Princess Pat SoCal Fluorescent Mineral Society Trip October 2014

Princess Pat SoCal Fluorescent Mineral Society Trip October 2014

Ah my first foray into the hobby. After about 20 emails and multiple attempts to get things going I finally managed to organize a trip for new members of the Fluorescent Mineral Society (myself included). It was quite an exciting time for all of us as hosts Jan Wittenberg and Jeff Wilmot showed us around the Princess Pat Mine. We started out collecting some nice small root beer colored garnets and poorly terminated quartz. Quite boring looking back on it haha. 

However, as the sun set that's when our group's calling came into play. Fluorescent minerals. Everyone starts plugging their shortwave UV lights into their batteries, dawns appropriate clothing, and began the hunt. As someone who had never done this it was incredibly hard to contain my excitement. Never before had I seen a boring landscape of browns, whites, and grey become so alive. The UV lights absolutely transformed the area I was walking just minutes before into a garden of color. There were oranges (caliche), greens (hyalite), whites (aragonite), blues (scheelite), and reds (calcite). I still wish to the time of the writing of this article that I had an incredibly light sensitive camera such as Sony's a7s or Nikon's D4S to capture these moment. It was incredible for all the new members and I'm sure that Jan and Jeff got a kick out of our excitement as we traversed the landscapes in attempt to find the coveted 5 color specimen to bring home. 

Several hours into my exciting adventure something catches my eye. Normally the minerals would stop fluorescing after you turned off the UV lights - a ground state if you will. The one instance we were shown was with the aragonite which fluoresced white and then retained that energy state for a short time afterwards. I was told it was called phosphorescence. Back to my story, I noticed that there was this green colored mineral that was phosphorescing very brightly and for long durations. In my excited state I immediately call over Jan to ask him what it is. Now, it was close to pitch black with the only thing that illuminating his face being faint moonlight and the fluorescence of the minerals when we had our UV lights turned on, but despite that I could almost sense that his mouth was agape with jaw dropped. He immediately asked where I had gotten it from and explained that I had found the largest instance of an unknown new mineral. Jeff had only found it 6 months prior and even that was literally a speck. This showed rich veins found in a small 2 or 3 inch specimen. Jan almost didn't give it back after I had asked him several times to see it again. The tension and excitement was palpable. The two of us were like sharks after we had smelled blood in the water. Our goal for the night was now to look for the rare new green phosphorescing mineral and collect as much of it as possible. Luckily that didn't take long. Several steps from where I had found the original piece I found another couple small pieces of it, then another, then another! I had to give Jan one of my bags so that he could carry all of this out as he had already filled up his pockets. It's worth mentioning that I had told him that I was going to let him keep most of it. I was taught this rule from my previous 5ish years experience fossil collecting. They'd have a much better chance than I did of getting it identified and making a contribution to this field of science. I was just surprised that they let me keep any of it at all. If it was me on one of my fossil collecting trips I wouldn't let the finders keep any of it in case a quantitative analysis needed to be done. This rule that I had arbitrarily forced myself to follow had me kicking myself soon afterwards. The motherload of all the pieces we had found that night appeared. I had found giant 20+ lb boulder of it while Jan was busy collecting every last scrap. Definitely a photographic moment (albeit very poorly looking back on it). True to my word and science, I called over Jan to come get the biggest and richest piece found. It was quite a way to end the night. He had so much of the unknown mineral that he couldn't carry all of it and the piece that I just found in one trip!

At the end of the night we all went back to our cars and talked about this new find. To have gone from a speck to buckets full was quite an improvement. They now had enough to get it identified through a (then-unknown to me) process called x-ray diffraction. We all stood around and watched the mineral phosphoresce for 5+ minutes since our eyes had long adjusted for the night. Throughout our conversations at least one of us would check up and say "Still going!" in reference to how long it phosphoresced. Jan stated that they needed to bring me to other trips by taping me to their truck as their good luck charm. It seemed that the beginners always had the best luck. Boy could I relate to that having taken others fossil collecting! Beginner's luck indeed. I'd like to think that my experience fossil collecting helped me find the area and pace myself to search an area in a limited time frame though. We even joked about what would happen if it was a mineral new to science. One of the members jokingly stated that it should be called "Raymondite" but I declined that thought without hesitation. I remembered how hard some areas of science were to learn considering some of the terms were in Latin. If I could name the mineral it would be something literal like greenphosphorite. Something that wouldn't have students hate me for having to memorize for generations to come haha.  

We all left happy from the experience but I had a taste of a rare new mineral and absolutely had to come back and find more!

Paul Tauger, who also went on the trip, has his perspective here: