Log InRegister
Home PageAbout MindatThe Mindat ManualHistory of MindatCopyright StatusWho We AreContact UsAdvertise on Mindat
Donate to MindatCorporate SponsorshipSponsor a PageSponsored PagesMindat AdvertisersAdvertise on Mindat
Learning CenterWhat is a mineral?The most common minerals on earthInformation for EducatorsMindat Articles
Minerals by PropertiesMinerals by ChemistryAdvanced Locality SearchRandom MineralRandom LocalitySearch by minIDLocalities Near MeSearch ArticlesSearch GlossaryMore Search Options
Search For:
Mineral Name:
Locality Name:
The Mindat ManualAdd a New PhotoRate PhotosLocality Edit ReportCoordinate Completion ReportAdd Glossary Item
Mining CompaniesStatisticsThe ElementsUsersBooks & MagazinesMineral MuseumsMineral Shows & EventsThe Mindat DirectoryDevice Settings
Photo SearchPhoto GalleriesNew Photos TodayNew Photos YesterdayMembers' Photo GalleriesPast Photo of the Day Gallery

The Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho

Last Updated: 22nd Dec 2010

By William C. van Laer



The Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho are the center of both recreation and a current controversy: for several decades, mineral collectors have been exploring these mountains for valuable and rare minerals, while the administrators of this area have decided they no longer care to allow this activity to take place. This in spite of laws that our Congress enacted to insure those rights are protected. In spite of this, collectors continue to make new discoveries, and a few get caught and their material is confiscated.

The Sawtooth Range is found occupying three Idaho counties: Boise, Elmore, and Custer. The range is bounded on the east by a huge normal fault, which defines the Sawtooth Valley, and to the west by mountains underlain by rocks of the Cretaceous Idaho Batholith. At the northeastern corner, the town of Stanley lies where the roads divide, one heading south along the Sawtooth Valley, to Galena Summit and eventually Sun Valley; and the road to the west, which winds around the Sawtooth range, around the northwestern corner and the little town of Grandjean, then south through Lowman and down to Boise. At the southwestern corner, the town of Atlanta sits right at the edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness, providing the southernmost access to the area.

The mountains are generally quite steep and rugged; those who go into the area must be prepared for a difficult passage. Outfitters serve the various trailheads, providing guide service and pack trips, cutting down on the effort involved, but most of the areas that are of interest are at least several miles along primitive trails. In some places, early efforts by the U.S. Forest Service to provide better access, like wooden bridges across wide streams, have been sabotaged recently by the same forces. Perfectly good bridges have been destroyed in the name of “wilderness” concepts and ideals. Rules and regulations have stiffened and now they require unreal efforts to preserve the wilderness, most of which do little to actually change anything for the better.

In 1964, our Congress created the Wilderness Act, designed to preserve areas from development, such as logging and mining. In that act, they foresaw the need to protect the right to prospect for valuable minerals, in spite of the fact that those minerals could not be claimed as according to the Mining Act of 1867. This essentially means that you can look for valuable minerals, but you cannot stake a claim there, and they can only be removed by simple means (meaning not with mechanized equipment, or any other means that contradict the wilderness laws). When the Sawtooth Mountains were made a wilderness, a few minor mining claims were “grandfathered” in, but the area is essentially free of metalliferous deposits, and virtually all of those claims were on “gem” deposits. One notable exception was the two unpatented mining claims along the bottom of the Payette River, which were staked for placer deposits of rare-earth minerals. These claims were held for decades by the late Rich Knoblock, known locally as “mountain Man”, who was one of the true “old-timers” left. His struggles with the U.S. Forest Service were legendary, and he spent much of the latter part of his life trying to retain his rights to mine on his claims.

As early as the 1950’s, packers and explorers knew of the occurrence of aquamarine in the Sawtooths; by the 1960’s, exploration geologists were assigned to map and explore the area in order to define these deposits. Two such notable efforts were the field work done by Roland Reid (Reconnaissance Geology of the Sawtooth Range: 1963), and Pattee, Van Noy, and Weldin (Beryllium Resources of Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon: 1968). Both these papers showed that in some select areas, beryl was quite common, but always in non-commercial amounts. The indication was that there were areas of concentration where beryl was abundant, but mostly scattered through the granite in veinlets, blebs, and irregular, discontinuous masses. Some reports of vug occurrences were also noted.

By the late 1970’s, a few hardy collectors had managed to penetrate into the remote areas in search of gem-quality aquamarine and other minerals. One of these was former Stanley resident Geary Murdock, who managed to find some of the most spectacular aquamarine crystals ever found in North America. He was noted for having much of this material for sale at Tucson during the early 1980’s, all labeled as coming from “Centerville, Boise County, Idaho”. This was a deliberate deception to avoid prosecution for selling material that had been removed from a wilderness area. It was to become a great controversy many years later, and to this day, only a couple of people know where Mr. Murdock actually collected his material, but it was certainly (and mostly) from the Sawtooth Mountains, and NOT from Centerville. Much of the information gathered about the REAL Centerville locality and the Murdock connection was gleaned from a series of interviews conducted with former Hailey, Idaho jeweler Bob Rodman, who knew Geary personally.

Other collectors were to follow; one story had it that Rich Kosnar (personal comm.. with Rich Kosnar, circa 1986), who had befriended Geary Murdock and went with him to some of his collecting areas, was caught removing minerals using a helicopter to fly in and out of the wilderness. He was also responsible for starting a rumor about the occurrence of yellow beryl, which on examination, proved to be yellow apatite from Durango, Mexico. For the record, NO beryl in any color other than shades of blue has been found in the Sawtooth Batholith. One of the most remarkable facts about Sawtooth aquamarine is that it is a beautiful blue color, unmatched by material from almost anywhere else in the world

Other collectors were soon to follow; many of these remain anonymous, and the material they found goes essentially unrecorded. The author has found quite a few “digs” and empty pockets that indicate there was much interesting material that had been removed. Some discoveries are recorded (Menzies and Boggs: 1993; van Laer and Ream: 1986); some discoveries are legendary, such as Murdocks fine aquamarines, and the huge smoky quartz pocket found west of Edna Lake in 1985 (the author was present at the original discovery, also reported by Boggs (1993). In addition to that, a new mineral, potassiccarpholite, was originally found by Murdock from his great aqua find, and then by the author a few years later in 1982.

Currently the U.S. Forest Service maintains that “mineral collecting is prohibited”, which is a regulation as opposed to a statute. This can be interpreted to mean that they can confiscate what you collect, but there is no law to charge collectors with breaking. Because of the significance of the minerals from this area, I suggest that the Forest Service be challenged over this issue, but so far no individual or legal representative has taken on this very worthy cause. As collectors, we need to concern ourselves with the preservation of significant localities such as this (especially this one!) or else we will soon find ourselves as outlaws with mineral collecting prohibited on ALL public lands. If these decisions are left solely up to the U.S. Forest Service, they will definitely not take our side.


The Sawtooth Mountains are almost entirely underlain by granites of the late Cretaceous-early Tertiary orogeny, and mostly by the Sawtooth Batholith. As defined by Bennett (1985, 1980) Tertiary-age granites found throughout Idaho are distinguished by the occurrence of miarolitic cavities, which are lined with the characteristic idiomorphic minerals of the granite itself, a druse of smoky quartz, microcline, albite, and other accessory minerals. It is this characteristic, the occurrence of miarolitics and smoky quartz that serve to identify the Tertiary granites. Besides the Sawtooth Batholith, a number of other batholiths, plutons, and plugs of various relationships and sizes are found throughout Idaho and southwestern Montana. Some of these include the Lolo Batholith, known for the occurrence of fine smoky quartz crystal, some of immense size; the Crags Batholith, where aquamarine, topaz, phenakite, fluorite, and other granite druse minerals are found; the Cathedral Rock Pluton, located along the Idaho-Montana border south of Darby, Montana:
The author has explored a number of these granites and has found many miarolitic cavities, proving Bennett’s theory. All of these granites are found cutting rocks of late Cretaceous age, which confirms the Tertiary intrusion and date. Cretaceous granite, named the Idaho Batholith, is devoid of miarolitic cavities, but is cut by dikes and veins of various compositions, from aplites and pegmatites to diabase and also porphyry dikes. The Cretaceous Idaho batholith is host rock to many of the precious metal deposits found around the Sawtooth Batholith.

Numerous hot springs are found around the Sawtooth Mountains, evidence that the core of this range is still actively heated. From the northeast, the Sunbeam, to the northwest, Sacajawea, to the west, Bonneville and Kirkham, to the southwest, Atlanta and Chattanooga hot springs are all accessible to the public. They are a great way to soak off trail dust after a long day’s hike.

The granite of the Sawtooth Batholith is varied; at one time it was considered to be more quartz monzonitic than a true granite, but this terminology has been refuted and it is now considered to be a true granite. It can be characteristically pink, but often is white in overall appearance and color. In some areas it grades almost imperceptibly into rhyolitic porphyry, and in other places it is aplitic in texture. Generally it is a fine-grained rock, very dense and tough; in places cut by diorite dikes of younger age. In most cases, it is bounded by rocks of the Cretaceous Idaho Batholith, which is also granitic in nature. At Thompson Peak, the Sawtooth Batholith contacts with Precambrian schists and gneisses. The author has found the “roof” of the batholith where it cuts into metasedimentary rocks and other metamorphics above Timpa Lake. Here, the granite cuts through the metamorphics in apophyses and also small pegmatites.

Most of the Sawtooth Mountains have been subsequently eroded by glaciation; deep u-shaped valleys, sharp arêtes, cirque headwalls, tarn lakes, and roche montonees define the topography. The steep peaks are further accentuated by steeply-dipping joints, which give the range its trademark name, “sawtooth”. The exposures left by glacial sculpting yield broad areas where miarolitic cavities are left exposed. Unfortunately, the force of glacial ice on most of these openings was so strong as to “pluck” most cavities clean of their contents. Glaciation is also evident in both glacial polish and striations, which are common in all areas. In some places, the granite is polished so smoothly that when crossed by a stream or river, a “slide” is created where people can be carried along the stream bed surface by merely sitting on the rock and allowing the flow to carry you downstream.

Specific localities in the Sawtooth Mountains are widespread and ill-defined. Only one mining claim has been reported in literature (Reid: 1963), the Inama Claim, which was located at the top of the ridge crest that separates Ardeth and Edna Lakes. To the north of this ridge the author found an extensive dig that apparently was for aquamarine; a few scattered crystals were found in the dumps, and at the very top, aquamarine-bearing pegmatitic schleiren was exposed on the granite outcrop. This dig fits Geary Murdock’s description of his primary aqua locality.

Other well-known areas include the earliest of the discoveries: the Camp Lake-Heart Lake area at the headwaters of Flytrip Creek. Here, aquamarine had been known about for several decades. Numerous exposures of aquamarine embedded in granite are to be found throughout the area, and a number of pockets have been collected here, including one near Heart Lake by Rich Kosnar.

In addition, the Ardeth Lake-Glens Peak-Edna Lake areas have produced quite a number of noteworthy pockets, including the second only potassiccarpholite discovery to date.
At the west end of Redfish Lake, in Custer County, the massive peak Grand Mogul ahs been collected on for many years also; further up the drainage, the Kathyrn Lakes (Pete Knudsen, pers. comm.) and the area around Upper Cramer Lakes have produced much material; over the divide where the Arrowhead stands lies the Hell Roaring Lake drainage, which climbs up a series of glacially-cut “steps” to Imogene Lake; this area has been extensively collected as well.Above Upper Cramer Lakes and across the divide over to the Upper Payette River Valley lies Hidden Lake, which has been explored by a few collectors. In this area is a small manganese deposit that was reported in early literature; upon examination the author found it to be small, with an excavation pit, but mostly just black stains of manganese oxides, not indicative of a significant deposit of any kind.

The author first explored the upper Goat Creek drainage back in 1988; at the time, no other mineral collectors had visited the area. Many pockets were found in the area around Oreamnos Lake:
Pack Rat Lake, Three Lake, Limber Lake, Meadow Lake, McWillards Lake, Cony Lake and a number of unnamed small basins and cirque headwalls. Topaz was found to be abundant in this area, but unfortunately, a couple of collectors allowed their campfire to spread and resulted in the burning of the north side of Oreamnos Lake in 1989 (the fire started in their campfire ring, where they had left numerous crystals that weren’t present the year previous). The Goat Creek drainage has no trail, and hiking in to the area is difficult.

Another previously unreported area is that of a large hanging valley in the lower Benedict Creek drainage, coined the “Devil’s Den” after the famous rocky ridge in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Here the author has collected and explored for several decades, and has discovered numerous pockets. The area holds three large talus fields, many granite exposures, and two prominent lakes, the lower lake which remains a prime camping site. In this area, many significant finds have been made, including a number of topaz, helvite, bertrandite, smoky quartz and aquamarine pockets.

The author explored ledges and benches throughout the area where the Benedict Creek joins the Payette River; many “scoured” and empty vugs through this area indicate that there is much potential here. Several hanging glacial valleys enter the upper valley walls, especially on the eastern side of the valley; some of these required a climb of over 2,000 feet in elevation to gain access. The difficulty of getting in to some of these areas leaves them as tantalizing places of great potential. Ledges along the walls of the Payette Valley have produced a number of fine pockets. Nearer to Ardeth Lake, in 1986, the author discovered outcrops of granite that were peppered with helvite grains, much in the same manner as the aquamarine occurrences throughout the batholith. The granite exhibited many small vugs, and one good pocket with helvite, topaz, and corroded microcline was collected here.

Other areas remain potential but as yet unreported; the author has explored some of these places, but many remain difficult to access. Mount Every to Lake Ingeborg has much exposed granite; Fall Creek is difficult to access at best, and the upper cirque headwalls have not been explored by modern collectors. The area around Decker Flat, adjacent to Grand Mogul had bee looked at, but no reliable reports about there have been recorded. Some collecting has produced material near Snowyside Peak and Toxaway Lake; the area around Sawtooth Lake has also been collected with some success. A large plug of the Sawtooth Batholith is found adjacent to Grandjean, at the northwest extremity of the range; there are no reports of collecting this area as of yet.

The granite itself is defined by Menzies and Boggs as “anorogenic” which is defined as “a geological feature that forms during a period of tectonic quiescence between orogenic periods” (Dictionary of Geologic Terms: 1962). While this may be, it does little to define the nature of this intrusive, which is both unique and exceptional in North America. The granite is locally “infested” with tiny miarolitic cavities, often less than a few millimeters across
in places it hosts various forms of more or less “massive” aquamarine, which occurs in pods, blebs, streaks, and schlieren, as well as along joint surfaces and in micropegmatites. This latter term has been used to describe the occurrence of thin pegmatitic bodies that are too small to be properly classed as pegmatites. Most of these seem to be joint-related crystallization phenomena, but true pegmatites have been reported (Menzies and Boggs: 1993) and by others (Reid, 1963), including this author. Masses of blue aquamarine embedded in solid granite may be small but often are found covering large areas, both as scattered pods and as joint surfaces. One such surface was found by the author in 1982, in a boulder field at the fork of Flytrip Creek and the Middle Fork of the Boise River; this occurrence was on a talus boulder about six feet across; one entire surface was completely covered with deep blue aquamarine. In addition to the aquamarine occurrences, the beryllium mineral helvite is also found as grains and small masses embedded in the granite; this is perhaps the only such occurrence of its kind in the world. One such outcrop is to be found about ½ mile northwest of Ardeth Lake, along the base of the western side of the valley.

True pegmatites are not common, but many of the so-called “micropegmatites” are. There are some exceptions; the author spent a great deal of time trying to hunt pegmatites that had been mapped by earlier geologists, especially Reid; many of these were found to be simple or too small to be classed as “true” pegmatites. One reported southwest of Glens Peak, in Elmore County, was found on a glacially sculpted ledge; it exhibited fairly large masses of quartz and pink feldspar over an area about ten square feet. The author found a series of thin, tabular pegmatites in the Devil’s Den area; here, a series of pegmatites about 20 inches thick are in parallel position, lying on top of each other in a lit par lit fashion. These bodies could be traced along their strike for about one hundred feet, and they all dipped steeply at an attitude of about 40 degrees. Most of these exhibited no cavities, but we found at one end a small vug lined with smoky quartz crystals. Other than these few occurrences, all the material collected in the Sawtooth Batholith is from miarolitic cavities.

A miarolitic cavity is defined as an abrupt opening in what is otherwise solid rock; it comes from an Italian mining term, coined at Baveno, meaning “worm-eaten” (miarolo) and rock or stone (litic or lithic). Other similar granites include the Moat Mountain area of New Hampshire, the Golden Horn Batholith of Washington, the Lolo Batholith of Montana, the Tarryall Mountains of Colorado, and the Crags Batholith north of Challis, Idaho. Field observations have shown that generally these are leucocratic granites of mostly fine grained texture, rarely porphyrytic; often they resemble aplite or alaskite in both grain size and composition. Miarolitic cavities are often abrupt openings in the granite, but can also be outlined with pegmatitic schlieren or zones, and sometimes found along horizontal joint surfaces. The size may vary from a few millimeters to many meters in one dimension, but reports of cavities “20 meters high” remain dubious, as reported by Menzies and Boggs. Their description of pocket shapes is both lacking and somewhat inaccurate, as they are never “tabular” but almost invariably ovoid, rounded, or sausage-shaped. A few vugs exhibiting post-mineralization plastic deformation have been noted by this author. These tend to be quite rare and show more-or-less angular shapes. They also attempted to “classify” mineral assemblages in their article, but their lack of any extensive data renders this description as useless. Taking only a handful of occurrences, they have drawn conclusions from a relatively barren sampling, which is not statistically accurate.

Miarolitic cavities are very common in the Sawtooth Batholith, but only in select areas; in some places they are almost entirely absent. It has been reported that some nine different plutons have been recognized, which may explain this. Otherwise, it may be due to other factors, such as proximity to contacts and margins, or relative elevation in the granite. This latter theory holds that volatiles that make up the cavities rise due to their relatively less dense nature, and may be concentrated near the roof of a granitic intrusive. While this seems to explain some of the occurrences, it is apparent that miarolitics are common near contacts, especially where the tertiary granite cuts the Cretaceous granite. The contacts of the batholith have been mapped by others, but in some cases were “projected” where inferred; the author has found some of these to be erroneous. But wherever the contacts are, miarolitic cavities are very numerous.

Since both glaciation and post-glacial weathering has removed much of the cavities’ contents, often only a few undisturbed cavities remain for collectors, and these are often hidden or poorly exposed. Pockets that have been sculpted free of their contents often exhibit patches of quartz and/or feldspar, showing they were once lined with euhedral crystals. Some vugs contain crystals that are part of the “living” granite, i.e., they are intergrown with the solid granite and will not come free without serious effort; others contain much loose pocket debris that is easily removed with bare hands or simple tools.

The latter occurrence is typical for many pegmatite vugs and some miarolitic cavities; phenomenon noted in the field suggests that this occurs late in the crystallization sequence, where confining pressures are excessively high and may cause local rupturing of the rock. This would induce radial fractures into the surrounding rock, and subsequent to this a parallel jointing would develop around the periphery of the opening. The result would be the pocket walls would break into irregular slabs and become loose inside the pocket. Freezing and thawing cycles could add to this breakdown, but evidence shows that some crystallization still takes place after this initial fracturing, as minor crystal growth is invariably shown on fractured surfaces. An explanation for this often claims that some kind of “earth movement” or tectonic activity is responsible for this phenomenon, but if it were so, then evidence would show that ALL surrounding rock was similarly affected, but there is no evidence of this. It must then happen through other forces.

As mentioned, miarolitic cavities can be found by searching for schleiren or streaks of pegmatitic rock, that is, areas of much coarser granite than the granite itself. The author has used this technique to find many pockets that were otherwise completely hidden, either by soil cover or rock debris. One such vug was found at a high elevation on a huge talus boulder; on the upper, exposed side of the boulder frost wedging had forced apart a series of granite slabs that were just protecting a vug opening. Successive freezing and thawing cycle had slowly exposed the vug, but the broken slabs were never moved form the pocket entrance, and only a small depression was evident near the top of the vug. After removing dozens of granite slabs, the pocket was revealed, and the entire contents were removed easily.

Other indications of a cavity include grass, small trees, or soil where the rock is apparently solid. On the very first trip I made into the Sawtooths, I was busy taking pictures of Glens Peak and a huge boulder perched on a ledge; I told my partner to examine a small patch of moss growing from the side of the boulder, and soon he was removing topaz and smoky quartz crystals by the dozens. A miarolitic cavity is essentially a perfect “pot” for plant life to grow in: it’s a hollowed-out area filled with loose soil, clays, and loose minerals, a natural place for any plant to take root. Unfortunately, one often has to remove such plant life to get at the pocket’s contents. In other cases, collectors have encountered grass cuttings left by pikas to cure (a pika is a rabbit-like animal that lives in extreme elevations, cutting and harvesting grass all summer, and doesn’t hibernate during winter), and other such fauna as bird’s nests, various insects, ant nests, and even salamanders!

There are two schools of thought when it comes to hunting miarolitics in the Sawtooths: one group subscribes to the notion that ALL pockets on outcrops have been scoured clean of crystals, and therefore the ONLY good collecting is to be done on large granite boulders. Now it is to be noted that there area several fairly large talus fields in the Sawtooth Mountains, and these areas are filled with boulders of solid granite of extraordinary size (up to the size of a small house!), and these have all been loosened and accumulated post-glacially. This means that except for where they were once possibly exposed to the glacial ice, they are broken without being so exposed, and any pocket or vug opening is more likely to be intact. This is true, and many good pockets have been found on loose talus boulders.

However, the opposing school believes that hunting on boulders is worthless, and these collectors spend their entire time hunting on granite outcrops. If you study glacial topography, you learn that glacial ice behaves in a predictable pattern, sculpting and scouring along its path and in a direction downstream, while it tends to “pluck” surfaces that are perpendicular to the ice flow direction. A good example of this is the roche montonees or “sheep back” forms that are characteristic of some glacial landforms. These are rock outcrops with shallow top and sides on the upslope side of the glacial ice flow, while they are steep on the downstream side. Here, the ice has ground down the backside of the outcrop, but it has plucked the rock on the downstream side. Here the rock has been broken rather than ground down, and any pocket opening exposed on the down side is likely to be intact. This applies to any outcrop depending on the direction of the ice flow; the author has found many intact pockets both on the downstream side of roche montonees as well as on exposed faces where the direction of the ice flow dictated the scouring or plucking hierarchy.

There are other techniques to finding miarolitic cavities; one good method is to hunt along ledges and flat exposures for “float” that would indicate the presence of a nearby pocket. This may or may not yield with success, as some float may have traveled quite a distance and be almost impossible to trace to its source. But more often than not, it will indicate the presence of a nearby pocket.

Collecting these miarolitic cavities is also somewhat of an “art”, although I don’t believe it takes any necessary skills, just a little patience. If there is plant life or flora of some kind growing from a pocket entrance, it must be removed carefully. One pocket had a tiny pine tree sprouting from the entrance; it took considerable effort digging and pulling to finally remove it; a few knuckles were bloodied in the effort. What was revealed underneath was a vug full of carpholite “balls” and one fist-sized smoky quartz with attached carpholite balls:

On one occasion, above Surprise Lake, I had to remove a good deal of grass and soil from the entrance of a small vug to gain access; once removed, I began to excavate the pocket contents, only to disturb a live salamander who had apparently taken up residence inside! To this day I’m not sure who was more surprised…..

In some instances, larger flora will take root in larger pockets:
Such occurrences are exceptional and simply cannot be collected. Another example is a “boulder pocket” I found west of Ardeth Lake back in 1983; the vug was sausage-shaped, about 8-10 in diameter, extending back into the boulder at least 24 inches; planted on the back wall was a huge doubly-terminated topaz crystal fully 7 inches long and at least 2 inches across. No tool would fit inside this narrow vug, and the topaz crystal was a part of the “living” granite; it would never come out whole, and trying to do so would certainly destroy it. One vug I discovered in the Devil’s Den exhibited a suite of interesting assemblage; I first took a photo of the vug just as I had found it, on the side of a huge boulder. Among other things, a nice, sharp colorless topaz crystal was present, mixed in with all the other minerals that were present; after the picture was taken, I took a chance and struck the side of the pocket wall with my rock hammer. Surprisingly the matrix I was after broke off instantly, and I had a fine matrix specimen:
This was a lucky break; anything so intimately “glued” to the solid granite usually doesn’t give up without a serious fight.

I plan to record a series of discoveries associated with my field experiences in the Sawtooths later on, along with some input from other collectors.


The mineralogy of the miarolitics in the Sawtooth Mountains is essentially simple: the cavities are generally lined with the same minerals that make up the granite itself, namely quartz, microcline, albite, and mica. Accessory minerals may be common or rare; common are beryl, topaz, zinnwaldite mica, spessartine garnet, siderite and bertrandite; rare species include helvite, phenakite, carpholite, fluorapatites, monazite, and others.

Menzies and Boggs (1993) have tried to “classify” different pockets by mineral assemblages, with no apparent results. There are so many differing assemblages as to make such delineations unnecessary; nearly all combinations of minerals have been found to occur, and their list leaves huge gaps in the known data. While some pockets contain largely just smoky quartz, they may hold any number of species in various combinations far in excess of what they have indicated. In addition, there are some serious doubts as to the identity of some of these species, particularly the occurrence of “masutomilite” mica. This is a manganese-rich end member of the lithia mica series, tentatively identified by an SEM scan over a brownish mica plate. Samples gathered by the author from the same pocket were examined by x-ray diffraction by Jim Wilson of Weber State, which turned out to be zinnwaldite. He was at that time engaged in identifying true masutomilite for a Connecticut collector at the time; furthermore, dozens of other samples of mica the author collected and submitted for x-ray analysis all turned out to be zinnwaldite. No masutomilite from the Sawtooths has ever been properly identified as such; literally all micas from the miarolitics proved to be nothing other than zinnwaldite; not even one was muscovite or any other type. Biotite has been identified with wallrock granite, but this is beyond the scope of this paper; we are dealing with the mineralogy of the miarolitic cavities and not the massive granite here.

Other minerals are in question, and a few were omitted: the occurrence of pyrophanite is questionable, as no x-ray data has ever been made, merely a “visual” identification; that what was listed by Menzies and Boggs as “muscovite” is entirely zinnwaldite; fayalite has been found in pegmatitic masses but not in cavities; calcite and gypsum remain dubious and are probably secondary in origin, having little or nothing to do with the crystallization sequence of the granite minerals. Since Boggs and Menzies have already provided relatively complete descriptions of most of these minerals, I will only add whatever new information has come to light.

QUARTZ: All quartz is some variety of smoky quartz; that which is colorless has been “bleached” by sunlight (Bennett: 1980). Crystals vary from small, simple prisms to fairly large prismatic to stubby individuals; some complexly repeated into subgroups consisting of many parallel parts to one main crystal:
Such parallel-grouped crystals are typical of Sawtooth smokies. Matrix specimens are common; associations may include microcline, albite, topaz, and most of the other species found here. Some quartz has been found with inclusions of other minerals; Menzies and Boggs mention acicular topaz, beryl, zircon, columbite, zinnwaldite, helvite; the author has also observed carpholite as an inclusion in smoky quartz.
Most smoky quartz is dull to lustrous; some exhibits a late-stage overgrowth of white to milky quartz, especially where secondary mineralization has taken place in the vug. Some crystals are quite clear and afford cut gems of many carats.

MICROCLINE: This is another “essential” mineral of the granite druses, almost universally present. Crystals are generally not large, but some Baveno twins of fairly good size have been found. Twins are common, and both Carlsbad and Manebach twins are noted, the latter in what are referred to as “Chevron twins”. Microcline is usually white, buff-colored, or pinkish. Matrix specimens are relatively common, often associated with smoky quartz, snow-white albite, and topaz.

ALBITE: Albite is another essential mineral of the granite; it occurs in miarolitic cavities associated with quartz and microcline. In some instances, it displays aggregates of curved crystals, but is usually drusy in form. Because of its common occurrence and ordinary appearance, the mineral albite is not worthy of special note.

ZINNWALDITE: This lithia mica is almost ubiquitous in its occurrence; almost every pocket found by this author has at least a few small crystals. Despite an earlier report that the lithia mica masutomilite is found in the Sawtooth miarolitics, no material yet has proven to be this species; all of the x-ray analysis has shown the pocket mica to be zinnwaldite. Not even muscovite has been identified as such; it is clear that the late-stage volatiles that form the vug openings are rich in elements such as lithium, beryllium, potassium, sodium, and silica (as well as hydrogen and oxygen!). Zinnwaldite is usually silvery to grey in color; also dark black and brownish where richer in manganese. Large crystals of zinnwaldite up to several inches across were found above Upper Cramer Lake:

TOPAZ: There is quite a bit of this mineral found in the Sawtooth Batholith; many topaz-bearing pockets have been found, and it seems to be a very primary accessory mineral. Its presence indicates that fluorine is a common element in the formation of these miarolitic cavities; the occurrence of fluorite adds to this theory. Topaz occurs as golden-yellow crystals, often with very lustrous vicineal faces; some crystals are quite transparent, but the color fades easily on exposure to sunlight. Some crystals that have been exposed have turned a pale blue color. Crystals are generally stubby to prismatic, sometimes nearly acicular; also as groups of radiating crystals in roughly hemispherical aggregates, somewhat resembling albite:
One unique pocket produced specimens of corroded microcline at least partly replaced with fine, acicular topaz crystals; these qualify as “encrustation pseudomorphs” although the topaz is randomly orientated over the corroded feldspar and doesn’t follow the form of the feldspar completely. Good matrix specimens displaying topaz crystals with smoky quartz, microcline, albite, and other species are fairly common, but more often than not, crystals are found free of their respective matrices. The largest known topaz crystals measure up to about 3 inches in length; a few stubby examples weighing up to 700 carats have been found, but complete records are sketchy and incomplete.

BERYL: Perhaps the most sought-after of all Sawtooth miarolitic minerals, beryl is invariably found as the variety aquamarine in some shade of blue. Even early reports on this area referred to the occurrence of beryl as “aquamarine”, a bit unusual for geologists who generally stick to mineralogical names rather than nicknames. Reports that “yellow” beryl had been found in the area were erroneous at best; it turns out that these were apatite crystals from Mexico. Some suspected colorless beryl has been reported; one such find was claimed to come out of the pocket colorless but turned blue within a few minutes (pers. comm., Elvis Gray); the author found white to colorless beryl near Timpa Lake, but this still needs confirmation. Besides being found in vugs, aquamarine commonly occurs in massive "pods", "sunbursts" or along joint surfaces, embedded in micropegmatite, and disseminated throughout the massive granite:

Aquamarine has been found as loose float, largely due to the nature of the mineral to be free of its matrix, combined with weathering effects. Most significant aquamarine finds have been made from “breached” cavities where the contents have been completely weathered from their origin and deposited into the soil or float below the vug entrance. Very few aquamarine pockets have been found intact; one the author found near Camp Lake had an entrance so small that the loose crystals inside could not pass through until the surrounding granite had been removed to gain access. The pocket as accessed was found to be completely “choked” with loose aquamarine crystals, which would have easily spilled out had the entrance been just a little larger.

Most Sawtooth aquamarine occurs as etched or corroded crystals; some to the extent that no original crystal faces remain:
A few pockets have yielded relatively “fresh”, unaltered crystals, most notably the material that Geary Murdock had found. Generally, these are quite rare:
and are usually either small crystals or at least,from small and limited vugs. Matrix specimens are very rare and only a few have been noted. Crystals also are found as tiny acicular prisms penetrating smoky quartz. The largest reported aquamarine yet found measure 7.5 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter, weighing 535 grams:
Menzies had personally examined this specimen back in 1986, not long after it had been found, but failed to report it in his article (1993) for some inexplicable reason.

Aquamarine has been found in association with smoky quartz, microcline, albite, hematite, fluorite, and fluorapatites, columbite and bertrandite. Pockets with etched or corroded crystals often contain some bertrandite, which forms at the expense of beryl, especially in a vug environment. Some pockets contain crystals with casts of dissolved beryl, with associated bertrandite and sometimes topaz.

SPESSARTINE: This member of the garnet family is a manganese-rich variety, commonly found in pegmatitic environments (i.e., the Little Three mine, Ramona, California; the Amelia Courthouse pegmatite district, Virginia; Gilgit, Pakistan). Crystals of orange to red spessartine are common in some areas of the Sawtooth Mountains, especially around Camp Lake and on the ridge west of Ardeth Lake and Glens Peak. Generally small but often well-formed and lustrous, the garnets grow very late in the crystallization sequence, often encrusting earlier minerals almost entirely, much like the material from China:
Spessartine has been noted as an inclusion in both smoky quartz crystals as well as topaz. The largest spessartine was part of what Geary Murdock had in his private collection; the single crystal was nearly the size of a baseball.

HEMATITE: Hematite is found as sharp, submetallic grey crystals and crystal aggregates, along with other granite druse minerals. The crystals are flattened to tabular, often in subparallel clusters or “rosettes”. Besides being a common accessory in aquamarine pockets, it also is found with smoky quartz
Geary Murdock once exhibited some of his Sawtooth collection at a gem show in Missoula, Montana; one large specimen of hematite measuring several inches across was included.

FLUORITE: Crystals of fluorite are somewhat common in Sawtooth miarolitics; crystals are usually small and complex, exhibiting cube-octahedral combinations. Color is generally pale green, but pink fluorite has been reported (Menzies and Boggs: 1993). One large crystal was found in a vug near Kathryn Lakes; it was so embedded in the granite that any attempts to remove it would have been met with failure. It was estimated to be about two inches across (Pete Knudsen, pers. comm.). Some fluorite exhibits severe etching, as is common with some vug minerals that are metastable.

HELVITE: This rare beryllium mineral was first thought to be the Fe-end member danalite, but subsequent analysis has shown this to be the Mn-member helvite. Perhaps the best and certainly the largest helvite crystals ever found in North America have been from the Sawtooth Batholith. The mineral has been found as an epitaxial (?) growth on microcline crystals, as simple tetrahedrons (positive and negative), as combinations of both positive and negative (octahedrons), and as spinel-twins. Crystals are reddish-brown and translucent; luster usually dull to almost earthy. Most occurrences of helvite are in cavities or vugs, but it is found massive dispersed throughout the granite in rare cases. Generally small, crystals of helvite to nearly 4 cm on edge! Some association with topaz has been noted as well.

PHENAKITE: This mineral, although reported as “rare” by Boggs and Menzies, is actually quite common, especially in vugs that contain topaz. The author has found dozens of pockets with phenakite crystals, especially above Upper Cramer Lake, around Ardeth Lake and also near Camp Lake and Spangle Lakes. Commonly it is found as tabular or flattened rhombehedral crystals, some with twelve sides; also as prismatic crystals. Crystals are pale yellow to pinkish, some quite glassy and lustrous, but often small. One pocket contained small matrix specimens of microcline and albite almost entirely encrusted with tiny phenakite crystals, indicating a later or secondary growth; another vug nearby had a single prismatic crystal, quite transparent, intergrown with smoky quartz and topaz. In addition, the topaz exhibited a cast left probably by beryl, which had subsequently dissolved. Other topaz from this pocket also exhibited similar casts.

BERTRANDITE: This mineral is very common in Sawtooth miarolitic cavities; because of the relative propensity of beryl to be unstable, the resultant product is invariably the mineral bertrandite. Crystals are very small and often not recognized as such until they are taken home and cleaned off. Often bertrandite will be found encrusting aquamarine, especially those crystals that exhibit some degree of etching. Some beryl will be almost completely etched, leaving sharp “spicules” which are intergrown with tiny bertrandites. In some pockets, bertrandite will encrust all earlier minerals, such as microcline and quartz, occupying casts where beryl once grew but is now completely etched away. One pocket provided quite a few such examples:

SIDERITE: Also a fairly common mineral, siderite is found as small rhombehedral crystals almost invariably replaced by goethite.

PYRITE: Also a fairly common mineral, pyrite is also invariably altered to the mineral goethite. Cubic form is most common.

MONAZITE: This mineral has been found in a few pockets, mostly as tiny cream-colored crystals (identified by SEM-EDX).

FLUORAPATITE: Apatite was first recognized from a single crystal found in the “dumps” of an aqua pocket; since then, the author has found bi-colored fluorapatites in an intact aqua pocket, along with microcline, fluorite, smoky quartz, albite, zinnwaldite, and hematite. Although the crystals were small (under 4 mm), they were purple and green in color, and were easily recognized by their fluorescence.

TOURMALINE: While common in many granite pegmatite suites, this mineral has only been identified from one pocket (by x-ray diffraction), associated with smoky quartz and topaz. Tiny acicular to needle-like dark tourmaline crystals were found encrusting topaz and quartz from a pocket found near Upper Cramer Lake.

COLUMBITE: Small crystals of columbite have been found in close association with aquamarine, a typical combination from many granitic pegmatites. Crystals are usually flattened tabular and exhibit typical iridescent tarnish on crystal surfaces.

OTHER MINERALS: Also recognized from the Sawtooth miarolitics are anatase, bastnasite, cassiterite, laumontite, magnetite, molybdenite, rutile, stilbite, wodingite, and zircon. The reported occurrence of pyrophanite is dubious; the same applies to uranophane, calcite, and biotite (which is a mineral found only in the massive granite and not in cavities). Many of these species have only been identified visually and more advanced work is needed to properly include them in the suite. Common opal is found as a post-mineralized encrustation on vug minerals, deposited from contact with silica-bearing aqueous solutions, most likely from descending rainwater and melting ice water.


The author first visited the Sawtooth Mountains in 1982; since that time, many other expeditions have been made. Only the most important highlights will be mentioned here, as many of the discoveries were not very noteworthy. In some places, most of the exposed pockets were scoured clean of their contents, and many of those that weren’t contained few if any noteworthy specimens.


The first trip started in Atlanta, Idaho, following the Middle Fork of the Boise River up to the Spangle Lakes. Keith Christy and I made camp on the east shore of Spangle Lakes and explored the area for about a week. We originally started late in the afternoon, only making a campsite just below the fork of the Boise River with Timpa Creek; it took most of the following day to reach Spangle Lakes, but I was able to hike above the lake to a series of smaller, unnamed lakes where I found a large vuggy surface along a crack in a huge granite boulder. At first I thought it was lined with aggregates of white albite, along with pale smoky quartz crystals; after struggling in cramped quarters I was able to chisel off several small matrix specimens. Later Keith suggested that these were actually topaz crystals, in a very odd habit of radiating crystals in hemispherical groups:

The following day we set out along the ridge extending from Spangle Lakes to the south. High atop that ridge I spotted a huge boulder perched on a narrow ledge, which had a small patch of grass growing from its side. While I got my camera out to take pictures, Keith went down to the boulder, climbed up the side, and began to remove the obstructing grass. While I was taking pictures, he began to pull out topaz and smoky quartz crystals. The pocket opening was somewhat narrow, restricting access, so it took quite a while to excavate the contents. Eventually we found over 65 topaz crystals and 150 small smoky quartz crystals, along with a handful of zinnwaldite, which I left thinking they were merely muscovite crystals. After cleaning these off, I found one nice small phenakite planted on the side of a quartz crystal.

We spent the rest of the week searching the area to the north of Glens Peak, which is one of the highest and largest mountains in the Sawtooth Range. A number of pegmatites were mapped in the area by Reid (1964), many of which we were not able to locate, but those we did weren’t much to see. Most of these were small, thin tabular bodies of micropegmatite, some with tiny miarolitic cavities, but hardly worth examining. We found that the glacial benches were often quite steep, and travel planned by topographic map wasn’t predictable. Eventually we found a large talus field to the west of Glens Peak that held many boulders of considerable size, and quite a few miarolitic cavities. I found dozens of small pockets, mostly with matrix specimens consisting of smoky quartz, microcline, albite, and topaz. Most of these were part of the “living” granite; that is, they were solidly attached to the massive rock, and they had to be removed by chiseling along the walls of the pockets. A few held loose specimens, and in these I found several small plates of albite with smoky quartz, “white cap” topaz crystals, and a few pale pink phenakite crystals (identified by x-ray diffraction at Weber State). These phenakites were flattened rhombehedrons, quite lustrous and transparent; one displayed twelve sides at it’s edge.

I found one larger vug exposed on the side of a fairly huge boulder; it was enlongated and sausage-shaped. In the center of the opening was a kind of “crown” with a base of microcline, capped by albite and several white topaz crystals, with a center of a single black smoky quartz crystal. Everything in this vug was also part of the living granite, so I set out to remove this choice and showy specimen. I carefully started chiseling along the base of the specimen, well below the feldspar, and worked out a trench after an hour or so of hammering on the chisel. After a while, it appeared that the whole specimen was ready to come loose, but as I pried it up, it came apart in several pieces. I saved these and was able to re-assemble part of it, but the specimen as a whole was lost. It turns out that one of the feldspar crystals was covered in albite and small white topaz crystals, along with tiny pale yellow crystals of the new mineral, potassiccarpholite


The next trip I made with one of my college collecting buddies, Ron “Knute” Storrud. This time we hiked in from Pettit Lake up and over Sand Mountain Pass. We spent the first night on Edna Lake, having traveled close to 15 miles on foot the first day.

The following day we hiked over the divide that separates the Payette River Valley and Edna Lake from the Tenlakes basin and Ardeth Lake. At the top of the pass is Summit Lake, and when we arrived at the far side of the lake, we took a break. Right there on a flat granite exposure, some one had recently scratched the surface of an exposed pocket. They left some clayey pocket debris lying around the opening, and it had rained a little since then, so several small topaz crystals were exposed. I dug in, and soon the vug opened up and I found several really fine golden topaz crystals, to 1-1/2 inch across, and quite transparent and very lustrous. I also recovered a number of dark, dull smoky quartz crystals, and a few of these had small rhombehedral phenakite crystals planted on their sides. The pocket as we excavated it:

We spent much of this trip trying to access what we later called the “Devil’s Den”, which is a huge talus field on the other side of the divide west of Ardeth Lake. The hike up to the arête ridge was uneventful, but at the ridge crest, we could see that access from that point was futile. The walls were just too steep to attempt a descent, and we figured the climb out would be even more difficult, so we gave up. The view from this ridge was great and I managed to get a few choice pictures from there.

Along the east side of the ridge we found numerous miarolitic cavities, mostly in talus. Several of these had very nice, small orange to reddish spessartine crystals, all as later overgrowths on earlier, primary pegmatite minerals (smoky quartz, microcline, and topaz). Some of these matrix specimens strongly resemble those that are being currently found in China. On a large boulder, I found a pocket opening about ten inches in diameter and reaching back into the boulder about two feet. On the back wall was a large topaz crystal embedded in the solid granite, doubly-terminated and growing lengthwise parallel to the wall. The vug opening was small enough to not allow a hammer to fit, and it was clear that any attempt to remove the crystal would have ended up shattering it to shards, so it remains there to this day, for all to see and enjoy.

In the same area, where the arête ridge curves eastward and joins the ridge extending west from Glens Peak (and adjacent to the area where we had collected the potassiccarpholite previously), I found one large boulder with an exposed vug at one end; this opening was about a foot across, but when I examined it more closely, it was clear that some one had already collected it, as there were several specimens lying on the top of the boulder, above the pocket opening! When I looked at these, it was clear there was a mineral that I was not familiar with at all; it was reddish-brown, dull, and grew in tetrahedrons. Several of these specimens were carefully wrapped up, and I was later to learn these were helvite crystals, and perhaps the largest helvites ever found in North America…to 3.4 cm on edge!
In the same boulder field that the carpholite came from, I found several additional small vugs, mostly with fine topaz crystals, many of which were on matrices of quartz and feldspar.


A summer job the following year prevented me from making a Sawtooth trip, and it was during this time that I operated the PC Mine in Basin, Montana, for quartz crystals and Japan-law twins. I was able to return the next summer, this time with another college buddy, Pete Ditton.

We took the same route from Yellow Belly Lake up Sand Mountain Pass and to Edna Lake, where we met up with three other collectors. That evening, one of them discovered a huge pocket of smoky quartz that was to become legendary in collecting circles; it was recorded by Boggs and Menzies (1996) as “Pocket #19”. This productive vug was worked by no less than three separate groups and produced hundreds of pounds of fine smoky quartz crystals to over 12 inches in length, including a single quartz with an aquamarine crystal penetrating it. The following year I returned here and found a fine matrix specimen with sharp spessartine crystals, several small, deeply etched aquamarines, and a number of fine bertrandite crystals.

That summer we ended up camped on the north shore of Ardeth Lake for a week. On the way over, we spent some time hunting near Summit Lake. Above the previous topaz find I found a large, empty vug with a surface of solid brownish helvite. Below this opening I was able to screen out a number of small euhedral helvite crystals that had weathered from this pocket.

We spent a good deal of time examining exposed granite ledges north and west of Ardeth Lake; we found quite a few pockets here, many fairly large, but most were scoured clean by glaciation or weathering. One vug right at the edge of the lake had been collected the year previous by one of the group that stayed on Edna Lake; he found a number of aquamarine crystals not ten feet from the main campsite there. I discovered a few remaining crystals that had been missed, but nothing too great.

We attempted again to access the Devil’s Den, but this time we were able to plan a better route, about a mile and a half north of Ardeth Lake is a low pass that was easy to navigate into the valley. We spent most of a morning climbing up to this pass, and in the afternoon heat, we managed a swim in a small lake near the ridge crest. The area we managed to access was high up on the east wall of the Devil’s Den, and we followed the ridge south to one of the unnamed peaks on the east side. There we found a large vug opening, but upon some excavating, it appeared that all there was were tiny, inferior smoky quartz crystals. No accessory minerals were found at all!

We realized that in order to truly spend time in this area, we would have to hike into the valley from below, rather than from above, then to camp in the valley and spend time exploring from a central site. That first access had given us a taste of what was yet to come, but that year we found nothing of any great significance.

After we returned to Yellow Belly Lake, Pete went home to Great Falls, and I drove to Redfish Lake where I took a boat across to the base of Grand Mogul and began to hike up the trail. My destination this time was to the Cramer lakes area, where I set up camp just above Upper Cramer Lake. I was able to do a little collecting in the lower boulder field before dark, but found little. The following morning I woke up to several inches of fresh snow, and finally decided to hike out before it got any worse. The trip up there was less than our “normal” trips, being about 8 miles hike from the west end of Redfish Lake, and the evidence I had seen of pockets there was encouraging so I planned to return sometime in the near future.


The following year I made the trip to Edna Lake in mid-June, which was a mistake since Sand Mountain Pass was covered with deep snow. We hiked over four miles of completely buried trails and down to the lake, where a clear spot to pitch a tent was quite rare. I spent several days exploring alone, finding a number of cleaned-out pockets that others had worked previously. Eventually I hiked around the north side of the ridge that separates Edna Lake from the Tenlakes Basin. At the bottom where the two trails fork, I found one pocket on a boulder that held a nice bertrandite cluster on a “chevron” twin of microcline. One the other side of the valley I discovered an outcrop of granite literally shot full of small brownish masses of helvite, much like the aqua occurrences that are found throughout the Sawtooth Batholith. This exposure was also a bit miarolitic, and I opened a small pocket that had several nice helvite crystals on a matrix of corroded pink microcline, along with small topaz crystals. On one of the ledges nearby, but higher up, I found a narrow oval pocket opening that yielded a number of nice small topaz crystals, along with smoky quartz and zinnwaldite books. This was just below a small glacial tarn lake we named the previous year “Mooseprint Lake”, due to the large hoof prints visible in the mud at the bottom of the lake. On a side note, next to the topaz pocket, I found a really nice smoky quartz crystal in the float, but was unable to trace it to the source! This spot needs to be re-examined.

Later that year we made a second trip, this time with Pete and another collector from Idaho. We started at Grandjean, Idaho, and hiked to a place about a mile above Elk Lake where we camped for the night. We had some sunlight left after setting up camp, so Pete and I headed up the east wall of the Payette Valley to examine a series of exposed granite benches:
Here we found numerous exposed vugs, but nothing that had escaped the glacial ice. The granite here exhibits pronounced glacial scouring and grooves, showing the direction of the ice movement.

The following day we hiked to the Benedict Creek trail, where the valley of the Devil’s Den intersects the Benedict Creek valley. These are both glacial valleys, with steep sides and a generally U-shaped cross-section. The valley of the Devil’s Den is a “hanging” glacial valley, meaning that it occupied a level well above the valley floor that it emptied into, but at the time the main valley was filled with a glacier it was at the level of the top of the main glacier. We had never tried to access the Devil’s Den from this way, so our plan was to follow the main drainage up into the valley. This was a mistake! We soon found that following the stream was quite steep and difficult, especially when packing in gear and supplies on our backs. Eventually we made it to the top, where we hiked a few more miles up to the main lake and made camp.

To get a more detailed history of collecting the Devil’s Den, you can read this on my website at: http://www.asterism-services.com/FIELD_NOTES.html. I will condense the text here: we spent about a week camped at the Lower Devil’s Den Lake, collecting in the area as much as we could. One large vug was found by the Idaho fellow very near the camp, but he didn’t do a very thorough job collecting it, as I was able to recover a number of fine specimens from here several years later. The boulder field to the west of the main Devil’s Den was productive; Pete found a really nice topaz-smoky quartz-albite pocket on a huge boulder; one really exceptional “plate” with pure white albite as the matrix, and a superb shiny smoky quartz crystal growing straight up from the center of the plate. The topaz crystals were much corroded, deep gold in color, and quite transparent; all in all, Pete got about a “flats” worth of specimens from here, but he had to cling to the side of a steep granite face for an hour or more to recover the specimens. Typically, no pocket is ever in a “convenient” situation to collect, and this was a prime example. He eventually allowed me to take over, but all I managed to do was mangle my finger when I missed a hammer blow meant to widen the pocket opening.

Our Idaho friend found a nice pocket of sharp helvite crystals on a large granite boulder; we never did get to see the actual contents he recovered for some reason. Then one day we split up and each went to a separate area to explore, to report back at the end of the day. I hunted in the east boulder field, while “Idaho” searched over the west boulder field, and Pete went into the main boulder field. Our Idaho friend reported that he had found nothing, but he was lying and he returned the following year to collect a huge vug that was way up a steep cliff face above the west boulder field. Pete and I also spent a day in the main boulder field, but without finding much. The best hunting I did was along the east wall where much granite was exposed; here I found many vug openings, one so large you could walk into the vug standing up, but here all I found were hundreds of “plates” of small microcline crystals, with no quartz or any accessory minerals.

One area where there was a fairly large vug opening several feet above the ground, I discovered a series of small cavities along an adjoining ledge, and following this trend out, I opened a nice pocket of smoky quartz crystals, all encrusted with pinkish mica. Most of these weren’t very good specimens, so I only kept a few and left the rest there. Another exposed vug yielded a nice 3-inch long smoky quartz, but it was pretty much all I had to show for a week of hiking around.

Above this area I explored with Pete and he found a second topaz pocket; this was not as large or as productive as his first, but one large topaz crystal at least two inches across was found in several pieces and was easily re-assembled. All the topaz from this pocket was severely etched but a nice golden color. Nearby I found a sharp topaz crystal and a thumbnail-sized green fluorite, which was also quite etched, but no pocket was found. Both of these were loose in the float.

We had explored much of the Devil’s Den but not with any thoroughness; we found many places where the quartz float was numerous, and plenty of signs, so we vowed to return. The three of us hiked out to where the trail forks at Benedict Creek and camped there for the night. The following morning, Idaho left for Grandjean alone, and Pete and I headed up the trail to collect on the ridge east of Ardeth Lake.

We hiked to the lake and began to climb up the slope; this ridge is where the Inama Claim was located at its crest; much aquamarine had been found in this area, including by Geary Murdock and Rich Kosnar. The previous year I opened a small vug here that held thousands of platy, clear bertrandite crystals, all encrusting microcline and smoky quartz. Casts of beryl and a few remnant aquamarines were still evident, but the matrices on which these crystals grew were too large to be good “micromounts” as they were, and to this day they are in the same size and condition that I found them in.

I was about halfway up the ridge when I just ran out of steam, and vowing to never return as I had so little to show for my week’s effort, I started straight down the mountain towards the trail, where I planned to hike back to our Benedict Creek campsite. As I neared the bottom of the valley, where usually outcrops are scarce to non-existent, I was following a low ridge of exposed granite when I spotted a dark pocket opening halfway up a cliff face.
The rock was so badly weathered and encrusted with lichens, I figured there was little chance of finding anything left, but followed through with it anyway and scaled up the face. When I looked in the pocket opening, which was about 20 inches across, I saw a large “white” crystal lying loose on the pocket floor, so I grabbed it with one hand and climbed down to the cliff base, where I could examine it more closely. At first I suspected from the color that it was a large Baveno twin of microcline, but when I got it into the sunlight I could see that one edge was deep blue! I called to Pete that I had found something, and he was nearby. I climbed back up the face and removed a second large crystal which proved to be the lower third of the aquamarine I just discovered, making it a whopping 7.5 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter .

Most of the material had weathered out of the pocket, where it came to rest at the foot of the cliff. We dug out hundreds of smaller crystals, the largest of these measuring about two inches long, but most were under an inch. Given the size of the pocket, which was as deep as my arm is long, and at least a foot wide in places, the amount of aquamarine we recovered was barely a tiny fraction of what had probably been in the vug at one time. I suspect that most of the contents had been scoured out by glacial ice or even post-glacial weathering. Along with the many aquas we found were several small smoky quartz crystal, all of inferior quality.


Pete and I returned to our Benedict Creek camp the following year; this time we planned to spend two weeks exploring the area, so we hired an outfitter to haul our gear to the campsite. The outfitter turned out to be a bum, and he not only doubled his fee quote but also stalled on the delivery date several days! Needless to say, we never hired him again. We hiked on foot to the camp, which took a day and a half; we set up a more “permanent” campsite here where we had been the year previous. This was at the confluence of the Benedict Creek and the Payette River, in a nice flat area suitable for several tents.

We spent the next two weeks mostly hiking into the Devil’s Den every day; by now we figured a better route in to the area that bypassed the step climb we made along the creek bed. We found many more empty pockets, plus a few good ones; we found a series of true pegmatites on the upper east wall and Pete discovered one small quartz pocket at the extreme southern end of one of these dikes. Nearby I found a roche montonee where the stoss side had been plucked and exposed a small pocket opening right at its base. I worked this pocket for quite a while; each specimen was almost completely encrusted with bertrandite crystals, including a smoky quartz crystal three inches in length, with a distinct hexagonal cast near the termination:
I had to very carefully wrap each and every specimen from this nice vug, as they were to travel on my back nearly 20 miles to the trailhead.

On the upper side of the roche montonee was a pegmatitic exposure, rich in aquamarine and fairly micromiarolitic. I did recover a small but sharp, terminated aquamarine from one of the little vug openings; this little beauty was barely a half inch in length, but one of the best aquas I have found here, quality-wise.Below, Pete finds a nice aquamarine pocket a few yards up a sheer granite face; here, he recovers a number of small, corroded blue aquamarine crystals.

We spent two days exploring another unnamed hanging glacial valley; this one was located across from our campsite, up the east wall of the Payette River Valley. The climb up into this area was over 2,000 feet, so it took us a couple of hours to gain access. Once here, we soon discovered a huge vug opening, exposed well up a steep granite face:
This valley held no less than fifteen interconnecting lakes, so in following the tradition started by the Tenlakes Basin, we named this area the Fifteen Lakes basin. Here, we found a few nice pockets, but nothing of special note.

A day was spent just lazing around the campsite, and one day doing little during a rainstorm. One later trip into the Devil’s Den I found a nice pocket of smoky quartz crystals way up the eats wall face; here, a “pod” of pegmatitic quartz and feldspar indicated the presence of a pocket that was hidden by a patch of grass. I removed the grass and worked for a while, removing a series of nice, slender smoky quartz crystals, the largest which measured about 3 inches in length.

After two weeks camping on Benedict Creek, we hiked out to Grandjean with our gear and goods. We spent a night in Stanley sleeping on comfortable beds and getting a good shower and meal or two in. Our next trip was to be from Redfish Lake up to Upper Cramer Lake, where I had gone solo a few years before. We had an arrangement to take two young boy scouts that belonged to Pete’s troop in Great Falls; two of their parents drove all the way to drop them off at the Redfish Lodge. We took the boat across the lake, which cuts off over five miles of hiking, and started up the trail. By the time we had reached the fork to the Baron Lakes trail, it had started to rain, and by the time we got to Upper Cramer Lake, it was a full downpour, and we were soaked to the bone. We set up camp and dried our clothes and sleeping bags with a good fire. That night it snowed again, and once more I woke up to a whiteout on Upper Cramer Lake, in the middle of summer!

Soon we were joined by two Washington state collectors, Jim Moore and Kevin Cole, and following them were two more, our friend from Idaho and his partner from Washington. All told there were eight people camped around the Upper Cramer Lake, and in the next few days I was to see more pockets found than I ever thought possible.

On the first day collecting, Jim Moore had found a huge smoky quartz vug way above the lake, on a series of high granite benches just below Mount Cramer:
Early on I was able to climb up to the upper boulder field, where I was to find two really good pockets: the first was a smallish vug on a boulder, which contained several fine matrix specimens of smoky quartz-microcline-albite and topaz combinations. These were all small miniatures, except for one fine topaz crystal, which was a thumbnail:
Only a few specimens were recovered, but overall it was a great find. I was pretty high up in elevation, about a thousand feet above Upper Cramer Lake, so I started to hike down, and soon spotted a good place to look.

There was a large granite boulder, with a flat top surface several feet square; at the upper edge I could see a semi-circular area that was covered with thin slabs of granite. It was apparent that the slabs had spalled off, one at a time, over centuries, lying exactly in the position where they had once occupied. There were dozens of these slabs, all about a foot across, piled over the entrance to a completely intact pocket, which actually couldn’t be seen at all, but I could tell that there was a vug opening just by the nature of the rock and the weathered slabs. I started in by removing my pack and then lifting each slab off, starting with the outermost, one at a time. With each piece it became more and more evident that there was indeed a pocket beneath all the debris; the curved semi-circular depression over the top became deeper and deeper until all the slabs covering the hole had been removed. At first I found no specimens, just more granite slabs and shards; soon this was to change. I began pulling out matrix specimens by the dozens, all thin “plates” covered with curved feldspar crystals and studded with shiny black smoky quartz crystals. Some of these were without quartz, but as I piled them up on the flat upper surface of the boulder, I got deeper and deeper into the vug, which was about a foot in diameter and fairly round in outline. Every specimen was entirely loose and needed no effort to remove. Soon the boulder was literally covered with dozens of the plates, and I eventually reached the end of the pocket, which was as long as my arm (about 24 inches).At the very end of the vug was the only crystal firmly attached to the granite: a fairly large smoky quartz, about as big as my fist, rooted to the “floor” of the vug, but impossible to remove. I carefully wrapped up each worthwhile piece before packing them down to the campsite.

The following day I returned to the upper boulder field, where I found one vug planted high on a huge boulder, too high to reach alone, but with one of the scouts standing on my shoulder, we were able to remove several large matrix specimens, with small smokies and feldspars covered with fine-grained, greenish mica. Other vugs were found everywhere in this area; I must have explored and collected over a dozen cavities, some with smoky quartz, some with tiny phenakite crystals encrusting earlier minerals, one with a large smoky intergrown with a big crystal of black zinnwaldite mica

Later I spotted a slot-like opening on the side of another big granite boulder; on closer inspection I could clearly see that there was a fine matrix specimen inside, completely intact, along with much loose pocket debris. This opening was a narrow crack, barely a half inch wide, but at least a foot in length; a series of parallel joints on either side of the crack were to enable me to widen the pocket opening enough to eventually remove the contents. I spent a while chiseling away at those joints, pulling off little slabs of granite, until the opening was about six inches across. The contents of the pocket were quite loose; I was able to remove virtually everything but a few matrices that were “glued” to the bottom of the pocket. One of these was a choice smoky quartz grown on a “crown” of microcline crystals; I worked around the base of this specimen for quite a while, but it eventually broke apart and I only got half of what I had aimed for. The main specimen was the one I had seen when I first looked into the vug; it was an exceptional matrix of white albite with several fine smoky quartz crystals growing out of it, along with a few pink microcline crystals
Part of the specimen was encrusted with very fine greenish zinnwaldite mica; this was typical of many of the pockets we found in this area. Soon after I was finished with this vug, Pete and our two friends from Idaho and Washington came along, and late around three o’clock in the afternoon we shared a lunch of crackers with smoked oysters, hence the name I dubbed this as the “Oyster Lunch Pocket”

The next day I went to the ledges above Jim Moore’s big smoky pocket; here, one of our friends found a large pocket going straight down into the granite ledge, and I was there to help excavate. We removed a huge amount of material, but little in the way of decent specimens. Idaho had opened a pocket of similar size nearby; this one went into the wall horizontally, and was mostly filled with loose clay, but he did find several nice matrix specimens of microcline encrusted with topaz crystals. The other collector had also found a nice topaz pocket a little higher up; here I examined the trend, which was a flat-lying joint surface that could be traced for dozens of feet. It occasionally opened up and held a pocket; here I located one they had missed, and found a small pocket with one of the finest topaz-smoky quartz combinations I have ever seen from these mountains. It was in two pieces but easily and honestly repaired into its original condition. The topaz was deep gold, fairly transparent, but both the quartz and the topaz crystal were exceptionally lustrous, really first-class.

Later in the afternoon, after cleaning out the small topaz pocket, the gray clouds started moving in from the west, and high up on the ledges below Mount Cramer we were soon enveloped in a dense fog. It was a really creepy feeling, knowing that only a foot away the drop off to the valley floor was a sheer thousand foot plus! We got out of there quickly and returned to camp.

The following day I spent in the upper boulder field, near where the Oyster Lunch pocket was. I found many more additional smaller vugs, all on the large granite boulders. This area had a lot of phenakite and topaz, but I found one vug on the granite outcrop on the east side of the boulder field, and after removing a pile of dull, uninteresting smokies, I left them behind and went elsewhere. I didn’t even finish cleaning out the pocket, which only had a little albite in plates and a few zinnwaldite crystals. The following year I returned to this site and it had been thoroughly cleaned out by some one else.

Another day I spent hiking up towards the “Temple”, which is a prominent ridge crest attenuated by sharp, almost needle-like mini peaks. Below the Temple there is a vast boulder field surrounding the very last remnants of a glacier. I found a number of lesser pockets in this area and worked my way down towards the base of the massive cliff face below Mount Cramer. Here, in a jumble of huge boulders I found a small cavity with one fine specimen of blue aquamarine crystals with a few nice bertrandites.

The final day I spent in an area to the east of the upper boulder field, where a series of narrow ledges lead up the side of an otherwise sheer granite wall. I found several pockets here; one had a large zinnwaldite crystal, and another held several nice “plates” of albite with minor microcline, plus one large brownish zinnwaldite crystal. I also hunted the area to the east of this wall; I found more vugs but nothing of particular note.


The following year Pete and I had planned well in advance; we wanted to explore a remote area where the complete lack of trails made access questionable if not difficult. A series of glacial tarn lakes were situated at the headwaters of Goat Creek, which was a tributary of the Payette River. We planned to stay for at least a full week, so the amount of gear and food supplies had to be carefully planned.

The hike up the trail from Grandjean was about three miles before reaching the mouth of Goat Creek. The climb up was steep at first, but a small foot trail was easy to follow. Once at the level above the Payette River Valley, the Goat Creek valley leveled off somewhat, and we were able to follow a minor foot trail for a couple of miles before it finally disappeared. After that, following the contour intervals kept leading us back towards the stream bed, where hiking through the dense growth was difficult if not impossible. We finally kept to the north side wall of the valley, climbing up gradually, but without a trail, going was difficult. We crossed over a large talus slope that was nearly a mile long; the slabby broken granite of the Idaho batholith was loose and footing was quite unstable. After a full day of hiking, we were forced to spend the night just below Goat Creek Falls.

The following day we broke camp and began climbing up the nearly sheer wall adjacent to the falls. We found a partial trail cut up the face and was able to follow it to the top, where the ground leveled off again. Just above the falls we found a nearly impassable hedge on the edge of a swampy area, and we had to cut our way through the dense undergrowth. From there, we followed up the valley another two miles or so, up a series of gradually elevated benches, until we reached our destination at Oreamnos Lake. We made camp at the north end of the lake, where the main stream fed the Goat Creek emptied from that end of Oreamnos Lake.

We spent the rest of the week exploring the various valleys and glacial headwalls for both outcrops and boulder fields. Immediately above Oreamnos Lake was a large talus field where Pete found a large vug opening at the base of a house-sized mass of granite. This vug was about two feet across, and its contents were lying in a pile right at the mouth of the vug. He picked up one “slab” and turned it over to find there were two divergent smoky quartz crystals perched on a thin matrix, each about 3 inches in length, and planted on the slab in a “v”
We dug the matrix specimens out from the ground, which included a series of large matrix smokies, all planted on feldspar crystals. Several of the latter were just plain pink microcline crystals, on large matrices, but without any accessory minerals, so we left quite a few of them at our campsite.

On another day we hiked over the divide to the Three Lakes basin, where we found a number of really good pockets. On this day I would open no less than eight topaz pockets, and although most of these held only one good topaz crystal, many were fine matrices with the typical accessory minerals of the Sawtooth granite. While exploring a talus field, Pete climbed up the north wall and opened a spectacular smoky quartz and topaz pocket, with exceptional golden topaz crystals of great transparency, and smokies with lustrous faces. Further up the valley I opened a nice topaz pocket with several golden topaz crystals, all which fluoresced vividly
Other trips into this area over the next week yielded more material, including a large, 700-carat pale blue topaz I wrestled from a vug exposed on a vertical cliff face, just below Packrat Lake. While collecting in the talus field around Packrat Lake, I heard other people talking, then the sound of steel on rock; this turned out to be the collecting team of Pete Knudsen and friends. We met up briefly before they hiked out of the area.

We spent one day hiking to see Blue Rock Lake, which is located about a mile north of Oreamnos Lake; here, the “target” was the curious name of the lake, which had intrigued us since noticing it on topographic maps. The hike across the mountainside showed that much of the area was underlain by a nearly rhyolitic-like granite: with a fine-grained groundmass and large feldspar phenocrysts, it didn’t resemble the granite of the Sawtooth batholith at all. Also, there were quite a few dikes of diabase cutting across the rock, and since we were very near the contact between the Idaho and Sawtooth batholiths, it was apparent that local tectonic forces had fractured up the cooled Sawtooth granite and injected the diabasic magma into these fractures.

The results of our little expedition to Blue Rock Lake were disappointing; it was clear that the lake took its namesake from the deep blue color of the lake’s water and the boulders that lined its bottom. We returned the next day to the Three Lakes Basin and hunted in a remote hanging glacial valley to the west, where we found a number of small vugs, including one with many colorless topaz crystals, some on matrix with dull smoky quartz crystals. We also hunted to the west of Oreamnos Lake, in the Cony Lake area, where I found one very large vug opening exposed at the base of an easy slope. It was large enough to crawl inside, but it was almost completely weathered out. I was able to excavate the back end of the vug and recovered several nice smoky quartz-white albite matrix specimens, and two nice microcline twins.

On one of the last days there, we returned to the boulder field above Oreamnos Lake; by hiking around the north side of the lake, we found an old, long-unused campsite near ours, where a fire ring had been established and one empty bottle of whiskey had been left behind. Further up the valley we climbed the south wall, where a series of steep benches of solid granite were exposed. This area had a lot of potential, but climbing proved to be difficult and dangerous, so we abandoned this plan and began to hunt on the lower benches. While traversing one of these, I found a couple of small smokies lying exposed on the ground, but I didn’t follow through, and soon Pete was above me, having found their source. He called me up and here was a pocket exposed right at the ground surface; I was able to take pictures of an undisturbed pocket just as it was found
This was a small but very nice vug; it was “choked” with loose smokies and other typical minerals, especially several nice pink feldspar crystals, and one exceptional matrix specimen

All in all, this was one of our more successful trips; we were clearly the first collectors to explore this area, and we had covered a lot of ground, establishing the extent of miarolitic occurrences in that area. We hiked out with loaded packs, unable to carry out everything we found.

Later this year I took a solo trip across Redfish Lake and hiked up to Upper Cramer Lake. I returned to the vug I found the same day as the “Oyster Lunch” pocket the year before, only to find that some one had not only taken every last smoky I left there, but they had also cleaned out the pocket they came from; no big surprise or disappointment. I hunted for several days on the ledges above Cramer Lake, but all I found were excavated pockets and one large smoky quartz crystal fragment….lying exposed on a narrow ledge, but I was unable to discover where it had come from.


The following year I took my cousin and his wife back to Cramer Lakes, where we spent a few days collecting. I hunted alone, as they were reluctant to climb up to the places I was willing to hunt…finally found a pegmatitic streak barely exposed on a vertical face, way above Upper Cramer Lake on the eastern ledges, where I re-examined a vug I had found there a few years before. I dug in and uncovered a very nice thumbnail-sized matrix with a prismatic phenakite, topaz, and smoky quartz crystal
Nearby, I started digging in along a dead tree’s root and soon uncovered a nice, pale golden topaz crystal, about an inch and a half in length. Excavation found many more of these, along with some nice medium-sized smokies, and I was soon digging around a fairly large smoky quartz crystal that was growing pointing down from the roof of the pocket. This crystal was several inches in diameter, apparently stubby, and effectively blocked the rest of the vug from easy excavation, so I had to carefully dig around it to remove it. This took a while, and all the time I was digging on either side of a large root which grew at a steep angle straight down the outside of the pocket. This root was a particular annoyance, and as the excavation proceeded, I finally lost patience and grabbed it with both hands and pulled. It came apart in many pieces easily; as it had been dead so long it was pretty rotten! And here I had spent all this time carefully working around it…anyway, I was then able to remove the large smoky quartz crystal, which weighed about seven pounds, and finish excavating the pocket
This pocket was to be named the “MB” pocket after the late Mel Blanc, who had passed away a week before I found it.

The next day we hunted together west of Upper Cramer Lake; I found one small pocket opening that I was unable to enlarge, but by using a “probe” I was able to carefully extricate many small smokies and feldspar crystals, plus one nice zoned zinnwaldite crystal. The next day we hiked out.

I was to return here only a month later, as I found by reconstructing the crystals from the “MB” pocket that a few were missing and I suspected they were still at the site.
Pete arrived from Great Falls and we drove to Redfish Lake, took the boat across, and hiked up the 8.5 miles to our campsite on Upper Cramer Lake. We arrived around noon on the second day, having spent the night a couple of miles above Redfish Lake; then we climbed up to the main boulder field and Pete found a really nice pocket on a boulder, which contained many fine microcline twins and some good smokies. We find several other pockets each in this area, and explore a few we had found a few years previously. Recover several good topaz crystals from one pocket, plus smokies from a couple of others. The next day we spend all day in our tents, as it is raining heavily. Barely dries out long enough to cook our dinner, and during that night we get a good dose of snow.

On the following morning I am reluctant to climb up to the site of the MB pocket, but Pete convinces me that we have come a long way to accomplish this feat, so we climb up the steep face to the eastern ledges area. The ground is snow-covered and treacherous, but we reach the site without incident and find several nice topaz crystals that were apparently missed the first time around. We hike out to Redfish Lake late that afternoon, arriving around 6:00 PM, and take the last boat across the lake.


The following year we planned another trip to the Devil’s Den, with Pete and his then girlfriend. We hired outfitter Darl Allred, and after driving to Grandjean, we packed up our gear and headed on horseback up the trail. Soon we were in a thunderstorm, and we passed a ridge that had been ignited by lightning only a few minutes before we arrived; Darl had to return to Grandjean to notify the Forest Service, but by the time he returned, the fire had burned itself out. We arrive at our lower campsite above Smith Falls in late afternoon, pack up our gear into pack frames and hike up into the Devil’s den, where we made camp in the center of the valley. This was not a good campsite, but we were under the influence of Pete’s girlfriend, who was not really suited for this kind of “back country” adventure.

The following day I head out alone, towards the western boulder field, but the weather turns rapidly, and I spend an hour cowering under a huge granite boulder while hail covers the ground to an inch deep. Lightning strikes all around me, including two hits within a few hundred feet. When the storm subsides, I start to hunt for cavities in the granite boulders, finding one very promising opening on one. Here, I excavate a number of nice, perfect smoky quartz crystals
and several “plates” with smaller smokies on white albite. Nearby I found several other pockets, along with one that was well-exposed on a granite boulder, exhibiting all the common minerals of the typical granite druse. These were solidly attached to the “living” granite, but after taking a picture of the pocket as found
I was able to knock off a nice matrix specimen with my hammer
Having filled my day pack, I returned to the campsite to unload, and headed back to where I had just been, at the extreme eastern edge of the west boulder field. Here, I discovered a tall pine tree that had bee struck by one of the lightning flashes I had witnessed an hour earlier; the bark had been entirely stripped from the tree and deposited in a neat pile at the base…not a branch was singed or burnt!

Further up I went into the main boulder field, where I soon discovered the pocket where Lanny Ream had found helvite crystals a few years previous. This was located on a large solitary boulder which was lying at the bottom of the main valley. Only a few yards up from here, where the main boulder field began, I spotted a huge pocket opening on another large boulder, all within site of the helvite pocket…surprisingly Ream had not seen it! I hiked up to the boulder and examined it before taking a picture
This vug was fully 24 x 18 inches across, and plunged into the boulder at least 40 inches deep. I could see at the entrance one fairly large smoky lying on its side; this crystal measured nearly five inches in length. The tip of a large matrix plate is also visible in the picture; this monstrous slab measured nearly fifteen inches across, and weighed over ten pounds; it was covered in smoky quartz topaz, microcline, albite, and small zinnwaldite crystals. Several lesser matrices found in this vug also fit to this larger specimen, but didn’t add too much to it, so I never repaired them together. Also found were several other nice single smoky quartz crystals and one large Baveno twin, which was lightly scattered with tiny topaz crystals. All told I recovered about four “flats” worth of crystals from this vug.

The next day I explored the western boulder field and the area between the Devil’s Den and the upper Benedict Creek drainage. I spotted a pegmatitic patch on the sheer vertical face above a steeply inclined permanent snowfield, and after attempting several unsuccessful routes, I had to cut a series of steps into the snow, climbing up several hundred feet across the snow field to the base of the cliff. I was able to cross the bergshrund to the granite and scale up the face several yards to the site. I spotted much broken smoky quartz on the way up, but to my dismay, I found a large, empty pocket and a roll of used masking tape on the ledge. A few choice specimens of crystalline hematite remained on the ledge,
but it was apparent that our former colleague Lanny Ream, who had reported a few years earlier that he had found “nothing” in the area, had returned to this pocket so he could dig it for himself.

Climbing down from this precarious ledge and off the snowfield was taxing and nerve-wracking. I hunted a little in the main boulder field after this, then to the east side of the valley to try to find the bertrandite pocket that I had discovered a few years before. Here I found another outcrop covered with aquamarine and small miarolitic cavities

The following day Pete’s girlfriend had enough, so we packed out early. The load I carried down from the Devil’s Den was heavy; one of Darl’s wranglers rode up to our campsite above Smith Falls and hauled out most of the heavy material. It took me two days to get to Grandjean, and after waiting for our gear to arrive, we took a late night ride back to Montana that proved to be quite uncomfortable.

Later that summer I made a solo trip back to Oreamnos Lake, since we had such good luck there two years previous. The hike up took two days as usual; I had two dogs in tow, which later proved to be beneficial. After spending the night at our campsite below Goat Creek Falls, I started up the benches towards Oreamnos Lake. I was hiking through the bush when I spotted a patch of brown fur through the undergrowth, and thinking this was the hair on the shoulder of an elk, I stopped for a moment to let it run away from me…only to find that it was a sow brown bear with a tiny cub at her side! I was so close I could see the red in her eyes, and she stood up as tall as she could, staring me down and ready to charge…and here I had a pack with fifty pounds of gear on my back and no where to run to! Fortunately, both my dogs saw the bear and began barking furiously; the bear and its cub took off running up the hillside.

I arrived at our old campsite on the north side of Oreamnos Lake and set up my camp. I walked around the lake edge and found that the “old” campsite near ours had been recently used; there were many crystals lying around the campfire ring which hadn’t been there before, including on of Pete’s pink feldspar matrices he left behind (I took it back to our campsite and it neatly fit together with another he had left there). The most remarkable fact about this was there was a burnt streak of grass a foot wide leading away from their campfire ring, along a straight trail about fifty feet to the wood’s edge, where every single tree had been burned to a crisp! Apparently whoever had camped there had started quite a forest fire, and it had been done clearly after we had visited in 1988 and when I returned in 1990. I spoke with one individual who had declared his interest in going to this area (after I had told him we were headed there in 1988), and after returning home I spoke with him…he vehemently denied ever going into the area at all, but his denials were clearly covering up his careless act, I could tell! He seemed to be way too eager to deny any knowledge of being on Oreamnos Lake, whereas an innocent individual would merely just say, “no, I never got there….” It made me wonder! To this day I have kept the identity of this individual secret, but he knows who he is (and who did the deed!)

I spent nearly a week alone at Oreamnos Lake, exploring the area around Cony Lake, Three Lakes basin, and McWillard’s Lake. Near Three Lakes I opened a few pockets, finding a couple of topaz crystals on matrix, but nothing of particular note. Around McWillard’s Lake there are numerous pocket openings, but almost all are empty. The area above the lake is almost impossible to access; after many attempts I had to give up. Above the falls that dump into the lake there are hundreds of exposed pockets in the granite, but to this day I’ve never been able to access the area.

One day I headed over to Cony Lake, where the contact between the Idaho and Sawtooth batholiths was mapped; here I find this information to be erroneous, as the contact was give as on the east side of the lake, but I find numerous miarolitics on the west side of the lake. Somewhere in this area is the actual contact, but it must be covered, as I could not find it.

I hunted through a boulder field south of Cony Lake without success. While heading back generally towards my campsite, I climbed up the hill between Cony and Oreamnos Lake, just above where I discovered the huge empty pocket two years before. Halfway up the hill I found a medium-sized granite boulder, and upon closer examination, it had been split in two halves, exposing a miarolitic cavity near its center. Smoky quartz crystals were scattered on the ground, in between the boulder halves, and in the pocket opening I was able to remove more specimens, but nothing of special quality.

After wrapping these up I began up the hill again, rising over the crest at a point well below the highest point, to where glacial ice had carved steep faces. Here I found a small vug opening exposed on one of these steep faces, and excavation yielded a small but nice pocket with pale, clear smoky quartz crystals. This took a little while, and upon completion I wrapped up the specimens and put my pack back on. I had barely gone a few yards uphill when I spotted a narrow “crack” on the granite face where it met the ground surface. I took off my pack and got down on hands and knees to examine the opening.

I could see there were a few “slabs” of granite inside this crack, which was about six inches high and only about one inch across. It was not apparent that this was actually a cavity or vug; such fractures in the rock can easily be just joints opened by frost wedging or other weathering-type phenomenon. I was able to dig around the opening and widen it enough to begin removing the “slab” which soon turned to be large matrix specimens, covered with small smokies, microclines, albites, and zinnwaldites. I spent over an hour digging through this remarkable pocket, which came to be named the “Number Three” pocket because of the three pockets I had found in such quick succession. I recovered several “flats” worth of matrices from here, almost all in mint condition, except one large “Baveno twin” on matrix. One of these “plates” was so remarkably aesthetic that I carried it by hand down the mountain to my campsite, while all the rest of the pocket was carefully wrapped and put in my pack.

An added note to this discovery: it was late afternoon when I completed excavating the Number Three pocket, and after returning to my campsite, I started cooking my last dinner over the fire, while I cleaned off some of the find. To my dismay, I had ignored my dinner and it spilled into the fire leaving me with nothing to eat until my final breakfast the following morning. After that I hiked out to the mouth of Goat Creek and went to visit Rich Knoblock at his cabin on the Payette River. On this trip I lost track of my older dog, who had become too weary to follow, and days later I found him at a hunter’s camp about a mile up Goat Creek.


The following year I was busily employed and was unable to do much collecting until late in the year. In October I finally managed some time off from work and made another solo trip to Oreamnos Lake. I took two days to reach Oreamnos Lake, made camp at our usual spot, and spent a few days collecting the area. My main reason for returning here was to continue working the Number Three pocket, as I was convinced there was more to find here. Also, the supposed “Baveno twin” on matrix I found here originally was missing a piece, unlike most of the rest of the pocket, which was intact and undamaged. After collecting a few small cavities nearby, I suddenly found myself right at the site. I continued to dig up into the vug and found quite a few more additional specimens, mostly smaller matrices, plus the missing piece of the feldspar crystal which turned out to be a large Mannebach twin, chevron-type.

After a few very cold October nights I finally gave up and hiked out.


The following year I took another solo trip, this time to the Devil’s Den. After arriving in Grandjean, I managed to make Elk Lake in a day, where I was promptly robbed by ground squirrels of some of my food…while snoozing with my pack on! On the second day I made it all the way up to the lower Devil’s Den Lake where I made camp. On the first day collecting I hunted in the west boulder field and eventually re-discovered Pete’s 1986 topaz-smoky quartz pocket. Since several years had passed, the remaining pocket contents had undergone some additional weathering, enabling me to remove many additional specimens. I found several gorgeous etched topaz crystals
and a number of small but fine smoky quartz crystals.

Early in this trip I awoke in the wee hours to a horrendous crash; thinking this had been one of the frequent rockfalls often witnessed in these high elevations, I shrugged it off and went back to sleep. I awoke in my tent a couple hours later, got out, and discovered that a huge dead tree had fallen within a foot of my tent, and had broken into dozens of conveniently-sized sections. I didn’t have to cut any firewood for the rest of my stay!

The next day I headed into the main boulder field, ending up at a large boulder where Lanny Ream previously reported that “some one had already collected..” but it was clear that this large boulder had come to rest well below its origins, and that at least some of the loose material had been deposited on an adjacent boulder. Here were dozens of scattered crystalline debris, mostly small, etched microcline crystals and pale smokies, with sharp topaz crystals scattered on these minerals. The boulder itself was typically quite large, the size of an average garage; the vug opening was nearly large enough to crawl inside of it, and the pocket itself was several feet across and quite irregular in form. Most of the pocket walls were still intact, and they were lined with quartz, feldspar and topaz crystals, albeit fairly small in size.

Near to this, I found a number of small smoky quartz pockets; some of these crystals exhibited casts formerly occupied by aquamarine crystals, with clearly hexagonal shapes. Some of these specimens also had tiny, secondary topaz crystals attached to the quartz crystal’s surface.

Once again I headed for the east wall where I had found the bertrandite pocket back in 1987. Failing to rediscover this site for the second time, I headed for one of the smoky pockets that I had worked on the lower east wall. Climbing out on the narrow ledge, I found that some one had taken all the crystals I had left there, and nothing remained in the now-empty vug.

I then headed across the valley to the western ridge, where I began the long climb up to the top. This ridge separates the Devil’s Den from the upper Benedict Creek; Pete and I hunted the other side of this hill back in 1987. About ¾ of the way to the top of the ridge I found several nice pockets but with nothing special to report. Near the very top, in a small talus field below a granite outcrop, I began to spot much smoky quartz crystalline debris, all scattered about haphazardly. One large boulder was covered on one side with numerous broken smokies; elsewhere I picked up a few good terminations to 2 inches or more in length, and one fairly large single crystal in pretty good shape measuring five inches! I followed this debris up to the granite outcrop, where on a ledge I dug in and immediately began to uncover a large number of smoky quartz crystals. Here I found a great deal of pocket material concentrated on the surface; it was clear that there was quite a pocket right there.

I spent several hours excavating and dug out about seven flats of good smokies, all dark and a little dull, but many tapered to narrow terminations and most were quite transparent. A minor amount of tiny hematite crystals were embedded to some of the quartz, but other than this, the pocket seemed to be entirely quartz. I found several larger matrix specimens, weighing up to about 30 pounds each, with one surface completely covered with these smokies, but they were way too large for me to manage alone, and especially 20 miles from the nearest trailhead. I packed up what I had found and returned to camp with a fully loaded pack.

The next day I pack up and head out, stopping below Elk Lake to camp for the night. After that I was able to make the trailhead and drive back to my apartment in Missoula.


By the following year I had moved back to Butte. I took one short, solo trip to Upper Cramer Lake, mainly to try to find where the large smoky quartz “fragment” I found on the eastern ledges had originated from. After hiking up to the ledges, I scaled up as high as I dared, as the cliff faces are steep and treacherous. Once again I failed to locate the source of this crystal, so I gave up. I then spent a day hiking up the pass over to Hidden Lake, but found nothing of note. I did locate a manganese deposit reported in Reid’s Reconnaissance Geology of the Sawtooth Range, but it was merely a curiosity, and no minerals of note were found.


The following year I teamed up with Pete again and Connecticut collector Ed Boucher, Jr. We hired Darl Allred to haul us up to Benedict Creek where we had camped many times previously. On our first day out we hiked up the Benedict Creek trail to Mount Everly; to the north we found an unreported aqua concentration, but no pockets. We hunted on the hillside bordering the Devil’s Den, then towards the lower end of Benedict Creek. Here, just north of the trail, we find several recent digs on the granite ledges, which turn out to be the work of Lanny Ream and Randy Becker.

The next day we headed up into the Devil’s Den proper; Ed has some trouble making the journey so we leave him near the mouth of the hanging glacial valley, where there are many granite exposures to hunt. Pete and I climb up the west side of the Den, to where I had discovered the large smoky pocket two years before. On the way up we take a break, and find a couple of loose topaz crystals lying on the ground surface, but we are unable to trace them to their source. At the top of the ridge, we began to dig in the smoky pocket, and soon uncover the same amount of material I had found before, another seven flats worth. This took the rest of the afternoon, so we packed down to the campsite and re-joined with Ed.

That evening, while cleaning off material from the smoky pocket, I noticed that adjacent to our campsite that the Benedict Creek passed over an exceptionally smooth mass of glacially polished granite, which then sloped downstream to where it spilled into a little “pond”. Reminded of Henderson, North Carolina’s famous “Sliding Rock”, I suggested to Pete that we might be able to do something similar here. We removed several small rocks lying in the middle of the stream, and after donning swim trunks I went (somewhat cautiously) into the middle of the stream and sat down on the granite. Immediately I was taken downstream by the current, and quite quickly at that, then deposited in the pool. It was great! The Pete tried it, and after much persuading and cajoling, we got Ed to try it.

Soon a large group of hikers came to pass our campsite, including many youngsters and several adults. They inquired as to the remaining distance to Ardeth Lake, which happened to be around five miles further up the Payette Valley. I suggested that they wouldn’t make it there before dark, and that they should take up another good campsite across the stream from us, set up, and then return to visit. About 40 minutes later a couple of the adults returned, and I showed them our little discovery. This was a big hit, and soon the entire group was sliding down the streambed, some alone, others with the adults and on their laps. It was quite a spectacle and this went on for an hour or more. What was so amazing was that we had camped here for many years in the past and never noticed this phenomenon! Definitely worth the visit here.

We spent two days at our campsite just relaxing and goofing off; then pete and I headed back up into the Devil’s Den to do some more collecting. I spotted a vug opening on a large granite boulder and excavated a number of smoky quartz crystals and a couple of small quartz-albite matrices. One of these, after returning home and cleaning it, turned out to have a nice tetrahedral helvite crystal on it…and I left much of this pocket behind because it didn’t seem to be a significant discovery!
Further up into the mouth of the Den I find another huge boulder, this one with a large patch of milky white quartz near the summit. I scaled up the boulder and began to excavate into the soil, only to find a nest of very angry ants. I dug through these and found a number of smoky quartz crystals encrusted with tiny bertrandite crystals. After two more days collecting in the Den, we packed out with our finds, and Darl picked up Ed and our gear at our campsite.


The following year Pete and I once again planned to explore another “unknown” area: the lakes around Timpa Lake in the southern portion of the batholith. We hired an outfitter out of Stanley, who drove over from Featherville and met us in Atlanta. That night we camped in the area just east of Atlanta, and later that afternoon, we had some fellow in a car driving by warning all the campers there was a high wind coming. This proved to be true, and the wind kicked up fiercely. The next morning, we packed up our gear and started riding up the trail…only to find there practically every other tree had been blown down by the storm! We spent the entire day cutting through fallen trees, going around piles of fallen trees, and finding our way through 15 miles of total destruction. It took us all day to arrive at Timpa Lake, when ordinarily it should have only taken a few hours.

On the first day out we hiked to the main boulder field, but find nothing. We hunt around much but find little of note. The second day we hiked up towards Surprise and Confusion Lakes, eventually splitting up. We noticed a little aquamarine but nothing significant. We hiked higher into an area of unnamed lakes, and split up again. I opened one small pocket with a few spessartine garnets, and nearby I noticed a patch of grass growing from what was otherwise solid granite….the true sign of a disguised vug! After removing the grass, which was packed tightly into the pocket opening, I was able to begin excavating the small pocket. After removing a little of the dirt, I put my hand inside the vug, only to have a bright orange salamander to drop on it! It was a complete surprise, as I could not figure out how this creature had been able to get inside the pocket when the entrance appeared to be so solidly packed! Anyway, I found a few nice matrix quartz-feldspar combinations before this pocket was played out.

Later I caught up with Pete, who was working a large pocket on a sheer cliff face, way up high. The vug opened up downward, and it had filled with icy cold water, so that he had to fish around in ice-cold mud to recover the crystals. This was a fairly large pocket, and after quite a while, the bottom was never reached. The smokies from this pocket were so indifferent in quality that we left virtually all of them behind. They were dull and lusterless, poorly and pale colored, and no matrices were evident, just loose smokies. It was a lot of fun to dig, but not much to show for the effort.

On the way back to the campsite, my old aluminum-framed backpack finally breaks, and we spent the following day rigging a decent repair job…good enough to pack all the way out without breaking again. This is what happens when two engineers put their heads together to solve a problem: we slipped a green pine tree branch inside the hollow tubing, wrapped it up with twine and tape several times over, and it was as secure as it was when new.

The following day we hiked to another boulder field, where I find a small but nice smoky quartz pocket on a small granite outcrop. The crystals from this vug are sharp and well-formed, and are dark in color and quite lustrous. On one crystal there is a small, white crystal with hexagonal outline, but it is not clearly beryl, but might be. If it is, it’s one of the only non-blue beryls I have seen from here.

The next day we did a little laundry and collected below Timpa Lake, but all we find are empty pockets. The next morning we are joined by a pair of very playful otters who spend several hours swimming and cavorting on the lake, just across from us. We then started to hike up to the Chickadee Lake area, where we found the roof of the Sawtooth batholith. Here, the granite has stoped its way up into the country rock, which appeared to be metasediments. These were cut by apophyses of granite and much pegmatite and aplite, and there was quite a bit of aquamarine scattered throughout the area. The granite itself was impregnated with many xenoliths of this country rock. A few small pockets were found, but generally it was just a geological curiosity.

We continued to hunt in this area, finding one nice pocket with matrices of quartz and feldspar, but nothing of particular note. The next day we packed up our gear and headed out, only to stop below at the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Boise River and Timpa Creek, where we left our gear and headed up towards the Camp Lake area. Eventually we gave up on this plan, as the distance is too great for a day trip. So we camped at the trail fork. We hiked out to Atlanta the following day.


The next year I planned to hit the Camp Lake area, where the first aqua occurrences were reported. I knew several people who had collected there, and all of them had been successful to some degree
This was another solo trip, and I drove to Atlanta and hiked in to the fork of the Timpa Creek and the Middle Fork of the Boise River and camped for the night. The following day I made the remaining distance from there to Camp Lake, which is a tough climb from the trail fork at the base of Flytrip Creek. By the time I began this ascent, I was pretty beat (and definitely out of shape), so I had to take frequent breaks all the way up. I established a campsite at Camp Lake, and the next morning began to hunt in the area.

I started by heading towards Heart Lake, but ended up looking around the basin east of Camp Lake, where I found a lot of pocket material at the base of a small granite outcrop. Here, there were numerous albite “plates”, some with attached smokies, but nothing of real quality. I tried to locate the source, which was clearly from the outcrop, but much soil and grass covered the outcrop, and I was unsuccessful This still needs to be examined, as the sheer amount of material indicates that it came from a large pocket.

I continued to hunt along the eastern headwall, in talus and on outcroppings. I found several small pockets, a few rocks covered with massive blue aquamarine, and some average-grade specimens. One small vug yielded a single miniature-sized matrix with smoky quartz, microcline, albite, and many sharp, colorless topaz crystals, along with some fine-grained greenish zinnwaldite mica.

The next day I started uphill towards Glens Peak, finding a number of older digs. One small vug contained a couple of aquas, associated with tiny bertrandite crystals. Further uphill I spot a pegmatitic streak on an outcrop that opens into a miarolitic cavity; this yielded several small topaz crystals and smoky quartz. Above this, I find a loose aqua crystal in the float, and by hunting the area, several more of the same, plus one fairly large smoky quartz crystal. It appeared that the source for these could be in a nearby outcrop of granite, but without serious digging, it might not be easy to find. I hope someday to return to this site and look for the vug these came from.

After having lunch near an unnamed tarn lake, I started back down, finding a large granite boulder with several good pockets exposed. One of these was a narrow opening that extended back into the boulder and out a foot or more on the other side; I used a specially-made long “pocket robber” I forged to remove a number of topaz, microcline, albite, and phenakite specimens. The other vugs on this boulder have already been collected by others.

The following day I started out by hunting to the west of Camp Lake, where I soon found several fairly extensive digs on the ledges. One of these clearly produced a lot of material, given the amount of partly euhedral material left in the dumps. I dug around a little, but found nothing of note. Further out, on a well-exposed granite bench, I found an empty pocket of fairly good size; was not evident whether some one had collected it or it had been emptied by weathering, but when I reached way back into the end of the pocket, I found one small but nice aquamarine crystal.

I began to climb the granite ledges above Camp Lake and a little to the west, where I found many “collected” pockets, a lot of miarolitic cavities, and one large dig that was apparently a pocket adjacent to a large, coarse streak of massive blue aquamarine. Immediately above this, I spotted a small pocket only about two inches across, and upon closer examination, I could see a nice aqua crystal lying inside. This was apparently missed by whoever had dug out the large pocket only a few yards away, and I was able to find several other nice aqua crystals in this little vug. Most of these were only about an inch long, but they were quite clear and gemmy, with fine blue color. Several fragments of corroded aquamarine suggested that there had been one much larger crystal that had broken down some; also, many nice bertrandite crystals encrusted the beryl, and I found one small hematite “rosette” and a small matrix of feldspar and quartz. Nearby I find another undisturbed vug and remove more aquas from this pocket.

There are a number of other pockets in this area; this is perhaps one of the most “vuggy” areas I have yet seen in the Sawtooth batholith. All of them have been dug out thoroughly, but there is great potential here for more discoveries. On the way back down the slope, I find another huge pocket on the side of a giant granite boulder; this one is at least a foot across and penetrates into the boulder several feet…at least four, and by the amount of pocket debris piled at the base of the boulder, there must have been a good deal of material found here. After this I find another smaller but fairly impressively-sized vug on another face of the same boulder!

The next day I planned to hike around Heart Lake, partly to look for Rich Kosnar’s find there, and also to head south where the contact between the Sawtooth and Idaho batholiths was mapped. During the night, the temperature drops dramatically, and by morning, standing water was frozen solid. After hot coffee and breakfast I got an early start and hiked over to and around the east side of Heart Lake. By this time a group of people had come up the trail and ended up camping on the west side of Heart Lake, so I was avoiding them in general.

I didn’t find the place where Kosnar had found his aquas, so I continued through the woods in a southerly direction, to the peaks where the contact zone was. There are several smaller, unnamed lakes here, and at one I found a couple of tents occupied by what seemed to be college-age kids. I also avoided them. Continuing on my trek, I began to see more and more evidence of Idaho batholith granite, in the form of boulders and float. It became the most prominent type of granite to the point where I was fairly sure I was quite near the contact zone, so I began to hunt the last outcroppings of miarolitic Sawtooth batholith. In one shallow valley, which was not wooded, I spotted an outcrop of granite with a fairly large exposed pocket on a vertical face. I climbed up to examine it more closely, and saw that it was entirely lined with aquamarine, more or less crystalline, but so well-exposed that nothing remained that was worth collecting.

A few feet below this there was another pocket opening, this one only a couple of inches across. I started digging through this one, and found a number of small smokies and one small but nicely terminated aqua crystal. A good deal of the exposed pocket has weathered contents at the base of the cliff where it was located, and I spent a little time picking through some of the debris. After packing up, I headed down a ledge a few yards where I spotted what appeared to be a small, narrow pocket opening, and figuring that this was a good area, I took off my pack and examined it more closely.

What I saw was a horizontal “slot” in the granite, so narrow that I could not fit my four fingers into it, but I was able to knock off a chunk of granite over the opening, a fist-sized mass of granite, exposing a larger opening lined with smokies growing downward from the roof . I was now able to get a probe into the opening, and very soon had removed a couple of nice, 1-1/2 inch aqua crystals. It was soon apparent that I wouldn’t be able to gain access to the pocket unless I removed more of the rock that effectively blocked the entrance, which I was able to accomplish. A little judicial hammering and chisel work removed the roof piece that held the smoky quartz crystals that grew down from the pocket’s roof. These had effectively blocked the pocket entrance so that none of the pocket’s contents were able to spill out onto the ground. Evidence of this was that I found only one loose aqua crystal lying on the ledge, directly below the pocket.

Soon I was pulling out literally dozens of fine, slender terminated aquamarine crystals, along with a few dull smokies. I spent a couple of hours carefully excavating the contents, which were all remarkably loose and dissociated from the pocket walls. During this, the three college kids who were camped nearby walked within a dozen yards of me, but despite the fact that I was clearly sitting out in the open, they apparently did not see me. The pocket actually went directly upwards from the entrance; it was overall about arm’s length and perhaps only a few inches in diameter, with a sausage-shape outline.

After cleaning this remarkable vug out, I carefully scooped up all the loose pocket debris and bagged it, so I could screen it down later for smaller crystals. I packed up the aquas and other specimens carefully before returning to my campsite, where I washed down the smaller material and bagged it up for packing out. The complete series of pictures of this discovery are here at:

The next day I packed out but not all the way; first, I left my pack at the trail fork to Spangle Lakes and spent a few hours collecting in this area, but find nothing. I then stopped at the trail fork at Timpa Creek to camp for the night and completed the hike out the next day.

The main aqua pocket was cleaned off, and I went through the smaller debris finding many smaller crystals of aquamarine, some fragments, and a number of accessory minerals including zinnwaldite, fluorite, hematite, and purplish fluorapatites.


I made a trip the next year, but a horseback riding accident terminated the trip way short. It was several years before I was able to find the time to go again, having opened a store and shop, which took up virtually all of my time. When I did return, we planned a trip to Spangle Lakes via horseback with several other friends. We met in Atlanta, packed up our gear onto five mules, and headed up to where we camped on the shores of Little Spangle Lake for a week.

On the first day, I went looking for the large boulder below the lake where Keith Christy and I found the topaz-quartz pocket back in 1982. This is in an area that is difficult to find and access, but after reaching it we found a couple of additional topaz crystals to add to our original find. The second day we collected in the area above and to the south of Spangle Lake, where we found the odd topaz crystals back in 1982; here, there are a number of talus fields that coalesce from the peaks along the south ridge; not much to report from here, but we did find and (unsuccessfully) work the topaz pocket.

The third day we hiked up the west slope of Glens Peak to a prominent ridge that extends roughly west-southwest from the peak. On the way up I find some granite outcroppings that are frothy with tiny miarolitic cavities
and further up, an outcrop that exhibits coarse pegmatite on either side of the outcrop
Here I excavate a very small pocket, finding a nice thumbnail-sized pinkish phenakite crystal, somewhat flattened and rhombehedral in form. I also remove several nice golden topaz crystals and a few dull smokies that I eventually piece together in a nice matrix combination
At the very top of this ridge we find an old dig, small but evidently with smoky quartz, microcline, and topaz from the dump material. Some on has also left an empty sardine can here, perhaps a notorious collector!

On the way back down, Scott finds a bare granite outcrop that has several exposed cavities, where we find one intact pocket with smoky quartz, but nothing particularly noteworthy
The next day we hunt at the base of Glens Peak, on the west side and near to our camp. In this area we find several old digs, including on large vug opening exposed on a small granite outcrop
Here we find numerous plates with feldspar, quartz, and small topaz crystals, but nothing significant. Near to this, Lanny finds an exposed but undisturbed pocket, where he excavates a number of quartz crystals, but no accessory minerals

We continue to hunt in this area, working our way south along a ridge of granite that slopes steeply downhill. There are a lot of miarolitic cavities here, scattered around, but some places there is a huge concentration of vugs in the granite. One place we spent a great deal of time examining; on a steeply-sloping granite face there are dozens of exposed cavities, many emptied by glaciation or post-glacial weathering, but I find a couple of intact vugs and recover a couple of nice “white cap” topaz crystals. One of these vugs was barely exposed, and the entrance was quite small, but I was able to enlarge the opening enough to remove the contents, which held dozens of average-grade smokies and one really fine colorless topaz crystal about an inch across.

After spending much time on this outcrop, we leave and head west towards the valley, where Lanny finds a small pocket opening on a gently sloping granite face. This has a tiny pine tree sprout growing out of the entrance, but it’s clear that there is a pocket behind it. We spend about 15 minutes just trying to remove this, finally succeeding; behind this he begins to remove some crystal/pocket debris
It is soon apparent that these clay-covered masses are balls of carpholite, and he continues to remove more of these, finally coming up against a very stubborn smoky quartz crystal. This takes him considerable time to carefully remove, as the pocket clay is packed tightly in the vug, and is very difficult to work with. This nice specimen comes out with several hemispheres of golden-yellow carpholite crystals; these are compact aggregates of fine, needle-like crystals

We continued to follow down the ridge, but found no more pockets. We did observe a pine marten, which had made his home under a large granite slab; he made numerous timid appearances for over a half hour; we watched from a safe distance from the top of the granite ridge, but managed no pictures!

The next day we headed down the west side of the valley south of Spangle Lake; here a couple of “true” pegmatites were reported to be outcropping (Reid, 1963); I have hunted for these previously but without any success. We did find one of these, perched out on a wide ledge about ½ mile south of Little Spangle Lake; this was indeed a “true” pegmatite body, several feet across and about 15 feet long. It exhibited large masses of pure white massive quartz and pink microcline, but apparently no pockets. We hunted much throughout this area, finding a number of vugs but nothing too special. Scott finds one odd vug occurrence on a granite outcrop, but it apparently has been found and collected by persons unknown
We find a bit of material below the outcrop where it has weathered out, but mostly just ordinary smoky quartz on white albite.

This would be the end of this trip; Lanny and I walked out the 15 miles to Atlanta, while our friends waited for the outfitter to take them out. It would be two years before I made another trip into the Sawtooths.

My most recent “expedition” was from Grandjean to Elk Lake; our goal was to explore the lower reaches of the Fall Creek drainage and valley. Here, an aquamarine “concentration” had been reported (Reid, 1963). We spent one long morning hiking up the west side of the Payette River Valley into the hanging glacial valley that was located over a thousand feet above Elk Lake. We explored the area but found no real concentration of aquamarine; later we were to find that it had been erroneously reported as being “below the open field”, but this open field was the very lowest point in the entire area. It turns out it was a scattered occurrence in the talus field where we spent some time hunting; apparently it wasn’t too obvious. But we found no cavities of any note, and were unable to penetrate deeper up the valley, where no trails exist and foot travel is difficult at best.

It had taken us the better part of two days to hike to Elk Lake, and weather was marginal at best. After the Fall Creek expedition, we hiked up the trail to where we had camped back in 1986 on our way to the Devil’s Den. The ledges above the valley on the east side were examined by us that night we camped there; we had found a number of scoured and empty vugs there, but nothing special. It seemed like a good place to hunt, so we packed up to the side of the hill and started by examining all the glacial benches and granite exposures.

There were a number of vugs present, at least indicating that the area had potential. I saw several of those we had seen almost two decades earlier, plus a few more hidden in choice areas. I was hunting along the sheer cliff face at its bottom, and spotted a fairly large pocket opening located a few feet up the sheer face. It was about a foot wide and over six inches high, and was filled with grass, which gave it away as a vug more than the opening itself….grass simply cannot grow from bare, solid rock! I started to remove the growth, and soon was finding very nice matrix plates with smoky quartz, microcline, albite, and zinnwaldite mica. After a while I had several flats worth of good specimens, but the material at the back of the pocket was well attached to the wall. We packed up the specimens and headed back to our camp. The next day we packed out.


Bennett, E.H. (1980) Granitic rocks of Tertiary age in the Idaho batholith and their relation to mineralization. Economic Geology, 75, 278-288.

Bennett, E.H., and Knowles, C.R. (1985) Tertiary plutons and related rocks in central Idaho. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, 1658-F, 81-95.

Pattee, E.C., Van Noy, R.M. and Weldin, R.D. (1968) Beryllium resources of Idaho, Washington, and Montana and Oregon. U.S. Bureau of Mines Report of Investigations 7148, 169 pg.

Reid, R.R. (1963) Reconnaissance geology of the Sawtooth Range. Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology Pamphlet 129, 37 pg.

Tait, K.T., Hawthorne, F.C. et al (2004) Potassic-carpholite, a new mineral species from the Sawtooth batholith, Boise Co., Idaho. The Canadian Mineralogist Vol. 42, pp 121-124.

Van Laer, W.C., and Ream, L.R. (1986) Sawtooth Mountains, Boise, Custer, and Elmore Counties, Idaho, The Mineral News, Vol.2, No. 1-No.4.

Van Laer, W.C. (2005) Potassic-carpholite and the myth of Centerville, Idaho. The Canadian Mineralogist, Vol. 43, pp 1125-1126.

Article has been viewed at least 60547 times.


Great article! Thanks VERY much for posting all this information on the Sawtooths. I've always wanted to learn more about the specimens from this area and their geologic environments.

Woody Thompson

Woodrow Thompson
29th Mar 2009 5:15pm
Tons of wonderful information. Obviously years of passion, and dedication to the hobby.
I'm still planning on a collecting trip up there this summer.
You already told me aquas are few and far between, but I'm sure there is one waiting for me.
I will reread your article a few more times, and find out exactly when I'll be there.
If you are interested in a trip this summer, I'd love to have a local pro with me.

Adam K

Adam Kelly
4th Apr 2009 11:16pm

You are one of my new heroes.

Justin Zzyzx
11th Apr 2009 3:57am

Fantastic job! I wish you would have contacted me first, I would have sent you photos of pieces from Dad's collection for the article. I'm thrilled you put this together. I'm going to put copies of it into all of my Dad's files about the locality.

Congrats, this is awesome.

All the best

Brian Kosnar
22nd Apr 2009 3:20am
My hat's off to you, sir.
For not only taking the time for photos, but for writing it down and giving context to people whose culture tends to get lost when no one records it. The Mountaineers of Seattle who helped create the Wilderness Act were avid 'rockhounds' (I've got the original trip journals to prove it.) and made a place for exploring with hand tools in the original bill. Anything added to it later, as a rider, without public comment is not, in my view, legal.

Sal Noeldner
13th Nov 2009 4:55pm
Thanks for the comments. I also believe that the U.S. Forest Service has done a very wrong thing here and they need to be held responsible. My recent conversations with the head mining engineer for the area leads me to believe they are doing this (the so-called "closure" from mineral collecting) as a result of a few greedy individuals who have removed thousands of pounds of smoky quartz crystals for commercial sale. I propose this: when individuals poach or hunt game illegally, does that give them the right to make game hunting illegal? NO!!

William C. van Laer
16th Nov 2009 6:54pm
It turns out there are two "Roland Reids" one is a geologist and former teacher at the Idaho School of Mines; the other has no relation. I once thought this as well but found out they are different people!

William C. van Laer
18th Nov 2009 9:25pm

In order to leave comments to this article, you must be registered
Mineral and/or Locality  
Mindat.org is an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Public Relations by Blytheweigh.
Copyright © mindat.org and the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy 1993-2019, except where stated. Mindat.org relies on the contributions of thousands of members and supporters.
Privacy Policy - Terms & Conditions - Contact Us Current server date and time: March 18, 2019 15:52:40
Go to top of page