The Brantley's Triumphant Return to the Gal
Chunky Gal Mountain - Buck Creek Corundum
Nantahala National Forest
Clay County, North Carolina
April 22-23, 2005
By Mike Streeter

Wayne and Patty were finally able to break free from their Tennessee home to spend a couple days in the Chunky Gal/Buck Creek area of Clay County, North Carolina. This general area is perhaps best known by rockhounds for its corundum, so it has been one of the Brantley's favorite stomping grounds for many years as Wayne only hunts his precious #9 (corundum is #9 on Moh's hardness scale). Wayne is the most knowledgeable and experienced corundum hunter around, so I was tickled pink (pun intended) when they asked me to join them on their two-day adventure - not to mention that they are two of my favorite friends! Chrissy was eager to join us, but her job would cause her to have to wait until Saturday to do so.

For those of you have read my book, you may recall that I wrote the following about the area: "Corundum Knob is aptly named as it is a renowned corundum collecting location. Corundum deposits which have been worked since 1875, occur in dunite and associated rocks. From 1878 until 1900, the mines in this area and north Georgia were the world’s only large-scale abrasive corundum producers. Although production from these deposits ceased by 1906, they helped to establish corundum as an American industry for the first two decades of the 20th century. The corundum deposits were investigated by the United States Geological Survey to determine whether they would help to relieve the critical shortage of abrasive needed in war industries (they would not) (Hadley, 1949). The numerous cuts made by the Geological Survey can still be found around Corundum Knob. The main dunite body making up most of Corundum Knob occupies nearly half a square mile. Within the dunite are lense-like bodies of troctolite as much as 70 feet wide by 1,500 feet long. Troctolite is composed of olivine with varying amounts of calcic plagioclase feldspar with secondary enstatite, amphibolite, chlorite-amphibole schist or chlorite-olivine-serpentine rock (Hadley, 1949). Gray corundum with hints of pink and blue can be found in pods or isolated grains in the troctolite. Small blood red ruby crystals can be found widely disseminated in a beautiful pale green to emerald green rock called smaragdite which is composed of mostly olivine, calcic plagioclase and aluminous amphibole (edenite). Loose crystals of white, gray, pink and blue corundum can be found by screening the gravelly soils in and around area creeks.

Opal and I met Wayne and Patty at our agreed upon location on Buck Creek Road Friday morning. Wayne was obviously giddy with excitement about finally getting a chance to hit the woods again. I could tell that a simple handshake wasn't going to cut it that morning when he walked past my outstretched hand to give me a bear hug. Yep - that was one excited man and Patty couldn't quit smiling herself.

We geared up and headed off into the woods toward one of Wayne and Patty's "private" spots along a small creek. Before long, Wayne had his eyes on the ground and hands in the creek's cold water while he scratched for signs of the hard stuff with his custom-made titanium mattock. He pointed out a few likely spots to dig along the relatively-untouched creek and I started doing a little "scratching" of my own, albeit with a larger mattock and shovel. Patty was only too happy to take a few coffee and Opal breaks. Wayne prefers to hunt by feel without the use of a screen whenever possible. This way, he sorts the rocks with his hands and picks out the ones that seem heavy or that show the cleavage faces or form characteristic of corundum. This concept works for me because I'm generally concentrating on finding the "big one" anyway. Before the morning was over, we all would find more than a few chunks and crystals. The following pictures show a few of the mostly yellowish corundum that we found at that location.

Click on each specimen picture to enlarge.

We took a break around noon to eat our lunches. Not long after we had gotten back to scratching in the creek, a fierce wind started to howl in the trees above us and the sky became very dark. The thunder that we had earlier heard rumbling in the distance began to crack all around us. It seemed that the weather forecasters had gotten it right and a very large thunderstorm was descending upon us. Expecting it to rain anytime, Patty and I donned our ponchos while old Wayne seemed to ignore the impending storm and continued to scratch in the creek. Before long and all of a sudden a heavy rain began to pour. Wayne decided to give up his digging and hunkered down with Patty, Opal and I. Opal is a little bit afraid of thunder, so I let her get up under my poncho and we all sat to wait out the storm. It felt like the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees so having Opal inside my Poncho helped to keep me warm. After about 45 minutes, the storm finally passed and we were able to get back to the hunt.

By late afternoon, we were satisfied with our take and the wet and cold finally got to us so we decided to call it a day. We made out way out of the woods and back to our vehicles. We made arrangements to meet the next morning to hit another area on the Gal and bid our farewells. I drove back home to Candler while Patty and Wayne drove to a no-tell motel in Franklin.

Report continued . . . . . . .

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