Monday, February 19, 2007

Fluorescent Mineral Collecting - Bingham, New Mexico

I just returned from a very nice camping trip far out in the wilderness collecting fluorescent rocks.

The Oscura mountains are located almost exactly in the center of New Mexico at the Northern edge of White Sands Missile Range. The place I went is almost exactly half way between the massive lava flow at Valley of the Fires 27.7 miles (44,7 km) to the East near Carrizozo, and the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande river 29.4 miles (47,4 km) to the West.

After getting permission to enter the area and do some collecting of fluorescent rocks from the person who owns the claim on the mine, I turned South off of highway 380 onto White Sands Missile Range road 3501. (N33.88885, W-106.37403). This is a pretty good dirt road when it is dry. It has a few places where a high clearance vehicle is a good idea, but as long as it is not wet you certainly do not need four wheel drive.

Travelling pretty slowly pulling the little tear drop camping trailer and enjoying the view of the Jornada del Muerto it takes about 30 or 45 minutes to reach the most productive area for fluorescent rocks.

This is about as close as one can normally get to the Trinity Test Site. This is the location where the first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:30 a.m. on 15 July 1945. My Grandfather was also a morning person, and he saw the whole sky light up from El Paso, Texas which is about 140 miles (225 km) to the South.

This first nuclear explosion was from an implosion design plutonium bomb. It has an explosive force equal to 20,000 tons of TNT. To get this in perspective an over the road 18 wheeler truck can normally carry a maximum weight of about 20 tons, so it would take 1,000 over the road lorries filled with TNT to make this big of an explosion.

This was the same type of bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945 a few weeks later, effectively ending World War II.

It was so hot at ground zero that the soil was melted into a type of olive greenish glass like material which was highly radioactive at first. This material was officially named Trinitie. After 50 years very little radioactivity remains. Of course the only location it is found in the world is at the Trinity Test Site North of Alamogordo, New Mexico. For some time one could collect this material but it is now illegal to do so. But one can still own, sell, and trade the pieces which were collected before the law was enacted making it illegal to collect it. I have a small piece of Trinite in my collection.

I unhitched my little camping trailer at the base of the mountain (N33.82040, W-106.37640). This is where I camped for the night. The place I collected the fluorescent rocks was up a very steep dirt road on the side of the mountain. The best location was from the face of the mountain from this roadcut, behind the old mining works (N33.81780, W-106.37468). In addition to the rock face there were numerous piles of material left on the surface.

The Trinity Test Site is just 11.4 miles (18,4 km) away.

Although anyone with good shoes and who is in fairly good shape could climb up here, carrying down any material collected would be a real problem. So I put the Toyota 4-Runner in low range 4 wheel drive and slowly crept up the road going up this steep mountain. This is indeed a very primitive road where both four wheel drive and high clearance is a requirement. I would not recommend this journey for the timid at heart. I drove up right at sunset, and when I came down it was completely dark. Really no problem, but a nice adrenalin rush nonetheless.

Using both long wave and short wave battery powered fluorescent lights the area is essentially littered with long wave purple fluorescing Fluorite. There is a large amount of Caliche which fluoresces bright orange under short wave, and a dull red fluorescent material which I think is calcite. Under short wave ultraviolet light you see a very bright green fluorescence which I think is probably a zinc ore called Willemite or Zincite. The green fluorescence is so pervasive that it may be traces of uranyl ion which were deposited from the atomic bomb blast. It was a remarkable experience collecting fluorescent minerals there on a moon-less night. Some stones which were as large as a small economy car completely lit up bright green with the Superbright II made by Don Newsome of UV Systems. It was so neat seeing this massive amount of green fluorescence.

This is the view looking towards where the first atom bomb was exploded. It sure is beautiful today. I wonder if it was this pretty 50 years ago when the Manhattan project was going on? My Father worked there on the Manhattan project. A good way to get out of having to go to war. Too bad he is no longer with us or I would ask him if it was this pretty back then. Probably it was. When the Spaniards first came through here they said the grass was as high as the stirrups on their saddles. I met a guy the other day who had a great description of why fluorescent mineral collecting was so nice. He called it a combination of both the left and right halves of the brain. The beauty of the stones and the light show is undeniable. And it is so neat how some stones light up in completely different areas and in different colors when illuminated with UV-A versus UV-C light. Some calcite even phosphoresces in a third color. Then the other half of your brain kicks in and enjoys the scientific part of learning about the geology and also the geography of where these minerals come from.

Back at the little camping trailer I had a 12 volt marine deep discharge battery and a 1,200 watt inverter. This is great system to power my small microwave oven so that I can eat in a civilized manner even out in the wilds. And the dual long wave/short wave Way Too Cool light made by William Gardner in Glendale, Arizona. Although it only runs on 115 vac this is a nice UV light too. It is not quite as bright in shortwave as the Superbright II, but it is about 1/3 the price and provides the option of either or both long wave and short wave UV light.

Inside the trailer I’ve got a bed, a small heater, lights powered from the large 12 volt battery, a compact fluorescent light with its own internal rechargeable batteries, and a crank-up rechargeable light with LEDs. I connect my cell phone to the speakers in the trailer and I can listen to 1,500 different MP3s. Since I have all the Beatles songs on MP3, all night long I listened to John Paul George and Ringo.

This area is really remote. There is no cell phone service and you cannot even pick up any radio stations on FM. This is what it looked like just before sunrise.

The air is clean and there is no light pollution at all. So when I awoke in the middle of the night needing to go outside and pee I was in for a real treat. There was no moon up and the stars were so bright that they cast a shadow! There were millions of stars visible. I have not seen such a fine night time display in the sky since I was a small child.

Being far away from cities, roads, and people is what I was hoping for when I bought this 4 wheel drive and my little camping trailer. And I am not one bit disappointed.