Mason County, Washington
October 2008
Report by John Cornish

This last weekend, I enjoyed a bit of collecting while heading south from the Olympic Peninsula to Kelso, Washington. I would soon attend the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Friend's of Mineralogy's 34th Annual Symposium (for a report of last year's Symposium, please see... ). As a habit while making this run, I typically visit at least one of the area's trap quarries. I continued tradition on this trip also, and as fortunate as ever I'd been in the past, while making this run, really and truly, I found treasure!

Now truth be told, wherever, whenever I go out collecting, 100% I'm looking forward to the experience. The smells and sounds of the out-of-doors. The wildlife. The panorama that is Nature all surrounding, this is what it's all about! These are the ultimate glories of mineral and fossil collecting, getting outside! Now, add to this a bit of treasure and heck, we've got a tiny slice of Heaven right here on Earth!

And so, drive and drive and drive, make the turn from the smooth pave onto the gravel and bounce the pot-holed road through the open gate; it's Hunting Season (watch out Bambi, watch out me!). And drive until the black rock walls of the quarry loom before me. I'd made it, back to one of my "Old Friend" quarries in Mason County, Washington.

From appearances, there had definitely been work here in the Pit since my last visit and much of it was extremely fresh. Oh, there were old sections of wall surrounding the quarry in a near horseshoe-like fashion, several sections of which even showed remnant pocket evidence, but for me, and where my eyes were most focused, they'd been working the pile! The pile is a large blast mound which had been created many months previous to this. Timber Farm hired contractor's had cleared an area and had drilled, loaded and shot the Pit, huffing the rock up and then dropping it back in place as a large now shattered section easily worked with front end loaders and a portable crushing unit.

In one area of the pile, I noticed that the rock had not been blasted into pea-sized chunks and that many large, though predominantly broken pillows still remained. It was from here that I most hoped to find treasure! This locality exploits basaltic lavas from a marine section of the igneous Miocene Crescent Formation. Pillows ranging from one to just over two meters are typical. Within some of these stacked pillows are voids which have become partially filled with crystals. These chambers in the pillows are my targets and before me, the rock wall, all shattered and broken, looked ripe for goodies!

Leaving the truck, I approached the wall and began searching. I probed with my bar, wrenching at fractures as I moved about sampling the rock until one pillow, cracked completely in two stopped me in my tracks! It wasn't the biggest pillow, about a meter long and half that around, but no matter. As I looked into the broken space where the two main sections had settled, near the center of the pillow, bright white upraised crystals of natrolite glistened! I set the bar down, cleared away much of the small loose dirt and gravel from the top of the pillow and then went back to the truck and got the camera and began taking pictures. I had no idea what to expect, if anything, still, I snapped away.



With the wall and the pillow photographed, I next began working the pillow open. Above me, thousands of pounds of rock sat loose and dangerous, everything seeming to support everything else. This prevented me from going all Cave-Man and wrenching everything apart, I had to work slowly, softly, carefully. Several chunks of rock needed to first be pried away and then a massive chunk of pillow, weighing easily 30 pounds was set to come out. With my feet spread wide and my back straining, I firmly grasped the rock and worked that first biggest sections away, careful so as not to touch the bristly natrolite crystals which I hoped would line its inward facing surface perfectly. Once safely away from the pocket, and before I set it down, I jostled that big section from side to side, shaking loose any obvious dirt or rock fragments before slowly turning it over to see the days first crystalline treasure.

It was a fine plate, perfect and just brilliant in upraised white crystals. Crystals formed in uniform lengths up to approximately 2.5cm, protruding from the hearts of spherical and hemispherical bursts which all crowded about, covering a curving pocket surface measuring well over 30cm, 12cm wide. It was a glory to behold all perfect and pristine. With this monster set aside, I next turned my attention back to the pocket, there I viewed its contents for the first time. Its size wasn't that impressive, still, within its heart glowed the gemmy golden-yellow fire of perfect beautiful calcite crystals!


Their curving surfaces where dusted by small rock and dirt fragments and broken collapsed ceiling groups of natrolite which had fallen free as I'd removed the big cap stone. I carefully, softly, slowly began removing these pieces of potentially damaging material so as to hopefully recover this little gem intact and on its matrix. As I performed these duties, it became obvious that working the pillow open enough to recover this specimen was going to be very difficult, if not outright impossible, due to the shattered rock surrounding. What to do?

Right then, at that very moment, nothing! First, I needed to focus on removing the crud loosely contacting that gorgeous calcite group. First, I needed to focus! After a breathless time and with that task successfully completed, I tried something new, and careful so as not to touch the fine spiky forest of penetrating natrolites protruding from the calcites upper-most crystal faces, I gently wiggled the calcites. And, the calcite and the natrolite upon which it had formed wiggled back! Ha! I was thrilled. As I softly wiggled, loose broken natrolite crystals shifted and fell away around the circumference of an 8 by 6cm specimen. Again, what to do? I pondered and thought and finally, I decided it'd probably be best if I didn't think! And while I wanted to close my eyes, I figured one was better than two questionable actions and reached my hand forward. I grasped the fresh unpin-cushioned edges of the calcite... (Egads Man, what are you doing!!!)... and gently applied pressure, lifting the calcite and its perfect natrolite matrix. In the hushed silence, I could hear the grating sound of the natrolites further crushing around the edges of the plate but more importantly, I could feel and see the plate lifting free!



Seconds later, this is what its all about!

Thank goodness for an excuse to travel! I'm sure glad I made the trip south that day, deciding to stop and collect. The rain had fallen and I'd been skewered with a million tiny crystals, but I was happy. After that, the remaining drive to the Symposium was uneventful. While enjoying the fun with all my other FM friends this last weekend, I'm quite sure I smiled way too much while showing my newest treasure!

Thanks for coming along everyone and letting me share the story of this one special find. I've collected this locality for nearly twenty years and this is the finest combo of calcite and natrolite I've ever found. All the very best and may your next trip be as equally successful!