The Civic Holiday Pocket

Write By: tmmadmin Published In: Mineral Collecting Stories Created Date: 2014-12-02 Hits: 3450 Comment: 0

This sign marks the entrance to the world famous Bear Lake Diggings locality near Bancroft, Ontario

It was 3 p.m. Saturday before my collecting buddy Dave Redfield and I met up to start the long ten hour drive to Bancroft, Ontario (the so-called "Mineral Capital of Canada") for a week of collecting. Dave is a wonderful traveling companion on a collecting trip for several reasons: First, he volunteered the use of his truck, which could carry back a ton of rocks (assuming we found any good enough to keep). Second, he insisted on doing all the driving, so my share of the work was to navigate and keep talking so Dave didn't fall asleep. Third, Dave is a superb raconteur, and supplied a never-ending stream of stories and witty remarks that helped make the trip fly past. We stopped for dinner en route, then pushed on to Bancroft, arriving after 1:00 AM at our campground. Although our reservation didn't start until the next night, we were in luck and found a spot to pitch our tent and crawl into our sleeping bags for some much-needed sleep.

The floor of the Gemboree is packed with dealers offering crystals, minerals, fossils, jewelry, and more.

After Sunday breakfast of eggs, home fries, toast and coffee at a local greasy spoon, we visited a local bank to withdraw Canadian dollars from the ATM, and then headed for the fabled Bancroft Gemboree. This event is Canada's answer to Tucson: it is the largest gem and mineral show in Canada, and draws thousands of collectors and swappers annually. The show filled the floor of the town curling rink. Along with the usual presence of bead and jewelry dealers, we were delighted to find an overwhelming predominance of mineral dealers, running counter to the trend in the opposite direction we have seen at many of the shows we have attended in recent years.

Dozens of collectors set up their tents in the swap area, where they can make trades or "sell" specimens for Swapper Dollars.

Outside the arena, 30 or so swappers were set up, nearly all Canadians, who would trade their goodies or sell them to the public for "swapper dollars" (which could be used inside the rink as cash to buy stuff from the dealers). Overall, the pricing seemed a little low by American. I snapped up two irresistible bargains to add to my personal collection: a stunning sea-blue aquamarine crystal bought from a Pakistani living in Toronto, and a flawless plate of blue barite crystals from Romania brought in by Frank Melanson of Hawthorneden Minerals. Dave also found some bargain-priced goodies, and when the show closed at 5:00 PM we headed away feeling great about our selections. Next we drove to the Bancroft Chamber of Commerce, a must-see for several reasons. First, they have a good museum exhibit of locally-collected mineral specimens. This is important, as it offers an unparalleled opportunity to see the kind of specimens that have been found here over the years. The other reason to visit is that this is the place that sells collecting permits for the Bear Lake Diggings - a nearby world-class collecting area for apatite, titanite, hornblende, and biotite. We bought a two-day pass, thinking this would do nicely for us, then went out to find some dinner at a nearby German restaurant. After dinner we headed back to the campground for an early night, hoping for some big doings tomorrow at Bear Lake.

You'll want to stop at the Chamber of Commerce for a collecting permit and to look at the mineral museum.

In the morning the sun was shining and the sky was blue, with temperatures a cool 55 degrees. With a forecast of sunny skies and a high of 75, it was going to be perfect collecting weather! We showered, moved our tent to another campsite right alongside the river that was our reserved spot, and then went out for breakfast. It only takes 30 minutes to make the drive west from Bancroft through Tory Hill and into Monmouth. At the end of a dirt road we found a sign demarking this legendary collecting area. Although it was the Monday Civic Holiday - a national holiday in Canada - there were only three other cars in the parking area.

We marveled at this eight-foot deep trench, which was excavated years ago by avid collectors at Bear Lake Diggings.

The diggings at Bear Lake deserve a brief geological digression. The site itself is several acres in size, and is wooded with large deciduous trees that provide deep shade over most of the area. The ground below this canopy is criss-crossed with trenches that give the site the look of a World War I battlefield (minus the guns and soldiers). These trenches are the result of decades of digging by thousands of rockhounds, drawn by the lure of buried crystals. Each trench traces the path of a calcite vein (technically, a dike), which is the host in which the much sought-after apatite crystals are emplaced. The dikes cut through a hornblende-syenite gneiss, and range in width from a few inches to over 10 feet. The dikes are far from straight; they twist and wind their way like the path followed by a drunken sailor for hundreds of yards through the woods. It is in the dikes (or what remains of them after they have weathered) that collectors find the much sought-after crystals. Bear Lake is perhaps best know for its emerald green fluorapatite crystals (calcium fluorine-chlorine hydroxyl phosphate), ranging in size from pencil-thin gems to six-sided monsters approaching a foot in diameter. These are occasionally doubly-terminated and in rare cases transparent gemmy green. Then there are the books of black ferrian biotite mica (lepidomelane, an iron aluminum silicate). These are found up to two feet in diameter and six or more inches thick. There are also brilliantly lustered black amphibole hornblende crystals (a complex silicate of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and aluminum, often with some titanium), which can reach huge dimension - over a foot in diameter and several feet in length. Finally one can find titanite, (calcium titanium silicate); specimens from this locality are found in black or reddish wedge-shaped crystals to a foot or more in length.

This freshly dug trench follows a seam of rotted calcite which snakes between three foor high rock walls.

Dave and I spent over an hour just wandering around, investigating the entire area and trying to get a feel for the occurrence, how it has been worked, and where we should dig. In places the trenches had been excavated to a depth of eight to ten feet, while in others there was little or no digging. In many areas it looked like previous collectors had just stopped digging and left. I wondered if they had run out of time and had to desert their diggings, or had they run out of patience because they weren't finding anything? The only way to find out was to choose a spot and start digging, trusting to luck, instinct, and hard work. The most important factor seemed obvious: how wide was the calcite vein? It stood to reason that a narrow vein would produce small crystals, while a wide one might yield larger ones. Based on this reasoning I concentrated my search on finding the largest vein. Meanwhile, Dave had picked a spot where the vein was almost eight feet wide, and was already turning up a few interesting looking small apatite crystals. I set down my hand tools and went to fetch my pack, thinking this was as good a location as any, as the calcite vein was as wide as I had seen anywhere in the diggings. On the way back to Dave's truck, I took a side track through an open area and spotted a nearby vein that was enormous - almost fifteen feet wide! Further exploration revealed one side of the gneiss country rock studded with huge crystals of biotite and hornblende, plus some broken apatites that were four to six inches in diameter! I knew immediately: this was the place to dig. So, after telling Dave what I had found, I retrieved my tools and got ready to do some serious work.

This 12" diameter behemoth had the finest termination of any of the large apatite crystals we collected.

The first thing I do when I am attacking a new digging spot is to establish some boundaries, staking out the area I will dig by marking the edges to fend off interlopers (although here no one was in sight). Next I do a general cleanup: I remove all the large rocks and clear away the loose dirt and leaves so I can get an idea of the lay of the land. At this spot I cleared away the dirt at both ends of a fifteen foot run along one edge of the huge calcite dike, pulled out a few small trees that had sprouted up in the rich dirt (a good sign that no one had dug here in a while), and tossed out the larger chunks of rock that littered the site. This done, I dug into the dirt and broken rock at one end of the trench. After an hour of digging, my shovel clanked against a solid, un-weathered calcite shelf which ran along one side of the trench. I dug alongside the calcite, hoping to find a spot where the calcite has weathered and fallen apart, thus saving me the backbreaking work of beating on unyielding solid rock. Several square feet of white ledge were cleared away before I found an edge where the hard rock abruptly stopped. Here I began carefully digging straight down, first carefully probing with a screwdriver, the loosening the hard packed dirt with a garden scratcher. No more than six inches down I found my first apatite crystal: It was three inches in diameter and five inches long, with a nice termination. Wow!! More fragments and a few similar size crystals soon emerged, and I thought, "I've hit a really sweet spot!" This called for some bragging, so I wandered over to Dave's hole to see how he was making out. He showed me a few pieces he had turned up, and I showed him my finds. The size of those crystals definitely got his attention!

It is very difficult to recover apatites like this superb 4.5" crystal with calcite matrix still attached.

We broke for lunch, and then I jumped back into my hole while Dave surveyed the lay of the land around my designated area. He soon gave a yell from 25 yards away in the woods, and I came over to see what he had turned up: it was a doubly terminated microcline crystal measuring almost a foot in diameter and some two feet long! I closed my eyes, and immediately I knew what had happened: I had died and gone to crystal-collectors' heaven! When I opened my eyes again, I realized I hadn't died, that this was actually happening. I returned to my trench and continued my excavations, now focused on finding the extent of the weathered pit in the calcite.

This is an exceptionally large 12" terminated microcline crystal

My cleared area was now about six feet wide and twelve feet long, with the hornblende-gneiss contact wall forming one side and the calcite the other. I had dug out enough material so the gneiss wall was exposed to a depth of four feet. It was studded everywhere with huge (but broken) crystals of hornblende, biotite, and apatite. The calcite on the opposite side was a dirty, weathered whitish brown color, sloping down into the trench at a 45 degree angle. As I cleared off more calcite, I found some interesting signs: pieces of bright green apatite crystals were frozen randomly in the calcite! I first spotted a three inch, double-terminated beauty, and began carefully trying to work it out without breaking it out of the crumbly matrix. The calcite was sufficiently weathered that it could be broken up, and as I gently approached the target crystal, I suddenly revealed another, even bigger one (which unfortunately shattered immediately). Before I could say "darn" I spotted another crystal termination, this one on a much larger crystal - over three inches in diameter!

The large apatite crystal in the center is partially terminated, and is surrounded by another incomplete crystal.

I spent several hours carefully working out apatite crystals by breaking up the weathered calcite in a three foot by three foot by three foot area, extracting over a dozen apatite crystals to about three inches in diameter which I managed to pull out intact from the calcite. Frustratingly, many more of the fragile crystals, especially the large ones, shattered into in splinters and shards, crumbling in my hands. A couple I was lucky enough to extricate still on/in matrix. Several of the best crystals had terminations so sharply geometric and crisply formed that it took my breath away; others had transparent green sections which I could gaze into, losing myself in their gemmy interiors.

This sharply terminated 8" crystal is almost completely undamaged.

I was busily wrapping my finds in newspaper when a young Canadian couple from Toronto with two young boys came over to see what I was doing. I showed them what I was finding, and they got excited and started digging and hammering away at the ledge and dirt on the opposite side of the trench. I gave the boys some apatite crystals to spark their enthusiasm, and I soon heard the delighted squeals of crystal-crazed eight and twelve year olds emanating from the trench as they began finding crystals.

This 3.5" double terminated apatite crystal comes complete with calcite matrix.

Finally I hit a solid, un-weathered bottom in my hold, so I resumed on the far side, excavating the next section of calcite ledge I had uncovered earlier. Digging down and outward, I soon had a clearly defined six inch deep depression measuring six feet by three feet, with gneiss on the left side and a wall of calcite ahead and on the right. More crystals and fragments were turning up as I outlined the depression, so I continued to dig, to see how deep it might go and what might lie buried in its unplumbed depths.

Here's a superb 12" book of ferrous (iron rich) biotite mica that we removed from the ledge.

This proved to be a most fortunate decision. I dug with a hand scratcher in the loose dirt and rubble, pulling out loose chunks of calcite, pieces of biotite, black hornblende, and assorted fragments of apatite crystals. Here I began to unearth some very large biotite crystals, a few up to two feet long, a foot wide and six inches thick. From this pit I also brought to light some large hornblende crystals, mostly ugly, rough monsters six- or eight inches in diameter, a few even larger. The terminations were mostly crude, but still interesting. And of course there were apatites: a few were well terminated crystals on one end, but mostly a motley lot of broken, sections of crystals without terminations. As they emerged from loamy, rich dirt, I wiped off each crystal to reveal its rich, emerald-green color. By 6:00 PM I had pushed the hole down to three feet deep. I was soaked in sweat, caked in dirt and feeling the ache of back muscles which had not been pushed this hard in a long time. With no bottom in sight, and with interesting crystals continuing to roll out, I thought I might have another good day of digging ahead of me tomorrow in or around my spot. Dave and I packed up our finds and loaded up the truck, which Dave had thoughtfully maneuvered to within 40 feet of the hole. Finally, I spread a tarp over the hole and weighted it down with rocks, hoping no one would trespass in my hold. Tired and happy, we headed into town.

There is a small apatite crystal browing from the side of this oversized 11.5" hornblende crystal.

By the time we got back to the campground in Bancroft it was after 7:00 PM. We showered, phoned home, and then headed out for dinner. Unfortunately, it was approaching 9:00 PM, and apparently the town had already rolled up the sidewalks for the night! We finally stumbled on a Chinese restaurant which was still open - one of the ones with backlit pictures of each dish across the wall behind the counter. There we feasted on spicy Szechwan fare, then headed for the tent and collapsed.

There is a sharp termination on the left end of this hexagonal 6" apatite crystal.

Tuesday we awoke to another beautiful morning, again with cool temperatures. It had rained lightly overnight, but was now clearing. After breakfast of coffee and a bagel we made the return trip to Bear Lake, armed with our two-day passes, soaring hopes, and renewed energy. I was pumped, knowing I had stumbled onto a great spot that had already proved highly productive, and which I prayed might yield more of the same top-quality crystals. Spurred on by my success, Dave attacked an adjoining parcel on the same side of the calcite dike, just a few feet to the north of my diggings. He set to with a will, hoping to hit a cache of crystals that equaled (or bettered) what I had previously uncovered. Within minutes he had hit the jackpot all right - but it was of the wrong kind. He had dug into an underground nest of white-faced hornets! As the hornets swarmed angrily out of the precise spot Dave had picked to dig, he hot-footed it out of the hole and stood well clear, watching the irate cloud of insects buzz around searching for whoever was responsible for disturbing their serenity. Dave assessed the situation, decided he would show them who was the boss, and announced that he was going to Tory Hill for some wasp spray. With this early morning excitement over, I resumed in my spot from the previous day, carefully working my way deeper into the rubble-filled pocket. As I probed deeper, the apatites grew ever larger, and some of the crystals were as long and big around as my forearm! As each crystal came out of the hole I carefully brushed it off, wrapped it carefully in newspaper, and gently stowed it away in a five-gallon bucket.

This highly lustrous, exceptionally sharp titanite crystal shows penetration twinning.

Now this is the way rock collecting should be! I thought of the tall tales I had heard from the "old-timers" - you know the guys I mean, the ones who collected in the good old days of the 50's and 60's. They claimed that collecting then required no digging; you just had to walk around a site and pick out the best top-shelf specimens from hundreds of perfectly-terminated, gemmy crystals that littered the ground. While it wasn't quite like that, I realized that this was my good old days!

A lovely group of microcline crystals sits atop a pair of 2.5" wedge-shaped reddish-brown titanite crystals

By noon Dave had returned, having gassed up the truck and armed himself with wasp spray. He fought a valiant battle with the hornets, and emerged the winner without a single sting. Final score: Marlboro Dave 23, Monmouth Hornets 0. Luckily, Dave did find some good pieces in his hard-won hole. The pick of the litter was a large cluster, over a foot across, made up of half a dozen big intergrown apatite crystals, with terminations pointing off in different directions. He looked exceedingly pleased with himself when he emerged with this beautiful specimen and showed it off: "Might even be a brag-night winner," he commented hopefully.

This giant hornblends crystal is over a foot in diameter.

It was late afternoon before I finished excavating my hole to a depth of nearly five feet below the top rim, when I finally reached bottom: the easily-excavated mix of dirt and jumbled rock and crystals had run out, and from here on it would be "hard rock mining." Softening the disappointment of bottoming out, I discovered a few apatites, still in the matrix. They were sprouting out of the wall, appearing to have originally grown into the rotted calcite I had removed. But now, with the calcite weathered away and the dirt removed, they lay in tightly-packed parallel clusters, intermixed with the crystals of biotite and hornblende. I chiseled and pried my way downward and back into the wall, prying up large chunks of material and separating out the good apatite crystals. Most of the crystals were three inches in diameter and ranged from six inches to over twelve inches in length! The trick to working the "wall" was to drive a chisel into one of the large books of biotite that were frozen around the apatites. Because of their cleavage planes, these black mica blocks split readily with a minimum of shock to the nearby (and relatively fragile) apatites. This proved a generally effective method for safely working out the visible crystals. At 6:00 PM, we decided to call it a day. The two days Dave and I had allotted to this locality were in my opinion not enough, so I begged Dave to return again tomorrow. Being a reasonable man, and with many more lovely apatite crystals still protruding from the wall, how could he have possibly said no? We wrapped up our finds of the day and covered up our hole with the tarp. When we had packed our buckets of crystals into the truck, we made the drive back to Bancroft, showered and changed, then headed out for dinner. This time we found a still-open pizza place in "downtown" Bancroft that was still serving, even though it was late (e.g., 8:30 PM). We woofed down a large pizza then headed for our sleeping bags and hit the hay.

Here's another book of ferrous biotite mica which was recovered during our expedition.

After breakfast we returned to the Chamber of Commerce to buy another day's permit, before heading back to the Bear Lake Diggings for our third day. Dave moved his operation to the next section of trench to the south of me, having mined out the section to the north. I pulled off the tarp and continued my attack on the wall, a slow, painstaking process necessitated by the delicacy of the apatite crystals. By lunch time I had extracted all the easily accessible crystals, and was wondering what I could possible do for an encore. I was tired and happy, for in two and a half days I had filled four five-gallon buckets with good terminated (or doubly-terminated) crystals, several on matrix. I figured I was just about done with this pocket, and was not just satisfied, I was delighted.

This close up of the gemmy area of this apatite crystal shows a rich, translucent, forest green color.

But I couldn't just leave. It was only 3:00 PM, and Dave was happily smashing away at his spot and was making very happy noises with regularity. So, I turned my attention to the calcite wall opposite the schist. While this appeared to be empty, I had an idea: what if I attacked the calcite directly under the area that had produced so many nice crystals back on Monday. It stood to reason there might be more at a deeper level, and with the calcite wall now fully exposed, I would have plenty to work on. So, I began hammering away at the calcite, driving a big wedge into a narrow crack at the top of the solid calcite. This worked well, and I was able to peel away a foot-wide chunk of calcite that revealed several nice apatites frozen in the pale tan calcite. After I had removed and wrapped these, I returned to the next section of calcite, again driving in my large wood wedge using my short-handled 8-pound sledge. Again the calcite cracked and a large block separated from the matrix. I used the pry bar to carefully separate this chunk, not wanting to break any crystals with excessive pounding. This time no crystals were exposed. Instead I saw a far more astounding sight: as I pulled the calcite block back away from the wall, I revealed a six inch by six inch opening in the solid calcite! I had hit the entrance to a pocket!

Look at the range of color variations, from green to brown, in this 8.5" crystal

If you've ever had the experience of removing a chunk of rock to reveal a hole this size with nothing but black beyond, you know what I mean when I tell you my heart stopped momentarily, then started pounding, then froze with fear. How many times had I seen something like this, only to have the excitement smashed like an ice cube hit full-force with a sledge hammer? Holding my breath I picked up my four foot long pry bar, and gently eased it a few inches into the black opening that had magically appeared in the solid calcite wall. I slid it in, oh so slowly and carefully, waiting for it to clank into the back wall a few inches inside. No clank. Further in slid the bar, and again I waited for it to hit the wall. Still no clunk. I allowed my hopes to rise a notch. Finally, I slid the steel in to the hilt, a full four feet deep, and still I didn't hit anything! Like Alexander Graham Bell calling Mr. Watson on the first telephone call, I managed to croak, "Dave - come here, I need you." Dave's head popped over the calcite wall a couple of feet above me, his face dirty and his baseball cap spun backwards. "What's up?" he asked. "Take a look at this," I replied tersely. I had slid the four foot pry bar out of the hole now, and was reaching for the six foot bar. He saw the hole and gave a low whistle, followed by stunned silence as I slowly slid the six foot bar all the way in through the tiny hole, still not hitting anything. "Holy cow," he managed to gasp. I responded in a whisper, "Would you please get me the flashlight from my pack."

This diagram shows a cross section of the pocket; the black hexagonal shapes are apatite crystals.

Flashlight in hand, I kneeled as if in prayer to shine the light inside the black hole. I gazed in awe and amazement as the beam shone into the pristine chamber for the first time. Well, pristine is a stretch - what I saw was dirt and rocks. This was no Tutankhamen's tomb, filled with glittering golden jewel-encrusted burial objects. It was a crystal pocket, of sorts, etched out over the eons by the action of water and frost along the contact between the calcite dike and the hornblende-gneiss bedrock. Here the calcite had eroded into a rich loam, and it appeared that some of the dirt had been carried away over the eons by rushing water (now long gone). In my mind's eye I envisioned large apatite crystals lying cradled in the dirt, caught long ago as they dropped from their original positions higher up on the rock face and now gently lowered to a safe spot deep in the dirt at the bottom of the hole. All this I could only imagine; what I could actually see was a small, irregular chamber, perhaps eight feet deep, four feet wide, by two to three feet high. To the top and right were calcite; to the left the crystal-studded gneiss wall, and the bottom was dirt. Lacking x-ray vision, I could only hope that there would be apatite crystals buried here. But after what I had found in the adjacent pit, I hoped with all my might that the dirt would yield a buried cache of apatite crystals!

This 6" apatite crystal has an unusually sharp termination.

As excited as we were, it was now approaching 5:30 PM, and there was not enough time to start working the pocket. "Well, Dave," I said, "looks like we'll have to spend another day here." "Yup," he answered succinctly. "And," I continued, "it looks like I'm going to need some help with this. I can't do it alone." "No problem," replied Dave, with a face-wide grin.

There is an exquisite torture about having to wait to clean out a pocket after you've opened it at the end of a day of collecting. The excitement of waiting to find out what it contains is drawn out over 12 hours, instead of lasting just a few minutes. The ride back to town, the shower, the dinner, the settling down to sleep - all were filled with unanswered questions: What would we find? Were there any crystals? How good would they be? Were they large or small? Many or few? Would this be a fabulous treasure or a huge disappointment? You can only imagine the richness of my dreams that night, sleeping in our tent alongside the quietly flowing Bancroft River. I opened many pockets as I slept that night, filled with everything from gleaming gemmy crystals to crummy dirt.

Compare this ideallized model of a doubly terminated apatite crystal to the crystal above.

Thursday morning finally arrived, and we fairly raced through the now-familiar routine: brush our teeth, eat breakfast, buy another day's digging permit (day 4), the drive to the diggings (this time it took forever), the pulling away of the tarp, and finally the mystery of that small black hole leading into an opening waiting to be explored. We'd soon know what it held! But first we had to open the access hole enough to allow us to get more than one arm into the hole. The surrounding calcite proved surprisingly impervious to attack. After a frustrating half-hour of ineffective pounding, we put together a two-man assault team, with Dave driving down from above and me chiseling away at the sides. This worked reasonably well, and by 10:30 we had widened the hole wide enough to permit me to slide my size 44 shoulders through the opening and finally enter the pocket.

The first stage of exploring the pocket is best described as cautious probings, using nothing more than a garden hand scratcher. I propped a big flashlight on a small ledge on one side of the hole, leaving it there throughout the day to illuminate our excavations. I soon figured out that there was a considerable quantity of loose dirt to be removed, and so switched to a long-handled hoe. This allowed me to reach far into the chamber, scraping the loose material down to the area directly in front of the opening. Once there was a big enough pile, I would trade hoe for shovel and dig the dirt and rock out of the area below the entrance to the pocket and into a five-gallon bucket. I would then hoist the bucket up to Dave, who would dump the contents out and go through it with a scratcher to look for crystals. The buckets were mostly filled with dirt, but also held a myriad of crystal pieces, mostly fist-sized (or smaller) broken chunks. Mixed in with the junk were a few nicely terminated crystals - just enough to keep Dave happily occupied while I filled the next bucket. The interesting chunks were set aside in a pile on an opened sheet of newspaper he had set out in the sun. Once the clinging dirt had dried a bit, he went over them with a hand brush, checking each piece to see if it was worth saving, or if it should be tossed into the junk pile. The "keepers" were reverently wrapped in newspaper, then carefully stowed in a five gallon bucket for safe carrying to the truck, and eventually back to the States. Using this mining process we found a dozen or so nice three to four inch apatite crystals, plus a handful of small crystal clusters of titanite.

This is another very sharply crystallized, 5.5" apatite from Bear Lake.

After half an hour I grew tired, and knew Dave was anxious to dig in the pocket, so we swapped jobs for the next "shift." As we switched back and forth, bucket after bucket was shoveled and hoisted out of the hole, each filled with a tantalizing mix of crystal pieces, terminated crystals, dirt and junk rock. We were both drenched with sweat and covered with dirt that stuck to the sweat, but this was fun, not work! I would never be bored if every collecting day was exactly like this one!

By the time we had lowered the dirt level in the chamber by a little over a foot, we reached an area in the middle of the pocket that proved especially rich in crystals. As we painstakingly removed the dirt, we uncovered the vague outlines of a pile of apatite crystals, lying like a neat stack of firewood running across the width of the pocket. Each of the "logs" was about 4 to six inches in diameter, and 18 to 24 inches long. These were major crystals, and they required special handling. Re-entering the pocket, I scooted my shoulders through the mouth of the "cave" and wiggled my way deeper into the pocket, my upper torso now suspended over the open space, propped up by my left arm. With my right arm I used a small brush to sweep away dirt that still covered the crystals, pulling it back into a pile under my chest large enough to hold me up. Now, with both arms free, I was ready to try to lift out the first large crystal. Grabbing it at both ends, I carefully lifted. Up it came, four inches in diameter and twelve inches long, with nothing attached. I hefted it gently back and to the right onto a pile of loose dirt. I reached for the next log, and it came away as easily as the first, so I gently worked it free and maneuvered it into position just to the right of its sister. The third crystal in the pile was larger, perhaps six inches in diameter. This one came in two pieces, each about ten inches long. I slid these back toward the door, then scooted backwards out of the claustrophobic space and into the sunshine. The air was clean and pure, and I drank it deeply after the dank musty atmosphere I had been breathing in the confined gloom of the pocket. Once I had cleared my lungs I stuck my head and torso back into the hole and gently pulled the three crystals toward the front of the pocket, where I was able to lift each in turn and pass them up to Dave's waiting hands. He cradled each reverently, and laid them out in the sun to be inspected. They were beauties, and we took a moment to inspect and appreciate their rich green colors, aesthetically molded geometric shapes, and to wonder at their exceptional size. All had crisply edged six-sided shafts, with some form of termination, though none were doubly terminated. When doubly terminated, the crystals from this pocket always had one relatively good and one rather poor termination. The good terminations looked somewhat like the crystal diagram shown here, but never that sharp. The poor terminations were rough, blurred versions of their cousins on the far end, dubbed "melted wax" by my friend Mike Walters. I believe the good and the bad are determined by whether the crystals formed in the calcite matrix on the good end, or in the gneiss on the other.

This gemmy, terminated apatite is snuggled alongside its mother crystal.

I crawled back into the pocket and resumed the enviable task of removing apatite crystal logs from the woodpile. Soon we had lined up a collection of a dozen of these still dirt-encrusted beauties, gleaming dully green in the brilliant sunshine. The process of emptying the pocket continued through the day, our excitement so high we almost forgot to stop to wolf down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Dave and I took turns in the pocket, cautiously probing the rubble for more of the behemoth crystals. After we had worked out the main part of the chamber, Dave uncovered a deeper section, forming a pit near the front of the pocket, almost underneath us. He worked this down to a depth of three or four feet, following it off and to the left, toward the gneiss matrix. Directly below us was a six inch high opening that ran back for about five feet directly underneath where we lay. Terminated crystals protruded from the ceiling and floor of this opening, while others connected the top and bottom. Also, at the far rear left corner of the pocket, adjacent to the gneiss, another opening led into a second pocket. Unfortunately, we could find no evidence of crystals there. By now it was 4:30 PM, and we had filled four more five gallon buckets with top-quality crystals. After four days of digging, we declared the "Civic Holiday Pocket" cleaned out. The name for the pocket came from the day we found it - in Canada, the first weekend in August is called the Civic Holiday, and most everyone has the day off. (Note: this holiday also determines the dates for the Bancroft Gemboree, which takes place the four days immediately preceding the holiday).

We followed our usual routine of packing up tools and buckets of crystals, but this time left the hole uncovered, as we had no intention of returning to Bear Lake again on this trip. As we pulled out of the parking area, a steady rain began to fall, and Dave and I rode in uncharacteristic silence most of the way back to Bancroft, both of us lost in thought. Dinner was definitely a celebration, and we asked ourselves what we could possibly do for an encore to this incredible experience. What a couple of happy rockhounds we were!

Ready to Collect at Bear the Lake Diggings?
The Bancroft Chamber of Commerce holds the claim to the Bear Lake Diggings. You can buy a collecting permit for a small fee direct from the Chamber at their log cabin museum, or from other outlets in the vicinity. Pay a visit to the Chamber's website at for more information about mineral collecting and other activities in the Bancroft area. The next Gemboree will be held August 2-5, 2012. !

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