Field Trip Reminiscences
- Bev and Mars Mikell
What inspires a person to become a “rockhound”? One of the primary motivations must be curiosity. How often does a child or an adult pick up a stone from a beach and wonder what the stone is, what gives it that color, and why it has a certain shape.
This was our experience, and curiosity pushed us to decide to learn more about these fascinating objects. A newspaper article inspired us to go to the Bancroft Gemboree. That was our first contact with minerals on a large scale and with collecting. Further researches led us to join the Walker Mineralogical Club in 1972, a decision that we have never regretted. The club provides a wonderful source of information on minerals and contact with other members who share our interest and enthusiasm.
As much as we enjoyed the variety of talks at club meetings, we wanted to start a collection of our own so that we could have minerals at home to study and enjoy. Various mineral shows with dealers were a source of supply, but with a young family, funds were limited for purchasing minerals. The solution was field collecting.
Our first major trip was two weeks in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in 1973. That trip was a wonderful training ground for novice collectors. It was led by Cliff Vickery who was well known for his thorough research of collecting sites, his knowledge of mineralogy and his excellent organization skills. Cliff’s reputation was such that any trip that he organized had an attendance of 20-30 people. Cliff encouraged us to join that trip and soothed our apprehensions that our two boys (aged 3 and 6) were too young to take on these excursions. That Quebec trip covered sites in the woods, in large quarries and an unforgettable day sitting in the sun in the middle of a picturesque river in the Eastern Townships panning for gold. We actually found some grains of gold!
Throughout the seventies we continued with field collecting on both long and short trips. The highlight was a three-week trip to Mexico in February of 1975. This again was organized by Cliff Vickery and was composed of a group of 28 including our two children and our resident expert, “Digger” Gorman. We traveled on our own bus and visited mining districts and tourist locations from Taxco to Chihuahua and back to Mexico City. One of the many highlights was an underground tour in Naica to see the famous “Cave of Swords”, a large cavern lined with gypsum crystals up to three feet in length; a spectacular sight. Fortunately, the Mexican miners had overcome their superstition against women underground so Bev and some other women were allowed on the tour.
The next long field trip was two weeks in southern British Columbia in 1978. The trip was organized by Court Saunders and Mars Mikell. We had an excellent guide named Alan Ingelson who had found time from his law studies to explore and collect extensively in British Columbia. Alan led us up mountains, down valleys and into large mines such as the Sullivan Mine. One interesting discovery was a mineral called tarbuttite, the first time that mineral had been found in Canada.
A weekend trip to the Sudbury area included an underground tour of the Falconbridge operation, and we were allowed to collect there. The company provided us with a lunch and an opportunity to meet some of their geologists, and it was an enjoyable occasion.
As we moved into the eighties, the club field trips concentrated on locations in Ontario and Quebec. The Eastern Townships of Quebec always provided excellent collecting, especially at Mont Saint-Hilaire with its unique mineralogy. A trip around Lake Superior had the bonus of wonderful scenery as well as good collecting at Wawa, Manitouwadge and Thunder Bay. The highlight of that trip was an underground tour at the Hemlo Gold Mine where we were presented with souvenir medals (not gold!) from the official opening.
An outstanding trip was organized by Dave Joyce in 1990 to northern Manitoba. We flew into Thompson, picked up two vehicles and headed west for Leaf Rapids. This was quite a start to the trip – driving through the pitch black night on a gravel road which ate tires, including one of ours. At Leaf Rapids, it was interesting to see how that northern mining town was constructed, with the motel, shopping and all facilities in one complex. For the underground tour of the Ruttan Mine, we descended a shaft, then walked down a ramp 1000 ft into the workings; a long slippery walk. Fortunately, we were able to take the cage back to the surface. Further collecting was done on the dumps. The next location on that trip was Snow Lake where we went underground in the Chisel Mine and also collected on the dumps. There was one memorable dump of iron-rich sphalerite, “Black Jack” with pyrite that just sparkled in the bright sun.
Back at Thompson, we visited the INCO T-3 Mine, again with an underground tour. Beautiful pyrite clusters were the highlight of the collecting there.
From Thompson, we flew to Winnipeg and picked up two vehicles for the drive to Bernic Lake, site of the famous Tanco Mine. We had an underground tour that was just fantastic. The tunnels had been enlarged into caverns that provided a unique collecting experience. The waste rock dumps were also productive. The mine yielded some fine specimens for us including spodumene, cesium-beryl, feldspar, columbite-tantalite, and quartz amongst other species.
That was a memorable trip, not only for the locations, but also for the scenery of golden aspens mixed with dark evergreens. Northern Manitoba must have the best roast beef sandwiches in the world!
The latest field trip was a week in 1994 to the Bay of Fundy area of Nova Scotia. This is always a wonderful location because all of the collecting is on the seashore where rock falls from the cliffs are continually providing fresh rock to investigate. Then there is the friendly hospitality of the Maritimers and the great seafood.
During the eighties a disturbing trend started to appear. Although all club members expressed interest in collecting and field trips, the response to announced field trips began to drop off steadily, including one trip that was attended by only three of us! Numerous discussions at council meetings have failed to reveal the reason for the lack of participation but hopefully the trend will reverse. The club has a good core of experienced collectors who are willing to help novices who want to learn about the joys of field collecting minerals.
We can only relate our reasons for continuing to field-collect minerals. Over the years we have started many good friendships on these trips and have visited areas that we, otherwise, may never have seen. Once eyes are dragged off rock piles, there are countless other things to see such as wild flowers, birds, animals, insects and scenery; many things to inspire great photography. Collecting with a group is always more fun – having someone to compare finds with, to help identify minerals and to help enlarge that huge pit that seems to hold the best material.
When consulted about their memories of these many trips, our sons James and Adam both say that they enjoyed the traveling, visiting unusual locations and even “roughing it” on the rock piles. They both have developed a love of traveling and admit that they can’t imagine living without a few minerals around.
Buying a mineral specimen for your own collection is always fun, but it can't compare to the excitement of personally finding a beautiful mineral specimen on a collecting trip. Those minerals will always provide happy memories for years to come!