Posts Tagged ‘Deer Hill’

Rockhounding

Where we live in Maine, we are surrounded by several mountains that are known for their bounty of gems and minerals. Our land abuts the White Mountain National Forest, and three old mines are located there:  Lord Hill, Deer Hill, and Melrose Mine.  The latter produced the largest amethyst specimen ever found in the United States; it is in the permanent collection of the Field Museum in Chicago, IL.  While you cannot enter the mines, one can do some rockhounding in the rubble leftovers outside Lord Hill and Deer Hill, known as the “dumps,” and hobbyists and hikers have walked away with some valuable specimens.  More about this below.

Amethyst found in an area close to my home

Amethyst found in an area close to my home

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Figuring that we could be sitting on a proverbial goldmine, so to speak, my husband signed up with a local rockhounding company to go on a field trip to Mt. Mica mine, located in Paris, Maine.  Mt. Mica is the oldest gem mine in the USA.  This is a fully operational mine and one of the few still in active operation in Maine.  Mt. Mica is famous for its gem-quality pink, green, watermelon, blue and black tourmaline, used primarily for  jewelry, along with garnet, beryl, quartz, and many other gems and minerals that you’ve probably never heard of and that I cannot pronounce.

The entrance to Mt. Mica mine.  The inside is not open to the public.

The cave-like entrance to Mt. Mica mine. The inside of the mine is not open to the public.

Using dynamite, they blast the inside of caves found within.  The resulting demolition rubble is removed and is loaded into dump trucks.  The miners are looking for “pockets” where large crystals and mineral deposits may be concentrated.  There are many underground tunnels within the mines made from these controlled blasts; these are off-limits to outsiders for safety and proprietary reasons.

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The rubble is emptied from the dump trucks outside of the mine in many big piles.  These, fittingly, are known as “the dumps.”  Although the public is not allowed into the mine itself,  for a fee, many private mines allow rockhounders to sort through “the dumps” on weekends when the mine is inactive.  Grabbing shovels and proceeding to an area where it looked like others had not yet ventured, the rockhounds (collectors) shoveled the rocks from the dumps into 5-gallon plastic containers.  The buckets were filled only halfway, since practically speaking it was too heavy to carry a full bucket to the screening/wash area.

Piles of rubble (dumps) outside the mine

Piles of rubble (dumps) outside the mine

People looking through the dumps for hidden treasure

People looking through the dumps for hidden treasure

A sorting table

A sorting table

Some of the rocks in the bucket were then poured out onto a screen, which is actually a tray of one screen inside of another screen.  The upper screen is 1/4″ mesh; the lower screen is 1/8″ mesh.  Shaking the double screen tray hard, back and forth, much of the loose dirt is removed from the rock.  Then the screen tray is put into a tub of water, shaken again, and removed from the water bath.  The upper tray is dumped out onto a white table, and then you spread out the rocks and begin picking through it, deciding which rocks look interesting enough to keep and discarding the others.  Shovel, load, empty, shake, sort, collect and discard . . . shovel, load, empty, shake, sort, collect and discard.  My husband did this for 5 very long hours until he was too stiff and sore to continue further.

Does this sound fun?

To me it sounded like something chain gangs would do in striped uniforms, toiling away under the relentless sun, rarely taking a break for water as their sweat mingled with the dust and grit.

So what is the allure?  Just 3 weeks ago at Mt. Mica, a woman who had never done rockhounding before found a mulit-carat blue tourmaline crystal that was worth $10,000.

Alas, my husband was not so lucky.  He came back with an impressive pile of . . . rocks.  Yes, there was some smoky quartz, some black tourmaline, mica, beryl, feldspar, clear quartz, and garnet amongst the pile, but nothing large or fine enough to have cut and polished.

Some of my husband's "finds."

Some of my husband’s “finds.”

The black rectangle in the upper left corner is black tourmaline.  In the middle is smoky quartz.

The black rectangle in the upper left corner is black tourmaline. In the middle is smoky quartz.

 

While he was busy picking through rocks, I went to the Maine Gem and Mineral Show located in Bethel.  With no labor involved I could have bought all sorts of interesting raw, sparkly uncut gem and mineral specimens (albeit without any sense of a “Eureka!” moment) for as little as $3 (many specimens were priced in the hundreds of dollars).

Watermelon tourmaline, so called because of its bicolor red and green

Watermelon tourmaline, so called because of its bicolor red and green

watermelon tourmaline

watermelon tourmaline

a huge piece of watermelon tourmaline

A huge piece of watermelon tourmaline.  It was found in the 1940s in the same mine where my husband searched for treasures.

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Smoky quartz

Smoky quartz

Amethyst found in a mine in the White Mountain National Forest,  not far from where I live

Amethyst found in a mine in the White Mountain National Forest, not far from where I live

This beautiful polished and faceted amethyst jewerly was made from the larger raw stone at left

This beautiful polished and faceted amethyst jewelry was made from the larger raw stone at left

 

more beautiful gem jewelry, quarried from a local Maine mine

more beautiful gem jewelry (garnets, quartz, and green tourmaline), quarried from a local Maine mine

 

But my husband was glad he had tried his hand at rockhounding, because there are some very interesting potential areas on our own land that are worth exploring, and now we know what to look for.  At the very least, it’s worth the price of a geologist’s hammer (around $35) to see for ourselves.

Tired and covered with dirt and dust after a long, hot  day of rockhounding

Tired and covered with dirt and dust after a long, hot day of rockhounding

 

For an extensive database which helps one to identify different rocks:  www.mindat.org

For more information about commerical and hobbyist rockhounding in Maine:  www.digmainegems.com

A woman rockhounder’s excellent resource page for Maine:  http://www.gatorgirlrocks.com/state-by-state/maine.html

For more information on mining in the White Mountain National Forest:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recreation/rocks-minerals/recarea/?recid=79453&actid=73

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5382891.pdf

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5382890.pdf

 

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Striking It Rich

We returned to Maine on Sunday night, and the next day, after the rain cleared and the sun shone, I decided to go hiking.  Ten days before, I had gone walking in the woods in Evans Notch, on an easy, underused 5-mile-long trail that meanders along the Cold River.  It was my “farewell hike,” as we would be traveling the next day to our hometown for the holiday of Shavuot, along with the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law.  We would be in our hometown for only a week, but it was wonderful to see our kids and grandchildren again and reconnect with friends.

The water was flowing nicely, when I reached an area of quiet, deep water.  The water was crystal clear, and lo and behold, I saw two groups of thirty brown trout, all 18″ – 21″ long!  Sadly, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, but I promised myself to return.

Brook trout in Cold River

Brook trout in Cold River

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(too bad this was taken with my cell phone, instead of my camera and polarizing lens . . . )

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I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles further to The Basin, where I parked my car and ate a picnic lunch.  There I met a retired gentleman who was fishing at Basin Pond.  He and his wife were staying at the campground there.  Within 15 minutes he had caught his limit of 5 brook trout.  When I told him about the brown trout I had seen in Cold River, his eyes lit up.  He told me that New Hampshire Fish & Game sometimes stocks their “old” breeders there, which makes sense, since several nearby lakes have been stocked recently (Kewaydin Lake, near me, was stocked a week ago by Fish & Game with 400 trout).

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

One of the brook trout he caught

One of the brook trout he caught

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

Another view of The Basin

Another view of The Basin

Now back in Maine, I was eager to revisit this “secret” fishing hole and I encouraged my husband to come along after work, so at 5:15 p.m. we drove to Evans Notch, parked, and walked the 20 minutes to the site I remembered.  Alas, even though we spotted the fish, they were not biting.  Disappointed, we made our way back to the car and began the 6-mile drive home.  We turned down the dirt road at Deer Hill and halfway to our house at the 3-mile mark, my husband spotted a cow moose (female) at Deer Hill bog, grazing in the water.  Our first actual moose sighting of the season!

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

The itch to fish was not over, however.  It was now 7:30 p.m.  and there wouldn’t be much daylight left, but I dropped my husband off at home and set out alone for Kewaydin Lake.  Within a mile of our house, along the road, I saw a cow moose walking along the road.   I couldn’t believe my luck – – two moose sightings in one day!

The sunset on Kewaydin Lake was beautiful, and best of all, the fish were definitely biting!  I caught a smallmouth bass almost immediately and called it a day. . . or so I thought.  As I neared my house in the near-darkness, I suddenly sensed a shadow – and as I slowed my car I saw a bull moose, his antlers in velvet, running alongside my car.   I stopped and watched it run off into the woods, and then continued home.  About 100′ feet before reaching my driveway, I saw a moose calf walking along the road.  That’s four moose in one day spotted in my neck of the woods . . . a new personal record.  I only felt bad my husband had missed the excitement.

Two years ago, my husband and I made a deal.  I had bought him a fishing license, but he was just too grossed out impaling a worm on a hook to continue fishing!  Since non-resident fishing licenses are not cheap ($64 a year), I told him that unless he could get over his phobia, I would be putting the fishing license in my name the following year.  And so, I have been the family fisherman ever since.  He told me if I would catch the fish, he would clean it.  I guess he thought that he wouldn’t have to make good on this promise, since I am a newbie and don’t really know what I’m doing.  And I was beginning to wonder if the only fish we’d ever eat would come out of a can:  I caught plenty of fish, but they were either not good eating fish (yellow perch) or too small to meet Fish & Game regulation size.  I always had to throw them back.

Well, now it was payback time.  The fish was still alive and swimming in a water-filled ice chest, surviving the bumpy ride home.  I left my husband the gruesome task of killing and cleaning the fish.  It seemed cruel to let it die by slowly suffocating out of water.  In a fit of manliness my husband got the idea to behead it quickly with an axe and proceeded to clean it at the kitchen sink.  Now, why killing and gutting a flopping fish is less gross than threading a worm on a hook I don’t understand, but I’m not complaining.

I dipped the fish in a beaten egg white, dusted it with flour seasoned with pepper and parsley, sprayed some oil on an iron skillet, and moments later the fish was sizzling in the pan on the fire.  I was careful not to over cook.  It was truly the sweetest, most tender and delicious fish I have ever eaten – and certainly the freshest!  (Not to mention expensive – I called it “my $64 fish” – since this was the only fish caught so far on the new fishing license.)

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For me it was a kind of test.  I wanted to know if I was capable of “hunting” and eating my “prey,”  albeit in a kosher manner.  Or would I be too sentimental?

I guess I’m too cold-hearted (or perhaps I was too hungry!) but I confess I was not particularly emotional about the entire experience.  Yes, I felt bad about the poor fish to some extent, but it also gave me an appreciation for the workings of nature in HaShem’s world, and the idea that He has created things for our sustenance – –  that is a chesed (kindness).  The fact that we have to work so hard for our food makes it impossible to take life and death casually or for granted.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the convenience of going to the supermarket for my food!  But by shopping for our food we have lost that hunter-gatherer connection, and the many important life lessons that go along with that.  Fishing does serve to reconnect us to those primal and spiritual roots.

What a great Maine day!