Sweet Home Mine Field Trip
July 24, 1999

by Bob Loeffler

Members attending: The Sakaguchi's, the Mee's, the Knight's, the Nelson's, the Kunze's, the Juganaru's, the Harrison's, the Melby's, the Hannu's, the Aber's, Tony Benevidez, Dixie Pierce, Rob DeBus, Alan Radke, Mark Zirenski and his boys, Bob Loeffler and Bob Berry (new member). We had a couple visitors who were invited by members: Olivier Roth (from Switzerland) and a couple others I didn't meet. I'm sorry if I missed anyone from the club.

    As you can see above, we had a huge turnout! When I arrived with Olivier around 9:30am, we couldn't believe all of the cars. It was like a parking lot on that little dirt road! Approximately 35 of us were there from our club, and another club was also there. The members of the other club were taking turns touring the Sweet Home mine, while the rest of us were digging in the mine's dump.

The dump that we dug in was new compared to the old dump that has been there for the last several decades. The old dump is yellow (from the sulfides leaching out over the years), but the new dump is still a clean whitish-grey color. Just before 10am, one of the mine workers used a backhoe to turn the dump, thus allowing us to easily get at the material that had been a few feet under the surface. This new dump was only a few feet high, so it was very easy for everyone to dig in. No steep slopes that can wear down your leg muscles.

Soon after the backhoe moved out of the way, people were finding rhodochrosites! They ranged from the size of a grain of sand up to an inch long. Most of them looked like the famous cherry-red specimens in magazines such as The Mineralogical Record, but that was mainly because they were wet due to the light rain that occurred a couple times that day. As soon as they dried, their color faded a bit. Well, at least that's what happened to mine. :-)

I saw several different styles of collecting. Some people were just surface collecting, others were digging down a foot or two and then tunneling horizontally, and then there were the Sakaguchi's who had a very efficient method. They used kid power! Mom and dad scooped the dirt and rock into the screens that their children were holding, and then the kids would sift through the material in the tiny stream a couple feet away. Washing the rocks was a must, and using a screen in the water made it easy. For the first couple hours, they had to have found the most rhodos.

There were too many of us to know exactly who found what, but I do know that I kept hearing different members rejoice when they came upon another beautiful rhombehedron. Every few minutes you would hear the oooohs and ahhhhhs... then everyone around the lucky ones would stop their digging and look... then more ooohs and ahhhhhs. They weren't always full crystals -- I saw many partial crystals and red masses on matrix -- but they were all still treasures to the eye. I was having such a great time digging and collecting, I almost forgot about stopping for a lunch break.

This had to be one of the most productive field trips our club has been on for quite a while. Everyone found some rhodochrosite which was what we were looking for. I saw more rhodos on this trip than in The Collector's Edge booth at the Denver show last year! Well, ok, that was a slight exaggeration, but it was close. In addition to the almighty red stuff, some of us found purple fluorite, some found plates of quartz crystals, and of course there was the glitter of pyrite everywhere.

All in all, it was a great trip and I'll definitely do it again. Hopefully, we will be able to go into the mine next time, as well as dig in the dump. It's a safe trip for all ages, so there aren't any excuses for not going next time. :-)