Bowing to much pressure applied lovingly by the persistent Walk2Write, S.A.M. has finally decided to do another rock post. In a previous story about quartz crystals, I referenced the beautiful and mineral-rich area surrounding Hot Springs, Arkansas. Undoubtedly, quartz wins top prize for most pick-and-hammer toting rock hounds headed to this region. But many other treasures there await discovery, including wavellite, a beautiful mineral that is relatively unknown outside the realm of avid rock collectors.
The photos in this post were snatched off the Web. In other words, all the specimens I once had somehow vanished over the past 30 years, and these lovely pictures are a virtual reminder of the once tangible evidence of my labors. (Photos in this post courtesy of R. Weller/Cochise College.)
First, let’s get all the technical stuff out of the way. Wavellite is most commonly found in shades of green, but can also be yellow or black. Wavellite has a hardness of only about 4 on the Moh’s scale and chemically looks like this - Al3(PO4)2(OH)3·5H2O. The finely acicular, radiating crystals reminds most people of a starburst design. Sometimes, wavellite is mined for the extraction of phosphorous. Wavellite is a secondary mineral of aluminous low-grade metamorphic rocks, in phosphate and limonitic deposits. Okay, enough technical stuff.
My wavellite collecting trip occurred sometime back in the mid-1970’s. I remember my Dad and another collecting enthusiast, Richard Eldridge tromping up and down a heavily wooded area on a steep hillside. This site details a couple of the premier collecting areas – I think we must have been at the Avant location. Chunks of wavellite eroded from the outcrops near the top of the ridge, so we pretended to be mountain goats and dug in our heels while picking at the ground and uncovering our specimens. It must have been fall, because I remember a covering of brown, slippery leaves on the hillside. My first intent was to collect a few nice pieces and go back to the car for a bottle of Dr. Pepper and a bag of chips. I stuffed my pockets full and then started filling my canvas bag – the big and tall kind Navy guys and gals take overseas. I kept finding better and better specimens and just couldn’t take time out for my snack break. The bag eventually filled to the top with wavellite and felt like a lead weight tied to my shoulder. There was room for one more rock, so I took a couple steps and reached out, and…..snap! The shoulder strap broke, sending the bag tumbling down the slope with all the contents quickly dispersing into the cover of the leaves. I made an immediate grab for the bag, obviously way too late, but the motion upset my precarious perch. I overcompensated to keep from falling forward, fell on my backside, and started sliding down the hill, legs spread wide! A well-placed tree, just before a vertical drop, abruptly stopped my descent. My pride, among other things, had been hurt, and all that remained of my hard work were my pockets full of sharp rocks poking me in the legs.
Actually, I did go back up the hill and collect a few more specimens, but the memory of the painful slide persuaded me to keep my load light this time. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with collecting beautiful mineral specimens, and I hope to go back to the area again to acquire some tangible specimens for my collection. Something inside of me that day long ago couldn’t be satisfied, and it didn’t stop with just that day – from time to time, I still struggle with the same attitude of discontent. I readily recognize the struggle now and choose my steps more carefully!