Cu later Be3Al2(Si6O18)

As if there weren’t a quarry’s worth of river rocks piercing our lawn, punctuating our flowerbeds and “decoratively” piled alongside our deck, new  “enhanced” rocks recently appeared on our front porch.

It’s Chris’ brother’s fault.!

Mourning the loss of a much beloved pet, he decided to clear a space in his rock denuded yard for a memorial garden.

“Hey Chris – can you ship me some rocks?” he begs.

“I guess,” replies Chris scanning our surplus while mouthing, “my brother’s crazy.”

 “Can’t you find some closer to home?”

“Not any old rocks! You dimbo.  Colorado rocks!  I need sparkly Colorado rocks!”

And so, Chris’ days as a gem hunter and “rockhound” – (this is a technical term,) commenced.

Colorado Sparkly Rocks

Much as I’m reluctant to admit it, Chris’ brother is right; Colorado is rich in minerals with a variety second only to that of California. It’s hard to miss the remnants of the silver and gold-rush mines of the nineteenth century, yet there are many other precious stones, petrified wood and fossils waiting to be discovered. I must confess, I had only a passing interest in Chris’ new- found hobby until we went on a hike in the foothills of Mt Antero. We were wobbling perilously across a log that bridged a swollen, surging stream, when a battered jeep drew up, waiting for us on the other side.

“Been prospecting for aqua,” the driver cheerily let us know.

Reeling in relief at having forded the stream without loss of life or limb, or even a soggy sock, I didn’t quite catch his meaning, so I dumbly nodded and smiled and waved him on his way.

“How cool!” Chris said with the initiate’s wise nodding head.

Turns out Chris had known all along that Mt Antero’s famous for the aquamarine seams near its lofty, (14,000 foot,) summit. He’d watched documentaries about the intrepid miners who, in a scant three month season before the weather closes in, seek out the precious crystals. You can find it here

Aquamarine Crystals

Colorado River Rocks

“How does such a transparent, luminous, geometric crystal emerge from dense granite?” I wondered, awestruck.

Very slowly!

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, perhaps millions, volcanic magna forced its way into air spaces in heavily mineralized, iron-rich rock. The cooling process triggered a chemical chain reaction that eventually resulted in the translucent sky-sea stones the Romans attributed to Neptune, god of the oceans.

Rest assured I have a tiny pair of aquamarine earrings on order.

We visited my son in Salt Lake City recently, and naturally taking our new- found passion for rocks and minerals with us, dragged him to the Great Salt Lake. Smelly, desolate but, nonetheless, interesting. It was formed after a much larger freshwater lake, (Lake Bonneville,) burst its banks, flooded vast tracts of land, and left so much silt and rubble behind that the resultant basin has no exit. Mountain streams pour in and eventually evaporate concentrating the minerals in the water and encrusting the edges with salt. Next to nothing survives. This is true too of the mountain that dominates the lake – but for a different reason; its shell encompasses the world’s largest (hu)man-made hole.

They’ve been mining copper at Brigham Canyon/Kennecott Mine for well over a hundred years, and more recently, molybdenum and sulfuric acid. Each day there are two to four explosions to loosen the rock which is then crushed, purified and smelted in a smelter whose chimney is nearly as tall as the Empire State Building. Clearly, this is an expensive undertaking, yet very profitable as copper is in high demand.  It’s a very versatile metal that can be drawn to wire, rolled into pipes or flattened for roofing material, and – it’s an important component of our cell ‘phones. Sadly, it’s extraction causes thirty per cent of the pollution of the state of Utah, – especially when the seam is heavy with lead.

Raised near the coal pits of northern England, I already understood the toll  mining exacts whether it’s deep underground or amongst the thin air and swirling winds of the high peaks. Even so, when we returned home, I noticed all the materials that comprise our home and its comforts with renewed respect.

I’m sure you know, Cu is the chemical symbol for copper and Be3Al2(Si6O18), the symbol for aquamarine (beryllium, aluminum and silicate.)

End Notes

Reading

Once There Were Wolves
Charlotte McConaghy

Listening

Alone
Rag’n’Bone Man

Deo Gratis
Johannes Ockeghem  Huelgas Ensemble Paul van Nevel

Poetry

To Plant
Jean “Binta” Breeze

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