourmaline) crystals.
L: The largest faceted Chrysoberyl gemstones I have
R: Three magnificent ‘blue cap’ tourmaline specimens
in their display case.
L: A 51 lb pink Topaz crystal, quite spectacular (gem
R: Emerald jewellery
Magnificent ‘blue cap’ tourmaline specimens
L: Beryl (aquamarine) on Albite
R: Two lovely Beryl gemstones.
L: A Beryl (Helidor) crystal, approx. 200mm high.
R: Faceted beryl gemstones.
L: Dioptase crystals on Calcite
R: Faceted topaz gem.
A magnificent emerald.
Photos below: Two of the very large and spectacular
fossils on display
The video below is a MPG4 video and should not be watched
unless you have internet download speeds of 3 or more Mb/s
and unlimited download allowances. It shows some parts of
the Smithsonian museum’s gems & minerals displays.