Armchair rock-hounder no more! After years of perusing geological articles and books, I have finally actually found a rock that I was looking for on purpose. In other words, I have hounded. When I try new things, like fixing my car or baking baked goods, I consult YouTube, and this was no exception. I found a few short videos instructing viewers how to dig for selenite crystals in the Great Salt Lake salt pan. The videos bolstered my confidence and I soon found myself rattling down a long washboardy dirt road, armed with a shovel, gloves and a bucket to the Spiral Jetty north of Salt Lake.
There was a lot of evidence that other selenite searchers had been there with the same idea as me; dozens of shallow holes were dug out in the area down the hill from the parking lot. Randomly, I picked a spot amongst the holes, and started digging, and digging and digging. I tossed the dirt near the hole and ran my foot over the sand to check there were no hard objects lurking. Soon I had a hole the size of a small grave, considerably bigger than the other holes nearby. Perhaps it was not a good spot. I filled in the hole, collected my stuff and marched, still determined, towards the water line.
Hole number two was not a success either. This time, I went for more of a trench shape, but the sandy hole quickly filled with water. My dog, who had been circling the area sniffing little bird bones sauntered by, gingerly examined the the hole and gave me a skeptical look. Hole number three was too rocky. I picked a drier spot, but kept hitting rocks that were just boring clumps.
The word Selenite comes from Latin meaning “moon,” as the muted luster is thought to resemble moonlight. These crystals, known formally as selenite gypsum (CaSO4 · 2H2O) are also known by the street name “Utah Mud Diamond,” or “Dirty Diamonds.” New age enthusiasts claim it can be used to cure headaches; one could rub it on one’s head near the ache. Other supernatural uses are said to include dissolving pain; spiritual, mental or physical and cleansing auras.
Feeling discouraged, I walked away from the lake towards terrafirma. The earth was covered in small dried out pools a couple meters in diameter, separated by white, muddy barriers. My boots sank into the mud, which was punctuated with crystals sticking out of the ground. It looked promising. I told my dog that this would be the last hole, and stabbed the mud with my shovel.
Clay is the secret. The first heavy wad of muddy clay made a moist sucking sound as I pulled the shovel down and back. It was dense, heavy and smelled of sulphur. I broke the chunk apart with my hands and instantly saw the glistening crystals in and inky brown paste. It took about a minute for my knees, gloves and shovel handle to be coated in a thick layer of sticky clay, not unlike bread dough. It was extremely messy.
The scoops the shovel took out were best removed by peeling the clay off the blade, then kneading with all my might, searching the blob for the hard chunks. Even the back side of the shovel was hopelessly caked in clay. I found a rock and used it to scrape the goop off so I could continue to dig.
After about 20 minutes of work, I had nearly 40 crystals. The biggest about the size of my palm and the smallest, about the size of a guitar pick.
At home I washed them off in room temperature water, scrubbing them gently with an old toothbrush. Many broke despite my gentle handling, but the breaks formed a long glassy edge that served as a platform to stand them on. As the clay was removed the crystals revealed themselves to indeed be crystals, hexagonal lenticular blades with clusters of black scattered throughout.
II took my loot to the Simple Elegance Rock Shop, a veritable geological museum in Orem, to learn more. Proprietress, Vickie Clements Hatton looked at a one of the crystals and said “Let me play with it a bit” taking it back to a lapidary grinding machine. Meanwhile, Jack Clements, her brother consulted a map detailing the different rockhounding sites in Utah indicating the area near the Spiral Getty was gypsum territory. He took one of the crystals and scraped it with a knife, easily making a mark, “you can always tell gypsum, because you can cut it with a knife.” Vickie, discovered that the crystals do indeed dissolve in water, also a tell-tale characteristic of Selenite. She took me down a shop aisle, the shelves groaning with all different shapes and colors of rocks, geodes, fossils and minerals, to the selenite section. The sizable chunks, gleaming snow white blocks looked like the sophisticated cousin of what I pulled up from the mud flats. A crystal enthusiast, Vickie said she wouldn’t use the "Dirty Diamonds” that for clearing her aura because of the presence of other embedded minerals might conflict with the purifying process. The Simple Elegance shop takes people, free of charge on rockhounding field trips every other week throughout the summer, some of the groups number up to 75 people. They announce their upcoming plans on their facebook page.
The whole exercise was fun, as successes generally are. I have been rock-hounding on other occasions which ended in mild disappointment, with one or two tiny specimens of whatever rock. After hours of looking for geodes, I felt like I had been looking for a needle in a haystack, whereas digging for selenite was as easy as finding hay in a haystack. Victory is pretty much a sure thing as long as you look in the mud.