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Actinolite Find in the 1960's in California

Last Updated: 21st Jan 2018

By Rolf Luetcke

Actinolite Find in the 1960's in California
By Rolf Luetcke

Back in the late 1950's to early 1960's my family lived in southern California and we took trips to many places. One of our favorite places to go was to the San Gabriel Mountains above the Los Angeles basin. We often went to the small town of Wrightwood. In summer it was to go hiking and camping. Winter we went to the same area to go skiing. We would take interstate 15 north to Cajon Junction and then state hwy. 138 northwest to Angeles Crest Highway to the west again to the little resort town of Wrightwood.
I remember coming toward Wrightwood from the east there was a small store that sold rocks and their main items were polished spheres of all kinds of minerals. I had no knowledge of minerals as a kid but I sure thought the spheres were beautiful. My parents always gave me an allowance but it was not enough to buy one of the beautiful spheres. I am sure that my memory is much richer than the spheres actually were but that memory is still very vivid. I think it is one reason I collect a sphere here and there now.
We had our dogs with us one summer when we went up to Wrightwood and my folks had to find places along the way to walk the dogs so on this trip we found a small dirt road called Dump Road a mile or two outside of Wrightwood that went toward a big wash that came down out of the mountains. As we walked to the wash we started seeing beautiful green stones in the sand of the big wash. The farther toward the mountains we walked the larger the green rocks became and I remember seeing huge chunks of the green rocks that must have weighed hundreds of pounds, maybe even thousands. My parents liked the rocks so much that they decided to take a number of them to the car and back home for the cactus garden we had behind the house. We had a 1958 Thunderbird and when the trunk was loaded with rocks it hung down quite a bit. The car didn't have the best suspension system and the trip home with three of us in the car, dogs and now boulders in the trunk the car didn't handle very well. I had no idea my folks were rock hounds long before I found my interest in minerals.
Those big chunks went into our cactus garden and at the time we had no idea what they were. They were a pretty green and we loved seeing them among the cacti in our garden. After years I ended up moving to Arizona and in the 1970's I started a mineral business and remembered the green chunks in the wash near Wrightwood California and took a trip back there. I found the same dirt road we had driven a number of years before and there were still lots of the green pieces of actinolite in the wash. By this time I knew the mineral was actinolite and I collected quite a bit to use in the mineral collections I was making at the time.
I made one more trip a number of years later to the same wash and the actinolite was getting much harder to find. It was still in the wash but the pieces were not nearly as nice and were much fewer. On another trip I went back to Pacific Palisades where I had lived and stopped by my old street. As I drove up Monument Street and by my old house there were the owners down by the garage. They were just getting home from a shopping trip. I stopped and told them I had lived in the house years before. They were very nice and invited me up to see the place now. The house brought back many nice memories and when I went into the back yard, one of the nicer parts of the property, I saw the old actinolite chunks we had collected so long ago in a pile at the side of the cactus garden. I told the people how I had collected those so many years before and they said they had raked them out and were just about to get rid of them. I was welcome to take them along since it would save them the chore of hauling them away. I was very happy to take them along and two of the big pieces are still in my yard in Arizona. As pretty as they were, I guess some people are just not fond of rocks.
In later years, when I had money to actually afford one of the spheres the store was no longer there. I learned later that the people who owned the store had developed the early technology to cut and polish spheres. Now one sees the spheres everywhere but those I had seen as a child were some of the most beautiful and were made from older materials that one no longer sees today. Some of the jaspers and agates the people used were just beautiful. I do have a few in our collection but nothing like the ones I had seen so many years ago.
The actinolite from Wrightwood was mostly massive but breaking up the material to put into the collections I was making I came across several crystals that were quite nice. The translucency of some of the actinolite was also quite nice. I am happy that I kept some of the nicer pieces I found back in the early 1960's.
Since that wash is alluvium I would think that there is still lots of actinolite buried deep under the sand but it is not a gem material and not worth mining from the wash. It is mostly a pretty green mineral for collectors only and was ideal for putting into our yard.
On a few occasions we drove the highway West out of Wrightwood and along Rim of the World Drive. It was a very scenic road and many places along the way with pullouts to look at the view of the LA basin below. One winter trip to Wrightwood we drove this road back home and stopped at one pullout. Both my father and I had to use the restroom but in those years there were no rest areas with bathroom facilities. Since it was just number one it was not that much to walk out of sight of the road and relieve ourselves. It was a bitter cold day and the wind blowing up from below was very cold. We were dressed warm but it was still a biting wind. As we were in the process we happened to look down and saw something I had never seen before. Our stream was turning to ice before hitting the ground. I can believe this in Alaska and other very cold places but in California it was a total shock. Still something I can't get out of my mind that this happened in Southern California.
The actinolite stories were some of my first experiences with minerals and those pieces we found so many years ago are still with us today.

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