YOUTH RESOURCES REPORT
As our guest editorial for this month, we are submitting the
HOME . . . . SWEET HOME
Is there one mineral that catches your eye no matter where you are and no matter what else you are trying to concentrate on? One that always seems elusive, because, like a true rockhound, you want to collect it, but for some reason you can't? I feel that way about rhodochrosite. From the minute I knew what rhodochrosite was, it seems that I have been searching for that perfect rhombohedron. From gem show to gem show, I have looked for the ultimate specimen for my collection ... a beautiful showy, and expensive, piece from the Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado. However, until August, I was a lowly graduate student with no budget to speak of So I drooled and dreamed. In Rock and Gem magazine, I read about the miners at Sweet Home finding the Alma King. I also read about the Denver Museum of Natural History's acquisition of both it and the huge Sweet Home wall of rhodochrosite for its permanent exhibit. After reading about that, I found myself wishing that lived in a state that wasn't so far from Colorado. I always said that somehow I would get to Denver to see them, but I wasn't really sure how.
My chance came this past summer, when Camp Carver, the geology camp for kids that I work with, decided to take its trip to ... COLORADO! I couldn't wait! Our first stop was the Denver Museum, where I fin0y got to see the Alma King and the Wall. Not only was I in awe of what I saw, but my campers were, too. We didn't want to leave. I almost decided that the small corridor of the museum where the wall is, would make a lovely home. As we were leaving our first camp site and heading toward our second, our camp director made a huge mistake. He nonchalantly told me that the Sweet Home Mine was about half an hour away. My heart started to race. I couldn't believe my luck. If we were that close to the mine, surely, I could work something out--maybe not a collecting trip, but at least a chance to see the mine whose specimens had eluded me for so long. I started looking at our geologic guide books trying to see if the company that owns the mine ever lets groups visit. One of the books gave a place to call to find information, spent the next hour talking to people and explaining our situation. A nice lady in Alma finally gave me the name of Brian Lees. Mr. Lees is in charge of a group of investors, The Collector's Edge of Golden, Colorado, who own the Sweet Home now. I called him, and to my excitement, he said one little word that made my heart leap into my throat, "Yes!" He said that as long as we were careful, we could hunt the Sweet Home dumps
The next morning, we loaded I I kids, who were more excited than I had seen them on the entire trip, and 12 adults who were even more excited than the youngsters, and headed to Alma. As we neared the Sweet Home, it was easy to picture how the area must have looked when it was being actively mined, with the old claims high on the Mountainside. My excitement mounted, and after what felt like forever, we rounded the bend, and there it was-The Sweet Home Mine, walked up the small hill to the main mine building, a little tin equipment shack, to let the miners know who we were and that we had permission to be there. Once I got to the top, I was so breathless and dizzy that I didn't know if it was the 14,000 foot elevation of the mine or my excitement in finally getting to see and hunt at the mine that had for so long been my favorite. I was introduced to Dean, the geologist of the mine. After the rest of the group gathered at the top of the hill, we listened to Dean tell us all sorts of stories about the mine. He told us about being one of the first to enter the pocket that has become famous as the Wall in Denver. He said as he entered the pocket, a huge rhodochrosite rhombohedron, just barely smaller than the Alma King, fell out of the ceiling and hit him on the nose. He also told us that he was the one who devised the strategy for reaching the pocket, The miners didn't think it would work and wanted to stop several times, but once they found it, everyone agreed that his idea had been a good one. He also told us a little about the geology of the area and tried to explain how the rhodochrosite got into the mine in the first place. Even though the terminology was a little difficult for the kids to understand, they listened, enthralled by what he was saying.
Then he told us something that made my heart start racing, again. He said that the day before, the miners had been blasting their way to a new pocket and that we could hunt in the pile of rock they had brought up. No one else had looked in the pile yet. I couldn't believe it; not only did I get to see the actual mine entrance, talk to the mine's geologist, but I was going to get a chance to hunt in a pile of new Sweet Home material. After about thirty seconds, my excitement was rewarded, I found my first perfect rhombohedron. At the same time, one of the kids shouted about something they had found, and it continued like that for the entire time we were there. We found big rhombs, little rhombs, huge cc garden-rock" sized boulders with beautul rhodochrosite and sphalerite crystals, and several incredible show quality specimens. We even got to watch the shift change at the mine, with the miners coming in and out with their yellow rain jackets and hard hats on. I could not believe how lucky I had. By the time we left, I had filled up a ten gallon Rubbermaid tub with my stash. I even found that ultimate collection piece I had been wanting for so long And didn't have to buy it! On top of that, I had found several other specimens that I never in a million years could have afforded. The rest of the trip, none of us could quit talking about the fun and finds of the Sweet Home Mine.
For a mine I never thought I would get to see, much less collect-one that I believed to be totally beyond reach, the Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado has become the highlight of my entire rockhounding experience. I had gotten to do something I had only dreamed of, and now I just want to go back Home . . . . Sweet Home!
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