Finding Scepters at Treasure Mountain, Little Falls, New York
As Published by Rock and Gem Magazine, February, 2002
by Michael Walter
Crossing Crystals Skeletal Crystal Black Crystals
My first trip to the Herkimer diamond site in Little Falls, New York called Treasure Mountain, was in the summer of 1998. While collecting Herkimers in Middleville my collecting partner and me met a young man who helped to manage the Little Falls location while it was initially being prospected. A group of individuals had recently purchased the 270 acre tract of fields and woodlands in the hopes of developing the area into another commercial site for collecting the beautiful quartz crystals know to most as Herkimer Diamonds (Herks.). We quickly accepted his invitation to go see the site first hand. The main reason this site intrigued us was not because it was new or that the owners were having good luck recovering quality crystals. What really attracted us was the discovery of sceptered Herks at this new site. We were new to the knowledge that Herkimer scepters even existed. Both my partner (also, my Father) and me being avid field collectors and mineral hounds in general found it strange that we would not have seen a specimen surface at some point in our travels. The thought of such a crystal specimen drove us to abandon our diggings and go to visit this location in Little Falls, NY.
We arrived at what appeared to be a large non-working farm. The location was south of the town of Little Falls, just off of interstate route 90. From what we were told this location and others in this general region had been producing quality Herkimer Diamond scepters for many years. All had been well guarded secrets, however, until quite recently. At the farm we all piled into a truck to continue across farm fields for approximately another mile. A ledge exposure was being cleared by use of track hoe at our destination. Large piles of fresh soil and rock were evidence that some some serious work had begun. We inspected the pocket layer, often referred to as the table layer, and shared our thoughts on the sites potential. I believed form all I could see that the site would be a fine one. As with other collecting sites the table layer was horizontal. The overburden that could be expected, even if the site were worked for decades, would be minimal. As the sun set over the horizon I was left to speculate as to what these Herkimer scepter crystals would actually look like.
Though we were invited back again the opportunity to do so was never realized
until late in the Fall of 1999. It was October 15th when my Father, called and
said he had found out the previous day that collecting at Treasure Mountain had
begun earlier that year. He informed me that the site was open for business and
was productive. My summer had been so busy collecting at other locations, doing
shows, investigating new finds and in September returning to my full-time job
teaching that I had not followed up on the progress being made in Little Falls.
The next day we would make our first trip to the site to collect.
We arrived at the site at 7:30 AM. No small task considering my drive was over four hours and my Dads almost as long. The site manager, Chris Phetteplace took our 10 dollar collecting fees and we inspected the cases of minerals on display in their shop. Most of the materials were from the mine. Mainly crystals similar to the other locations throughout the central part of New York, but, also small scepters of quartz that made an immediate impact. These were the very first I had seen. The sceptered crystals were unlike most scepters I was familiar with. Dark anthraxolite included stalks terminated by clear, often skeletal, Herkimer Diamond tips. They were both unusual and beautiful. Some were even double terminated, these being referred to a ³dumbbells². There was a good selection of pieces to be had at the shop. 10 dollars to many hundreds of dollars could put you onto one of these specimens that had been the best guarded secret for so many years.
Since we wanted our specimens of these unusual crystals to be self collected we needed to get to work. By 8:30 we were at the ledge were enormous amounts of digging had gone on before our arrival. A long section of ledge was being worked along its entire length. The exposure looked to be at least 150 yards long. A great deal of the overburden had been bulldozed away so that collectors would only need to remove 3 to 5 feet of rock to reach the clearly visible table layer. This was very exciting considering how deep one has to dig at most commercial sites to reach this layer. At many it can exceed 10 feet and in our claim at Diamond Acres it was well over eight feet. In any case this rock is often very hard and the less overburden you have to move the better. At Treasure Mountain customers are allowed to use any hand tools they wish and can find as many pockets as they desire.
There was a knob that only had about two feet of over burden and was approximately six feet long and three feet deep. No one was digging here so this would be our point of attack. For this type of digging heavy tools are a great help. Overburden is not an overwhelming challenge to remove. The layers can be split off with a moderate amount of arm work. Wedges, spring steel and good pry bars are excellent tools for this part of the job. The layer of rock in which the pockets are found is nothing short of bullet proof. You can destroy a lot of good tools trying to establish a crack in this rock. We tend to use spring steel to expand, or make, cracks in this layer. More about this later.
Triple Branching Scepter Scepter with Calcite Multiple Scepters
The first good chunk of table layer rock that we extracted reviled a small
pocket. By small I mean around eight inches in diameter and four inches in
depth. As we were to find, this seemed to be more of an average pocket size in
the area we had selected. The pocket contained numerous nice specimens. They
appeared to be a cluster that had once been attached to the base of the pocked
and were now scattered about freely in the open space. All of the crystals were
in the one to three inch range and there were about eight or nine total. They
all had a thin coating of clay covering their surfaces. None looked broken or in
any other way damaged. A great start.
As the day progressed we were realizing how good the collecting here really was. At most locations we had worked in our ten or so years of collecting Herks we could usually find only one or two pockets on average per day. This is with two of us working very hard. By the end of the day we had extracted five quality pockets as well as numerous minors ones. It did not seem that we could remove a chunk of this table layer without uncovering a pocket of some form. Most of the pockets contained diamonds. Once in a while we would encounter a dry pocket, one containing no crystals, but most of these seemed to interconnect with another pocket which inevitably would have Herks.
The real question was, where were the scepters? By noon we had worked several
pockets and recovered many nice crystals but none of them were scepters. These
crystals were as good as or better in quality than most sites I had worked in
the past. The only notable differences being that these usually had more
inclusions of anthraxolite and more skeletal crystals were being encountered.
Shortly after lunch I opened a pocket which ended up being split right down the
middle. It was like braking an egg for an omelet. The contents of the pocket
emptied in front of me on the flat dolostone slab. I inspected several nice
crystals up to three inches in size and then quite unexpectedly a small piece of
clay and a small diamond came rolling out of the section of pocket still in the
wall. It clinked its way across the hard rock and came to rest beside its
brothers and sisters in the wad of mud that I had been inspecting. My first
thought was that can¹t be good for the specimen!
I went back to looking over the larger crystals for only a moment when it hit me that that roller didn¹t look quite right. I picked it up and immediately realized we had our first scepter. I guess I had been expecting something different: a dark stem with a clear termination, maybe even a dumbbell or perhaps in my wildest dream... a matrix specimen. This was none of these. This little beauty was a clear crystal only about 2 centimeters in diameter with two small stalks of dark quartz each with clear sceptered caps. It was a floater with no visible attachment points anywhere on its surface. In reality it was a small branching scepter specimen. How had this fragile looking piece not broken on its two foot tumble across the rock platform? Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
After the 1999 collecting season the staff and owners of Treasure Mountain encountered trying times. The city of Little Falls refused to grant the organization a permit to continue their collecting and commercial mine operations. The site was closed to the public and the collecting ended, temporarily.
After a long hiatus the Treasure Mountain Diamond Mine was granted a temporary permit to operate in the spring of 2001. At first word was slow to get out. I arrived in May and besides one other collector had the place to myself. By Memorial Day weekend the flocks were arriving. Those who had been anxiously awaiting the reopening were happy to return to Treasure Mountain to collect Herkimer diamonds.
When they arrived collectors found hundreds of feet of exposed wall rock which they could work. In some spots the wall was excavated all the way down to the table layer while in others the wall rock was upwards of six feet high. On average there was about four feet of overburden to remove to reach the pocket layer. Compared to other collecting sites this allows for a dramatic reduction in the work required to find quality crystals.
Many collectors, especially those with children, elect to break rock already removed by others instead of attacking the wall themselves. This method has been extremely productive leading to some of the best finds in the history of the mine. Simply cracking open rocks can reveal pockets missed by others.
On this first visit of the 2001 collecting season I elected to attack several knobs of rock that stuck out in relief further than the rest of the wall. These knobs are usually left behind by other collectors because they are composed of the hardest rock found at the mine. Many collectors are not prepared with the proper equipment to tackle these areas or give up when they encounter the extreme difficulties involved with breaking into this rock. Many collectors, including mine manager, Chris Phetteplace, believe the best specimens are found in this ³hard rock².
Scepters and Skeletal crystals
As we broke our way through the softer regions on the perimeters of a hard rock
knob we found the going quite easy. Even the table layer lifted and shattered
with only moderate effort. Throughout this region the pockets were larger, more
spread out and contained poorer quality crystals.
Once we reached the knob itself progress slowed to a snails pace. This was the hardest rock we had yet to encounter at Treasure Mountain. Even the layers above the table layer were dense and void of cracks. Eventually, we were able to set a large spring steel wedge below the table layer in an extremely (almost nonexistent) mud crack. Spring steel is simply car leaf springs cut down in size and ground down on one end into a wedge. Once positioned we took turns hammering the steel home with a 20 pound sledge hammer. This was slow going but in time we secured a second and then a third wedge directly on the first. Soon the tell-tail signs of cracking rock began. After swinging a sledge hammer for an extended period of time it was relieving to finally see a major section of rock face release.
Once freed we were surprised to see little in the way of pockets. A section of this large (approximately four feet long by two feet deep) would normally contain several nice pockets. A demoralizing result to say the least. Several small pockets showed promise. They contained small skeletal crystals and, to our surprise, lots of dark powdery anthraxolite. The last section of this knob represented the last two-thirds of its total mass. We had a tough time getting motivated to tackle its removal late in the day so we chose to try once again the next morning.
On our third day we again faced off with this hard rock knob and began setting steel wedges. Before too long this entire section was broke loose as one massive five foot long by three foot deep by three foot thick chunk. No pockets were revealed behind the section so we began breaking it up with chisels and the sledge hammers. We found lots of smaller pockets packed with anthraxolite similar to pockets in the last large section removed the day before. Finally, we hit a larger pocket approximately 10 inches long by three inches wide and two inches deep. This pocket was the best we would find on the trip. Five scepter specimens were removed and all except one were between one and two inches in length. They had very short stems that were anthraxolite included. The fifth was a smaller scepter but it was on a dolomite matrix. All the hard work had finally paid off.
The minerals found at Treasure Mountain are somewhat typical of those found at other Herkimer diamond mines in the region. Double terminated quartz crystals can be found as singles or groups both on and off the dolomite, massive and crystalline, matrix. They are exquisitely formed and make wonderful display pieces. The crystals range from almost invisible to many inches in size. Average crystals are in the one to two inch range.
Unusual varieties in the quartz seems to be more prevalent at Treasure Mountain than other areas. Scepter crystals are the obvious variety being sought after, but, skeletal crystals, enhydro and other unusual inclusions such as goethite and pyrite are commonly encountered. Most crystals have dark black anthraxolite inclusions to one degree or another. These hydrocarbon inclusions provide uniqueness and character to the specimens from this site.
The calcite crystals from Treasure Mountain are often well formed and attractive. Though usually gray in color they can also be various shades of yellow, white, or close to clear. Their surfaces are often frosted or etched. Rarely are the surfaces smooth and of high luster. Clusters of calcites can reach sizes exceeding half a foot in diameter and are usually attached to the dolomite matrix.
Combination specimens including both quartz and calcite can be very interesting. The calcite forms after and sometimes partially, or fully, encases the quartz. It could be argued that some of the calcite and quartz combination specimens are the most attractive and valued specimens found at Treasure Mountain. They are not usually large in size but are often unique in their form and crystal arrangement. Quartz can often be recovered by taking home the massive calcite found in some pockets and etching it away with mild acid to reveal the Herkimer diamond specimens hidden within. Scepter crystals can sometimes even be found using this method.
Directions: Locating the Treasure Mountain Diamond Mine is a simple task. Take exit 29A off the New York State thruway at Little Falls. Once you go through the toll booth proceed down the hill and take your first left onto route 169. Follow this route for a quarter mile and then turn right onto route 5S. Approximately two miles further (almost all uphill) you will find the mine entrance and shop on your right. Here you must pay your collecting fees and receive further directions to the dig site on Fall Hill which is located about one mile onto the property (G.P.S. reading N 43 01 degrees, 915¹ by W 074 50 degrees, 949¹ at an elevation of approximately 750 ft.). Camping on site is permitted. As yet, the facilities are primitive. In the future running water and showers are to be installed.
As of this writing fees are 10 dollars for adults and five dollars for seniors over 60 and children under 12 years of age. Camping is 10 dollars per party a night. The web site for Treasure Mountain can be found at www.treasuremt.com Contacting personnel at the mine is easy. They can be reached by phone at (315)823-ROCK. The mine is open seven days a week during the collecting season. It is recommended that you call ahead to be sure the mine is open before leaving on your collecting trip to this fantastic site.
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