One last bad joke regarding rock hounding. Sometimes people will list for you all the rocks that they have found. When they mention leaverite do not fall for it as I once did. They mean leaverite as in “Leave her right there,” or don’t bother to pick it up.
Of all the leaverites that I have hiked up hillsides for, that I have plowed through pig weed for, that I have found myself surrounded by cat claw with no way out for, none is more satisfying to collect than iron pyrite.
When embedded in milky white quartz the pyrite can feel pretty weighty. If it’s of a type of quartz that casts a yellowish hue, because of the presence of sulfur, and the pyrite is giving a sparkle because of its faceted surface, it can give rise to fanciful dreams of sugar plums and riches dancing in one’s head.
In my wonderings over these southeast Arizona hills I have come across two different types of pyrite so far. The most common has been iron pyrite, FeS2, also known as fool’s gold, Alpine diamond, Inca stone, katzengold and, my favorite, brass balls.
The other pyrite is also an iron sufide but with – no surprise here, this being Arizona – some copper thrown in. Chalcopyrite has the chemical formula CuFeS2 and is also known as fool’s gold, copper pyrite, gelferz and yellow copper ore.
Copper pyrite is softer than iron pyrite having a hardness of 3.5 to 4.0 on the Mohs Scale, compared to 6 to 6.5 for the brass balls.
Where a mineral falls on the relative hardness of the Mohs Scale is one of the ways by which minerals are identified. The scale was developed in 1812 by Fredrich Mohs, a German mineralogist. He chose as benchmarks ten different minerals of lesser and greater resistance to scratching. At the soft end of the scale, he placed talc, with a hardness of one, followed by gypsum, calcite and fluorite, two, three and four respectively. In the middle are apatite and orthoclase feldspar at five and six. The hard end of the scale finishes out with quartz, topaz, corundum (better known as ruby and sapphire) and diamond at seven, eight, nine and ten.
Every mineral on the scale can be visually scratched by the mineral above it on the scale. While not as precise as later methods developed to determine absolute hardness, the Mohs Scale is very handy to field geologists.
That both copper pyrite and iron pyrite are called fool’s gold is something that I find interesting. As someone who has spent many hours panning for gold or, as I like to call it, washing sand, the hunt for the real thing can really fire the imagination. The glint in the black sand at the bottom of a pan can give momentary rise to an elevated feeling of Eureka! Only to be followed by the feeling of anti-Eureka, whatever the name for that is.
What exactly is it about gold that has for so long so excited people? Gold is rare and corrosion resistant. It is long lasting and very malleable. A gram of gold, about the size of a grain of rice can be hammered into a sheet one meter square. For me I think it’s the hunt for authenticity. I don’t want the fool’s version. I want to pursue the real thing. The thing that has the shine of truth.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a ride over to the west side of the Patagonia Mountains. We entered Duquesne Road from Arizona SR82 next to The Little Red Schoolhouse in Beyerville, just before you cross over the Santa Cruz River. The road is hard surfaced for the first couple of miles and takes you past “Dukes Hill,” a 670-acre parcel once owned by the actor John Wayne, which was never developed. Further along, one enters the National Forest, Land Of Many Uses, and the road becomes dirt. Around a half mile beyond where Kino Springs Road comes in on your right there is a dirt road, a Jeep trail really, that goes north off Duquesne Road towards the mountains. The road isn’t too bad at 5 to 10 mph, and if you follow it for 1.25 miles you will come to a big, sandy wash. If you veer left at the wash you will pass over a cattle guard and back onto a dirt road. In less than a half mile you’ll come to a weathered corral and cattle chute. It is certainly worth a stop here to inspect the cowboy workmanship that went into this 75 to 100-year-old beauty.
3200 feet past the corral a road goes off to the left. This road is steeper and rockier than the road you’ve just left behind, but is still passable except for the final 700 feet.
Less than a mile in on this road is the Big Lead Mine, a copper, lead, silver and gold mine. The ores once mined there include chalcopyrite, a copper ore, galena, and silver. There is a vertical shaft that is recorded as being 75 feet deep. The earliest reference that I can find to this digging is a USGS Bulletin from 1915 with no record as to the amount or value of the minerals extracted.
What has been left behind at the Big Lead is a tailings pile of eye candy. Chunks of quartz, stained yellow by what I believe is sulfur, embedded with fool’s gold, glints and sparkles at every turn of the head. Where the pyrite crystals have weathered out of the host rock the ground itself glitters like the floor of some long-ago outdoor disco. But don’t be tempted into picking up the dense chunks. It is best if you “leaverite” there.