googleed3ca5fea536c11e.html South African Mineral Specimens: August 2010

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A Mineral specimen blog by which we want to share our mineral outings as well as our experiences in the Western Cape mountains.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Searching for Crystals in the Scenic Western Cape Mountains

For a good many years, we have been driving to farms in the mountains, mostly Villiersdorp, Worcester and Ceres, to search for quartz crystals.  Quartz crystals from these areas, are mostly milky to clear, with a few places yielding smoky crystals.  Single crystals rarely exceed 100 mm, while most crystals found are smaller than 30 mm.  Some of the small crystals are as bright and gemmy as they come, while some of the smokies are of very high quality.  The crystals are not easy to find and requires a lot of walking, sometimes up steep mountain slopes.  We have discovered some crystal deposits that are very promising, but also very hard to get to.

Some of the places where we dig can be accessed by motorcar on farm land.  We are eternally grateful to generous farm owners, who grant permission to dig for crystals.

About 9 months ago we moved to Ceres, a town situated in the mountains, about 120 km drive from Cape Town.  Ceres is surrounded by mountains and farms and we regularly walk in the mountains, trout fishing or looking for crystals.

When searching for crystals, we firstly search for quartz veins, that are usually snow white.  Once such veins are found, we look for tell-tale sighns of quartz crystals.  More than often there is none, but with persistence, some nice pockets of crystals are discovered.  One such pocket recently yielded about 15 kg of crystals, but most pockets are much smaller and only a small percentage of the crystals are of good quality.  One of the best pockets that we found, was about the size of a man's head, and of very high quality.

My nephew and I digging for crystals on a farm

I found a nice pocket in mid-winter

Riana removes smoky quartz crystals just beneath the surface

Some lovely smokies exposed

A lovely find of (unwashed) crystals from the above pocket

Riana found a lovely smoky

Digging's the name of the game!

Lovely scenery near the place we found crystals

We found a good pocket high up in the mountains

Lovely crystals

A  pretty quartz cluster

Digging for crystals in a remote area

Lovely female quartz crystal

Part of our scenic climb to get to the crystals

Pretty semi-sceptre

A gemmy little crystal group

Pretty crystal on quartz matrix

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Our Vredendal Trip, March 2010.

We were more than 30 club members who met at the gates of the lime quarry a few kilometeres outside Vredendal early on Saturday morning. After the usual briefing and signing of indemnity forms, everyone started their long-awaited search for crystals. (Access to this mine is closed to the public, and only club members may go with the club about twice a year.)
I found a few crystals in a red clay wall, while Pierre went on to the main mining area, where he found a pocket of quartz crystals within about 5 minutes. The pocket extended about 2m into the rock face. Pierre marked his pocket, then came and called me, where I was still finding only a few, isolated, crystals. (He always does the hard work, then allows me to join in the fun of removing the specimens from his pockets!) At some point in time, there must have been a flush of water that came through the pocket which removed the original soft, yellow clay, and deposited a brown, harder clay. Quite a few of the crystals were embedded in this type of clay. There have obviously also been some movement in the pocket somewhere in the past, because a number of the bigger crystals were badly broken. Still we removed quite a few beautiful crystals from this pocket.
We also ventured to the hills where we have previously found some nice smokies. These crystals were embedded in very hard clay, and we had to make use of a pick to break the ground. The hard work paid off, and we found some lovely smoky quartz crystals. I even found and retrieved my very own, good sized smokie!

We camped for two nights at the mine, and left by midday on the Monday of the long week-end. When we got home, after about 2½ hours on the road, a refreshing shower was at the top of our priority list - a vital necessity after having camped and mined for 2½ days without any facilities or running water ...


The pocket, extending about 2m into the rock face.

A pick is needed to break through the very hard clay

Searching for crystals

Some crystals were embedded in brown clay

Lovely, double terminated smoky
A lovely quartz cluster

Single quartz crystal with iron oxide coating
A pocket found!
Double terminated, flat, quartz crystal.

Beautiful quartz crystals with rutile, on feldspar matrix

A lovely quartz cluster

Our Trip to Vredendal, August 2009.

We went with about 40 or so club members. Everybody met there on Saturday morning, and only left on the Monday afternoon.

It must be the most enjoyable trip we ever had to Vredendal! It was also the least productive, crystal-wise, because the miners have blasted since we were last there, and have destroyed many cliff faces. There were piles of rock-rubble where we've previously found beautiful crystals!

The chaos on the mine forced us to explore and we saw many beautiful flowers and new areas that we have never seen before. We found some real smoky crystals up to 1 kg and some crystals with lots of green chlorite inclusions. In total we found about 2 shoe boxes of crystals that we collected from 7 different areas on the mine.

The company from all our club family was wonderful and the weather was good.


Our camping site - with absolutely no facilities ...... back to basics!

Our camping site from another angle

What's left of our previously good rock cliffs ...

Pierre removing green phantom quartz from a little gulley

A lovely smoky weighing 1 kg

A lovely smoky quartz crystal

Riana pointing to a lovely smoky quartz
crystal sitting in a clay wall

Flowers in the field on the mining grounds

Our trip to Namibia, January 2009

We left Somerset West on the morning of Thursday the 15th, and crossed the Namibian border at Vioolsdrif late that afternoon. We spent the night at Grünau, and had to combat hundreds of small flying beetles before we could eventually settle for the night. The next morning we resumed our journey (with the road apparently stretching endlessly ahead of us) and encountered a cloudburst and terrible storm as we passed Windhoek, which left us with a cracked windscreen. We reached Karibib early that evening, and pitched our tent at a camping site.

Saturday we drove about 18 km to Namdeb, also known as Neu Schwaben (because of the Neu Schwaben mine, about 3 km further). One of the local residents told us that the original name was Tjomtjas, meaning "to clean with saliva" - the method they often used when quickly wanting to see the quality of the stones, since they don't have much water. We spent about 5 hours there, looking at all the stones the people had for sale (mostly cathedral smoky quartz and a few toumalines on matrix) and making purchaces. We found the people very friendly, and enjoyed the time we spent there, although it was quite hot that day. Eventually it became overcast. Getting back to our camp, we discovered that the bad dirt road we had travelled to Namdeb, had cost us one of our car's hub caps and damage to a head lamp protector.

On Monday morning we packed a picnic basket for the day, and made some mineral purchaces in town. There we teamed up with our friend and guide, Enrico, and drove to Usakos, some 30 km west of Karibib, where we visited the location and made many purchaces of Erongo minerals e.g. fluorite, schorl, aquamarine and quartz. On our way back we again encountered a severe storm, and at times we could hardly see the road ahead of us. Getting back to our tent, we discovered that the storm had tilted our tent (we hadn't used any storm hooks for anchoring!) and thus managed to soak our mattresses and sleeping bags! We had to pack up and eventually we rented a room for the night in a lodge in town.

Tuesday was a hot day, and our wet bedding dried quickly. We resumed our journey and visited the well known mineral stalls some 24 km outside of Usakos, where we saw some lovely mineral specimens. We only wished that we had unlimited space in our car and loads of spending money! Early afternoon we reached our furthest destination, Uis, having travelled a total of 1 980 km, and pitched our tent. The swimming pool on the camping ground was a welcome sight, and we made good use of it! We spent the next four days visiting local dealers and the location outside of Uis, making many purchaces of prehnite, quartz, fluorite etc. from the Brandberg area,and also looking up friends we hadn't seen for a few years. On Sunday we enjoyed coffee at daybreak on a hill outside of town, having been taken there by microlight aeroplane. What an experience to see the sun come up and cast its light over the majestic Brandberg!

We also met two Austrian gentlemen at the camp site, who had been lost in the desert (and already without water) a few days earlier, and had been rescued by the same microlight owner. He had taken them food and water and showed them the way out. This experience hadn't deterred their adventurous spirit, and they continued on their journey!

Early on Monday morning we made our last purchaces, and were sorry to leave this quiet little town and its friendly people. But we were very glad to leave the millions of mosquitoes behind! It was a cool, overcast day. We travelled back on a different road, the one that leads to Omaruru. Most of the roads were very quiet, sometimes we travelled up to 100 km without seeing any other vehicles! At Okahandja (where we had made our first purchaces on our way to Uis, and had experienced heavy rain) we noticed a sign saying "Okahandja - the Garden Town". This is, indeed, an apt description!

Driving through Windhoek (Namibia's capital city) on our way back, it was raining lightly. We went to the mining office to pay the due taxes on our purchaces and get the required permit. North of Keetmanshoop it was hot and still very dry, the earth almost seemed scorched. About 100 km before Grünau, we saw a massive electric storm ahead of us. We have never seen such severe and long-lasting lightning bolts before! Some 30 km further we were in the storm, and were in it for about 13 minutes, when the road swerved and took us out of it. We could still see the darkness of the raging storm behind us, and were thankful that we were out of it. We were met by a most beautiful sunset!

We again spent the night at Grünau, but this time we had to compete with small grasshoppers for space in our room! It seems like there are many more plagues of a variety of insects in the desert land! Next morning we drove the last 144 km of our trip on Namibian soil, and then crossed the border at Vioolsdrif, after having paid the due import taxes on our stones at the customs office.

At about 21h30 on Tuesday the 27th, we arrived back home in Somerset West, and thanked God for His protection. Although it had been tiring, we enjoyed our trip tremendously. We had travelled a total of 3 956 km.


Wellcome to Namibia!
Making purchaces at Namdeb

Purchasing at Usakos location
One of Karibib's special inhabitants, ± 25 cm long
The town of Karibib

Aerial view of Uis

Desert land with the Brandberg in the distance

The road stretches ahead in the vast distance ...
Spitzkoppe in the distance
Usakos mineral stalls
A special moment, being in the same picture as the Brandberg.
This picture was taken by the late Nico van Dyk.

Our Trip to the Vredendal Lime Quarry, October 2008.

A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of accompanying 26 other members of the Cape Town based mineralogical society to a  lime quarry just outside Vredendal , Western Cape, South Africa. This wonderful privilege was granted to the club who visits the mine twice a year for a weekend at a time. This was the fourth time we visited this mine and we have never been disappointed. On all the visits we found many lovely crystals. I must hasten to say that it is hard work! The hard dolomite rock faces have veins filled with soft yellow clay that yields an amazing mix of feldspar, dolomite, quartz, rutile and calcite crystals. The quartz crystals vary from a few milimeters to specimens weighing up to 5 kg. We found a few specimens between 2 and 4.2 kg. All the photographs below are from our last visit.


I have just discovered an amazing pocket

The pocket extends for about 2 metres into solid rock

One of the bigger quartz clusters removed

A quartz group with lovely red rutile needles.

Riana with a lovely quartz crystal fresh from the earth

A flat floater crystal, one of many floaters

Fellow diggers, exploring old veins and empty pockets

Our campsite at the mine

A single crystal weighing 1.7 kg

Another flat crystal floater.

Smitty and John coming to terms with a new day.

Some members have a good health insurance.

Graham and sons found
an interesting pocket of rutilated quartz

A large crystal with a coating of iron oxide

A large floater quartz crystal group