My Trip to Herkimer, NY

Written July 31, 2017

“A muddied diamond is better than an unsullied pebble.” ~Matshona Dhliwayo

We’ve all heard the idiom about “a diamond in the rough”, right? How about a diamond in the mud. Actually the ones I was after are more of a crystal but they look like diamonds. More on my dirty story in a moment.

I recently took a vacation to a relatively little known place called Herkimer. It is a town at the base of the Adirondack mountains in New York State. The area is popular for one main reason. Diamond mining. These are not the diamonds that you find in a jewelry store. They are actually crystals that are similar to quartz crystals but they are very clear.

History

My lil corner of the world was once covered by the Laurentide Ice Sheet. This ice sheet occurred in the Pleistocene epoch(about 1.8 million – 8,000 years ago) aka “The Great Ice Age”. It created much of the landscape we see today in southern Canada and the northern United States.

When the glacier retreated, it left behind accumulations of dirt and rocks that range in size from powdery silt to large rocks and boulders, some the size of a car. It also created the most beautiful hills, valleys and lakes. It also caused many changes to the shape, size, and drainage of the Great Lakes. There are numerous, and I do mean numerous, small lakes in the Herkimer region each one with their own beauty. Almost all of this beauty I have been blessed to see.

In the Herkimer region, diamond looking crystals formed in cavities of prehistoric rock called dolostone in the Cambrian-age(about 500 million years ago) which is VERY hard. These cavities are frequently lined with drusy quartz crystals and are often coated with a tarry hydrocarbon.

Herkimer Diamonds look a lot like other forms of quartz. They are almost always transparent and range from colorless to smoky in color. While most crystals come to a faceted point on one end(terminated), Herkimer diamonds have points on both ends(double terminated).

These crystals can contain a wide range of inclusions(a birthmark of sorts). Particles of solid hydrocarbon materials are the most common inclusion while calcite, dolomite, pyrite, and sphalerite are common mineral inclusions. Inclusions range from small visible particles down to micron-size particles. When abundant, they can impart color in the crystals. Salt water and liquid petroleum can also be seen. Phantom inclusions are crystals that form over pre-existing crystals.

The Mohawk Indians and early settlers found these crystals in stream sediments and plowed fields. They were amazed with the beauty of the crystals and immediately held them in high esteem. They used the crystals as amulets, making tools, and traded them with other tribes. They began to lose interest in the crystals when European glass beads began to arrive in the early 1600s.

Besides being made into jewelry, Herkimer Diamonds are known for their metaphysical properties of energy and chakra healing along with balancing energy. The Herkimer Diamond, with its pure, crystal light, clears the chakras and the mind, opening channels for spiritual energy to flow. They are basically the overall healing crystal.

Ways of Prospecting

Note: All of the tools I mention can be rented at the mines or you can bring your own to most if not all the mining sites.

The key to finding Herkimer Diamonds is a knowledge of what they look like and where they can be found. The stone cavities that they can be found can be smaller than a pea or several feet across. Some of the mines have the dolostone exposed and a significant amount of broken rock is scattered across the quarry floor.

The best way to prospect is the “find and break” method which is breaking open the dolostone with a heavy hammer and a chisel. Many mines make piles of rocks of all sizes for everyone of all ages can find their own diamond. Many times you’ll find that the stones that you break open will be empty or you will accidentally shatter a crystal, but if you are lucky, you can break one open to reveal one or several precious diamonds.

A friendly warning tho, the dolostone is very tough rock, so expect to work hard and using safety glasses is strongly recommended. Wise collectors wear gloves to protect their hands from cuts or accidental finger smashing(personal experience). Another good idea is to wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt but doing this in the middle of July or August can get pretty warm. Good sturdy ankle high boots is a must if you climb the rock piles. Also, I learned from personal experience to have bandaids handy for the occasional cuts and other mishaps

This way can lead to a few good finds. The keys to success are selection of good rocks to break and not being discouraged if you break fifty rocks without finding a crystal or if you accidentally shatter a good crystal.

There’s also “scavenger” prospecting. Many people have been successful by simply searching rock rubble, the quarry floor or even nearby streams for crystals. I found several really nice crystals this way and lots of tiny ones. This is the easiest and safest prospecting method, although I like to climb the rock piles to find them.

You can also “cavity” prospect. This is for finding large quantities of crystals and even crystals joined together. This method is done by breaking into large cavities in the quarry walls and floors using sledgehammers and wedges (power equipment is not permitted at the mines). This method requires patience, time, and a knowledge of how to break an extremely durable dolostone.

Recently, the mine that I go to put in a sluice which yielded some very nice finds for me. This is done by taking a scoop or two of gravel and putting it in a couple of screened trays, one with big hole and one with little holes. You then put those screens into the trough of water that’s stands about waist high. While the tray is in the water you agitate the screens kinda like a washing machine. Doing this washes the dirt off the stones and sorts the big ones from the little ones. If you’re really lucky a big one will appear with the big rocks.

My Experience

This was my 3rd trip to Herkimer and I must say, it doesn’t get boring for this writer. Each year I’ve gone I either find a more unique crystal than last year or I have some new experience. The last two trips my friends and I mined in the blazing hot sun and one day in a thunderstorm. Talk about unnerving! This year we were blessed with cooler temperatures and cloudy conditions with one day of steady rain. I say blessed because even tho the sun helps to point out the crystals on the quarry floor, it also makes it very warm. The rain helps to clean the dirt off the precious gems and kept the mob of people away but it made for a very dirty day but I didn’t mind. I donned a rain poncho and had a good time. Growing up a tomboy definitely came in handy that day. This was my diamond in the mud day.

This year was perhaps my best year for finding Herks, as they are affably called. I found Herks in each of the methods I described above, except cavity prospecting. Each method I found tiny perfect ones, ones with chips in them, broken ones and larger ones in very good condition.

Next to the beauty of these crystals is the amazing scenery in this area of New York. I’m not sure which was more healing for my soul, the crystals or the sunset in the mountains. One thing is certain tho, I’m going to keep going there every summer as long as my body will allow it. Heck, my best friend and I have talked about moving there and prospecting all year long. Definitely an option I’m going to keep open.

Coming up is my visit to a garnet mine 2 hours away from Herkimer.

Thought for the day: No matter what the weather or the day brings, there’s always some bright, shiny ray of light to find, regardless of it’s size.

***Please be sure to read more of my posts

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