Black Mountain

3pm – The Plan

X marks the pegmatites location.

X marks the pegmatites location. Black Mountain here I come.

It’s August. It’s hot. And I’m:

  • stalking the refrigerator
  • feeling fat
  • and lacking purpose

Have you ever felt like that? At such times, an outdoor adventure is needed. Something to stretch the legs, lungs and expectations.

There’s a little mountain 70 miles west of here. To get there it’s:

  • 25 miles of pavement
  • 40 miles of dirt road
  • and about 5 miles of matted down sagebrush trail

This mountain:

  • rises a 1000 feet above the desert floor
  • tops out about 8000 feet above sea level
  • has grand vistas, springs and desert wildlife
  • is more isolated than the tourist filled mountains farther west

And there’s some interesting geology as well:

  • the oldest rocks on the continent are found there
  • there’s a young volcanic system
  • phonolites, soda trachytes, alkali meta trachytes and latites intrude those rocks
  • and a pegmatite with spodumene and fluorapatite is located there

What am I still standing here looking in the refrigerator? Black Mountain here I come!

4pm – Action

There’s no time for an expedition. Just enough time to throw a few essentials in the truck and get going. I’ll grab the UV lamp, battery, headlamp, map, camera, hammers, rock bag, water bottle, and food.

The food won’t take long. I’ve already scoped that out. 🙂

When I’m through with the rocks, I’ll kick back. Enjoy the stars. And tough it out.

If everything works as planned, the sun will set as I arrive. And that’s good because it’s just too easy to stick or mash up a vehicle after dark.

What about my son Isaac? After a full day’s work, he doesn’t need a hot, dusty trip to the desert. So, I go alone.

5pm – The Trail

After college, I worked this part of Wyoming as an exploration geologist. The topography, the smell of the sagebrush, and the road dust brings back old memories.

So much time has passed! I have children that are older than I was back then. And until a year ago, my oldest son was driving the same pickup truck I bought while working that job.

Heading west, I’m feeling great. Thirty miles down the road, not a single vehicle is in sight.

But it wasn’t always this way. Thirty-five years ago, this area was a hot bed of activity. Now, all that’s left are the memories and some reclaimed land.

Navigating the back country. Crossing bogs, small spring fed creeks, and jagged, rocky ridges. I’m in my element again. And it energizes me.

Escaping from dune sand and mud holes. I arrive at Black Mountain just before sunset. Perfect!

8pm – The Pegmatite

What a view!

What a view!

tall shadows

The golden hour and I’m feeling 250 feet tall.

Now to locate that pegmatite. Hiking down the mountain ridge is exhilarating. My:

  • heart pounds
  • lungs work double time trying to get enough of the thinner air
  • and at the golden hour it’s glorious

Yes, there’s life beyond stalking the refridge. And it is good.

A half mile later, there’s the pegmatite. A small exploration pit was blasted into the outcrop, probably by a prospector before World War II.

I’m disappointed. This pegmatite is small. And it’s truncated by erosion on the west end.

Although I find some spodumene and tourmaline, it:

  • lacks much apparent zoning
  • the crystals are poorly defined
  • the minerals are mostly a macroscopic hodge podge
Black Mountain spodumene.

Black Mountain spodumene.

Many Wyoming pegmatites are like this. It’s as if they solidified before they had a chance to differentiate. Whoever first described this pegmatite was probably trying to sell it and was apparently unsuccessful. 🙂

9pm – The Night

Black Mountain tourmaline with feldspar.

Black Mountain tourmaline with feldspar.

Tourmaline with fluorescent feldspar.

Tourmaline with fluorescent feldspar.

Looks like it will take 30 minutes to lamp the pegmatite.

If I wait till after dark, I’ll have to spend the night here. It’s just too dangerous driving off the mountain at night.

Yet, I could lamp the pegmatite now, in the twilight. I’d miss the more subtle fluorescence. But if it seems worthwhile, I could:

  • stay
  • enjoy the stars unobstructed my moonlight
  • enjoy the desert night

If not, I could:

  • get off the mountain before dark
  • visit the Rattlesnake Hills a dozen miles away
  • and still enjoy the stars and the desert

Who knows what might be found there?

So, it’s back to the truck. Get the lamp. And back to the pegmatite.

A cursory inspection reveals the usual uranium ion activated coatings. The colors are a deeper green and much less intense than those on Casper Mountain. I’ve concluded that just about any Wyoming location has green glowing rocks.

The feldspars and their admixtures have a pale pink-red fluorescence. Nothing unusual.

So, there’s still enough time to get off the mountain. The wind is blowing harder and I’m gone.

10pm – The Wind

It’s 10 p.m. and dark now. The wind is howling more than 60 mph and getting worse. I’m having difficulty navigating, especially around the springs where tall grass, flattened by the wind, obliterates my tracks.

In the daytime, it’s easy to avoid getting stuck. But at night it’s a different matter. The difference between safe and stuck is often measured by a foot or so. And oil pan bashing rocks which are obvious in daylight, hide in the vegetation at night.

But that wind! It’s howling and it’s nasty. I haven’t experienced a wind like this since last winter’s blizzards. It’s moaning. And is the only sound I hear.

The desert night is usually filled with subtle sounds. Those sounds are pleasant and produce a feeling of well being, once one is accustomed to them. And they keep everyone informed as well.

But when the wind blots them out, that information is lost. I get a feeling of loneliness on one hand, and of apprehension on the other.

I just hate coming upon a large animal unawares at night. They startle me and I scare them.

11pm – The Rattlesnakes

There are two trails leading to a single, rocky creek crossing that separates me from the Rattlesnake’s volcanics. But I can’t find either the trails, or the crossing in the dark.

12pm – The Night

The stars are fantastic. There’s no moon and not a single beam of light for 50 miles. The black rock absorbs the light from my headlamp making the night seem dark and the stars brilliant.

I could forget crossing the creek with my truck:

  • just hike up to the volcanic
  • wait out the wind
  • get a little star time
  • and lamp out the rocks in the early morning

Or I could forget the hike. And could lamp out the outwash material by the creek.

I opt for the latter.

The lamp illuminates the usual uranium stuff, mostly in chalcedony and fracture/joint fillings.

But several pieces of volcanic debris light up with a dull, red-magenta glow. One small, highly altered piece lights up a bright orange. Hummm…maybe there’s some potential there.

Volcanic Float.

Volcanic Float.

Fluorescent volcanic float.

Fluorescent volcanic float.

1am – Outa Here

After stumbling around the creek bank, my headlamp runs out of juice. Now I’m left navigating with the ultraviolet lamp’s dull purple glow which doesn’t help much.

It’s just too easy to fall while working a steep, loose slope, on a black, windy night. My hands instinctively reach up slope to brake a fall. And my new, plastic cased lamp is held by them. I’m afraid I’ll break the lamp or maybe my ankle.

It’s time to pull the plug. I retreat back to my truck. And decide to have breakfast in town.

4am – Casper

Beautiful sunrise. My memory goes back to earlier times when I got up before sunrise and commuted 60 miles to work. Watching the sunrise was an integral part of most of those mornings.

Although my rock bag is almost empty, my spirit is full. I’ve been revived.

When I was out here as a youth, I measured success by the ‘how much’. But with my gray hairs, I’ve acquired another perspective. It’s enough just to be.

That creek still needs crossing and I’m sure more adventures are beyond it. So, one of these days, I’ll be back.

-dM