Having been on a couple excellent field trips to the Eureka fluorite mine near Marion, Kentucky in the spring of 2008, Chrissy, James Johnson and I decided to do it again. James contacted the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum's
president and mine property owner, Bill Frazer, and he was all to happy to have us return. So, we made arrangements for a two day dig to be held in April 2009. But, just as last year, we thought that it would be a good idea to conduct some sort of reconnaissance dig in order to have the most current information to pass on to the larger group.
As is written on the McRocks.com homepage, "A rockhounding field trip involves much more than collecting rocks and minerals. For my wife Chrissy and myself, finding a specimen worth keeping is just a bonus to any day spent in the field with like-minded rockhounds. Most of our friends were met on rockhounding excursions and getting together with them to swap stories, jokes and life events is far more valuable to us than any rock could ever be." With this in mind, I invited four experienced and trustworthy rockhounds whom I thought would be a good mix of guys. On the slate to attend were James Johnson from Missouri, Jeff Deere from Georgia, Everett Harrington from Michigan, and Bill Hayward, Thomas Davis and myself from North Carolina. Since we scheduled the dig for March 14-15 (Saturday and Sunday), this meant that I had to drive to Marion on Friday. Because Chrissy couldn't get off work that day and Opal had a hair appointment, I flew solo on this trip.
I took the day off work on Friday to make the 7-hour drive to Marion. For those who could make it that day, we had arranged to meet Bill Frazer at the museum to complete the mandatory liability waiver forms and pay the applicable fees. Museum manager, Tina Walker, was there to warmly greet us as Thomas and his wife Danya, James, Jeff and I arrived one by one. Bill and Everett arrived later that afternoon and evening and checked in at the museum Saturday morning. After sitting around and chewing the fat awhile with Bill and Tina, we headed out to the Eureka Mine to have a look-see and discuss our plan of attack. There was quite a welcoming committee out on the farm:
Destruction by a devastating ice storm that struck almost all of Kentucky that winter was still clearly evident in the forest adjacent to the mine.
Aside from all the fallen trees, there seemed to be little evidence of significant change in pit next to the creek; algae was well-established in the groundwater covering the pit bottom.
We spent about an hour that afternoon clearing downed trees from atop the spoil piles and next to the access road. The relatively soft hickory wood was easy to cut even with my trusty hand saw, but there were broken limbs seemingly everywhere. Satisfied that we would have ample room to park all our vehicles and have unrestricted paths to carry tools and equipment, we left, eager and excited about our prospects for the following day.
We arrived Saturday morning at 7:30 AM, just after daybreak ready for diggin!
Since I was working mostly on intuition to find a subsurface fluorite vein, we dug a wide swath on one side of the pit and watched closely for signs of purple.
We were privileged to have Ed on hand for our machine dig. As the son of Ben Clement himself, Ed is incredibly knowledgeable about the area's mining history. Besides that, he is a good natured and extremely helpful person - he even brought his own chainsaw to help clear downed trees and expected nothing in return. I am most grateful to him personally for providing an ample supply of firewood for a campfire that we built when I found myself shivering almost uncontrollably from the cold and wet Saturday afternoon. A little warmth from the fire and a dry sweatshirt from Bill and I was good to go again!
After a couple hours of digging to no avail, I had Wayne head to the other side of the pit to an area that was "speaking to me". It didn't take long thereafter for purple to start showing up. Just as we had done throughout the process, Thomas and I jumped down into the pit where bits of fluorite seemed to be appearing. We had Wayne take a break while we hand-dug into the sides of the pit just above the water table. While Wayne cleaned up the mud and rubble around us, we continued to hand-dig and started finding rocks covered with deep purple fluorite cubes. It seemed to us that we had finally found an in-situ fluorite vein with lots of purple - Yippee! Wayne removed some of the standing water with his bucket thus allowing us to dig down a little bit into the vein complex. Before turning Wayne loose for the day, I had him build a dam behind us to isolate one side of the pit from the other. This would allow us to hand-bail the area that we dug while using the gas-powered pump to de-water the remainder of the pit as we worked. By about mid-morning, we paid Wayne for his time and proceeded to wallow around in thick gooey knee-high mud.
While one or two persons dug, others took turns throwing mud and water out of the working area since the fluorite vein was beneath the water table. I must admit that I spent the vast majority of my time working the vein and a fluorite pocket, while Bill and Jeff did most of the critical bailing.
Since the rock I was working was under water nearly all of the time, I spent much of my time either bailing water or with my arm almost completely submerged while blindly feeling around for the just the right spots to exploit the rock. It wasn't really possible to turn this job over to someone else right away - it was like a puzzle and I had to remember where all the many pieces were when hidden by muddy water.
I was a happy camper when finally able to pull out a plate I had worked, off and on, for several hours.
The following is that very specimen all cleaned up.
The above specimen actually looked much better when it was wet and muddy - we would later discover that most of the fluorite recovered from beneath the water table is somewhat dull in appearance as compared to the fluorite from just below or above the water table; the latter we recovered that afternoon and Sunday (pictures of the better stuff is pictured later in this report).
Thomas brought a pump and generator that allowed us to retrieve "clean" water from the creek to clean mud off the specimens as they were recovered. An extra pat on the back goes to Everett and James, with Michelle's help, for doing most of this important work.
By late-afternoon, we had gathered quite a haul of specimens.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon taking turns picking specimens from the pile, wrapping them and stowing them in our vehicles. We were all quite happy with our success but looked forward to hitting it again on Sunday. Oh, by the way - in preparation for the McRocks group dig, we took time when we were done with our business to "put aside" a whole bunch of decent specimens that should be ripe for the pickings in April - if you know just where to look, that is!
Report continued . . . . . . .
Click Here for Next Page