Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Greetings from Weardale,

The weekend was rainy, but not particularly cold. The wind was up so things dried out fairly well between passing rain clouds. On Saturday afternoon one could watch the rain squalls heading down the dale from the mine landing. Yesterday, after a bit of rain in the morning, the sun returned for a nice afternoon. This morning it is windy and overcast again. At least it looks dry out.

Saturday was spent at the mine, with Byron at the face and Cal continuing to harvest the Rat Tail Pocket. The zone of alteration at the face now stretches continuously along the west side of the tunnel for at least 10 meters, and contains several discrete layers of gemmy fluorite, which seem to come and go. Unfortunately, despite moving a considerable amount of rock, most of what Byron has been able to recover from the zone is heavily damaged. This is particularly frustrating because many of the specimens are incredibly gemmy and lustrous, and have the most intense daylight fluorescence I have seen from the mine. A few large plates covered with small gemmy crystals have emerged intact, but most of the pieces with larger twins have suffered at the hands of the geological past, and are destined for wholesale flats.

In the morning I made the drive up to Newcastle airport and met Joan, who was fresh of the overnight flight from San Francisco. After stopping for some lunch at a favorite pub along the road back to Weardale I dropped her off at the cottage for a nap and headed to the mine. On arriving I found that Cal had made serious inroads toward harvesting the new pocket at the back of the old West Cross Cut area, and had enlarged the pocket opening considerably. The two of us took turns working the pocket through the afternoon, getting thoroughly wet and muddy in the process. As with working many pockets, the required position is laying on ones side on a slope of pocket debris, while trying to hammer or pry at rock in a small, enclosed space, usually at the limit of ones reach. Cal is left-handed and I am right, so we traded off the hammering duty depending on which direction one needed to swing.

By end of day we had good number of tubs filled with some very good quality specimens, ready for cleaning. The fluorite from this pocket is quite similar to the preceding Rat Hole, which we harvested in 2007. Crystals are large, up to around 5 cm on edge, mostly untwined, and arranged in interlocking clusters. The luster and depth of color is, if anything, better than the Rat Hole material. Specimens from the bottom of most other pockets in the mine are often heavily etched and delustered, but not so from the Rat Tail. In addition to many nice clusters and plates, the pocket has also yielded a number of nice mounds and knobs. One of the nicest is a large plate of fluorite on quartz with a large fluorite-covered knob projecting upward from the left side of the plate. This specimen is quite impressive, but so large that we will likely need to cut it up for sale as pieces of this size have historically been very difficult to sell. I think I have convinced Cal that we should at least keep it intact until we can show it at Tucson next February. A photo of the beast is featured below.

Sunday was spent at the mine again, with Byron having at the main face, Cal and I back at the Rat Tail, and Joan and Kerith doing a bit of sorting, wrapping and binning specimens. Eric was given the working end of a scrub brush to remove some of the mud from our recent finds. Production from the Rat Tail dropped off, and we spent much of our time breaking rock around the pocket opening in order to gain access to its deeper portions. Byron continued to turn up some pretty but damaged material from the face. Mid-afternoon we knocked off and headed back up dale to meet up with Jolyon Ralph (Mindat), Brian Jackson (National Museums of Scotland) and Maria Alferova (Fersman Museum, Moscow) who were due in for a quick visit to the mine.

Yesterday was a rather frustrating one at the mine due to equipment troubles. We have recently had deliveries of both timber and our new compressed air tanks, which need to be hauled up to the mine landing before we close down this coming Friday. Shortly after beginning this process, the cable on our pneumatic winch became tangled on a pulley and snapped. Dave was able to cut off the broken end and reposition the pulley closer to the winch in order to make up for the lost length, but it quickly became apparent that because of the narrow diameter of the pulley, the tangling problem would not go away. This morning, in addition to other chores, Cal will be driving to Consett in search of an equipment supplier who may have one that will work for us.

Late in the afternoon, after realizing there was nothing I could do to improve the situation, I got back into the Rat Tail Pocket and found a small side cavity that yielded a few more nice fluorites.

Today Dave and Joe will be mucking and timbering the main face in hopes of getting in one final blast for the season. Cal, Byron and I will be attempting to solve the winch problem and get the stuff pulled up to the mine. Shanade and friend are due in to scrub the mud off our latest produce.

Until next time,

Jesse & Crew

A big one from the Rat Tail Pocket

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