Saturday, June 13, 2015

Celebrating Jurassic World with Dinosaur Raps with Jimmy Fallon


The Crystal Peak Gem Company

Steven Wade Veatch
Andy Weinzapfel

Just north of the small town of Florissant, Colorado is a prominent topographic feature shaped like an Egyptian pyramid.  Early settlers knew this as Cheop’s Pyramid or Topaz Butte. Today it appears on maps as Crystal Peak, an important geological and historical point of interest.

The geology of the Pikes Peak region is dominated by the 1.07-1.09 billion-year-old Pikes Peak batholith, a large body of once-molten rock that was likely derived from the earth’s deep mantle and injected upward to a depth of 3 miles or less below the surface.  Crystal Peak is part of this batholith (Bryant et al, 1976). The Pikes Peak Granite, extending over an area of 1200 square miles, is exposed at the surface today only because the rocks that once covered it have gradually eroded away.

A common but erroneous belief is that Crystal Peak is an old volcano.  Its pyramidal shape is actually due to differential erosion, a process whereby fine-gained granite (aplite) on the peak weathers away more slowly than the surrounding coarser grained variant.

Figure 1. View of Crystal Peak from the
 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo © by S. W. Veatch

A number of remarkable minerals occur at and near this site in pegmatite (coarse-grained rocks of granitic composition) dikes that contain open pockets, or what geologist's call miarolitic cavities. These cavities form near the earth's crust during the cooling of the parent magma, and allow room for the growth of well-formed crystals inside the cavities (Dietrich and Skinner 1979).

Exceptional mineral specimens from the Crystal Peak area can be found in many of the best national and international museums. Most notable are greenish or greenish-blue euhedral (smooth-faced) crystals of amazonite, a relatively rare and beautiful variant of a common mineral, microcline feldspar. Feldspar, along with quartz, is a major constituent of granite, the most prevalent igneous rock found in continental mountain ranges. Smoky quartz is the black or brown variety of quartz. The color of smoky quartz is related to the small but ubiquitous amount of radioactivity that occurs in the surrounding granitic rock. Smoky quartz crystals from the area are a lustrous, opaque black.  Fluorite is a late-crystallizing mineral in pegmatite pockets. Fluorite cubes are the most common crystal habit, ranging from colorless to various shades of pale blue. Color zoning is present, and dark purple is noted along the edges of some fluorite cubes.

The Ute Indians were the first collectors of crystals from this area, used for spiritual purposes. Collectors have been working the area since the 1870s for amazonite, smoky quartz, fluorite, and other minerals (Wobus 1976, Eckel 1997). A. C. Peale, a member of the 1874 Hayden Survey, wrote about amazonite and smoky quartz crystals in the Pikes Peak region while in the area (Peale, 1873). In the 1870s, Dr. A. E. Foote of Philadelphia systematically explored the area, employing 19 men, and shipped many specimens back east.  Arthur Lakes, who accompanied Samuel Scudder of Harvard University on an early paleontological investigation of the area, sketched the first regional geologic map of the Florissant valley while sitting on Crystal Peak.

Abram Joshua Randall wrote an article in the Georgetown Centennial, February, 1876 about the gem fields of Crystal Peak. It is also one of the earliest known accounts of the Crystal Peak pegmatites (brackets in the transcribed article are used to identify clarifying additions by the authors).  The title of the article was: A Fruitful Field for the Specimen Hunter. Randall writes:

“Florissant, in El Paso County, 35 miles west of Colorado Springs, is celebrated for the great variety and abundance of geological and mineralogical specimens found in its vicinity; and it has become a noted resort for tourists passing through that portion of the Territory. . . Eight miles north-east of Florissant are the ragged peaks of the Crystal Mountains . . .  A range of rocky peaks, so named from the amount of crystals there found. In the last two years [discovery of locality circa 1874-5] many thousands of pounds have been taken out, the greater part of which have been sold in Manitou, Colorado Springs and Denver, but many have also been shipped east. The crystals formed there, are Smoky Quartz, Orthoclase, Adularia, Amazonstone, Green, Purple and White Fluor Spar, Specular Iron and also a few specimens of Amethystine Quartz, but these last are rare.

These pockets contain from a single handful to several hundred pounds of crystals. From one pocket opened last September [1875], by Mr. Anthony, about 4,000 pounds were taken. Some of the Quartz crystals are of immense size; one taken out last spring by Mr. Disbrough, was about 4-1/2 feet in length, and 10 inches in diameter at the base, and is now in [Reverend Lewis] Hamilton’s Museum, in Denver [formerly of Central City in 1869]. During the summer [of 1875], several were found from 20 to 30 inches long. 

Last Summer and Fall [of 1875] there were from 25 to 30 miners here constantly, besides some thousands of tourists and excursionists. Deer were plentiful in the neighboring hills, the scenery grand and picturesque, thus inviting the hunter as well as the curiosity seeker to spend a few days among the sylvan shades of these everlasting hills.”

In 1908, A. B. Whitmore established the Crystal Peak Gem Company north of Crystal Peak, a successful mining operation that developed mineral property.  The Crystal Peak Gem Company mined precious and semi-precious gemstones in the pegmatite cavities found on Crystal Peak. The company was incorporated in Wyoming. A company stock certificate (number 26, issued April 22, 1912) is signed by president Anna M. Saunders and Albert B. Whitmore as the secretary. Anna Saunders is listed in the 1906 Colorado Business Directory as the proprietor of Burlington House, 101 W. Masonic, Cripple Creek, Colorado. Burlington house was probably a boarding house serving the gold mining district.
Figure 2. Early photo of the Crystal Peak Gem Company’s operations on Crystal Peak. Notes on the photo: “Camp of Crystal Peak Gem Co. G. W. Weed of company on right. J.D. Endicott on left. Specimens of quartz, amazonite, etc. in shelves. Coplen Dome, a granite knob, beyond. Photo date Aug. 1913. Photo credit: U. S. Geological Survey.  

The Mining Investor, in 1911, announced the Crystal Peak Gem Company was owned large acreage in Teller County, north of Florissant and “has sent its president and general manager A.B. Whitmore and three miners to perform annual assessment work on its claims on Crystal Peak (The Mining Investor).”  The announcement continued by listing the gemstones found and that they were in demand.

According to the 1917 Biennial Report issued by the Colorado Bureau of Mines, small quantities of stones were produced by the Crystal Peak Gem Company, including amazonite, smoky quartz, clear quartz, topaz and phenakite. Specimens from Crystal Peak and ore samples from the mines in Cripple Creek were sold in the curio stores of Denver and Cripple Creek. The Crystal Peak Gem Company conducted mine tours. The gem company had a store operating at 508 Bennett Avenue, the main street of Cripple Creek.

Figure 3. Postcard depicting view of the gem mines as a tourist attraction.  
From the collection of S. W. Veatch Image © S. W. Veatch. 
Successful collecting in the area continues today, as witnessed best by the discovery of several gigantic smoky quartz crystals on the Godsend Claim in 2002 by Rich Fretterd. These unique specimens currently reside in the Pikes Peak Historical Society museum in Florissant. More recently, an exceptional amazonite-smoky quartz cavity, known as the Icon Pocket, yielded possibly the finest known plate, or cluster, of these minerals in the world.   This treasure was found on the Smoky Hawk Claim by the Dorris family.  More crystal specimens await  discovery in the Crystal Peak area.

References Cited:

Bryant, B., F. Barker, R. A. Wobus and R.M. Hutchinson. 1976.  Road Log, Pikes Peak Batholith Field Trip.  In Studies in Colorado Field Geology, ed. by R.C. Epis and
R.J. Weimer, 17-31.  Colorado School of Mines professional contributions 8.

Dietrich, R. V. and Skinner, B.J. 1979, Rocks and Rock Minerals. New York:   John Wiley & Sons,

Eckel, E. B. 1997.  Minerals of Colorado:  A 100-year Record, Updated and Revised.
Golden:  Fulcrum Publishing.

MineralDat Foroum. (2006). Retrieved from,6,51496,51496,quote=1

Peale, A. C. 1874.  Seventh Annual Report of the Hayden Survey, 1873.

The Centennial [newspaper] (1876). February, 1876 Vol 1, no. 2, page 1, col 3  and page 2, col 1 and 2. Published by Jesse Summers Randall, Printers’ Alley, west of the Miners’ Assay Office, Georgetown, Colorado.

The Mining Investor. (1914). Retrieved from

Wobus, R. A. 1976.  New data on potassic and sodic plutons of the Pikes Peak Batholith
central Colorado.  In Studies in Colorado Field Geology, ed. by R. C. Epis and R.

J. Weimer, 57-67. Colorado School of Mines professional contributions 8. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Uptop: A Winter Poem

By Steven Wade Veatch

The winter snow blankets the town of Uptop.
A wind blows hard, swirling angry flakes of snow.
Light from coal-oil lamps fall through cabin windows—
casting a golden glow down a silent, snowy street.

People of Uptop long for the days of springtime;
the changing realm of white to robust green,
when summer’s blooms spread cheerful colors—
and alpine beauty stirs dreams of travelers coming on rails.

For decades they came over the mountain pass and endured;
some searching streams for gold or looking for silver in mineral veins.
Others started ranches where the grass and water was good.
Each one tamed the West and the grieving mountains.

The depot still stands, built by section hands in 1877,
to meet countless fortune seekers coming over old La Veta Pass.
Today the rails are gone and the travelers are few.
Only a small number remain in the small town of Uptop.

On Sunday at the Chapel by the Wayside, among the trees,
a church bell breaks the weekly silence—renewing the sprits—
of humbled hearts to stay for another peaceful year,
in Uptop, Colorado, the secluded and cherished place.

TWO turnoffs to Uptop ghost town are located off Hwy 160:
• 20 minutes east of Ft. Garland, CO: .turn at mile marker 276:
• 15 minutes west of La Veta or 20 min. west of Walsenburg: turn at mile marker 281

Poem   © by Steven Wade Veatch
Photos © by Steven Wade Veatch

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pulver Gulch Prospect: A Hidden Reserve of Metamorphic Minerals

As U.S. Highway 24 approaches Wilkerson Pass, Colorado, the 1.7 billion-year-old metamorphic rocks of the Puma Hills replace the younger Pikes Peak Granite.  The Puma Hills were formed by the metamorphism of sedimentary rocks that were once oceanic sediments—sand, mud, and clay.
Before the highway reaches the summit of Wilkerson Pass, it goes past a dirt road to the M Lazy C ranch. The ranch road heads north into the hills where forest road 247 soon intersects the winding ranch road, and at this crossroad forest road 247 bears east, into the deep forest, past the old Pulver Gulch prospect.

The geology at Pulver Gulch is unlike the surrounding area.  The sediments at Pulver Gulch contain more calcium carbonate, from impure and muddy limestones, than the surrounding ocean sediments that formed the Puma Hills.  These calcareous sediments were heated, compressed, and transformed into calcium silicate rocks that host a group of interesting metamorphic minerals that include scheelite, vesuvianite, wollastonite, grossular garnet, and diopside. The Pulver Gulch prospect’s exploratory dump is an excellent place to search for these metamorphic minerals.
Prospectors worked the Pulver Gulch prospect over sixty years ago looking for scheelite (figure 1), a mineral that formed in the metamorphic rocks at the site.  Scheelite is an important source of tungsten. Tungsten has many industrial applications, including filaments in light bulbs.  Since scheelite is strongly fluorescent, prospectors searched the area with battery powered black lights at night.

Figure 1. Scheelite crystals and muscovite mica showing
fluorescence under ultraviolet radiation. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Brilliant brown granular crystals of vesuvianite (figure 2), a basic calcium magnesium silicate mineral, are common here.  Short prismatic crystals can also be found.  This mineral was named for Mt. Vesuvius, where it was discovered on the slopes of the Italian volcano.
Figure 2. Vesuvianite crystal.
Image courtesy of the CSMS blog by Mike Nelson.

Wollastonite (figure 3), a calcium silicate, occurs as milky-green masses of needle-like crystals at this site.  Some of the massive specimens are larger than a football.  This mineral is faintly fluorescent.  Wollastonite is used as a component in refractory or heat resistant ceramics and as a filler for paint.

Figure 3. Wollastonite with diopside (green), garnet (red) and vesuvianite (dark brown)
from the Stanislaw mine near Szklarska Poreba, Izerskie Mountains,
 Lower Silesia, Poland. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Thick, banded layers of brown grossular (figure 4), a member of the garnet group, are associated with wollastonite at the Pulver Gulch prospect.  These garnets also formed from the impure limestones and occur here in a massive and granular form.

Figure 4. Garnet crystals from the Jeffery Mine, Quebec.
 Image courtesy of the Canada. Bureau of Mines, specimens C-01687.

By breaking open the host rocks on the Pulver Gulch dump, well-developed microcrystals of dark green diopside (figure 5) are exposed.  The diopside crystals, a calcium magnesium silicate, are embedded in sparkling white calcium silicate rocks.  These specimens of diopside can be interesting to micromount collectors. 

Figure 5. Diopside crystal from De Kalb, New York.
 Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Today the Pulver Gulch dump is largely undisturbed.  Occasionally a small group of geology students from Colorado College will stop by the dig site to study the local geology in this peaceful part of the Puma Hills.


Chesterman, Charles, 1978, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals,  Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 

Chronic, Halka, 1980, Roadside Geology of Colorado, Mountain Press Publishing Co, Missoula.

Mineral Galleries, World Wide Web homepage URL: 

Wobus, R.A., 1997 (Williams College) personal communication.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ghost Ranch Dinosaurs: Deadly Cannibals of the Late Triassic

Coelophysis, was a dinosaur that walked on two feet, was generally 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) long, and was among the best known of all late Triassic dinosaurs.  The Triassic world, beginning about 230 million years ago, marked the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs and was very different than today.  The continents of the Triassic Earth were joined together into one huge continent called Pangaea. The central region of this enormous landmass was a vast and inhospitable desert with a dry and harsh climate.  Coelophysis inhabited this super continent during very uninviting times. 

These slightly built predatory dinosaurs, first named by the famous paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, had long jaws with sharp and serrated teeth.  Coelophysis was a quick and agile dinosaur that hunted prey in packs, bringing other animals down with the fearsome claws of their three-fingered hands. They held their long tails high above their backs for balance. 

Many assumptions about Coelophysis behavior are based on interpretations of the remarkable accumulation of hundreds of well-preserved skeletons found at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.  George Whitaker discovered skeletons of Coelophysis bauri at Ghost Ranch in the summer of 1947, approximately 38 miles northwest of the town of EspaƱola, New Mexico. 

The death curve pose of this Coelophysis is caused by body tissues and
 neck tendons stiffening and shortening.  This post-mortem action
 bends the head back.  Note the sharp claws used to grab prey. 
Image  © by S. Veatch.
The Whittaker quarry preserves the full range of growth of both genders of Coelophysis—from juveniles to fully grown adults. Why so many Coelophysis died at once at the Ghost Ranch location is a puzzle—predators typically do not congregate in the high density seen at Ghost Ranch unless there is an exceptionally rich food source.  There is nothing to suggest there was such a concentration of prey at the Ghost Ranch locality.  The Coelophysis skeletons at the Whittaker quarry are well-preserved (about 25% are articulated or complete) and show no signs of scavenging.  This is consistent with the leading hypothesis that these animals were killed by a flood, washed into a low spot or pond, and were then quickly buried.

New discoveries of Coelophysis fossils are continuing to be made at Ghost Ranch.  Each new discovery of these fossils yields more information about these remarkable dinosaurs.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Pebble Pups Conserve Cripple Creek's Mineral Collection

     The Pikes Peak Pebble Pups are taking turns this year to work on the mineral collection displayed at the Cripple Creek District Museum. The museum is located in Cripple Creek, Colorado on 5th and Bennett Avenue in what was the Midland Railroad depot.

Figure 1: Ben Nemo, who is in 5th grade, spent a day at the museum
working on conserving one of Colorado’s most important
mineral collections. Photo credit: Steven Veatch.
     The mineral and rock collection is from the historic mines of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District. Gold tellurides make up the majority of the collection. Pebble pups take turns working a shift with three scientists where they learn the procedures involved with conserving and cataloging this remarkable collection. The pebble pups learn and then perform a number of steps while working at the museum. First, the specimen is imaged in a photography light tent. The specimen is then examined with a microscope. During this examination Dr. Bob Carnein describes the specimen.  A museum technician types Dr. Carnein’s description in a computer. John Rakowski, a geologist, also writes the description in a lab notebook. Next measurements (in the metric system) are taken and recorded.

Steven Marquez will be starting 8th grade. Steven measured specimens,
learned how to take photos through the microscope, and painted labels
on each specimen. Photo credit: Steven Veatch.
     The second step it to brush a strip of archival white paint on the specimen; after the paint dries an archival pen is used to write a unique catalog number directly on the paint strip. Steven Veatch, the project leader at the museum and the pebble pup leader, creates in the final step a photomicrograph—or an image with a microscope—of the specimen. The pebble pups, who range in age from 10 to 16 years old, work on all steps of the cataloging and conservation effort. The pebble pups, at the end of their work, receive a certificate of training from Kathy Reynolds, the museum director.

A microphotograph of a crystal of gold-bearing calaverite.
Photo credit: Steven Marquez. 

     The Pikes Peak Pebble Pup program (PPPP) includes students K-12 who explore the geosciences in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. The program participates with the Future Rockhounds of America under the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies. The PPPP is composed of the youth of the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club (Teller County), and the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society (El Paso County). A number of students from the United Kingdom participate in the program through the Internet. The goal of the program is to teach pebble pups to become rockhounds. Teen members of the group are called earth science scholars. The program focuses on communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Communication is achieved through a blog site ( where merit badge assignments, lessons, and pebble pup written work or art work is posted. The PPPP use Facebook™ as a method of communication within the group. Collaboration is through local and regional museums, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, the Science Olympiad, and Cool Science.
     Accomplishments of the PPPP include first place and third place awards in the National Park Service’s art contest for National Fossil Day; monthly articles published in the Ute Country News; and researched articles are published in an international magazine. Two pebble pups entered a poetry contest sponsored by the Library of Congress: one pebble pup was a finalist in the nation and received a medal from the U.S. Poet Laureate while another pebble pup won first place in Colorado. A book of collected poems on geoscience by the PPPP has been published with all of the books sold within weeks. A teen PPPP presented a paper at an Ice Age symposium last year at the Colorado School of Mines campus. Several PPPP were coauthors on papers presented at the University of Denver and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico.
     The pebble pups meet monthly during the academic school year. As there are so many ways for the PPPP to express their creative energies; the retention rate is very high. The informal setting allows for a more complete understanding of geoscience due to a more focused learning environment. The informal setting also allows for more personal and meaningful interaction between the informal educator and student. Students engaged in informal education are benefited on a personal level more than they would be in a formal setting. The informal education of the PPPP has proven to be more supportive to the development and growth of a student both intellectually and emotionally compared to education in a strictly controlled, formal learning environment. For more information on the PPPP contact Steven Veatch through his email at:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cripple Creek's District Museum Mineral Collection

Each month, for the past several years, I go twice  a month with two other scientists (Bob Carnein and John Rakowski) to catalog, photograph, and record detailed information on each specimen we work with. We donate our time to this important project. The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company provided the funding for the archival materials that includes special paint and ink pens for catalog numbers, an ultrasonic cleaner, and other miscellaneous materials for the project. In addition to standard photographs of the specimens we work with, microphotographs are taken of certain specimens.I have a few microphotographs of selected specimens I would like to share with you.

Sylvanite crystals in quartz.  Sylvanite is a gold
telluride mineral. Photo © by S. W. Veatch
Calavarite gold telluride mineral specimen no. 196
Photo © by S. W. Veatch
Sylvanite crystal. Specimen no. 196.
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Sylvanite crystal..  Specimen no 229.
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Large gold blister from roasted gold sample.
Specimen no. 245. Photo © by S. W. Veatch
Roasted gold specimen no. 246.
Photo © by S. W. Veatch
Roasted gold specimen no. 248.
S. W. Veatch photograph

Another view of specimen 248 showing multiple gold blisters from roasting.
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Cripple Creek gold ore sliced by diamond rock saw.
Gold and fluorite is present.
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Calavarite specimen no. 81
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Group of calavarite gold telluride specimens
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Krennerite (?) gold telluride specimen no. 129
Photo © by S. W. Veatch

Krennerite (?) gold telluride specimen.
Photo by S. Veatch

Twin crystal of sylvanite. Specimen no. 146.Photo © by S. W. Veatch