Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Crystal Peak Gem Company

Steven Wade Veatch
and
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 http://www.mindat.org/forum.php?read,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 https://books.google.com/books?id=eMY_AQAAMAAJ&dq=%22crystal+peak+gem+company%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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. 

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