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One brilliant day in Switzerland for mineral lovers

Last Updated: 18th May 2018

By Dmitry Tonkacheev

What do you imagine when hear the word Switzerland?

Maybe sleek cows, milk chocolate, flavoured cheese or incredible wealth in the caves of gnomes.

Fun fact: most popular second name in Switzerland comes from the German word that means 'miner'. Thus, it is no marvel that the country has some amazing geology to offer.

Almost any mineralogist has heard something about rare sulfosalts in sugar-like dolomites of Lengenbach quarry. This open pit is located in the alpine's part of Switzerland near the Italian border in Binn Valley. For digging on some localities in Switzerland a special permit is required (e.g. in Canton Uri, in Grimsel area, or Thusis village, etc.) Surprisingly, but you do not have to receive the permission for mineral collecting in this region.

This year a brave team of Mindat Adventure is heading for Switzerland! This is going to be an unforgettable collecting expedition that will include one-day visit to the mineralogical paradise of Binn Valley. This program was prepared for people of all ages and physical activity. However, there are a lot of small localities (with anatase, quartz, rare minerals (e.g. Wanni Glacier), etc.) which are not so easily accessible. This is the subject of the separate article.

Fald is the nearest village to Lengenbach.
An overview from the Lengenbach quarry to the Binn Valley
Fald is the nearest village to Lengenbach.
An overview from the Lengenbach quarry to the Binn Valley
Fald is the nearest village to Lengenbach.
An overview from the Lengenbach quarry to the Binn Valley

To reach this locality from Zurich, you have to wake up early and catch the high-speed double-decker train to Brig. Then you have to interchange and get on the train to Fiesch Station of the famous mountain railway between Davos and Zermatt, take a comfortable yellow bus (direction to Binn Dorf) with free Wi-Fi. Be sure to have your camera ready, take the first place on the right side of the coach and watch out for unforgettable Swiss valleys and mountain tops. The road to Binn Valley is narrow. We recommend to pull your earphones out and listen to the unusual shepherd's bus horn, which driver beeps each time before the bus turns.

In a half an hour you will drive through to the single-lane tunnel and arrive at the Binn Village.

If you fill thirsty, do not forget to drink the cold and sparkling water from the old fountain.

Old fountain in Binn Valley
There is also a well-known mineralogical shop of Tony Imhof (mineral imhofite was named after Joseph Imhof, professional mineral collector) with a large collection of local minerals from Valais Region nearby the central square of the town.

Minerals of the Lengenbach quarry in the Tony Imhof's shop
Tony Imhof's Mineralogical Shop
Minerals of the Lengenbach quarry in the Tony Imhof's shop
Tony Imhof's Mineralogical Shop
Minerals of the Lengenbach quarry in the Tony Imhof's shop
Tony Imhof's Mineralogical Shop

If you are brave enough to get your hands dirty and crash some stones you may take a walk to the Lengenbach quarry (local bus to Fald is also an option). The distance is app. 5 km.

According to the book of Philippe Roth, the Lengenbach deposit in Binn Valley has been famous among scientists and mineral collectors since the early nineteenth century. With 44 newly discovered mineral species, this deposit ranks among the most prolific localities in the world. Among these, the Lengenbach is by far the smallest in the terms of size (about 70 m in length, 30 m in width and 40 m in height) and it is the only one that has never been commercially mined (early attempts to mine pyrite in the first half of the eighteenth century, a period during which no attention was paid to the rare sulphosalts, were unsuccessful).

Inner part of the Lengenbach quarry. August 2017
Collecting on the dumps of the Lengenbach quarry. July 2012.
Inner part of the Lengenbach quarry. August 2017
Collecting on the dumps of the Lengenbach quarry. July 2012.
Inner part of the Lengenbach quarry. August 2017
Collecting on the dumps of the Lengenbach quarry. July 2012.

The Lengenbach quarry is operated by the Forschungsgemeinschaft Lengenbach FGL (Lengenbach Research Association), financed by a dozen of passionate collectors and the local community of Binn. The purpose of the association is to promote the scientific research on the unique minerals of the Lengenbach locality and of other dolomite localities in the Binn valley. An intermittent, supervised specimen extraction at the Lengenbach locality shall guarantee the potential for scientific investigations on the one hand and – for the support of tourism in the Binn Valley – deliver dolomite material for an (if possible) publicly accessible dump on the other hand.

Visitors can collect minerals on the dumps of the quarry. Usually, the inner part of the quarry is closed for the public.

Museum's part of the Lengenbach Quarry wall in a special hangar
Lengenbach Quarry 2014
Museum's part of the Lengenbach Quarry wall in a special hangar
Lengenbach Quarry 2014
Museum's part of the Lengenbach Quarry wall in a special hangar
Lengenbach Quarry 2014

However, this year, the participants of the Mindat Adventure to Swiss Alps will have a possibility to explore the whole open-pit and take a look at the museum's part of the wall. Moreover, the special talk about the mineralogy of the quarry from Dr Raber (mineral raberite was named after him) will be given. As Switzerland is famous for the local delicious food, our meeting will be organised in a local restaurant.


Dr Thomas Raber presenting his slide show in 2017

By the way, the villages of Valais and particularly Binn and Fald villages have been known since the Middle Ages (14th-15th century). Nothing changed in this region since the old days and no wonder that they are a super popular filming locality.

After lunch, happy mineral collectors can visit the local mineralogical museum of Andre Gorsatt which is located only 100 meters from the restaurant, and buy some Swiss classics in his shop.

Participants of the Goldschmidt Field Trip to Swiss Alps in the Private Mineralogical Museum of Andre Gorsatt. August 2017.
Rutile from the collection of private museum Andre Gorsatt
Participants of the Goldschmidt Field Trip to Swiss Alps in the Private Mineralogical Museum of Andre Gorsatt. August 2017.
Rutile from the collection of private museum Andre Gorsatt
Participants of the Goldschmidt Field Trip to Swiss Alps in the Private Mineralogical Museum of Andre Gorsatt. August 2017.
Rutile from the collection of private museum Andre Gorsatt

On the way back it is possible to visit Turtschi, Messerbach and Rekibach dolomite outcrops. Please, note that a part of Turtschi is private. Messerbach is located near the dumps of the Lengenbach quarry, Reklibach is located at the higher altitude than road between Binn and Fald, so it is not easily accessible during a short one-day trip.

Messerbach dolomite outcrop
Turtschi on 30-07-2014
Messerbach dolomite outcrop
Turtschi on 30-07-2014
Messerbach dolomite outcrop
Turtschi on 30-07-2014

Mindat Group will also visit the Museum of Local History in Binn Village with excellent samples of some Binn's minerals (e.g. cafarsite from Wanni Glacier and orpiment with realgar and sulphosalts from Lengenbach).

The specimen in a style of Picasso from the Museum of Local History in Binn Village

The last bus departs from Binn Village at ~6.30 p.m.

This year Mindat.org performs a mineralogical adventure to Switzerland at the end of August. We are going to visit Lengenbach on the second day of the excursion. Click here if you want to register for this event.





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