"Herkimer Diamonds" is the name given to the doubly terminated quartz crystals primarily found in Herkimer, Fulton and Montgomery Counties, New York. The quartz crystals formed in cavities within the Cambrian Little Falls Dolostone. The cavities are often lined with drusy quartz, calcite or dolomite. There are several commercial operations where rockhounds can pay a fee to collect Herkimers, including the Ace of Diamonds and Herkimer Diamond Mines in Middleville and the Crystal Grove Diamond Mine north of St. Johnsville in Fulton County.
After researching potential collecting sites on the NET, we decided before we left home that we would most likely spend several days at the Ace of Diamonds Mine. Upon our arrival in Middleville on Monday afternoon, we visited the mine's office/rock shop and met the owner to inquire about rockhounding there. After enduring an exasperating conversation with this individual who sat with a condescending smirk behind a counter, we walked away shaking our heads in bewilderment and disgust for what we perceived as his incredibly rude, puzzling and dismissive behavior. Based on the bizarre way that we were treated at the Ace of Diamonds, we decided to take our business elsewhere – anywhere! We would rather have burned our money in the campfire than hand it over to that guy. The next-door Herkimer Diamond Mine is operated by friendly people, but seems to be geared more toward tourists and newbies.
Although feeling a bit bewildered and somewhat angry from how we had just been treated, we remained optimistic and drove over to the Crystal Grove Diamond Mine. We found the mine's very friendly owners, Evan and Cecily Myers, to be a breath of fresh air. We soon forgot all about the OTHER mine and its owner and decided to spend our three days collecting at Crystal Grove, the only active commercial Herkimer mine where matrix specimens can be recovered.
We arrived at Crystal Grove at 8:00 AM Tuesday to pay our modest collecting fees. After an entertaining conversation with Evan, we proceeded to the mine entrance about 200 yards down the road.
There are several ways to rockhound for Herkimers. The first is to simply search the rubble and mine floor for exposed or loose crystals. The second
method is to look for rocks that contain exposed crystals or pockets and bust them apart with a sledge or crack hammer to find crystals that may be hidden
inside. The first two methods are great fun for new or average rockhounds, but generally lead to relatively small finds when compared to the third method. The most difficult but potentially-rewarding mining method is to work the mine's dolostone walls using sledge and crack hammers, chisels, wedges,
pry bars and truck leaf springs. This technique requires proper tools, strength, patience and knowledge of how to break the extremely hard rock. Naturally, Chrissy and I chose the latter method because we have always been gluttons for punishment.
Two father and son teams were working separate areas on the rock wall when we arrived. I gathered together my arsenal of tools from the back of the truck and carried them in several trips over to the top of the wall. I plopped myself down on an open section between the other guys, making sure by asking that I wasn't crowding anyone. A little bit of rockhounding etiquette is always a good idea, especially when everyone is holding sharp tools. Chrissy settled down on a less high section of wall.
While we found a few keepers on our first day of collecting, it was mostly a learning experience for me. Even though we had collected at another now-closed Herkimer mine twice before and had a good idea about how to work the rock, each mine is different and requires slightly different techniques. The man working next to me told me that he has been coming to Crystal Grove for over 15 years and was there showing his adult son how to work the wall on his very first visit. It was hard not to notice that both men were having great success, pulling out nice-size crystals in matrix left and right. During the process, I learned a few tricks myself that I would employ the following two days. Chrissy apparently didn't need any education, as she uncovered an excellent crystal in a bed of calcite, but she did request my help to liberate the matrix specimen in one piece. I guess brute strength is still good for something!
Click on the specimen picture to enlarge
We were two worn out rockhounds when we loaded up our gear late that afternoon, but looked forward to the next day when our young friends Bruce Skubon, Ethan Martin and Jenny Wise were to join us. Before leaving, we went back to the wall to make sure that we had picked up all our tools and struck up a conversation with the father and son team that had been working next to me. They told us that they would be heading home to Allentown, PA that evening and I would be welcome to take over their section of wall if I wanted. Evan had told me earlier that those who payed to camp at Crystal Grove could reserve a section of wall for the next day by simply placing a tarp over it. Since we were staying elsewhere, I asked Evan if we could get the same deal if we payed for a campsite, but not actually stay there. He said sure, because it was the fee that mattered and not where we stayed, although he was quick to point out that Crystal Grove is a great place to camp. With this in mind, we asked the father and son if they would place our tarp over their spot before they left that evening and they were all too happy to do it for us. You gotta love friendly rockhounds! We stopped at the office on our way out to pay our collecting fees for the following day and also the camping fee so that we could go directly to the mine the next morning and have our very own spot waiting for us when we arrived.
Chrissy and I arrived at Crystal Grove at 8:00 AM Wednesday. We removed our tarp and I got busy working the wall. Before long, Bruce, Jenny and Ethan showed up. They had not arrived and set up at the campground until very late the night before and were moving a bit slow, but soon got into the swing of things. I pointed out to Bruce a section of wall next to where I was working that I felt would produce crystals and he set up shop there for the day. Chrissy went to work on her own section of wall while Jenny and Ethan "freelanced" by moving about to test all three collecting methods.
Thanks to a lot of good steel, especially in the form of wedges, truck leaf springs and a prybar, I managed to move and then bust up a few large blocks.
Working the incredibly hard dolostone can be tough going, so getting a large block to finally release and move usually warrants a silly pose - at least by me!
Bruce seemed have had moderate success himself, so we made sure to secure our spot before we pulled out late that afternoon.
We met at the mine office Thursday morning at 8:00 AM. Ethan and Jenny were raring to go, but it was perhaps a tad bit early for Mr. Bruce.
It is never too early for Opal to kick up her heals, especially when Ethan is hot on her tail.
By late-afternoon, I had reduced what had formerly been a protruding portion of wall to rubble, so I decided that it was time to call it quits.
We, and especially Bruce, found lots of worthy specimens. The following is a sampling of our loot.