The Treasures of
by Jim Haege, GMS Member
"The Georgia Home of Lustrous Crystals"
Graves Mountain is considered to be the type locality for rutile, and specimens from the mountain reside in many museums and important collections. The history of this site goes back over 100 years. In response to an article written by C. U. Sheppard that appeared in the American Journal of Science in 1859, collectors descended upon the site in an effort to obtain specimens. The mineral community , especially in Germany, became infatuated with these lustrous crystal. This resulted in the publication of several papers on the subject in the late 1800s by such noted authors as Haidinger and Gustav Rose.
The notoriety of Graves Mountain as an important location in the world of mineral collecting was .only beginning. As demand for fine rutile and lazulite specimens increased, the supply was met by Tiffany and Company with specimens collected under the direction of George F. Kuntz (namesake of the mineral kunzite). Many of these fine specimens are still on display in museums throughout the world.
The geologic history of Graves Mountain is quite complex. Graves Mountain is part the little river series. Thought to be Paleozoic in age, the Little River series outcrops in cast-central Georgia and consists of metamorphosed sedimentary and igneous rock, The igneous rocks include andesite and volcanic tuffs. Conglomerates and schist are also present. Fracture zones along the original bedding planes provided the opportunity for quartz veins and large crystals to develop.
The mountain itself was a twin-peaked monadnock before it was mined for kyanite. It now consists of two huge pits linked by a portion of the original saddle that used to connect the two peaks. It was in the saddle that the original discoveries of large, lustrous rutile crystal were made. Weathered out of near vertical veins, rutile crystals occurred as float in the soil. Some of these euhedral crystals weighed well over 10 pounds.
Imagine, if you will, a three dimensional mirror. In direct sunlight, internal fractures reflect a brilliant red that is the actual color of the best crystals. Infatuation may not be a strong enough word for their effect on collectors who have never seen rutile crystals such as these!
Of course, rutile is not the only mineral available at Graves Mountain. Of the dozens of species reported from this location the most common mineral is quartz. While the quartz crystals here are rarely clear (except for the smaller ones), they are often brilliantly colored by a coating of irridescent hematite. Bright shades of yellow and orange cover the best crystals, while specimens consisting of purple, blues and greens still make for acceptable additions to a cabinet.
The coating is most fortune, as the quartz is almost always misshapen. Many crystals appear to be bent and have open cracks on the surface, giving them the appearance of having been extruded rather than grown, The largest crystal I have ever seen weighs 22 pounds and is so distorted that several people collecting is in the area did not even recognize it as being one. Once the fellow who had his foot propped on it moved on, I discreetly picked it up and placed it in my pack. It now creates yet one more irregularity on what should be my lawn.
The hematite also coats botryoidal masses of goethite with the same lovely colors as it does the quartz. My favorite specimen was one collected by a member of the Northeast Georgia Mineral Society several years ago. It was a vug about 6 inches in diameter with a 4-inch stalagmite growing up in the middle. The whole vug, including the stalagmite, was coated in layers of color starting at the bottom with purple, then green and blue, and finally changing to red at the top. The fellow who found it was the first one to flip it over. Yep, it was just lying there on the ground.
The goethite is probably a result of the decomposition of pyrite, which is also a very common mineral at the mountain. The pyrite, which contains minute amounts of gold, occur in masses in quartz, cubes and octahedrons up to 2 inches in the rock, and as grains and rough crystals intermixed with the blue kyanite. Unfortunately, most of the larger crystals are found as brown voids in the rock where they have completely decomposed.
Besides the goethite, the pyrite has also produced massive sulfur. Evidence of this can be seen today at the base of the highwalls where sulfur flowers leach from the cock. A more unpleasant result of pyrite decomposition is the sulfuric acid that is diluted in the ponds at the bottom of the pits. While it is not dangerous if washed off the skin in a reasonable period of time before it dried, if you step in it you can be assured of finding a pare of sandals where you left your old sneakers last weekend.
One of the other minerals that attract collectors to Graves Mountain is the lazulite. Lazulite occurs in the quartzite, which is actually a metamorphic sericite-kyanite-quartz rock. Sometimes it constitutes up to 15 percent of the rock itself. The quartzite is gray and, in addition to the lazulite, contains sprinkles of pyrite. This rock makes excellent cabochon material and is sought after for this purpose. The quartzite also has zones where blue blebs of rutilated quartz pepper the rock, making for good cabochon material.
Below the dam in the main pit is an area where the quartzite has completely weathered. Here you may find large blue lazulite crystals by digging in the clay seams left by the weathered rock. Since the quartzite is very tough, it is all but impossible to get whole crystals out of fresh rock, but bipyramidal crystals to 4 inches have been found loose in the weathered areas. Although I have heard rumors to the effect, I have yet to see the mountain yield any facet-grade lazulite. There is facet-grade topaz, but the crystals are much too small to be of use for that purpose.
Also in the area below the dam, ilmenite occurs at the contact of quartz veins in a tan-colored schistose rock. Weathered, it appears as layered masses of black, tabular crystals, but where you can bust it out of the quartz fresh, it has a bright, metallic luster that is sometimes further enhanced by the presence of iridescent hematite and water-clear massive quartz. Ilmenite also occurs as black, shiny sprays in kyanite-rich, blue quartzite.
Other collectible minerals include barite and paragonite. The barite is quite sparse, but anyone willing to keep a sharp eye close to the ground can usually spot a nice, small crystal. Paragonite is mostly found as grains and is a common rock forming mineral here. Since it is a sodium-rich member of the muscovite family and is not visually distinguishable, I have yet to label a specimen as such. I have, however, found several nice cavities with sprays of single crystals that make for lovely mica specimens.
The most sought-after mineral at Graves Mountain would have to be the pyrophyllite. In veins up to a foot thick, and as coatings on quartz seams, it forms lovely sprays of acicular crystals. Iron-stained in hues of red, purple and gold, the massive pyrophyllite resembles bouquets of daisies forever enshrined in stone. While these make wonderful specimens, the pyrophyllite that occurs as greasy, matted platelets is more desired, as its presence is often an indicator that you are near a fine rutile specimen.
Rutile, a simple oxide of titanium, crystallizes in the tetragonal system. It is most commonly found as an accessory mineral or as grains in heavy beach sands. Until the late 1800s, the finest specimens were long, slender golden needles encased in clear quartz, and lustrous twins from the Alps that were measured in millimeters. Given its name by German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner, rutile comes from the Latin word rutilus, meaning “golden-yellow.” I would have loved to be in Germany on the day when the first crate from Georgia was unpacked! From needles and millimeters, the word “rutile” became, in one instant, more closely defined by large, heavy and incredibly beautiful. Little did these poor souls know that the best was yet to come, For when Combustion Engineering’s shovels and explosives began to rip and the mountains entrails, the word was yet to be redefined again.
As the use of automobiles became an American necessity, kyanite mining became an important source of ceramic refractories used in the manufacture of spark plugs. Although a common mineral, its occurrence in rocks where it can be profitably processed is unusual. A publication by Vernon J. Hurst of the Georgia Geological Survey suggested in 1959 that Graves Mountain was a suitable source for kyanite. The mountain was purchased and mining commenced soon thereafter. This was as fortunate for collector as it was unfortunate.
Combustion Engineering used a common extraction technique. First the rock was blasted away from the mountain and loaded by cable-operated shovels into huge trucks. The rock was dumped into a crasher and ground to a fine dust in a ball mill. The kyanite was then floated away from the gangue minerals that all too frequently included rutile. During the early days of mining, many fine rutile specimens were recovered. Many more were destroyed in the mill.
As the years went by, new management was placed in control of the operation and mineral collecting was prohibited. Employees were not allowed to collect, either, and many fine specimens went to the mills. The settling pond that is their grave can still be seen below the mountain. Collectors seeking crystals were forced to beg for them and employees soon found ways to supply the demand. Rutile is very hard (6.5 Mohs), and since the finer specimens were sometimes encased in pyrophyllite, many survived blasting operations.
Equipment operators would spot a rock with a few shiny faces showing, exit their equipment under the excuse of relieving themselves and hide the rock in their lunchbox white no one was looking. Clusters of crystals more than 3 inches in diameter and exceeding 15 pounds in total weight were rumored to have been found during the height of mining activities. The world’s finest rutile specimen may yet reside on the mantel of a past employee’s home.
The mountain today has been recognized for the unique scientific and geologic wonder that it is, and thanks to the efforts of the mineral societies of the state of Georgia, management at Combustion Engineering has opened it once again to collecting. This site is fantastic, offering collecting opportunities suitable for everyone’s interest. Until recently, the best rutile crystal to be found on every field trip I went on was simply picked up off the ground. Since mining has ceased, surface collecting has become more difficult, but good crystals can still be found. Tailings from more serious collector always yield good prizes, too. You may only be able to sit in one spot and scratch, or you may want to dig a hole so deep you can’t see over the top. You may want to chip off specimens you find perched on boulders with a rock hammer, or attack the mountain with a 20-pound sledgehammer and wedges, I know some folks who just pick a spot and screen, leaving their fate to a random act of kindness from the mountain.
The mountain covers quite a bit of acreage, and the best collecting sites change quite frequently, so the best way to visit it is probably as the guest of a local club. There are scheduled club trips all year long, but I would not suggest a visit during the summer months. The mountain is as blissfully fee of bugs as it is of shade. Due to the dangers involved, some clubs do not allow children under 12, or have other rules, so be sure and check with the field-trip chairman before planning a trip. It is a long walk up to the top of the mountain, and even longer to the bottom of the main pit, so you might want to bring a buggy of some type. Be sure and pack in plenty of fluids and a high energy snack. Graves Mountain is the highest point for miles around and the view from the top is just as spectacular as the collecting.
Published in "Rock & Gem", August 1998, Volume. 28, Number 8, Pages 80-83
Jim Haege, a well know mineral enthusiast and collector in the southeastern United States, has had several articles published in "Rock & Gem" on mineral collecting. He has been a field trip leader for numerous gem and mineral societies in the state of Georgia including the Cobb County Gem and Mineral Society, Marietta, GA.
Jim is a member of The Georgia Mineral Society
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