Collecting by Air – AirMindat takes to the Skies to Collect in Arizona

What do you do when you’re in Tucson at the Gem and Mineral Show on the Friday, when the show is full of school children and you really don’t want to have to be there dealing with them all? Simple. You go collecting. But you need to be back at the show by mid-afternoon? No problem. Let’s hire a helicopter!

The Crew loading into the helicopter in search of Arizona treasures

The Crew loading into the helicopter in search of Arizona treasures

At the TGMS show in 2009, several of the regulars from the online chat room got together to organize just such a trip. The late Roy Lee was the leader of this trip, which we were hoping to make an annual event. Sadly he died just one year later, so this has remained so far the only helicopter collecting trip.

We boarded the helicopter at Tucson Airport, after some concerns that too many of us were carrying extra weight. And I’m not talking about hand tools. But, the helicopter made it into the sky and we started our flight towards the Catalina Mountains – flying directly over the Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the “boneyard” where all the retired US military aircraft are stored. It was quite alarming to be flying over the main runway as a C-130 transport was making it’s final descent, seemingly flying straight at us at one point. Having survived our encounter with the US Air Force, we headed off towards our first destination – the Grand Reef Mine.

Mike Rumsey collecting mineral specimens

Mike Rumsey collecting specimens without the worry of washed out roads, boulders or rock slides!

This mine is notoriously difficult to access, with no nearby access roads. So the luxury of being able to fly right up to it and practically land on it was the stuff that mineral dreams are made of. The Grand Reef Mine is famous for linarite and other rare lead/copper secondary minerals. We spent about 90 minutes exploring the locality, collecting on the extensive dumps and admiring the scenery. Everyone in the party found decent specimens.

But what’s better than flying by helicopter to a great mineral locality before lunchtime? Flying to a second – so after we’d finished at the Grand Reef mine, we headed off again to the Table Mountain Mine – which is well known for dioptase crystals. The helicopter made an impressive landing on an exposed ledge (which happened to be made out of glassy slag from the smelters), and we again disembarked and wandered up to the tips to collect.

We all found nice dioptase specimens, but Jim Beam found a fabulous little ‘christmas tree’ of dioptase crystals, and between us we found specimens of conichalcite with possible austinite and duftite. Some samples appear to have minerals previously unreported from the locality, and once they are confirmed they will be reported on

Dioptase collected at the Table Mountain Mine in Arizona

Jim Bean shows off his little christmas tree shaped dioptase cluster collected at the Table Mountain Mine

Finally, we boarded the helicopter for the flight back to Tucson Airport and a short drive back to the Convention center, and we were back in the show almost as the last of the school buses full of kids was departing.

Editor Note – Yes, you can get to these locations, with a helicopter, or a lot of hiking. This article was originally published in Quarterly Magazine, Vol 4, Number 3. You can get the reprinted book on Amazon, or directly from the publisher on

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