The trek to the digging area was relatively short (well, at least compared to some of the several miles long death marches we have undertaken in the past), so my digging partner Dick Holmes and I carried in a 16-pound sledge hammer, a 4' steel railroad bar, and a bucket packed with 50 pounds of steel wedges and sharpened leaf springs in a variety of lengths and sizes. This was in addition to our assortment of tools, split between our backpacks. These included 1, 2, 6, and 8-pound hammers; a folding saw; root clippers; half a dozen assorted steel chisels in different lengths, styles and diameters; lunch; drinking water; several empty buckets to haul out our finds (if any); newspaper for wrapping specimens; a first aid kit; and more (we never claimed that when we go out collecting we travel light). Also along for the ride was our friend, guide and mentor Jon Herndon, mineral collector extraordinaire and one of the most knowledgeable people I know about the geology, mineralogy, and collecting sites in New Hampshire's Ossipee Mountains and White Mountains.
Site 10 in 2009 (note the tree in the upper left center)
Site 10 in 2011 after we found the Honeydew Pocket (the roots in the upper left are from the large tree above)
The area where we planned to dig sits at the crest of a steep valley, right where it drops down some 40-50 feet to the floor of the valley. Along and below the crest runs a series of miarolytic cavities in smoky quartz veins - openings left by gas bubbles in the granite as it cooled and hardened. Inside these vugs, collectors find crystals of smoky quartz, microcline feldspar, and on rare occasions, topaz, pyrite, and other oddball pegmatite minerals. Over the course of the summer, starting in July when Dick and I first opened the new site, we made several very productive visits to this area, hauling out one or more full-to-the-brim 5-gallon buckets per trip, each tightly packed with smoky quartz and microcline specimens. On this trip we decided to focus our attention on clearing an area of ledge that was capped by a 40-foot tall hemlock tree growing right on the top knob of the ledge. On more than one occasion, digging in the roots of a tree had been a successful strategy for locating crystal-filled pockets, as the dirt in the openings gave nice footholds in the rock to little trees that happened to start growing there. Jon insisted that there was going to be a big pocket right under the tree, and we didn't argue with him. Besides, we were tired of finding little stuff, and wanted to find something spectacular!
So we went right to work, Dick attacking the dirt at the base of the hemlock tree from the left side, and me from the right, and we had soon removed enough of the dirt, rock debris, and crystals that were tangled in the roots to allow us to take it down. In the end, it was held by a single, 1" diameter root that was keeping the tree standing. Yelling a loud warning cry, I used my bypass clippers to cut the final root, while Dick gave it a shove in the right direction and down it came with a big whoosh. No sooner did it hit the ground, and before either Dick or I could move, Jon pounced, stuck his hand into the roots, and pulled out a sparkling 4" specimen with a 1/2" smoky quartz crystal sticking up from a bed of sharp, ivory-colored microcline crystals.
Unfortunately, this time there was no big pocket directly under the tree. Instead, the roots had traced the course of a thin vein of smoky quartz, and had not penetrated deeply into the ledge. This meant we would have to resort to more convincing methods if we were going to find a pocket. That's when our heavy artillery (hammers and wedges) came out of the bucket. The thin edges of the steel leaf springs were pounded into narrow horizontal cracks in the rock. Starting with a 6- or 8-pound sledge, we drove these wide, flat chisels into the openings, with the goal of splitting the rock as deeply and widely as possible to remove the biggest possible chunks. When the hammering became less productive and the wedges would penetrate no further into the ledge with the small hammers, we had to resort to The Persuader: the 16-pound sledge hammer. The added oomph was just what was needed to force the chisels deeper into the ledge. Once we had split the rock as far as we could, in came the railroad bar. This is a 4-foot long, 1¼" diameter hardened steel pry bar, with a 90 angle bend at one end creating a 6" tapered foot, and the other end sporting a flattened chisel tip. This is our most effective tool for moving rock, once it was split. It works by sticking one end of the bar into the crack created by the chisels, then applying all your body weight to pry up on the overlaying rock. When all went well, the rock would snap, crackle and pop, and finally give up a large slab of the hillside. If it wouldn't budge, that meant more chisels, more hammering, and more sweat pouring off our foreheads. The removed slabs were carefully examined for pockets, and any good sections placed in the to-be-trimmed pile for later consideration.
After an hour of heavy sledge hammering, we had managed to remove the rock from a section roughly 4 feet wide, 3 feet high, and 2 feet deep. We uncovered an area of good mineralization (but with no good crystals), which appeared to be heading downward. Dick set a long leaf spring into the ledge about 8" below and 2 feet to the left of this area. With just a few blows with the sledge, out popped out a chunk of rock roughly 3 feet wise, 8" thin and over a foot deep. I reached in and grabbed this piece, lifting it a bit so I wouldn't crush any crystals below, and slid it out about 6". I looked behind the rock and was so surpised that I dropped the rock. Just behind the newly loosened slab was a round hole, about 8" in diameter, with roughly an inch-high opening across the top.
My first thought was that we had hit a pocket - and then it dawned on me that this was not just any pocket, it was a big pocket. This was what Dick and I had been chasing all those years, and we had finally found it. To be sure, we had collected many wonderful and gorgeous crystals from the stubborn granite, but had never opened a significant pocket. We pounded each other on the back, celebrating our discovery and feasting our eyes on the splendid sight. The pocket opening was round, almost a perfect circle, and the inside surfaces of the opening sloped out, hinting that there might be more here than at first met the eye. Below the circular rim, there was just over an inch of empty space above a fairly smooth, grayish clay that must have filtered down into the pocket over millions of years, hiding what lay below.
The pocket before we touched it (sorry for the blurry image, I couldn't keep my hands from shaking!
I slid the capstone back, letting it slide off the bench and drop at our feet. Dick was immediately into the pocket, digging into the loose debris with his bare fingers. After taking out a couple of handfuls of debris, Dick's hand emerged from the opening holding a large smoky quartz crystal. It was 3½" wide, 3" in diameter, and just under 3" tall. He paused to wipe the clay off one of the crystal faces, revealing a shiny striated surface colored a dark, dense black. It was a very large smoky quartz crystal. He handed it to me, and I wiped away more of the mud, revealing a lustrous, sharply geometric crystal with a perfect, undamaged termination.
The first crystal out of the pocket (the dark lumps in the back are smoky quartz crystals waiting to be removed!)
His hand dipped in again, this time bringing out a 5" mound of creamy tan microcline crystals with a double-terminated smoky quartz crystal lying across the top. We made the appropriate "ooh" and "aaah" sounds as we examined the just-emerged treasure. At that moment I had the thought: we want to record this moment, so I went over to my backpack and retrieved my camera. By the time I returned, Jon had jumped inand was merrily digging into the pocket contents. He pulled out a 5" microcline specimen, on which every crystal was a baveno twin. Perfect, I thought - that's one of Jon's favorite mineral habits, and he just got to pull out a stunning example.
Dick, a trained geologist, assumes the textbook position for emptying a pocket
When Dick nudged Jon aside and began digging in again, I said, "Hey, I want a turn!" Grudgingly, Dick allowed me to take the best seat in the house, right next to the pocket. I stuck my hand in, and like Jack Horner sticking in his thumb, I pulled out a plum (of a crystal, that is): a chubby 4" smoky quartz crystal with a microcline sprouting from the top. I handed it to Jon, who scrutinized it while I reached for the next treasure: another Baveno twin microcline cluster, maybe a little better than the earlier one. Jon eagerly took it from my hands, and I went back one more time. I could feel it in my fingers, a fairly large object, and I pulled it out: another large smoky quartz crystal. Hallelujah! By now Dick was chomping at the bit, so I yielded to him, and watched in wonder as he pulled out another big smoky crystal.
The biggest specimens from the pocket - how could they all have fit inside?
The pile of crystals and specimens was getting a bit out of hand, and the last thing we wanted was for one or more of them to roll off the ledge and get damaged. So I got out a fresh section of newspaper, opened it up, and began to lay out the better specimens in neat rows. Meanwhile, Dick was scooping out handfuls of pocket muck from which smaller smokies and other specimens poked out, and was piling these on top of another sheet of newspaper. I fetched an empty 5-gallon bucket, transferred the pocket debris already removed into that, and positioned it at the foot of the ledge so Dick could ladle directly from the pocket to the bucket. This gave him access deeper into the pocket, and he retrieved several more good matrix specimens, with smoky crystals jutting out from beds of microcline crystals. I took one more turn, and scraped out several double handfuls of debris into the bucket. We had about 2 gallons of pocket debris, plus the bigger pieces arrayed on the newspaper. What a haul!
The bottom of the pocket, after the sides had been removed
When the pocket was scraped clean, we pulled out our lunch and sat on the ledge, admiring our finds laid out below us. It was a time for quiet contemplation, gratitude, and awed amazement. After lunch, we went back to work, enthusiastically splitting and prying more sections of ledge, hoping for another big pocket. Even though we found another bucket full of good specimens, the matrix pieces with little ½" and 1" smokies we were finding were a disappointment after our earlier triumph. Dick took a trip to haul out a couple of buckets of the best material, while I continued to work the ledge, hoping for another big hit - but no such luck.
The end of a fine day of collecting - and we still had to haul out all of our tools!
I packed up all the heavy tools, putting them in my backpack since we had filled all of our buckets. Jon took the 16-pounder and pry bar and headed up and across the top of the ledge, on the trail out. I staggered along behind, with my backpack full of steel that got heavier with every step. I got a second wind when I emerged from the woods and saw the pickup, and staggered forward, then turned to sit backward on the tailgate as I eased the heavy pack off my shoulders. I knew and looked forward to the delicious feeling that would follow: I stood up, feeling weightless, floating above the ground! We laid out our top pieces for a celebratory photo, then packed up and headed out.
The top trophies from the Honeydew Pocket
After that I think I continued to smile for the entire ride home. What a day it had been… what an experience it was… and what a sweet pocket! Jon often calls smaller pockets that he has hit "cantaloupe-sized," but this one he called "honeydew size", which is how we ended up naming the pocket, the Honeydew Pocket!
MORE PHOTOS OF CRYSTALS FROM THE HONEYDEW POCKET:
A 3" smoky quartz with a microcline baveno twin sprouting out of the top
A highly unusual stairstep hoppered baveno twin microcline specimens