Shortly before our travels to Asheville, NC, we heard a news report about NC mines grinding up quartz to extract flakes of gold which were now valuable enough to collect with the record high prices of gold (shall we call it the Beck-Huckabe Bubble?). Having worked our way through 36 lectures on geology last Fall (one of the Great Courses, which I shall blog about at another time), our curiosity was peaked. We had not thought of mining in NC. Well, we came across two easily digestible mineral museums along our path.
Our first stop was on Friday at mile 331 of the Blue Ridge Parkway for the Minerals of NC Museum. This highlight of the mining industry in NC contains 2 rooms of exhibits, a gift shop, National Park desk, and restrooms, free to all thanks to your federal tax dollars. When the parkway is open (which it is not during the winter because of ice on the road) this would be a good leg-stretching place. One room displays the minerals that have been mined in NC, along with a time line of when discovery and production occurred. The second room walks one (most likely school age children by the amount of kneeling I had to do to get my bifocal lenses at the right height) through the process of identifying different types of rocks and minerals, with explanations (old earth orientation) of how this region of the Appalachian Mountains formed when the North American and African plates went crunch. Just enough information to not make my back hurt and eye strained.
Saturday, after wandering the streets of Asheville, we took a break to visit the Colburn Museum of Earth Sciences. Now we had 3 rooms to ponder. We started in the weather section of the NC mountains to learn about the movement of water from air to ground to sea, and its effect on flora, fauna, and minerals. The next room discussed mining in the region, including a “cave” which you could blow up (TNT plunger and strobe lights) and then enter too see what mineral deposits your explosion had revealed. The final room displayed various minerals contained in rocks and crystals, with brief descriptions of how they formed. What caught my eye, in the inevitable gift shop, was the geode cracker, which sat in the middle of the gift shop.
As you can see in the photos, I could not resist the challenge. First, you have to decide how much you want to pay for the excitement of cracking a geode. You could get a golf ball size geode for $8 or a soft ball sized one for something more than I want to remember. I went for $10 of entertainment. I used my scientific intuition to discern which ball of rock might contain some cool crystals (some geodes are solid), for about as long as the rest of the group wanted to stand around watching me weigh this rock verses that rock. Then after paying for it, the volunteer at the desk comes over to instruct you in how dangerous the geode cracker is so she has to set it up but she has a broken rib so she really can’t apply any force, so if you hold the geode there with you fingers right on this chain which will crack it, no right there in the middle, no a little over, pulling it tigher, I really can’t do any more ’cause me ribs hurt…. Okay, time for the men to step in and follow the directions while the women continue to do photo-journalism of the event. CRACK. The two halves separate with some dust and flakes falling on the floor to reveal the hemotite crystrals in the middle. Cool. Now my 44 million year old volcanic gas bubble turned mineral can sit at home in display and request dusting every once in a while.