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THE  CORUNDUMINIUM

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     Corundum has been found in many localities throughout the Americas.   It is actually quite widespread, and literally hundreds of interesting if not economically important deposits exist in the Americas.  Soon, we will have pages devoted to each country or region and what we know can be found there.  To date, we have information about localities in Canada, Brazil, and the United States. 
     Here is what we plan initially for the United States.  For the Northeast, we will have reports on New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  There is a southeastern distribution that runs from Virginia through North and South Carolina and Georgia into Alabama.   The State of Montana contains the most important gem deposits, but other western sites of interest occur in Wyoming, Colorado, and California..  The "Original Site" contains remarks, but the plan is to reorganize, refine, and add further information as it becomes available and we have the time to do it.  Clearly, the list of localities will continue to grow.
     Below we have added some new information, not yet in final form.  We can cut and paste later, but you can enjoy it now!
 
                     PROPST FARM SAPPHIRES  (NORTH CAROLINA)
Article under construction, 5/31/07                                                                                                                                     Will Heierman
     Approximately thirty-five years ago, Helen Propst found a large, flat "hex outline" rock in her garden.  It was identified by a local jeweler(?) as a sapphire.  Soon after, she found another.  Thinking they were parts of the same crystal, she "tried them together, but they wouldn't fit".   Soon afterward, the "Propst Farm" became a favorite dig site for rockhounds.   The locality has been open for casual digging ever since, and for a nominal fee you can still park your car on the grass under the big oak tree and have at it!  (See picture to right.)  
     The farm is on the Startown Road, south of Conover, Lincoln County, North Carolina.  I will get exact directions and insert them later.   I spoke with Helen when I visited the site with Doug Hess on May 29, 2007; so the above anecdote is from the primary source.
    
     The sapphire distribution began in the center of the second photo, where crystals and clusters occurred in a thin layer about a foot below the surface.  It continued to the left, around the big oak tree to the barn in the background of the first photo; and onward how far nobody yet knows.    Off the first picture to the left is an area of secondary growth that covers numerous old pits; and although there might be some material left between them, you would surely earn what you got - bring mice to bribe the rattlesnakes!  (The grassed portions have been thoroughly worked, reworked, and reclaimed; so forget them too!)  I recommend you go behind the barn and into the woods, where Doug has been digging recently.  He's the guy in the first picture.    
     The pay layer seems to be buried more deeply as you go farther to the left, and it can sometimes be identified by a greyish to yellowish clayey layer immediately above it.  It seems to contain larger milky "bull quartz" cobbles (to about 3" diameter) along with the sapphires.  Doug's pits above reveal about 4' to 5' of overburden, and he tells me the stones recovered seem to be "not as good."  It may be that the best of this "vest pocket" deposit has already been found.  Regardless of its size, it is an important American corundum locality.... 
                                                               THE DOUG HESS COLLECTION
     I met Doug Hess at the Asheville Mineral Symposium in June, 2001.  He showed up with a fishing tackle box full of carefully wrapped stones, which we carefully unwrapped to reveal some of the most unusual and attractive corundums I have ever seen.   It, and the collector, were featured in a video on North Carolina's natural resources (I will get details and publish here).  If ever a collection defined the material a locality produced, this is such a time!  Here are a dozen of the more than eighty pictures I took of it on May 29, 2007.  They are thumbnailed, so you can click on any image to see it in high resolution. 
 
 
 
                                                  CONOVER,  NORTH  CAROLINA
 
   Conover is on Interstate 40, about 80 miles east of Asheville.   These grey sapphires were found within the city limits.   The specimen on the left was found by Conover resident Doug Hess.   One large hex outline specimen was cabbed, producing the somewhat chatoyant "Grey Ghost", shown in the near right image.  The smaller cab on the far right actually shows a faint six-rayed star  (specimens ex coll.  Doug Hess).                                      (6/15/07)  
 
 
                                            CHEROKEE RUBY MINE,  CALER CREEK
 (Article under construction)                                                                                                                                    (Will Heierman, 6/15/07)
   This "tourist" mine, on a tributary of Cowee Creek near Franklin, North Carolina, was a source of some of the finest ruby crystals to be found in the United States.  In size and habit, they often resemble Yogo sapphires; but unlike Yogos, some huge ones have been found. 

     I visited the Cherokee Mine on May 30, 2007.  The night before, I found a level place to park (see left photo), figuring I could find the mine after daylight   It didn't take too long...

 
      There is a small shed in front of you when you descend from Ruby Mine Road to the creek level, and the flume is on the edge of the "Parking Lot" below the point where the gravel drive crosses the creek (see right photo above - the creek itself is just behind the flume and the pitchpiles).  You pay your entry fee ($7.00 in 2007) and start screening buckets, which cost $1.50 apiece (in 2007).  The suggested technique is not to jig and flip as most do in the Montana mines, but to look at every rock in the screen.  This is because there are other less dense minerals (e.g., sillimanite, rutile, kyanite, pyrope and rhodolite garnets) that may be garnered from the gravels.  I rummaged through six buckets and found one small, pale blue sapphire crystal (no rubies, but a film an full of the other stuff).  However, because my eyes were not trained, I might have missed something.
     It appears the imported material (see buckets in right photo above) comes from a dry riverbed up the drainage from the wash site, and the stones are apparently from two or more different lode sources.  I cannot confirm this now, but hope to do some geological explorations in May, 2008 if the owners will permit.
     The "Parking Lot" is actually worked and reclaimed ground.  Alas, it was within these riparian benches where the very finest crystals seemed to accumulate under large boulders resting on bedrock ; and they were mined out several years ago.   It is hard to find even one of them in a private or museum collection today!  Before May, 2007, I had seen only one, in a private collection; and it was not for sale!
     However, in May, 2007, I spoke with one of the old-time miners (Robert Dinnes), who had saved a large number of stones.  After an hour of sorting through them and another hour haggling, I had to settle for only two; but these two were the finest I had seen.   They are now in our collection (see right photos).

   Robert and I are talking deal and soon I may have a few more, including some we can share with other collectors.   If so, it will be a chance to own and preserve some truly fine American natural wonders.

   
                              NEW WYOMING CORUNDUM DISCOVERY
 
                                                                                                                                                                    Will Heierman, updated 9/9/07
 
       I met a colleague in February, 2007, who recently discovered a new and significant corundum locality in Wyoming.  The first specimen, found after years of searching, appears on the left.  The clusters on the right  are proof that the locality can produce produce superbly attractive mineral specimens!     
     The broken crystal on the left (donated to our collection by its finder) shows plainly a green alteration rind around a chatoyant or asteriated corundum core.  The green stuff has been identified as a chromium-rich mica, probably fuchsite  The spectacular cabochon on the near right is cut from similar material, and the green border is part of the rough's natural cross section (it is not intarsia).  A different look is presented in the second cab on the far right. The annoying dust spots in the photos appear because I was chicken to take the glass lids off before photographing them.  
       The source localities are distributed over a large area more or less surrounding the Rattlesnake Mountains, southwest of Casper.  I visited several in July, 2007, and took the pictures below.  
Sorry, Amos!  It's that one!
 
Rubies in situ
     The rubies seem to have formed along contacts where pegmatites shot through ancient (precambrian) granitic intrusives.  We dug in the soils below the exposed face in the second photo, and in about an hour had maybe 100 fine specimens.   The matrix piece to the right, about 10" long, led to the discovery of another locality nearby.  It is now in our display at Montana Tech in Butte.  
"Owl Eyes"
Detail of owl eye
     Our explorations indicated there are economic deposits here, but commercial levels of extraction will have both technical and bureaucratic problems that will need to be worked out.  At present, there are about half a dozen of us who enjoy digging with hand tools and packing out the finds in buckets.  
     f you are interested in obtaining some of this material, please contact me at wheierman@corunduminium.com.  I do have some cabochon rough, some of which will probably star.  The areas of concern are covered by unpatented placer and lode claims, so private digging requires permission.  The owners prefer to remain anonymous for now; but iwhen that changes I shall provide a direct link here.  
                                               HUNTING MONTANA SAPPHIRES
(Article under construction)                                                                                                                Will Heierman, December 13, 2006
 
     Once upon a time, there were several localities in the State of Montana where a tourist, collector, or entrepreneur could  "day dig" for sapphires.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.   In the summer of 2006, I visited the two remaining sites (Gem Mountain and Spokane Bar Mine) known to me where these activities are possible.
     Extensive sapphire-bearing gravel beds exist along Rock Creek between Philipsburg and Hamilton and along the Missouri River near Helena.  One of the World's great hard rock sapphire deposits,  "Yogo Gulch", is in the center of the state (it is the subject of another article below).   There are numerous smaller gem sapphire deposits around the western part of the state, and a zone of sub-gem deposits that extends more or less continuously from the vicinity of Bozeman through Virginia and Nevada City, Dillon, and into western Idaho.  We will have more details about these later, but pictures from some of them may already be seen in our "Original Site", "Americas" page.
 
      Gem Mountain is on Rock Creek, and is easily accessible from the Philipsburg end of the Skalkaho Road.  Material brought down from high benches to a gift shop area is screened to remove the large rocks, but otherwise not "altered" (milked, or salted). 
Gem Mountain sapphires
        Visitors may purchase buckets of this material and jig the gravels to find the usually small but colorful blue and "fancy colored" sapphires for which the locality is famous.  I have always had good luck with mine!   Screens, tweezers, and film cans are provided for pickers to find, harvest, and hold their stones.  If you don't know what to do, there is a covey of field workers ready to explain or demonstrate.   The screening on the left, showing a couple of nice pinks, is fairly unusual.  On the right are two happy "pickers" (my friends and Montana hosts, Dave and Gloria Edden).   
Dang!!  That one is bigger than mine!
     At day's end, there is a staff of friendly experts in the gift shop to "appraise" your stones.   The shop also offers full services, such as enhancement by heat treating (owner Chris Cooney is an expert at this), faceting, and jewelry fabrication.   Anyone interested in stones, or just a day of fun in the forest, may visit their website www.gemmtn.com for more information and contact data.
     Gem Mountain does not ordinarily sell facetable rough (other than in dirt), but we will have a selection of collectible crystals at our "Earth Treasures" room at the InnSuites Show in Tucson, 2007.  Owner Chris Cooney has kindly offered us this unique opportunity to make available some fascinating mineral specimens.   If you are in Butte, Montana, several from our permanent collection are on display at the Montana Tech Mineral Museum until August, 2007.
  
      The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine is on Castles Road, northeast of Helena.  There, overlooking Hauser Lake on the Missouri River, visitors may dig in virgin gravels or buy bags of it (sometimes concentrated, imported, or salted; but identified as such), and screen for stones or take home for later processing.  I have not dug here; but if it is like the other Missouri River deposits where I have, the sapphires tend to be larger and paler than Gem Mountain stones.   This mine places more emphasis on "remote sales", and will ship just about any kind of bag of virgin gravel or concentrates to any destination that your heart desires.  They have a website, www.sapphiremine.com, where the details are described and through which the owners (Russ and Deb Thompson) may be contacted.
 
 
                       YOGO SAPPHIRES:  MINE UPDATE (A BUMMER!)
(Article under construction)                                                                                                                       Will Heierman, May 31, 2007  
 
       Yogo Gulch, Montana was, in the early 20th Century, Americas premier gemstone locality, internationally regarded for its small but gemologically superb "cornflower blue" sapphires.   Unfortunately, virtually all ventures on the property have shut down, leaving one "mom and pop" underground operation and a few "Sapphire Villagers" to extract stones from hand-dug dike material.     
     Photos above:  The crystal on the left is a 6.16 carat doubly terminated gem, considered to be one of the finest the mine ever produced.  It was found in the early 1980's by Vortex Mining.  Cut stones over one carat are relatively uncommon, but in the right photo the pentagon in the pendant is 3.20 carats and the pear is 3.6 carats.  The pentagon was found by Paul Davis, who had it cut and mounted in Great Falls.  Randy Gneiting (one of the Villagers) found and cut the pear.  These three are in our collection, and currently the pear and the crystal are on display at the Montana Tech Mineral Museum in Butte.  They will remain there at least through the Northwest Federation Gem and Mineral Show, August 3-5, 2007.
       A small percentage of the stones are purple to violet; but these are almost always small, or fragments.  My two favorite exceptions are depicted here.  The "triangulated" crystal on the left (about 3.4 carats) came from Vortex Mining, and the one on the right was found by Vortex Mining's reincarnation, Yogo Creek Mining.  Fortunately, neither was cut before we got our mitts on them!   These are in Butte also.
     I am indebted to Amos Knapstad, long-time friend and owner of the only other collection of Yogo sapphires that I would kill for.  It was he who arranged the deal for the second violet stone.  As a Villager and later beankeeper for Yogo Creek Mining, he assembled his own outstanding collection.   After the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Amos donated the crystal on the right to our collection, so I guess he is in less danger now.     
      There are two properties ("Roncor" and "Vortex") which include just about all of the known mineralization, and there is an effort underway to unify them and put the mine back into commercial production.  It will not be easy, even if unification takes place, as the surface reserves are pretty well depleted and the underground ore body (mostly dike material) is not very thick (see images to the left).    
     Update after Tucson, February, 2007:  Discussions requested with Roncor did not take place, and it is not clear there is any interest with them in either selling or redeveloping their mine.  Therefore, we have at least temporarily abandoned any attempt at resurrecting commercial operations there.  I don't know of any others of significance, so the mines will probably lie more or less fallow (supporting only "mom-and-pop" operations) until capital, knowledge of the ground, and vision can meet in Yogo Gulch once again. 
CALIFORNIA   CORUNDUMS  (Article under construction)
     Though California seems to have little gem corundum, there are a few localities that produce collectible specimens.   Most of these are in or near Riverside County.  
      One in particular (known as "Mount San Jacinto") produces outstanding grey elongated bipyramidal crystals which seem to have survived only as sections (parted perpendicular to the c-axis).  The best of these have been cleaned and epoxied back together by the two brothers (Ken and Dana Gochenour) who found them.  We have ten of them in the collection, and these appear below.  One of them (the fifth, from left to right), known as "The Whale", is featured on our home page.  Its main crystal is about 7/1/2 inches long, and the one to its right is 9 inches long.  Sections found indicate that crystals up to 2 feet in length may have formed.  Whether you find these opaque crystals worthless or priceless depends on your point of view.
                                
     The Gochenours' story is no less fascinating than the specimens themselves.  The italicized remarks are quotations from an unpublished paper (Gochenour [1]).   If anyone is interested in the complete paper, I will ask the authors if I can send it.  We will probably be neighbors at the InnSuites Show in Tucson in 2007.
     Recntly, two more specimens from this discovery became known to me, and they are available for purchase.   They appear on eBay as Items 160066176314  and 160066177303.  These may indeed be the last of these rarities to come up for sale for quite a while!
     (To be completed soon ...)
Recently, I found some sections of sapphire from "Mount Edna", a supposedly related locality.  These may be parts of the larger crystals, but they seem to be bluer and pinker than the Gochenour specimens (see photo to the right).  This will be investigated in Tucson (February, 2007), and any findings will be reported here.  
    
    "Riverside County" also produces mauve to purple sapphire crystals.  Again, I shall post photos soon...
 
     There is also a ruby locality, which produces small tapered prisms that are prized for their fluorescence.  .  .  .