Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shark Tooth Hill Bakersfield Finds

One of our rock club members, Mike, just got back from a paid fieldtrip dig at Sharktooth hill in Bakersfield, California. He and two friends spent six to eight hours digging and the cost was $85 per person per day. One of his friends elected to give most of his finds to the other two, so that what you see here is approximately half of the take home finds for 3 people.

They found a lot! Most of the items found were shark teeth but Mike also brought home one slightly broken fossilized seal tooth, one whale inner ear bone, and one dolphin inner ear bone. Click on pictures for larger view.

At the shop, Mike was in the process of cleaning the dirt from his finds. He had one pile, arrayed here nicely in a circle for viewing, of cleaned fossils and one tray full of uncleaned ones.

Overall, he said he had a great time and he felt the experience of the dig was well worth the money spent. Paid fieldtrip digs to Sharktooth hill are organized through Buena Vista Museum.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Train Your Dog to Avoid Rattlesnakes

Many rockhounders have dogs and a common danger on the trails is poisonous rattlesnakes. One way to lessen the danger is to train your dog to want to stay away from poisonous rattlesnakes. Since my dog, Sesame Pooch, is a breed that has a naturally high prey drive, this training is all the more important for her. But how to train her?

Erick Briggs of Natural Solutions Dog Training (Check website for schedule and availability) has the answer.

First, you need some rattlesnakes. Erick and his crew maintain a collection of various local rattlesnakes species, both large and small, so that each dog will be trained on a variety of likely encountered local rattlesnake species. During the dog training, each snake is muzzled for safety. This allows the snakes to be handled safely by humans and approached safely by dogs.

Then you need to give the dog a reason to not want to go near the snakes. This is done with a shock collar. Some may feel this method is hard for the dog, but personally, I feel it is much easier on a dog than a rattlesnake bite would be and Erick makes sure that only just enough stimulus is used to be effective. The strength of the stimulus is tailored individually to each dog. You just want enough to deter the dog from future encounters but you don't want to use more stimulus than necessary.

During the training, a snake is layed out on the ground. If a dog has never been trained before, it is not uncommon that such a dog will simply stroll right up to a rattlesnake to inspect it.

I remember the first time I took Sesame Pooch to be trained when she went right up to the snake and put her nose right on top of it! In any other situation, she would have guaranteed herself a bite! If anyone wants to tell me that using the shock collar is too hard on the dog, I will tell them that it would not be even 5 percent as unpleasant as the rattlesnake bite that she would have gotten otherwise.

Anyway, so what happens is when the dog allows itself to come close to the snake, the dog receives a carefully timed shock such that the dog thinks the snake was the cause of the unpleasantness. Some dogs at this point will already want to move away from the snake. But strongly curious or prey driven dogs will sometimes instead keep trying other tactics to get at the snake.

I remember after Sesame Pooch's first 'bite' with the shock collar (the shock collar could be said to simulate an unpleasant attack or 'bite' from the snake), in her next try, she tried to sneak up more carefully, but then she still got 'bit.' So then she tried to sneak up from behind, but she still got 'bit!' Then she tried to circle around and sneak up very slowly and gingerly from the side, but she still got 'bit!' After a while, she finally decided there was no effective way to sneak up on it and that the snake was just too nasty to go after.

Of course, the whole process is not always that simple. Multiple snakes and situations are used and the dog is tested at the end of the process to make sure the lesson has been learned. And of course, each dog reacts differently and training methods are tailored to each dog. Some dogs will be energetic and jump around whereas other dogs' responses will be careful and measured. Some will be more curious or not curious and others will be more prey driven. And it is recommended that the lesson be repeated yearly to remind the dog and reinforce the avoidance.

This is Sesame Pooch's 4th training session and she becomes smarter each year about avoiding the snakes. This time, she was only willing to go a little bit close to a rattlesnake one time and only received one small correction.

However, another dog that followed her was totally new to the training and acted much as Sesame did on her first training. In the photos, you can see this dog being curious about the snake but then later rearing back when the snake 'bit' him again. Eventually, the dog decided snakes were just not worth it and by the end of the training, this dog too had decided that rattlesnakes were best avoided.

At the end of the training day, the Natural Solutions crew allowed me to take a few up close photos of some of their snakes. You can see that each snake has a muzzle preventing them from popping their mouth open, but the muzzle was not so tight as to prevent the young speckled snake from sticking his tongue out to inspect me during his photo op.

I will continue to take Sesame Pooch to the Erick Brigg's Natural Solution dog training each year and would recommend them to anyone whose dog runs the risk of encountering a poisonous rattlesnake.

No training is complete proof against snake bites. Sometimes, a dog (or owner) may not be aware of a snake, walk by unknowingly, and get bitten by accident. And sometimes a dog will be attracted by an injured or dieing snake because of the change in smell that occurs when death or gore is present. However, overall, a dog's chance of not getting bitten by a rattlesnake is much better after snake training. At least I know my dog will no longer stroll up and deliberately stick her nose on top of the next rattlesnake she meets! That alone is worth the $75 training fee.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 3

On day three, we decided to take an easier and safer road to an area known for saginite. Saginite is more of a morphological term than a geological one. Saginite is basically a word that described when a rock contains a spray or fan shaped array of needle like structures that often look very striking. In fact, the word is vague enough that opinions vary on exactly what does and does not constitute saginite, but this location had the classic looking golden or black needles in clear or white agate. One piece I found even had some black needles mixed with back spots in white agate with white spots and some clear areas (photo 1). Very interesting! But at first, I had to admit I couldn't find a darned thing.

The good saginite agate at that location looks much the same as the nodules that contain no saginite, and most of all of them have a lot of desert varnish and black stuff on the outside, such that you can't really see what is inside unless you break them. See the blah looking exterior of the rough saginite in photo 2. But since the nodules are small, you don't really want to crack them in half either. However, sometimes you can just barely see the fan shape of the saginite on the outside of the rock as well (photo 3).

Eventually, I wandered further from the main site and found some veins of white and clear plume. A few pieces had red centers that were very striking but I couldn't find the source for those. Everything seemed almost randomly scattered and fickle veins changed colors and pinched in and out erratically. At one point, one of our party called us over and showed us where she had found a very large desert tortoise that seemed only slightly irritated at our arrival, and then just a short distance away, she found a much smaller baby desert tortoise smaller than my fist. Of course, I had to have pictures of both! (photos 4 and 5) Finally, we heard the leader of the group calling us back as we were the farthest out. They were already heading back to the trucks and we needed to leave as well.

Walking back out, one of our group fell and gouged her elbow on the ground only a short distance from the truck. Solicitously, Jay Valle, our driver, volunteered to fish out some nice clean band aids for her to stem the bleeding from the cut. No sooner had he popped open the tin of band aids than did we see a mummified lizard skeleton on the very top if it! (see photo 6) Only a rock hound would think to store a pristine skeleton there on top of the band aids and then forget about it and leave it for months! Luckily, band aids come sealed in their own wrapping and we all had a good laugh at the sudden appearance of the skeleton in such an improbable location.

The next stop was actually just along the road going back. Some years ago, some of us had been working with poor directions and had been unable to find what we were looking for, but we did instead accidentally stumble upon a tall outcrop of white quartz stained with copper ore. Now we would lead the others to that site and many of us were soon busily clambering around on the outcrop and picking and chiseling away at the white and blue walls of quartz. (photos 7 through 11)

One of us experienced with gold hunting said the rock was probably originally investigated for gold because copper and quartz are both indicators of possible gold presence. Many jokes about finding gold nuggets were then bantered around but not surprisingly, no actual gold was found. There were rumors of an abandoned crumbled stone cabin somewhere near and we also found an old abandoned car with thousands of bullet holes in it, which also made for a nice picture.

From that location, the rest of the campers took the nice easy gravel road back to camp. They had to leave that night and so wanted an early start, but we weren't leaving until Monday morning so we opted to go back to the saginite location for further exploration. Our legs were now getting tired, but that did not stop us from walking over many hills and ravines to scout for agate anywhere we could find. Most of the region had no rock of interest but in a few places with did find more agate seams, some with interesting plumes and shapes. And I found some nice Drusy, most of it white and clean already so that I will not have to remove any staining in order to make it look good.

We ended our walk by cutting back through the main traditional saginite collecting area and towards the end of it, I suddenly began finding saginite. Perhaps I had finally gotten the eye for it, but also it seemed I was suddenly in a very productive 10 foot diameter region that had lots of pieces. Almost every nodule I picked up looked to have some saginite and we both stopped and scoured that area. Once having thoroughly checked that area and moving slightly further away, I only found one other piece and after a consider time of fruitless continued searching we had enough and continued back to the truck. I had a pocketful of small agate nodules and hopefully many will contain saginite, but I won't know for sure until I polish some corners so I can see inside of them. The day had been good but they sky was darkening.

We went into Blythe for a steak dinner and then returned to camp to burn the rest of the firewood. That night, the wind picked and light rain fell in the morning hours. But it stopped at sunrise and were able to pack and leave in comfort.

It was time to say goodbye for now to the blooming flower fields of the desert in springtime, sharp red ocotillo flowers pointing skyward. Another wonderful adventure came to a pleasant conclusion and now I can't wait to cut and polish my new treasures!

Day 1 here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 1
Day 2 here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 2

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 2

The next day, the trucks assembled and headed out to the first location, which was an old abandoned gold mining area that contained a number of decaying structures (photos 1 and 2). Some of the parts of the structures had been cannibalized by metal recyclers and other parts lay strewn on the ground. Around the area were also many small agate nodules resting on the surface of the ground, most containing gentle white and clear banding. The Searchers spread across the hills inspecting the agates. In photo 3, Searchers field trip leader, Robert Burson, helps direct newbies to the good stuff. My goal was to find some agate with green wormlike inclusions inside, something that other rockhounders had found on previous fieldtrips and which I wanted, but was not able to find on this trip.

Instead I found a dead snake lieing near a bush. It was a light tan color with about 5 segments of rattle (ie about 5 years old) and appeared to have been recently run over by a vehicle. I alerted others and another camper came over and picked it up to inspect it, but then I noticed it was starting to slowly writhe its coils.

Many people don't realize that even a recently dead rattlesnake can still bite. Many of it's muscle movements are automatic motions that can be triggered just by handling, as long as some power remains in the muscles, similar to how a chicken can run around even after its head has been cut off. Picking up a snake that is not fully depleted of life force is dangerous, but luckily, this time nothing unfortunate happened and our driver, Jay Valle, quickly came over and put his foot over the snake's head, cut it off, and buried it, so that no other human or animal would be at risk. I was also relieved to see my dog hanging back and showing reluctance to approach. Clearly, the snake training she had received the previous year was still remembered. We only stayed at that site for about 30 minutes because the second site of the day was reported to be better. And it was!

The road was rough and three of our vehicles had only 2 wheel drive, which resulted in some trouble on some of the rough gravel covered up hill roads which caused the 2wd drivers to spin out instead of moving forward. When this happened, people jumped out with shovels to make road improvements and all of us eventually made it to the final destination of the day.

Slippery hills covered with white and clear plume agate in some places (photos 4 and 5), and green moss agate in others, rose up on both sides of the road. Other material could be found by simply walking along the dry wash in the center, which also served as the road. More than 30 people fanned out in all directions with picks and shovels and started collecting. Material was plentiful so we had the luxury of being selective. I only wanted the best and thickest white plumes.

First, I scaled steep slippery slopes to the right, immediately finding some green moss agate and then later finding mostly white plume agate. Later, I slithered back down to the main wash and observed what types of rock were rolling down the hill. At one point, I found some agate that looked like many white dots with green fuzzy growth between each dot (photos 6 and 7).

I immediately scaled the hill looking for more and found the vein, but excavating it showed the most of the vein was very cruddy and crumbly and probably only a few pieces might polish. Sesame Pooch, of course, was eager to assist by laying in the crevice I had created and 'protecting' it for me with her fuzzy white stomach. In photo 8, you can see Sesame lounging on top of my green agate vein with other hounders on the opposite side of the ravine in the background. You can also see someone hiking up along the same vein running up the other side of the ravine, which from what I saw was even more crumbly than on my side. However, if those pieces that I did find do hold together, they have great promise for beautiful cabochons. I spent a considerable amount of time working my side of the vein before returning to the truck to unload. I also found several interesting pieces of twisted agate desert roses on the way back.

Later, I went up the hills on the left, but found on reaching the top that the agate did not seem to extend far in that direction so after following the top of the ridge for a while, I found myself looking for an easy way back down to the wash. In this case, 'easy' meant it was still very slippery, but at least I was able to maintain my footing for the entire route down.

Since that side had not panned out, I went back to the other side, scaled up again, and then pushed out directly away from the road, still finding mostly white plumes but many very nice ones. At one point, one of the hills was so slippery, that while attempting to crawl up, with a diet coke in one hand as if it wasn't hard enough already, I suddenly slid backwards for about 10 feet before coming to a stop when my back leg finally found purchase on a larger boulder. Luckily, there were no sharp rocks and the decent was slow enough that no pain came of it, and I did not even spill my soda! Of course one must always keep one's priorities straight! ;-)

However, I did finally make my way up safely, collected more white plume and a bit more moss agate, and then headed back to the truck. Some of us wanted to go back to the first site and look more for the green worms, so we were eager to leave, but getting back would prove tricky for some of the other vehicles that would follow us.

One particular road coming out of a big wash was steep and gravelly and had a deep ravine on the right. A small dip at the base of the road prevented any kind of decent running start. The 4wd trucks had no problem but the first 2wd could not get out of the first small dip. So of course, many people jumped out with picks and shovels to improve the road and a tow strap was set up to drag the first 2wd up the hill. As it turned out, both were needed as the road was at first too steep and loose for the 4wd to get enough purchase to pull another vehicle. However, eventually we got the first stuck truck up the hill.

With considerable improvements now made to the road, ie cutting down the top of the dip and filling in the bottom, the next 2wd wanted to try making a run for it. I was standing on the side of the road near the top, purportedly to take a picture of the event, but the truck ended up taking a faster than was good for him running start and started losing control as he charged up the gravely hill. The truck was bouncing and fishtailing wildly, its back wheels dancing on the edge of the 3 foot ravine on the right. Twice, the back right wheel actually went part way into the ravine only to bounce back out in a feat that I swear defied all rules of gravity.

For myself, I was thinking at the time about if I was going to have to jump down the hill to safety if this truck continued to gyrate around as it approached me, but the driver managed to regain control and complete the upper most part of the hill safely, so instead I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. Those of us who were watching still cannot believe he somehow made it. By all rights, he should have ended up high centered with his right side in that ravine and since he himself could not see his wheels as he drove, he had no idea how close he came until we told him!

Unfortunately, I had been too surprised and awed by the show to even remember to get a picture, but I did get one of the first truck being towed up (photo 9). The third truck, perhaps seeing the danger the second one courted, took the road at a slower charge, with enough momentum to make it up but not so much as to lose control, and thus made it comparatively without incident. Later in the return trip, another smaller hill yielded a bit of trouble as well (photo 10), but also was conquered via road improvements. Once we made it back to the abandoned gold mine area, the roads were smooth sailing and so we were not worried and took more time scouring the area for more nodules. However, I never did find any green worm nodules so I will have to leave that hunt for another trip.

That night, we had a potluck dinner, with a variety of delicious items and a roaring fire. We chatted with both local rockhounders and some from many states away.
The wind died to almost nothing and it was another night of perfect weather and temperature.

A glowing full moon made flashlights unnecessary and I walked around comfortably in my flip flops. But the day had tired out Sesame Pooch (last photo) and all too soon it was time to rest.

Day 1 story here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 1
Day 3 story here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 3

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 1

California poppies painted the hillsides gold as I drove North and then East towards the California/Arizona border. My destination was Chuckwalla Springs, a collecting site known for agate and saginite, among other things. I arrived Friday afternoon. Several trailers were already present at the campsite but their occupants were already out in 4wds looking for rocks, so I made myself busy scouting the surrounding areas for whatever could be found. The area proved to contain a smattering of agate, quartz, twisted desert roses, and Drusy quartz.

Picking up clean white sparkling Drusy quartz and weirdly twisted agate is always on my agenda and I found several nice pieces. I also was surprised to stumble on what looked at first to be a giant weirdly puffed up cow patty, but upon cautious nudging with my foot, I realized it was in fact actually made out of wood. I immediately hauled it back to the truck on my shoulder. That weird thing was definitely coming home with me!

Later, I returned to the area and walked further to find a large gnarled and dead tree that may have originally spawned the cow patty wood. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the tree had been afflicted with some kind of illness that caused the bulges, before it finally died. However, even its corpse made an awesome picture with Sesame Pooch posed in front. Unfortunately, I had neglected to take my camera so I had to walk a half mile back to the truck to retrieve it and then a half mile back in order to get the picture. Never walk off without a camera! (And a rock hammer of course!)

That night, campers continued to trickle in to the campsite for the next day's field trip which was officially run by the Searchers rock club, but also had members from other clubs. The Searchers are a very active and dynamic club with many field trips and members from all over the country. We had a nice campfire before retiring to perfectly comfortable camping weather, neither too hot nor too cold for a good night's sleep. And we would prove to need all our energies for the activities of the next day!

Day 2 here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 2
Day 3 here: Rockchaser: The Searchers at Chuckwalla Springs Day 3

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Malaysian Silver Art (actually from Sumatra apparently..)

Seek and ye shall find! Every weekend, my mother likes to make the garage sale circuit. Many times, she finds little of interest but sometimes she makes some extraordinary finds. One day several weeks ago, she was rummaging at the bottom of an old box filled with heavy plastic dolls when she spied silvery colored lattice work. Carefully digging further, she realized that covered by these ugly worthless dolls were solid sterling silver lattice house replicas. She began to pull out whimsical little silver houses, one after the other, many with weird pointy roofs, for a total of nine pieces including a palm tree and and an ox pulling a cart. The wheels even turn on the cart! Trying to maintain her composure, my mother asked the woman having the garage sale, as casually as she could, "How much for the little houses?"

"Three bucks!" the woman said!

My mother was so surprised that she quickly gave the woman three bills, bundled up the silver houses, and drove off immediately before anyone else would notice what she had! There in the top photo, you can see my hand holding one of the medium sized houses, which is as big as my hand. Unfortunately, when I took the photo, I accidentally left off the top little point of the roof. A week later, the same woman had another garage sale and my mother returned to ask where the little houses had come from, but the lady did not remember. And there was nothing similar or valuable anywhere else in that sale. And you can bet my Mother looked hard!

However, some clues were to be had about the houses' origins because on the back of the largest house was written in silver, "KT Gedang Perak 925." 925 universally means silver, so that was the easiest part. The rest took some serious work on Google, but I finally deciphered it. 'Perak' means 'silver' in Malaysian. KT stands for 'Kuala Terenggano,' a large city in Malaysia. And 'Gedang' is likely a different spelling for 'Gadang' as in 'Rumah Gadang.'

What, you say you don't know what a 'Rumah Gadang' is? Well that's good because neither did I! Luckily, Wikipedia knows and has a fascinating article here: . In case I ever had any doubt of the authenticity of these cute little houses, once I saw this photo below of the real thing (taken from the Wiki article), I realized these little silver houses were not constructed from whimsy at all but in fact were careful replicas of the real thing, even down to the little points on the rooftops. Wow, these places make my home like a shack!

I guess it's not surprising, then, with all this effort into the decor, that these are the traditional homes of a Sumatran clan called the Minangkabau whose cultural structure is matrilineal. That means the women own and run the property in this clan and these houses are passed from mother to daughter. Take note all you men! ;-P But the religious and political affairs are typically left to the men, so I guess they aren't completely left out. However, what is even more interesting is that these people have kept their traditional matrilineal culture, even though their culture is also strongly Islamic.

Although the clan is from Sumatra, many have settled in Malaysia and one can only surmise there is or was probably one of these houses in Kuala Terenggano somewhere, which is why 'KT' was written on the back of the silver replicas. All this from a garage sale, I swear you just can't make this stuff up!

(And in case anyone feels the urge to mention there are only eight structures in the photo instead of nine, I'll let you know now that the 9th structure was another ox and cart but the cart got squished by the heavy ugly dolls that were on top of it and my Mother is trying to carefully repair it, so it did not make it into the photo.)

[Updated 4/2014  Well looks like my sleuthing was not as accurate as one would like, I was informed by a kind observer of the following: These are not from Kuala Terengganu in Malaysia but from Kota Gadang in Sumatra. KT is short for Koto. Pieces like this were made for sale to visitors way back - they may be from the 1920s or so.]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Bad Dog and Two Water Falls

We went out searching for rocks again this Saturday, right after open rock shop hours were over at 1PM. Our goal was to scout for areas around town that might contain fossils. The problem is that recent road and house construction has resulted in most offroad access now being blocked off by many very irritating gates with locks on them. We drove along looking for any dirt road to travel upon, but time after time, we found nothing.

Finally, we left the truck in a parking lot near a river and started walking up stream, picking through large boulders as we went. The landscape was surreal because for a large swath of the river, the surrounding boulders had actually been cemented in place to prevent erosion. The day also started off in a less than savory way because Sesame Pooch found an old dead fish on the bank and decided to roll on top of it. Dogs have the worst taste in perfume! You can see Sesame in the first photo looking smug and happy with herself as usual. But I got my revenge by dunking her into the river a few times to get the smell off. Stinky river smell is still much better than stinky fish smell!

Next we hiked along an old dirt path next to the river and scrambled up a steep hill to investigate the rocks, which were mostly granite plus some basalt. On top of the hill, on a large dead branch, sat a native finch bird. As I trained my camera on him, Sesame Pooch ran up the hill and startled him, and I snapped the picture just as he extended his wings. Score one very nice photo 2!

Going back down the hill, we continued along the river and soon heard a roaring sound, which was surprising. San Diego is supposed to have only one decent water fall in the entire area. This is an often quoted fact amongst local hikers and one that I have always been suspicious of. And sure enough, after hopscotching back and forth over the river on boulders, and clambering through riparian shrubs, we began to hear the telltale roaring sound and shortly found another, apparently not well known, water fall far along some animal paths. It took us some time to find a path across that would not involving wading, but eventually Dave was able to make his way to the top of the falls. That's him on top of the left side fall.

Some of the granite boulders there in the river had strange hoof shaped imprints of half grown black tourmaline. (photo 4) And we found some old pipes, perhaps once used for harvesting water from the river, but little else of interest. (Gratuitous picture of Sesame looking cute on the river, last photo to the right)

As usual, Dave was ready to stay well past the dropping of the sun behind the mountain, and I finally had to prod him to leave before it became too dark to see the rocks in front of our feet. I moved quickly back toward the main road and then searched for Sesame Pooch's leash, only to realize that I must have left it on a rock somewhere. Too late to go back! I cast around for bits of stray rope or string, to no avail, until I finally figured out that the end of a rockhammer stuck under her collar worked well enough as a sort of makeshift leash. Following the river back under the main road, I wanted to make sure she stayed near me and far away from the traffic. The rest of the trip back to the truck was without incident and we now know of one more place in San Diego that does not have fossils!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Photos From the Nuevo Silica Mine

Here are a few more photos from the Nuevo Silica Quarry that I couldn't quite fit into the original articles but I think are worth posting anyway. One of the most striking things about the mine was the huge tourmaline sprays, but their true size was difficult to properly capture on film. The camera likes to make things look smaller than they really are. In the top photos, you can see several more of the interesting fan shaped patterns that some of the tourmalines formed in the host rock.

The photo to the right captures Sesame Pooch observing one of the areas were the tourmalines looked like splattered and dribbled black paint. The bottom left photo shows some of the water clear quartz and black tourmaline pieces that I took home with me (click the photo for a larger view).

There was also one nice piece of smokey quartz, but I actually didn't spend much time collecting as I was so busy exploring and taking pictures.

The first part of the story, In Search of the Nuevo Silica Mine, is here. The second part of the story, Finding the Nuevo Silica Mine, is here.