Kirk K. Hilbelink, PG President/Geologist

Conifer, Colorado
(303) 204-3170


Happy 4th of July, Thanks To......

Miner's Cabin, circa 1880, former town of Independence, Colorado

Oh, would I like to find the selfish idiot who recently defaced this cabin. Yet another example of how tourism is decimating our state heritage one graffito tag at a time.


Field Trip with the Park County Historical Society

Fun even in the winter! The pond is about eight feet deep where Nick is standing.Recently I led the Park County Historical Society on a field trip to one of my mining claims, The Nicholas-Carson Mine, after being contacted by PCHS member Dr. Pete Modreski, Community Relations and Educational Outreach guy for the USGS. While Pete impressed all with his local geological knowledge, I was more than willing to share my limited grasp of the more historical aspects of the claim. This claim includes a pegmatite body that had been previously worked in the 1950s and '60s for feldspar (the purest, or whitest material was used for ceramic insulatorsBlue and green topaz specimens (not quite gem quality) and the like) and milky quartz (crushed for terrazzo stone for rooftops, garderns, etc.). The site is also known for rare earth elements (REEs) such as monazite, and semi-precious minerals such as topaz and fluorite. However, most of the topaz, although rich in color, is somewhat granular and only of specimen quality. Fortunately, I can lay claim to the first ever gemmy topaz rough recovered at this location, much of which has been cut into small stones and set in jewelry for loved ones and friends. Color is a medium blue, and occasionally apple green, but certainly unlike any other topaz found in the Pikes Peak region. Regrettably, I've been unable to duplicate the initial finds since first prospecting the area. 

Through my research on the claim, I was able to determine where the original miners cut their dynamite (I believe it was required that the TNT be cut at least 300 feet from the active mining area, for safety reasons). It was also noted in the mining claim documentation that while the miners excavated the core of the pegmatite (where the purest of the recoverable minerals were mined), they intersected a spring that immediately flooded their pit and eventually forced them to abandon their claim. The pit is currently filled with about eight feet of stagnant water and untold layers of rubble that has fallen or been thrown into the pit over the years. The pond hosts quite an extended family of tiger salamanders!

Better than typical specimen-quality topaz. The blue color really stands out when treated with mineral oil.Some gemmy topaz rough. The largest gem cut from this piece was about four carats.A nice view of granular topaz and fluorite in situ. Here the topaz occurs in 'pods' with a notable rind of sericite. Unfortunately, upon prolonged exposure to the atmosphere, the vibrant colors wash out as the materials dry.Another topaz specimen. This is what is considered as topaz pycnite, notable for its columnar crystal habit. 








One of the attendees submitted his trip report to the Fairplay Flume, which was published in the October 16th edition. A reprint of the article is located here (as published in the Park County Republican and Fairplay Flume (The Flume) on October 16, 2015). 

Here's a zoned fluorite from the dump. I have found fluorite crystals in situ in the pit area but nothing near as remarkable as this one.A plan view of the pegmatite from Simmons 1980. I was fortunate to meet the author and accompany him on a field trip to a site he hadn't visited in over 30 years.A brilliant green fluorite.


Prospectors Part II

As the Colorado rock collecting season nears its wintry end, I survey my finds from the past several months and marvel over the specimens I've collected among my three mining claims. One of my claims was especially productive, with a variety of smoky quartz and amazonite crystals, or a combination of both. I'll attempt to post photos of the more spectacular ones as I clean and prepare them.

Find the topaz!Aside from that, the highlights of the summer included some interaction with the folks from the Weather Channel show, Prospectors. In June, I helped out Carl and crew at the Dorris family topaz mine. During normal operations, Carl operates a backhoe and excavates weathered granitic gravel from the hillside on the east end of the claim. The gravel is stockpiled and later dumped into a sieve/shaker system that separates the gravel into increasingly smaller grains, revealing the occasional topaz crystal. On open days, when the public is invited to dig the stockpiles for a fee, the shaker system is fed Krystle with a day's takeby shovel due to the inherent danger of operating heavy equipment around focused prospectors. On one such day, I joined Carl, his son Ben, and Krystle's husband Abe in feeding the Magic Topaz machine by hand. Less than a minute into the task, and on my second shovelful of gravel, I watched as the shaker processed a 400-plus-carat fine bi-colored topaz. Carl joked that it was 'all downhill from here'. He was right. Nothing else of this size and quality was found that day. There is a tradition in the Dorris family that the discoverer is allowed to keep the stone in his/her pocket for the rest of the day. I politely declined as returning it to the rightful owner would have been nothing less than punishment.

Nick with AmandaAnother pleasant surprise was running into Amanda Adkins at the Denver show in September. She revealed that they had just wrapped up filming the second season of Prospectors and proceeded to parade this summer's discoveries like a proud mama.

I've been informed by both Abe and Amanda that there were also some amazing finds of peach-colored topaz in Crystal Park this year. I'll be excited to see how these are presented in the upcoming series.   



As a mineral collector, I was excited to learn that the Weather Channel was doing a reality series on Colorado prospectors (Tuesdays at 7PM MST). Even more fascinating is that one of the people profiled in the series is an acquaintance of mine - Joe Dorris, owner of the Smoky Hawk Claim in Lake George, which has produced world-class smoky quartz/amazonite specimens. Joe operates Glacier Peak Mining, along with his sons Scott and Tim and daughter Krystle, and sells the resulting treasures through his online outfit, Pinnacle 5 Minerals.

Inspecting the float at the Smoky Hawk Claim. L-R: Karen Webber, Skip Simmons, Joe Dorris, Pete ModreskiI visited this claim in April 2012, along Exposed peg at the Smoky Hawk Claim (Pete Modreski photo)with Skip Simmons, Karen Webber (both from the University of New Orleans), Vince Matthews (our Colorado State Geologist), Encar Roda-Robles (University of Bilbao, Spain), and Pete Modreski (USGS). Considering that all of these folks have their doctorates and are experts in their respective fields, it was quite an honor to spend the day with them. (I was invited because I own one of the claims that Skip requested to visit). At the time of our arrival at Joe's claim, he was preparing for the start of the season, and most of last season's excavation had been buried under a few thousand yards of weathered granitic gravel. Shortly after Joe 'cut us loose' to poke around his claim, I opened a small eroded pocket close to the Smoky Hawk Claim, looking east L-R: Joe, Karen, Kirk (w/Joe's dog, Baxter), Encar. Note the damage done by the Hayman Fire of 2002. (Pete Modreski photo)surface. The pocket produced a number of small, loose, smoky quartz and amazonite crystals not unlike what is featured on the Prospectors show, yet obviously on a much smaller scale.

Our next stop was the Holy Moses Pocket at the Godsend Claim. The largest smoky quartz ever recovered in the US (Ray Berry photo)This is owned by Rich Fretterd, another claim owner featured on Prospectors. This pocket was once home to the largest smoky quartz crystal ever recovered in the United States, at four feet long, doubly-terminated, and an incredible 439 pounds! It was discovered on Groundhog Day, February 2, 2002 and is currently on loan to the Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum in Florissant, Colorado. A 'smaller' crystal at 4.25 feet long and 239 pounds was also recovered from the pocket and has its own display case at the museum.  Additionally, a number of fluorite groups up to nine inches across were recovered from this treasure trove. I was able to crawl into the pocket, which is only a couple feet high, on average, around six-to-ten feet wide, and at least fifty feet in length. Some sections are heavily timbered to prevent collapse. The overburden is such that any additional excavation will likely require the use of heavy equipment.

Two-specimen fluorite about six inches across, recovered from the Holy Moses Pocket (Robert Berry photo)Our group at the Godsend Claim. L-R: Karen Webber, Skip Simmons, Kirk, Vince Matthews, Encar Roda-Robles (Pete Modreski photo)Kirk inside the entrance to the Holy Moses Pocket (Pete Modreski photo)All gawking aside, the sight of such potential fortune is enough to inspire even the most fairweather collector into a feverish pitch, of which Prospectors feeds unabashedly with the unrealistic monetary values placed upon the recovered booty. I expect that the show will generate a mini 'crystal rush' to Mt. Antero and Lake George, similar to the gold fever in Alaska as a result of Gold Rush and Bering Sea Gold, as the popularity of the series grows. Owning a claim near Lake George area, I'm cautiously optimistic of the attention Prospectors will bring to the Smoky Hawk and surrounding digs. In the meantime, it's testament to my wife that the grungy-looking rocks I've been bringing home may be worth something after all!

More pics from my claims:

Large amazonite manebach twin in situ awaiting extraction

Amazonite recovered, but needs repair.

Blue and green topaz roughSmall combo




Quality Over Quantity

I'm fortunate to live near a geologic feature called the Pikes Peak Batholith, a large body of granite known by mineral collectors to produce world-class specimens of amazonite, smoky quartz and topaz. Access to some of the best collecting areas is less than an hour's drive from here, and a great way for me to combine at least two and sometimes three of my passions in one go (gem collecting, trailrunning and music).

Straight From The Oven: A large pale amazonite next to a combo plate. The missing crystal from the plate was recovered on a subsequent visit.Although a serious collector for only a few years, I've had some great success in recovering massive crystal pockets. One such pocket was a joint veture with a friend of mine, resulting in hundreds of large, morion-type smoky quartz, microcline/amazonite, and plates displaying a combination of the two. It took us at least a week to completely recover this pocket, and fortunately it was in the collectors' 'off-season', so there was little concern that our discovery would be high-graded.

Along with the big digs come the smaller finds. I've opened pockets that producedNick with a zoned fluorite a single crystal rivaling anything that has come out of these giants, as if all of the ingredients were spent to ensure this one came out right. The massive ones require mulitple cleaning stages, using mechnical and chemical means, while the smaller, flawless crystals can be prepped in the field and immediately put on display.

Last winter was a mild one, and fortunately I was able to collect almost year-round. However, these last few weeks of sub-freezing temps have forced me to begin the arduous task of polishing the fruits of two successful seasons. I'll be posting some pics of some of the more spectacular specimens in the coming weeks.

Smoky/amazonite combo just after the water rinse - it should clean up nicely. A portion of the smoky points are partially capped with milky quartz.

A damage-free smoky floater waiting to be cleaned up. Some hematite inclusions on the larger end.Carson scavenging my discard pile (he likes milky quartz).

The 'Bummer Pocket'. It was loaded with smoky quartz up to five inches in diameter. However, almost every crystal was broken. I recovered several fragments from a cast that held one crystal almost two feet long. I brought this one home to repair and left the rest for the expert puzzle solvers.