Diamond Acres, Stone Arabia, New York
Article As Published by Rock and Gem Magazine
by Michael Walter
Herkimer Diamonds have been long known to minerals collectors in New York State and world wide. Central New York has a multitude of locations both private and open to the public that produce fine specimens of this euhedral quartz. The region’s layers of dolostone contain pockets which yield thousands of these beautiful crystals every year. Individuals new and old to mineral collecting are constantly looking for commercial locations they can visit in order to dig for these coveted crystals. The Diamond Acres property on northeastern Montgomery County is one of those properties.
Located in the town of Stone Arabia, near Canajoharie, New York, Diamond Acres is appropriately named. It is a tract of forested land where collectors can search for crystals in the soil and rock alike. For a dollar a day rockhounds can search the property and find great quartz crystals. Specimens can attain large sizes or show themselves as tiny, gemmy crystals that lead one to the recognition of where they acquired the nickname diamond.
My first visit to the location was on May 4th, 1994. As I look back, ten years since that date, it is easy to understand how it is so simple to become addicted to collecting these exceptional mineral specimens. On that day my Father and me arrived, paid out dollar each to the mine manager, Linda, and began working our way around the collecting area. The site was on a small rise, most of which was subdivided into plots called claims. These claims were areas where other collectors wanted to reserve the location for their personal collecting efforts. Each claim was roped in to mark its boundaries. Between the claims were trails for navigating around the several acres which the site encompassed, tailing piles and empty areas where visitors without claims could collect.
As we poked around trying to settle on a good location to dig we stumbled upon an abandoned claim. It was obviously a claim at one time because there was a six foot deep hole into the bedrock which was around eight feet square. Because this was one of the few claims that appeared abandoned I assumed that the previous tenants had little or no luck at the location. After digging here for a short time I found this assessment was probably not true. We quickly took to work breaking rock away from the lowest level of the dolostone which was the primary bedrock in the area. The rock was tough but in this location it was a bit weathered. This did allow us to get chisels between sections and to lever them out with our large pry bars. Before long we hit our first pocket. The rotted rock surrounding the pocket moved easily and soon we were pulling out mud covered Herkimer Diamonds (usually referred to as Herks) up to four inches in diameter. The quartz crystals were very impressive: clear, fully terminated on all sides and smoky in color. They had internal fracturing to a great degree but were impressive none the less. The crystals sometimes had large contact marks on their sides which indicated that they had been part of a cluster of crystals and could potentially be reassembled later. During the course of this first visit we hit not one but two of these large pockets. Each contained six to ten large Herks which Dad took with him to attempt and reassemble them. The following day we returned and found our third vug. This one contained crystals that were shattered and in poor condition, but, we were hooked anyway.
Our next visit to Diamond Acres was not until June 16th of that same year. We went back to the location of the abandoned claim only to find that someone had been doing lots of digging where we left off. It now became clear why someone would want to have a claim here. Why do lots of work removing rock only to have someone else come in after you to remove the crystals? This prompted us to inquire about taking this hole as our own claim. And so site #66 was started. Once our fees were paid the ropes went up. Little did we realize that this would be our home away from home for the next seven years of Herkimer Diamond collecting.
We returned numerous times that summer and began learning more about digging for Herks. It is tough work that can provide great rewards. As the summer progressed we found many pockets. I kept a journal of our progress and found that when we worked long hours the two of us could average two pockets per day. The widening of the hole brought on the problem of overburden removal. We had started our digging down on the pocket layer where all the vugs are encountered. Since the crystals are found exclusively on that horizon the six feet of rock above, referred to as overburden, had to be mined off first. We also discovered that much of the areas rock was far harder than the rock we had worked on our first visits. Chisels did not hold up to the constant pounding. We were soon told about using spring steel wedges (Walter, 2003) and found them to be far superior for removing rock. Further, they held up better than any commercially produced tool. As we began to graduate from the rookie phase of Herkimer Diamond collecting or success increased.
We soon learned that there were two horizons on which Herks could be found. The one we were already working was referred to as the Goony Pocket layer. This layer typically contained larger crystals which had greater numbers of internal flaws. Often found in clusters these diamonds could reach several pounds. The pockets themselves can reach sizes approaching six feet in diameter, though pockets of this size are most likely several different pockets which have had their walls decay forming a single opening. The pockets are normally barren with the exception of the diamonds themselves. Seldom will the Herks be attached to the wall rock. The second layer, known as the Jewelry Pocket layer, held smaller pockets that tended to hold better quality diamonds. The Herks form intact clusters and singles that are sometimes water clear. The pockets themselves are normally lined by a quartz crystal druze and diamonds are sometimes found attached to this. Anthraxolite, a coal like substance, is commonly found in these pockets, as well. Though it has no mineral value, it is interesting to speculate on how this organic substance came to reside in these pockets.
The most commonly accepted belief for the anthraxolites presence in Herkimer Diamonds, and the pockets themselves, throughout the central New York region revolves on the idea that these pockets are the remnants of large cabbage shaped algae mats (Moore, 1989). These Precambrian aged stromatolites left the voids which now contain the treasured Herks as well as the byproduct of organic decay, anthraxolite. The source of the quartz is a more hotly debated topic. Though the quartz is most likely brought into these openings by water transport there is still speculation on the exact mechanisms involved.
In the spring of 2001, after many years of successful collecting, we recognized that we were finally out of room at claim #66. All the perimeters of the claim had reached trails or other claims which bordered it. The management saw fit to allow us to keep our claim number and relocate to a new spot. Now the tough decision was upon us; where would we move to? Most sections of land toward the front of the property were under claim. As we searched it seemed clear we would need to move to the farthest reaches of the property. The land on the back of the property looked like a normal forest or wood lot. No serious digs were underway in this area so there were plenty of spots that might be suitable for our new claim.
The closest claim to us was owned by the Albany Rock and Mineral Club. One of their members showed us the workings of their claim. Based on what we observed there we estimated that we would need to dig straight down approximately eight feet before we could count on finding any substantial pockets. We quickly realized how spoiled we were at our first claim location since it was already excavated down to the Goony Pocket level. Most of the land here appeared to have one to two feet of soil which covered the dolostone. As a result there was no way to visually determine a good spot to start our new claim. What we really needed was a fracture or rotted area in order to make our downward progress more successful. Finding it would be a challenge due to the overlying soils.
To make this process easier I employed a technique I had learned about while collecting in Ontario, Canada. The locals there would probe for seams which could contain minerals with a long point (usually a four to six foot pry bar). They would not begin digging until they found a substantial depression or pattern such as a fracture or weathered seam. Using a stainless steel weight lifting bar with one end ground to a sharp point (this is one of my favorite and most versatile tools for mineral collecting) I explored the back area of this property for encouraging signs. After about a half day’s work I came upon an area in which the bar sunk up to four feet in different spots. What I believed I had found was a small water course or rotted region that would allow us to dig downward more affectively. The probing identified a soft area that was at least ten feet long and up to several feet wide. This area would need to fall within the confines of our new claim.
Next I roped off an area that represented the boundaries of our new dig site. With this completed the hard work began. Dirt removal came first and next began the arduous task of heading downward through the layers of strata. In this new location we found the upper layers of rock to be exceptionally hard for the property. Normally the upper layers tend to be somewhat softer due to weathering and the deepest layers the toughest. Here the upper layers were very much like what we had experience in the lowest levels of our first claim. As of the date of this writing we have moved downward through the first four feet of rock. The strange thing is that we have found several large pockets in these upper sections. This is not normal. The diamonds were similar to those that would be found on the goony layer. With time we will discover whether this is just a fluke or if there are other things going on that are unique to this section of the land.
Exploring in the soil for Herks can be a productive method of finding quartz at Diamond Acres, too. The problem is that much of the area is occupied by claims and much of the remaining area looks like regular forest. This becomes overwhelming and brings to question where to dig. If you are geared up to dig in soil only the answer is pretty
straight forward. You find a spot away from others claims and get to work digging. If you intend to dig in solid rock you need to choose you spots more carefully. Looking at other dig sites near where you wish to collect gives you an idea of where the pocket layer is. Because the stratum is almost horizontal you can predict how deep you will need to go down in order to find pockets yourself. Once to the appropriate level it is then just a matter of digging and luck. The pockets are randomly scattered on the Goony and Jewelry Pocket layers. At times the pockets can be found by poking through one pocket wall horizontally into a nearby pocket. The usual method, however, is to remove all the overburden first. The pocket layer is usually very tough going. Strength, patients, sturdy tools and experience are all allies.
Finding pockets and, in turn, Herkimer Diamonds is what most of us are doing all this hard work for. When you do find that first pocket there is still some work to follow. Break away the opening large enough to give you good access to the contents. Banging up a nice diamond trying to get it through a tiny hole is rather counterproductive. Better to make the hole large enough to haul out those five and six pound Herks in the first place! When you pull out the specimens keep the air temperature in mind. On warm spring days when the ground temperature is close to freezing and the air temperature is comfortable for us, a problem exists. If you take a Herk out of a cool pocket and place it in a warm environment it is likely to crack. I have actually listened to nice Herks crack and snap while being held in the warm hand of an inexperienced collector. On days like this I try to have a container of cold water next to the freshly opened pocket. As crystals are extracted they get placed into the water and are then allowed to warm up slowly over the next several hours. Being too anxious to handle your finds can lead to a destructive result. Once temperature stabilized has occurred then clean them off and begin admiring the fruits of you labor. I remember thinking that this was inaccurate the first time I heard it. Then I learned.
One spring day we were anxious to get out for the first time that season. When we arrived at the claim we were greeted by what many early season diggers discover in the spring after the winter snows melt. Instead of a hole in the rock, what we had looked more like a swimming pool. Three feet of water had to be bailed out by hand before any digging could take place. Once that chore was done digging continued where it had ended the previous season. After a short time we encountered the largest pocket we would ever find at this first claim. It was a monster, probably five or six intergrown pockets, which were at least five feet wide and went back into the wall further than I could reach with the aid of a three foot long pole.
As Herks were being removed and wiped clean I stopped to admire one of the larger crystals. While in my hand I heard what I had been told about so often. I began hearing tiny pops and creaks which indicated that the crystal was warming too fast and cracking. I was suddenly missing the water we had hated so much earlier. A quick trip to a nearby claim for a bucket of water solved the problem. Into it the crystals we removed went. There is no substitute for a first hand learning experience.
In most Goony Pockets the Herks will be found together in a group. Seldom will these crystals be attached to one another in their natural positions. More likely they will be mud/ clay covered individuals which will have contact marks on their sides where they once joined to each other. Clusters of a foot or more in size can be reconstructed once the individual Herks are fully cleaned and dry. This reconstruction is best accomplished using UV (ultraviolet) curing glues. Epoxy and so called super glues tend to yellow with age. Not good when reconstricting clear crystal clusters.
Herkimer Diamonds tend to be fairly predictable in regards to their overall form. You will, however, encounter oddities here and there. Sometimes Herks can take the form of more traditional crystals which have elongated “C” axis. Occasionally, tabular shaped Herkimer Diamonds show up, too. Larger Herks at Diamond Acres tend to take on a nice smoky color. It is a light tint that most collectors find highly desirable. Another thing to watch for is water, gas and solid inclusions within the crystals. These tiny internal openings are called enhydros. Tuttle (1973) gives a lengthy discussion as to the origins of these oddities. In general the solids are anthraxolite or sulfides, the liquids are fresh or salt water and the gases air or carbon dioxide. Researchers worldwide are investigating these inclusions to try and better determine the origins of these interesting crystals.
Enhydros within crystals are uncommon and often overlooked by collectors. They are usually small, only a few millimeters in size, and difficult to see. In exceptional
specimens they can be over a centimeter in length and contain all three forms of matter. One can tip the crystal from side to side and watch the bubble and, or, solids move around within the liquid. Enhydro crystals are very sensitive to temperature changes so they require more care than traditional crystals. The liquid inclusions can freeze and in turn the crystal might crack, break out a small section or shatter entirely. Heat can be even worse. When sat in direct sunlight the liquid inclusion behaves much like a miniature green house. Heat will build within it quickly and before you know it will have turned the water into steam. The steam, taking up so much more space, will also lead to the devastation of the crystal. Leaving the specimen in your car or on a coffee table in the light just once can create serious damage to a treasured piece.
Reaching Diamond Acres is easy. Take the Canajoharie exit (# 29) off of state thruway 90 east of Syracuse New York. Enter the town of Palatine Bridge just north of the thruway and proceed north on route #10 for approximately three miles. You will see a cross roads on which you turn right. Follow this side road for 2 and one half miles to a “Y” in the road. Here you go right and travel an additional 1 and three quarters of a mile until you see a small dirt driveway on your right. This is the entrance into the parking area. Pay your fees to Linda at the trailer and begin your own Herkimer Diamond adventure.
Moore, B. S., 1989. Herkimer diamonds, a complete guide for the prospector and collector. Phoenix Printing Company, p. 4 -5.
Tuttle, D. L., 1973. Inclusions in Herkimer diamond. Lapidary Journal, September, p. 966 – 976.
Walter, M. R., 2003. How to make and use spring steel wedges. Rock and Gem Magazine, June issue, p. 60 – 61.
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