A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘sapphire’

Philipsburg, Montana

Posted by graywacke on December 14, 2014

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now more-or-less a once or twice a week blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2139; A Landing A Day blog post number 567.

Dan:  Back in the OSer dumps (now eight for nine), thanks to this landing in . . . MT; 123/103; 2/10; 5; 148.3.  What’s more, I’ve been in the West & Midwest for a bunch of landings.  East coast, New England, the Southeast?  Nada.  In fact, since landing 2112 in NJ, I’ve had 27 landings that include:

2 Michigans
2 Indianas
1 Missouri
1 Louisiana; and
21 solidly-western states.

Just sayin’ . . .

Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

And my local landing map:

 landing 2

My watershed analysis:

 landing 3

As you can see, I landed in the watershed of the Middle Fork of Rock Ck; on to Rock Ck; on to the Clark Fork (21st hit).  Here’s a broader view, showing that from the Clark Fork, we head to the Pend Oreille (23rd hit); and then to the mighty Columbia (153rd hit).

 landing 3b

Notice how the Pend Oreille (P.O.) heads up into Canada before it discharges into the Columbia (which is headed south out of Canada)?  It turns out that the P.O. discharges into the Columbia a few hundred yards north of the international boundary line.  Here’s a Google Earth (GE) shot, showing the “Boundary” hydroelectric dam – and yes, some of the kilowatts stay in Canada and some of them head south . . .

GE - mouth of pend oreille

There’s Street View coverage for the bridge that cross the P.O. right where it discharges into the Columbia.  Looking upstream towards the dam:

GE SV mouth of PO upstream

And downstream towards the Columbia (and maybe you can see a smidgeon of the U.S. in the far left background):

GE SV mouth of PO downstream

Getting back to my local watershed, here’s a GE Panaramio shot (by Steve Powell) of the Middle Fork of Rock Creek, just a half mile west of my landing:

 pano steve powell mid fk rock creek one half mile west

Speaking of GE, here’s my outer space-to-landing video:


Earlier in this post, I was mentioning that I seem to be landing more out west than back east.  As you’re coming in from outer space and the landing pushpins come into view, you can really see that the landing god seems to be preferring western landings.  FYI, Google Earth has saved my landing locations since landing 1976, so there are 2139-1976 = 163 yellow push pins.

So, I checked out Philipsburg, and found out precious little.  From Wiki:

The town was named after the famous mining engineer Philip Deidesheimer, who designed and supervised the construction of the ore smelter around which the town originally formed.

Old Phil is actually rather famous in mining engineering circles.  He invented “square set timbering” which allowed deep mining in unstable rock, including large silver ore bodies of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City NV.  Here’s an 1877 illustration of square set timbering, from Wiki:


Speaking of mining, there’s an active sapphire mine near Philipsburg (and actually very close to my landing).  I’m a geologist, but don’t know squat about gemstones.  My wife Jody (also a geologist) is much more gem-savvy.  She immediately told me that sapphires are a form of the mineral corundum, as are rubies.

Here’s some more from GemologyOnLine:


Al2O3  (aluminum oxide)

Corundum is an aluminum oxide that occurs in every color of the rainbow. When it is red it is termed a ruby. When it occurs in any other color it is termed a sapphire. There are two primary ways that corundum is formed. One is the metamorphosis of limestone (with high heat & pressure) and the other is an igneous (from molten) occurrence in rocks lacking in silica. Since corundum is so hard it is very resistant to weathering. Therefore, it accumulates in placer gravels.

Who’d a thunk that something that sounds as mundane as aluminum oxide is so exotic?  I mean really – iron oxide is rust!  But it turns out that aluminum oxide is very difficult to form (it requires high temperatures and pressures) and that once it forms, it is second only to diamonds in terms of hardness.

First a quick word about “hardness.”  Hardness very specifically refers to scratchability.  A diamond can scratch anything (leaving a mark); and nothing can scratch a diamond.  Corundum is second on the hardness list.  Anyway, here’s what Wiki has to say about the various colors:

Trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium can give corundum respectively blue, yellow, purple, orange, or green color.

The active sapphire mine I mentioned earlier is the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine.  From their website:

The Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine is one of the largest, oldest, and best Sapphire Mines in the World.  You could call it the “Quiet Giant” of sapphire mines because it has produced over 180 million carats of sapphire for over 120 years without receiving much “press”.

Mining first started in 1892 with large stones exhibiting good color and clarity faceted as finished gemstones.  The small and fractured stones were sold by the ounce for industrial purposes.  The vast majority of early production targeted the uniform round small sapphires which were shipped to Switzerland for use as watch bearings.  The invention of synthetic sapphire curtailed the large scale mining operations but did not halt sapphire mining altogether.

Following WW II an active business developed for rock hounds to visit Gem Mountain and dig sapphires by hand.  In the mid 1960’s the owner formally opened the Chausee Sapphire Mine and began bringing sapphire gravel to the store.  The name was changed to Gem Mountain in the early 1980’s.  Today we continue over 50 years of sharing the excitement of allowing you to find genuine Montana Sapphires in a bucket of Gem Mountain Sapphire Gravel.

​Sapphire Mining is a lot easier today than it used to be.  In the old days you had to bring your own tools and equipment and dig and screen to find sapphires.  Today, we dig up the dirt for you and wash it to remove the big rocks and clay.  We haul gravel to the store by the dump truck load and sell it by the bucket.  The gravel is 100% natural; and you can tell when you see it: It’s dirty dirt.

When you purchase a gravel bucket from Gem Mountain you have the exact same odds of finding a large, high value, sapphire as we do at the mine.  Every year customers find tens of thousands of sapphires, and every year there are several hundred three carat or larger stones found that are worth hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars when finished as a cut and polished gemstone.​

We love visitors of all ages.  If you’re planning a vacation in Montana join us for a sapphire mining experience the whole family will enjoy. We’re Montana’s largest, oldest, and funnest Sapphire Mine, with the best facilities, equipment and fun loving, helpful staff.

You will find Sapphires, and for a small fee we will evaluate all of your sapphires and tell you which ones are gem quality.  Gem Quality stones can be Heat Treated to improve color and faceted to create a beautiful finished gemstone suitable for jewelry.  We are one of only two retail businesses in North America that own and operate our own heat treating furnaces for the color improvement in sapphire.  We facet almost 20,000 stones a year for visitors from all over the world.  Come and see us.  We looking forward to seeing you.

Also from their website is this shot of some loose sapphires from the mine:

gem mountain sapphires

From MtLily Gems.com:

You just bought a bucket of sapphire-containing concentrate from the nice people at Gem Mountain. They showed you how to screen and concentrate the gravel by jigging in a pool of water. You have skillfully flipped your screen onto a table top and you are ready to pluck up those sapphires! I’ve got the first on in my forceps. Can you “speck” the rest?

mt lily gems.com pic (no arrows)

If you are having trouble spotting the crystals, here’s some help:

mt lily gems.com pic

Here’s a shot of some finished sapphire gemstones from the Gem Mountain store in Philipsburg (from RockHoundBlog.com):

sapphires from the store rockhoundblog.com

I’ll close with this Pano shot (by Steve Powell) looking west towards Skalkaho Pass, which is located about 12 miles west of my landing past Gem Mountain.

 pano steve powell heading towards skalkaho pass

That’ll do it.




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