Sideling Hill – A Cross Cut View of the Fossil Rich Shale in Maryland and Pennsylvania

Fossils are plentiful in the shale deposits all around the mid-Atlantic states. Without getting technical, shells of a variety of marine animals are found in the shale, readily accessible via road cuts and rock quarries around Western Maryland, central Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Sideling Hill is a wonderful example of the typical construct of the rolling hills of the area.

Sideling Hill Roadcut

The tight bands of rock layers, along with the HUGENESS of the roadcut are fascinating. The layers of the mountain are very interesting, consisting of alternating bands of shale and big bands of alluvial conglomerate. The top layer of shale is also coal rich, which is thickest on the north side of the road cut. You can see the dark layer towards the very top of the hill.

Sideling Hill Roadcut front view

The rest area used to host a Geological Center, a fun place to check out, a place to stop and view this geological wonder and find out a little more about the earth around us.

Sideling Hill Rest Area

The Geological Center is closed now, but the exhibits have been moved to Hancock Maryland.

Sideling Hill Geological Center

A short distance away in Pennsylvania, we found several shale deposits on the side of back country roads.

Typical Shale Road Cut in Pennsylvania

Any place you can find loose shale, if you flip over a few pieces, often, fossils will be found.

Shale Debris With Fossils

The shale from this area breaks up into small bits. That makes big matrix specimens very uncommon!

Rockhammer and Shale Chips

Brachiopod specimens are very common through out the area, along with tightly wound trilobite specimens.

Fossils shells found in shale deposit

Packing the specimens is a delicate job, so a roll of toilet paper for wrapping is always handy!

packing up fossils found in pennsylvania

Bi-valve fossils, Gastropods and many others, all found swimming around in the soup of the Devonian era!

fossil shell found in shale

At this road cut, randomly, a vug of quartz was found, breaking up into oddly shaped crystals.

quartz crystals found in shale deposit

So, do not be afraid to stop and check out any exposed shale in the mid-Atlantic states! Often times, simply flipping over some loose shale chunks will reveal a trilobite, a gastropod or a cluch of Brachiopods!

shale deposit with fossils

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Roxbury Connecticut Garnets at Green’s Farm – Now Closed to collecting!

A must visit site to collect big crystals of Almandine Garnet embedded in a matrix of mica schist is the classic Green’s Farm location, in the rural beauty of Western Connecticut. The location is just a short drive from several metropolitan areas and has served as a fee collecting location for decades. For a VERY reasonable price of $5.00 per car, you can go to Green’s Farm, park over towards the trees and begin your short trek into the woods to the large deposit of mica schist in the woods.

Here is one of the cleaned specimens of garnet and staurolite in schist matrix from the creator of, Jolyon Ralph’s personal collection.

Cleaned Garnet Cluster from Connecticut with Staurolite

UPDATE EDIT NOV 11th 2012, just a couple weeks after this post was written: I have omitted the directions to this location, but leave the map up. The location has been sold and there have been no trespassing signs posted. The new land owners are not welcoming people to contact them and permission to collect at this location has been revoked. A sad fact, this is now a historical document. Who knows, it could always be resold to someone who appreciates keeping legacy going.

Far Away look at the garnet deposit in Roxbury
Satellite map of Green's Farm Garnet Deposit

From the parking area it is just a quick walk through the woods…
Walking through the woods to the garnet deposit

To the “mine” which is a large area of mica schist filled with garnets and staurolite.
A photo of the mine surface at Green Farm Garnet Deposit

All over the area, garnets are simply sticking out everywhere you look.
a photo of garnets in the schist at the mine, waiting to be mined.

In the tailings, there are tons of garnets, like the piece in the photo below.
Loose Garnet Matrix from the Greens Farm Garnet Deposit

Chunks of matrix like this one are all over the place. These little garnets are not as nice as the one below.
small garnet crystals in schist matrix

This sample shows that it has larger, solid garnets in the mixture of mica schist matrix. If you have a sand blaster, the mica schist comes off easily. If you do not have a sand blaster, you can simply try your luck splitting the matrix, sometimes you’ll get lucky and have a single crystal like the one below!
Garnets embedded in schist matrix

This specimen just popped out of the matrix. It is not cleaned, it still has a lot of mica attached to the surface.
Single Garnet Crystal

The Green’s Farm Garnet location is a must visit site for anyone who loves minerals and is in the area!
We are EXTREMELY grateful to the owners for keeping a classic site like this open and accessible for all these years!

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Collecting Chrysotile at the Phillips Asbestos Mine in Arizona

Near the city of Globe Arizona, the Salt River flows. In the canyons around this important waterway, there are several outcrops of serpentine with various stringers of fibrous Chrysotile, the safest variety of the fiber form minerals processed into asbestos materials. Alternating veins of calcite/aragonite, serpentine and chrysotile created a valuable ore to be mined for a period of time. The mines were so profitable that various buildings were erected to serve the miners of the salt river valley.

Following the directions in the excellent field guide, Minerals, Fossils and Florescents of Arizona, which we highly recommend owning, we had no problem finding the location.
Minerals, Fossils and Fluorescents of Arizona

It was easy to spot this location on the satellite map.

Map of the Phillips Mine Location

Arriving at the location, you find the entrance to the road starts at an abandoned campground. It must have been really nice back when it was in business, now it looks like it could be the setting for a freaky horror movie.
seneca lake permit sign
abandoned seneca lake campground

After driving through the campground, you cross a little stream and proceed down an easy to maneuver dirt/rock road toward the mine. On the South side of the road you’ll pass the old lake that must have been the jewel of the campground.
stream you cross at the start of phillips chrysotile mine road
seneca lake
gravel road leading to the chrysotile mine location

The drive is beautiful, with great vistas, steep canyons and amazing colors that the canyons of Arizona are famous for! Off in the distance, bright white mine dumps could be seen, making the prospect of finding mineral specimens imminent.
canyon walls while driving to rockhound
thin cliff road in arizona
Beautiful Scene from the drive in the canyons of arizona
Dumps of the Asbestos Mines from the Canyon Walls

Arriving at the mining area you are greeted by some very creepy abandoned buildings that make the campground take a second seat to a horror movie film set!
Abandoned Mining Town in Central Arizona
Abandoned Buildings at the Phillips Mine

Off in the distance the mine dumps could be seen. Getting to the dumps is a simple uphill walk up a dirt road.

Phillips Chrysotile Mine in the Distance

At the top of the road you find yourself at the foot of a massive pile of mine debris which is rich in Aragonite, serpentine and chrysotile.
Mine Dump at the top of Phillips Chrysotile Mine Road
Mine Dump at Phillips Chrysotile Mine

Great specimens could be found all over the dump, with banded Aragonite that glows bright green in UltraViolet Light and veins of Chrysotile, which makes for very beautiful display specimens.
Specimen of Serpentine, Chrysotile and Aragonite
Specimen of Chrysotile from Arizona

Going to the Phillips Chrysotile Mine in Central Arizona is a great trip for a beautiful view into a seldom seen part of Arizona mining history! Specimens are abundant and there is something for everyone!

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Collecting Pink Halite in Trona California – Once a year, Second Weekend of October!

Once a year the wonderful community of Trona, California, and more appropriately, the men and women of Searles Lake, invite the public to come and participate in one of the most exciting mineral collecting trips in the United States.

People come from all over the world to experience the Trona-Gem-o-rama. Two days, three field trips, plus a rock show going on for both days.
There are several great local dealers who make the show a treat to visit, such as Tom and Steven Wolfe of and
If you like Petrified Wood and Petrified Tree Branches, Steven is the man to talk to! He gives lectures at local Southern California gem, mineral and fossil clubs.
Steven and Tom Wolfe of at the Trona Show
Saturday hosts two field trips, both two and half hours long. More about those in another post, this one is about the Sunday field trip, which is four and a half hours long, starting at 9am. The “Pink Halite” dig, where you are guided out to a large area to collect at, filled with brine pools with bright pink halite crystals growing on the underside of the ridges in the ground.

Typically, these tools are perfect for the extraction of the salt crystals. A short handled 10 pound sledge, a custom made spike (which I left behind! ARGH!), pick and crowbar. The stretcher is often a great tool because wheeled carts and wagons have a tough time in the sharp ridges popping up everywhere across the surface. This year, any sort of cart, dolly or wagon would have been perfect and we only made one trip with the stretcher.

tools needed for collecting halite on the salt deposit in Trona California

This year, 2012, the digging was very different than the last seven years. There were no brine pools, only a large flat white area of solid salt crust. That was quite a shocker compared to past years of getting wet in the brine pools and tearing your hands apart when the tools dry and salt crystallizes on them, creating a sand paper like surface on the tools.

Instead of getting wet in the brine pools, you simply had to go to a slightly protruding ridge, where white salt crystals are often visible on the surface, work with a pick or spike a perforated area a foot into the back of ridge, then, flip the broken chunks over to reveal the crystals on the underside.

Salt Ridge waiting to be flipped over
Salt Crystals revealed after flipping over the surface

People are scattered all over the lake bed, collecting their hearts out, trying to get the best material in the limited time you have on the salt flats.

Halite Digging at Trona!
Ridges flipped over, in search for pink halite

After digging the halite, you have to pack it up and carry it out. That takes a considerable amount of time!

Packing out your salt crystals

And then you have to get the salt home! A challenge in itself! You need lots of packing material and containers. This year we did not plan on being able to collect a lot of material, but we couldn’t fit another piece in the van and still had an hour left before the time was up!

salt crystals packed into the car

While we were there we saw Stan from Midwest Minerals, a large wholesale company in Tucson, Arizona, mining Halite crystals.
He has a great idea, placing the found specimens directly into a crate, no muss, no fuss. We might copy him next year!
Stan from Midwest Minerals collecting Halite
Prying halite crystals from the ground
A happy halite miner at Trona

Every second weekend in October, you can find thousands of rockhounds descending on Trona in search of pink salt crystals! We hope you can visit next year! Hotel rooms are available in Ridgecrest, just a half hour away from Trona, find a room for the event on

There is an app for android you can download, one is free and one is $4.99, but BOTH of them have a five page article about collecting in Trona.
Android App with Trona instructions

Buy the Paid Version for $4.99
Download the Free Sample Version, it still has the Trona guide in it, for free.

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Field Guide Review: Minerals, Fossils and Fluorescents of Arizona

Minerals, Fossils and Fluorescents of Arizona is a thick field guide to 90 locations across the state of Arizona, most still available for collecting in 2012!

Originally published in 2006, this book contains complete, easy to follow maps and directions to each location, along with colorful photos by Jeff Scovil.
For the absolute beginner, there is a nice chunk of informative reading in the front of the book, giving the basic information for several minerals, along with global mineral information like cleavage, hardness and luster. A bit of time is spent on rock formations and geologic conditions, which will help understand the basics behind why minerals are found where they are.

The copy we have has been used to travel to nearly half of the locations in the book. The book gives clear instructions for reaching a location, along with GPS directions, which are easy to punch into google maps while en-route to a location. In addition, each location pinpointed in the book has produced the material described and only once has there been claim markers up on a location showcased. We have collected Hematite crystals, UV minerals, Dendrites, Calcite, Selenite, and Serpentine. Several trips inspired by this book have resulted in fine specimens that are in our permanent collections.
Clicking the book cover will show you available copies for purchase on Amazon.
Book Cover of Minerals, Fossils and Fluorescents of Arizona by Neil R. Bearce
Check out eBay for copies of this book for sale and other minerals of Arizona

There are a lot of field guides to choose from, each with their own unique features. In addition to the easy to follow directions, colorful photos and the accuracy of the information presented, the book also does a great job covering the state, listing collecting spots all over the state, with close proximity to other states. For instance, the residents and visitors to Saint George Utah might be surprised to find that a deposit of Gypsum/Selenite is available in the hills stretching out into Arizona, available from the back roads connecting through Utah. More locations spill across into New Mexico and several of them are a perfect distance between Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Many field collecting guides are simply shelf filler, this book has a wide variety of information, collecting options and we can not recommend another mineral field collecting guide more.

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