After Agate Hill we were excited to keep going–we had a feeling that this would be a good day. The Thomas Range is great when you have as much time as you want, because there are so many places to go. Mine dumps dot the hillsides, and there are many gem claims all over. We were headed toward Garnet Basin (a site described by John Holfert in his book), and decided to take a detour.
Brush road is paved up to the entrance to the Brush Wellman beryllium mine. From there you can continue down a well-graded dirt road to the other locations in the Dell area. I had seen the Bell Hill mine complex from Google Earth, and was curious to check it out, so we turned west at the mouth of Starvation Canyon and drove around to the base of the hill as far as the car could safely go. We hiked up a trail curving NE toward the headframe of an old mine shaft.
On our way there I noticed a patch of bright purple dirt. At first I thought it was some artificial dye or chemical used to mark the ground, but when I followed it to the source I couldn’t believe my eyes. This seemed to be a prospecting pit for either fluorspar or beryllium. It was about eight feet deep, and sitting next to it was a huge pile of bright, royal purple dirt and rock. One side of the pit was covered in a swirling mass of purple, white, pink, and black.
I was excited and a little nervous to see if the pit contained any of the much-coveted Tiffany Stone: nodules of opalized fluorite that are prized for their bright and intricate colors. The stuff is hard to get, as most of the deposits are scooped up and crushed for their beryllium content. The majority of the deposits are on private land, and probably under security patrol.
Another important thing about Tiffany Stone (or bertrandite) is the fact that it’s highly poisonous. Berylliosis is a horrible respiratory disease that results from the inhalation of beryllium dust, and you just don’t want it. If you are going to try finding and working with the stuff, you should wear a mask and probably cut it under running water.
With this in mind, we were a little nervous jumping down in the pit, but I covered my mouth with my sweatshirt and hopped in. I don’t think I saw anything that would be considered high-grade bertrandite, but the color swirls were unmistakable. We grabbed a few pieces of rough and climbed out.
Continuing toward the mine shaft, we saw many other prospect pits in the area, all containing swirls of bright purple fluorite. We looked around, took some pictures, and hoofed it back to the car with as much ore as we could carry in our arms. We kept pinching ourselves as we drove back to the main road–this was turning out to be a great trip, as long as we didn’t die from some horrible disease.
(Note: we didn’t get any horrible disease, but I could tell that the beryllium dust was irritating my eyes, so I made sure to stay away from it as much as possible. The rough I gathered was washed of as much dust a possible, and is now residing in a shoebox in our carport.)