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.



Bisbee Arizona

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall

In the late 1870’s a man by the name of Lt. Dunn was out on a scouting mission against the Apache Indians. While in this detail he came across some interesting rocks, which he collected and took to a prospector by the name of George Warren. With Dunn unable to stake a claim due to his military duties Warren and Dunn became partners. It wasn’t long until Warren had a change of heart and he got some new partners and some new claims leaving Dunn out of the deal.

With more and more individuals staking claims it wasn’t long before the big companies came in to buy up the smaller claims to bring them into production. In the 1880’s Bisbee began producing copper in small quantities. Phelps Dodge Corporation, through a subsidiary of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, soon became the sole operator of the mining in Bisbee. And with its base in Bisbee Phelps Dodge became one of the largest producers of copper in the United States.

With almost 100 years of continuous production the mines closed down in 1975. But in that time frame Bisbee mines are estimated to have produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (in 1975 standards) one of the largest production values of all the mining districts in the world. It took almost a century but Bisbee was able to produce 8,032,352,000 lbs. of copper, 2,871,786 ounces of gold, 77,162,986 ounces of silver, 304,627,600 lbs. of lead and 731,945,900 lbs. of zinc!

Not only did Bisbee produce massive amounts of metals, Bisbee is also well known for its high quality turquoise known as Bisbee Blue. However the Bisbee Blue turquoise isn’t the only by-product of the copper mining. Bisbee is also noted for producing some of the most beautifully astounding copper –based minerals and specimens. These specimens can be found in museums around the world. Some of the minerals that have been found under Bisbee include cuprite, aragonite, wulfenite, malachite, azurite, and galena.

But with the mines closing down in 1975 the beautiful town of Bisbee was in danger of becoming another mining ghost town. But with its picturesque views and temperate climate Bisbee was soon flooded with artists and hippies. And then in the 1990’s baby boomers discovered Bisbee and brought with them a more polished look. Today the original town of Bisbee is known as “Old Bisbee” and is a thriving cultural scene visited by floods of tourists each year.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Bisbee is the old Copper Queen Mine. When the mines were shut down in the 70’s the town quickly jumped in and renovated the old mine. The volunteers cleared thousands of tons of rock and repaired the old timber. These volunteers received assistance from local individuals and groups who furnished support and food for the workers. And in 1976 the Copper Queen Mine Tour was officially open for business. Since then, more than a million visitors, from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries, have enjoyed a ride onto the mountain to get a brief glimpse of the world of mining.



Tombstone, AZ

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


In 1877 prospector Ed Schieffelin was staying at Camp Huachuca while searching the nearby hills for riches in gold and silver. The entire region was littered with the graves of the many white victims who had fallen prey to bands of renegade Indians. So when the locals heard of Schieffelin venturing into such dangerous territory they told him the only thing he would find would be his tombstone. But in February of 1878, Schieffelins gamble paid off when he discovered several mines including the Lucky Cuss, Tough Nut, and other reputable mines. And remembering the solemn warning he received, he named the town Tombstone.

From the years 1877 to 1890 Tombstone mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion (about $1.03 billion to $2.2 billion today), producing more silver than any other district in Arizona. In less than 7 years the population of the little boomtown grew from 100 people to over 14,000, and was therefore chosen as the county seat of the newly formed Cochise County.

The value of gold and silver mined in tombstone varies greatly. It is estimated that Tombstone has yielded around 32 million troy ounces. Most of this being before the mid-1880’s when the silver mines hit the water table.

With the water covering all of their silver ore deposits, many mine managers traveled to San Francisco to obtain the Cornish engine. The Cornish engine was used in the Comstock Lode and was the only machine capable of pumping water form mines below 400 feet. The engines were implemented in the Contention and Grand Central mines. By 1884 mining in Tombstone was back in full swing, largely due to the fact that the massive Cornish engines were not only draining the Contention and the Grand Central mines but many of the surrounding mines as well.

Tombstone’s status as a boomtown came to an end in May of 1886 when a fire swept through the Grand Central hoist and pumping plant. With the Cornish engine destroyed and the price of silver dropping to 90 cents an ounce, many people packed up and left town to find much needed work. The population dwindled to a low of about 800 in the early 20th century but has since stabilized to about 1,500 permanent residents. Tombstone’s economy is now based on tourism instead of mining, although there are still a few active mines in the area.

So if you get a chance to be in beautiful southern Arizona don’t forget to stop by Tombstone and check out this great attraction. With many locals dressed the part the whole town comes alive to give you an old west experience you won’t soon forget.




Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


Amethyst is a purple variety of quartz and is the highest valued member of the quartz family. It ranges in hues from light pinkish violet to a deep purple, with the highest quality amethyst being a deep medium purple with rose colored flashes. Due to its purple color, amethyst was the stone of royalty for thousands of years.

The amethyst gemstone only comes in purple. Green quartz is often incorrectly identified as green amethyst but its proper name is actually Prasiolite. Prasiolite is also known as vermarine or lime citrine.
Amethyst is found in geodes and in alluvial deposits worldwide and occurs in both crystalline and massive forms. Amethyst is formed when clear quartz contains manganese but the depth of the color purple is determined by the amount of iron contained in the specimen.

The name amethyst comes from the Greek word “amethystos” which translates to “not drunken”. Amethyst was believed to be a strong antidote for drunkenness, which resulted in many wine goblets to be carved from this beautiful gemstone.

Up until the 18th century, amethyst was included amongst the most valuable gemstones ( along with diamonds, rubies, sapphire, and emerald). However, many large deposits have been discovered in many locations, causing it to lose most of its value and making it affordable for more people to own this beautiful purple gem.



Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


Garnets have been used as gemstones and abrasives since the Bronze Age. They fall into the “semi-precious” group of gemstones, which means they are pretty but fairly common.

There are many different species of garnets all of which fall into two solid solution series: pyrope-almandine-spessarite and uvarovite-grossularite-andradite. With so many different kinds of garnet we get many different colors as well. Garnets range in colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, pink, and colorless. The blue garnet is by far the rarest; it was thought that they didn’t even exist. That is until the late 1990’s when pieces of this rare gem were discovered in Bekily, Madagascar.

But when we think of garnets we think of the beautiful dark red color we are all familiar with. Many garnets have the dark red coloring but the almandine is the most commonly used species. Almandine has many nicknames including Oriental garnet, almandine ruby, and carbuncle.

But let’s not forget that garnets also have a more practical application: abrasives. Garnet sand is commonly used as a replacement for silica sand in sand blasting. When mixed with very high pressure water, garnets are used to cut steel and other materials in water jets. Garnet sand is also used for water filtration and garnet paper is used for finishing bare wood.



Fort Knox

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


When people think of stacks and stacks of gold bars hidden in a vault they think Fort Knox, but that isn’t accurate. The building people are thinking of is actually called the United States Bullion Depository, which is located adjacent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. The USBD is used to store a large portion of the United States official gold reserves. The remaining gold reserves are held in other various locations under the supervision of the United States Mint.

The facility was made necessary in 1933 when U.S President F. D. Roosevelt issued and Executive Order stating that it was illegal for private citizens to own gold bullion, gold coins, and gold certificates, forcing them to sell these to the Federal Reserve. This made the value of the gold held by the Federal Reserve to increase from $4 billion to $12 billion in just four years. And with this sudden influx of gold the U.S. Treasury Department found themselves with a large gold reserve and no place to put it.

In December 1936 the Depository was completed at a cost of $560,000 or about $8.5 million in today’s dollars. It was built with 16,000 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel, and 670 tons of structural steel. The vault is protected by a blast-proof door weighing 22 tons which can only be accessed by Depository staff who must dial separate combinations known only to them. For security reasons, no visitors are permitted on depository grounds. This policy was introduced when the Depository was first established.

Today the current holdings are 147.2 million oz. troy, roughly 2.5% of all the gold ever refined throughout human history. The gold is in the form of 368,000 standard 400 oz. troy gold bars. At the June 17, 2012 rate of $1,618.82 an ounce the gold in the Depository is worth $238.290 billion. Although not all of the gold bars are of the same purity. The mint gold bars are nearly pure gold where as the “coin bars”, which are made from melted gold coins, are only 90% gold. But not all the gold is in the form of bars, the Depository also holds monetary gold coins.

The Depository is so well known for its collection of gold that people forget that many other rare and valuable items have been stored there as well. During World War II the depository held the original U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. It also held one of four copies of the Magna Carta along with the Crown of St. Stephen, part of the Hungarian crown jewels.



Copper Fun Facts

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall


Copper Fun Facts

  • The Statue of Liberty, in New York, contains over 179,000 pounds of copper mined in Norway.
  • Chefs worldwide prefer to use copper cookware due to its uniform heating with no hot spots.
  • One of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Israel was found to be made of copper, unlike the others that were written on animal skins.
  • The ancient Egyptians used the ankh symbol to represent copper in their hieroglyphs. It also means eternal life.
  • Copper can be combined with tin to make bronze and with zinc to make brass.
  • The average American home contains 400 pounds of copper. It is found in electrical wiring, pipes, and appliances.
  • The average American will use 1500 pounds of copper just to maintain todays standard of living. (Cell phones, computers, cars, etc.)
  • Copper is 100% recyclable and it is estimated that 80% of the copper we have ever produced is still in use today. This is because copper can be recycled without any changes to its properties and it retains 95% of its value.
  • Copper tools are frequently used when working around explosives due to the fact that they don’t cause sparks.
  • Copper is a naturally occurring antibacterial. It is used to make brass doorknobs, fingerplates, and handrails for many public places where bacteria is most likely to spread.





The Atocha Shipwreck

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Writing on the Treehouse Wall

The Nuestra Seniora de Atocha more commonly known as The Atocha is one of the most famous Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of the Florida Keys. It was sunk in 1622 during a severe hurricane near the Dry Tortugas.

The Atocha had loaded up on gold, silver, copper, tobacco, gems, jewels, jewelry, and indigo from Cartagena, Colombia, Porto Bello, and Havana headed to Spain. The ship had met with many delays which kept it from its rendezvous in Havana with the Tierra Firme Fleet. The 28-ship convoy didn’t leave for Spain until September 4th, 1622, well into the hurricane season that begins in late July.

Due to the fact that the Atocha was a military escort it was the first choice of many wealthy passengers and was loaded down with an extraordinarily large percentage of the fleet’s treasures. During the storm the Atocha was lifted by a wave and smashed into the coral reefs and with its heavy load of treasure it was instantly dragged to the bottom. Everyone on board drowned except three sailors and two slaves.

When news reached Havana, Spanish authorities launched salvage operations on the Atocha and the other four ships that also sank in the storm. The Atocha sank in about 55 feet of water making the salvage effort near impossible. A second hurricane in October scattered the wreckage even more making it a lost cause.

Since the Atocha was unsalvageable it was soon forgotten and lost altogether. That is until American treasure hunter Mel Fisher spent over 16 years combing the ocean bottom for any sign of the lost Spanish vessel. In 1985 Mel’s son, Kane, radioed the news to Treasure Salvors headquarters that the search was over. The Atocha had been located. It was found in 55 feet of water exactly were the first salvagers had recorded it.

The items that have been salvaged form the Atocha have been valued upwards of half a billion dollars. But one of the most exquisite pieces found was in June 2011. Divers recovered an antique emerald ring worth an estimated $500,000. With the amount of new artifacts still being found, Mel Fisher’s company estimates that there is an additional half billion dollars worth of treasure still waiting to be discovered.