Archive for October, 2012

Lost Gold Mines

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


Since the beginning of time man has had an obsession with gold. This fact has led to one of the most significant events to take place in the United States, the gold rush of 1849 in California. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s mine people started flocking to the state to make their fortunes in mining. But finding the gold to mine proved to be harder than many men had originally thought. Even today many believe it is easier to find a lost mine than to discover a new location.

There are many stories and legends of lost mines and many of these legends are based on facts which lend them certain credibility. But like any story told and retold, it changes over the years and details get changed or simply lost. So where there may have been a credible story of a lost fortune, we now have legends with so many variations they are sure to remain merely stories we pass along to our children.

Two of the most famous tales of lost treasure are Peg Leg’s Lost Mine and The Lost Dutchman Mine.

The story of Peg Leg’s Lost Mine starts with a man by the name of Thomas Smith. Smith lost his leg due to an unfortunate injury he obtained on a trapping expedition, thus earning him the name Peg Leg. The legend begins in the late 1820’s with Peg Leg and another member of a trapping party setting off for Los Angeles to sell their supply of pelts. While on their journey through the desert, Peg Leg had gathered some heavy black pebbles he came across on top of a butte in Colorado. He had gathered the pebbles thinking they were copper but he later discovered they were gold. Unfortunately for Peg Leg he did not immediately return to the Colorado Desert to make his fortune. He waited 20 years before he returned in search of those valuable black pebbles. But despite repeated attempts, Peg Leg was never able to locate that butte he had found so long ago.

Now where as Peg Leg’s Lost Mine is really just a placer deposit, The Lost Dutchman Mine is an actual mine, (rumored to be, anyways). This mine is believed to be located in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. The various stories of this lost mine vary so greatly it is impossible to tell which one is the more accurate version. But the most popular ones center on a man by the name of Jacob Waltz.

Waltz claimed to have located an extremely lucrative mine once owed by a family by the name of Peralta. He allegedly worked the mine and possibly hid caches of gold in the Superstitions. There are records of Waltz transporting and selling gold valued up to $254,000. And on his deathbed he is rumored to have told his nurse Julia Thomas the location of his secret mine. But despite many attempts, The Lost Dutchman Mine has never been found.

But not only has the mine never been found, many lives have been lost in the search for this elusive treasure. It is estimated that up to 150 lives have been forfeited to the Arizona desert since the legend of the mine surfaced. And not all of the deaths are blamed on the elements. Many of the men that have died are believed to have met with foul play, and several of the treasure hunters tell tales of being followed while on their quest for gold, thus adding to the mystery and superstition that surround these mountains.

Who knows if any of these legends are true, but they make for fun stories to tell your children. What child doesn’t dream of finding hidden treasure? And who knows, maybe someone will put some of these stories to rest by actually finding some amazing treasure. We can dream, can’t we?

Colorado Desert                            Gold Ore                         Superstition Mountains



Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


Obsidian is an igneous rock that is formed when felsic lava from a volcano is cooled so rapidly that the atoms are not able to form into a crystalline structure. Obsidian is mineral-like, but is not considered a true mineral because a glass cannot be crystalline in structure and it is too complex to be a single mineral. Obsidian is usually an extrusive rock – one that forms above Earth’s surface. Some of the places obsidian is known to form include along the edges of lava flows, where lava contacts water, and where lava cools while airborne.

Due to its unique composition obsidian is chemically unstable. As time passes obsidian begins to crystallize, a process that is accelerated by water. But crystallization doesn’t occur at a predictable and uniform rate throughout the rock. Obsidian crystallizes at random places within the rock creating radial clusters of grey or white cristobalite crystals. When cut and polished these specimens are known as “snowflake obsidian”. Eventually the obsidian will become fine-grained mineral crystals. Because of this process no obsidian has ever been found that is older than the Cretaceous period.

Snowflake obsidian is not the only interesting form of the rock. It is commonly known to form in colors such as black, brown and green. And on rare occasions it can form into blue, red, orange, or yellow obsidian. Sometimes two different colored obsidians will swirl together into one specimen. Black and brown are most commonly found together. This is called “mahogany obsidian”. But some of the most beautiful forms of obsidian are the “rainbow obsidian” and the “golden obsidian”. These have an amazing iridescent or metallic sheen to them caused by light reflecting off of tiny inclusions of crystals, rock, or gas caught in the specimen when it was cooling.

As beautiful as obsidian is it also has a practical use. When broken, obsidian fractures into pieces with curved surfaces caused by a conchoidal fracture. This kind of fracture can result in an extremely sharp edge. So sharp, it is possible to have a cutting edge many times sharper than high quality steel surgical scalpels. In one study they found the obsidian blade to leave narrower scars and less inflammatory cells. But despite the studies done on obsidian uses in surgery it has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Due to its many uses as a cutting tool and its easy identification, obsidian was one of the first targets of organized “mining”. The use of obsidian tools dates back to the Stone Age. The people used obsidian for arrowheads, knife blades, spear points, and scrapers. The discovery of tons of obsidian flakes suggests the presence of ancient factories that were probably operational for decades. With obsidian having so many uses to the ancient people it was very valuable and traded often. Obsidian and obsidian objects have been found up to a thousand miles from its source.



Silver and Copper Crystals

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall

How do you grow such beautiful copper and silver crystals?

First we start with an electrolytic refining cell. This kind of cell is generally used to refine silver, copper, and gold. But during the refining process silver and copper are capable of forming crystals. Gold will not crystallize it only plates out, which works great for refining but isn’t nearly as beautiful.

Next we create our solution. When growing silver crystals we take and dissolve pure silver granules into nitric acid and purified water using a boiling process. The process is complete when the granules are dissolved and the PH has risen from a 0 to a PH of 4. This solution is called an electrolyte solution and contains approximately 20 oz of silver per gallon.

Now we take our electrolyte solution and pour it into the cell. A cell should be anywhere from two to four gallons. Then we take and submerge our plates. One plate is at least 92% pure silver and the other is stainless steel. Once the plates are submerged and secured we hook up the electricity. We attach the positive lead to the silver plate (anode) and the negative lead to the steel plate (cathode). Then using a DC trickle charge we run approximately one and a half volts through the cell.

As the electricity runs through the cell the plate of pure silver starts to slowly dissolve. But as fast as the silver is dissolving into the solution the silver is being deposited onto the steel plate in the form of crystals. This is called an ion exchange.

As the silver plate is dissolving it gives off a black sludge so a fine cloth bag is placed around the plate to collect the sludge for easier cleaning. This sludge contains all of the impurities from the silver plate. In this process an impurity is anything that isn’t silver such as gold, tin, zinc, and lead, but not copper. Copper is dissolved into the solution. So when the solution turns a dark blue color it is time to discard it, but not before the silver is removed to be used again.

It takes about 24 hours for average crystals to form and three to four days for the bigger heavier ones. Once the crystals reach the desired size the plates are removed from the solution and the crystals are scraped off and cleaned with distilled water and allowed to air dry.

There are several factors that influence how a crystal will form. The amount of electricity running through the cell, the amount of silver in the solution, even the temperature (the crystals prefer the warmer temperatures).

The process for creating copper crystals is the same as with the silver, we simply switch out the silver and steel plates for copper ones and the silver granules with copper wire. And to create the copper crystals on the pennies we simply attach some copper pennies to one of the plates and watch them grow.