Sunday, December 9, 2012

Iolite - Extraordinary Gemstone

Beautiful gem-quality iolite (water sapphire) sitting in outcrop at Grizzly Creek. Note the yellow-brown
limonite adjacent to the blue iolite. This is mineral rust: the iron-rich iolite has a rusty
surface and everything sitting under this rust is also gem-quality iolite.
Note the scale on the rock, this scale is in inches.
Iolite (gem-quality cordierite) can produce beautiful gemstones with an appearance of sapphire - but with the addition of extraordinary pleochroism (this means simply that it tends to change color as the gem is rotated in light)! In 1996, the first, known gem-quality iolite deposit was discovered at Palmer Canyon in the central Laramie Mountains of Wyoming (Hausel, 1998). At the time, iolite was one of the rarest gemstones on earth. Following discovery, thousands of carats of iolite were recovered with minor pink sapphire, some ruby and considerable gem-quality kyanite. The largest known iolite gemstone in the world in 1996 was also found by the author and named the 'Palmer Canyon Blue Star' - a rough gem of 1,750 carats. Several stones of more than 100 carats were also recovered at the time.

Following discovery, geological models were developed by the author to assist in a search for similar gemstone deposits (Hausel, 2002, 2007; Hausel and Sutherland, 2000, 2006). In particular, these types of deposits (iolite and kyanite) were typically found in alumina-rich metamorphic rocks of moderate amphibolite grade. Whereas the nearby rubies and sapphires were located in a silica-poor vermiculite schist (known as glimmerite).

Using geological models, it was predicted in 2000 that Grizzly Creek south of Palmer Canyon would likely be a similar deposit as Palmer Canyon (Hausel and Sutherland, 2000). Thus in 2004, we verified my geological model and proved that Palmer Canyon contained a similar suite of gemstones including the largest iolite gemstones ever discovered (Hausel, 2004). The largest gemstone I carried out, I named the 'Grizzly Creek Blue Giant' which weighed more than 24,000 carats! But this detrital stone was dwarfed by the giant stones we left in the outcrop since we lacked the proper tools to carve them out of the hard rock.

The Grizzly Creek Blue Giant gemtone was donated to the Wyoming Geological Survey and was put on display on the first floor of the agency at the University of Wyoming campus. If one were to assume iolite gemstones would sell for $20 to $50/carat, this one stone alone could produce $500,000 to $1.2 million in faceted gems. With some gemstones remaining in the outcrop that likely weigh hundreds of thousands of carats, the value of this gemstone deposit could be considerable.

But the discovery was followed by discovery of another giant gemstone iolite deposit by myself known as the Raggedtop-Sherman Mountain deposit further to the south in 2005 (Hausel, 2005) and this was again followed by another deposit in Helleck Canyon a short time later (Hausel, 2007).

The 1,750 carat Palmer Canyon Blue Star gemstone discovered in 1996 along with many other gemstones.

  • Hausel, W.D., 1998, Field Reconnaissance of the Palmer Canyon corundum-kyanite-cordierite deposit, Laramie Mountains Wyoming: Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) Mineral Report MR98-1, 7 p.
  • Hausel, W.D. 2002, Gemstones, Semi-Precious Stones, Lapidary Materials, Ornamental Stones and Other Unique Minerals and Rocks in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Section, Geological Society of America 54th Annual Meeting, abstract no. 33540, p. A54.
  • Hausel, W.D., 2004, Geological Reconnaissance of the Grizzly Creek Gemstone deposit – Potential Source for Iolite, Sapphire, Ruby & Kyanite WSGS Open File Report 04-14, 8 p.
  • Hausel, W.D., 2005, Geologists Locate Giant Gemstones: Prospecting and Mining Journal, v. 74, no. 7, p. 7-9.
  • Hausel, W.D., 2007, Gemstones of Wyoming - Recent discoveries: Colorado Geological Survey Industrial Minerals Forum, 12 p. 
  • Hausel, W.D., and Sutherland, W.M., 2000, Gemstones & Other Unique Minerals & Rocks of Wyoming - A Field Guide for Collectors: Wyoming Geological Survey Bulletin 71, 268 p. 
  • Hausel, W.D., and Sutherland, W.M., 2006, World Gemstones: Geology, Mineralogy, Gemology & Exploration: WSGS Mineral Report MR06-1, 363 p.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Major Gem & Other Mineral Deposits - some thoughts

Faceted iolite, ruby and pink sapphire from Palmer Canyon.
The US and Wyoming have abundant natural resources (including gemstones) that are not being developed. For instance, in Montana and Wyoming there is a world-class copper-silver-gold porphyry province comparable to those in Arizona. This region also has enormous potential to produce gold and silver deposits from veins and replacement deposits, and it doesn't end there. There are known giant resources in lead, zinc, titanium and molybdenum.

One must wonder what the US and State governments are thinking? Any administration could turn this country around and provide unlimited resources, jobs and revenue. What is wrong with politicians? They must have some wires crossed.

If government would just work for us instead of against us, life would be so much easier. We need to GET RID OF ridiculous regulations, duplicate regulations, and get rid of all of the needless agencies, and we could again become the greatest nation in the world. We have some of the hardest working  and innovative people if only they can get assistance from bureaucrats.
The Absaroka Volcanic Range in northwestern
Wyoming and southern Montana.
Getting back to mineral resources, Ask yourself, would I be better off having a nice walking trail I could use with 30 other people each year just to see grizzly bears periodically carrying off some environmentalist for lunch, or would I be better off living in a robust economy with thousands of new jobs, materials, and products made in the USA? The answer should be easy, but apparently not to the elite. What I am getting at is there are hundreds of regions in the US that contain incredible resources and have been locked up only to keep prospectors and other members of the public out. The Absaroka Volcanic Range skirts the eastern edge of Yellowstone hosts a major porphyry copper-silver-gold province that has been piecemeal withdrawn to protect Yellowstone even though Yellowstone is larger than some states and has the most caustic geological environment on the surface of the earth.  All streams in the mineralized areas in the Absaroka Mountains drain away from Yellowstone, so there can be no environmental damage to Yellowstone if mining were to occur.
An example of one of the many mineral deposits found in
the Absaroka terrain. This is from the Kirwin district where
many vein samples were rich in silver and some assayed more
than 100 ounces per ton in silver.
As an example, Kirwin in the southern portion of the Absaroka Mountains has at least one known giant porphyry copper-silver-gold-molybdenum-lead-zinc-titanium deposit that contains more than a $billion in identified resources that were drilled and trenched in the late 1970s by AMAX. This property was quickly withdrawn by the US Forest Service as soon as AMAX dropped their interest in developing an open pit and underground mine. This happened to mineral porphyry after porphyry in this range and culminated with the Clinton Administration taking the New World gold deposit from a mining company.

If mining and exploration were allowed in this highly mineralized region, many other deposits would have been found by now, but this will never happen unless we accidentally get a Congress and president who are genuinely interested in representing us.

Another of many examples are colored gemstone deposits in Wyoming. When these were discovered, one would assume there would have been interest in developing these - after all, just one of the iolite gemstone deposits has potential to produce $millions in tax revenue. But as soon as the discovery was announced about this and other gemstone, diamond and gold deposits it was almost as if the State did not want anyone to know about these. What are they hiding?

Another district that was piecemeal dismantled over many years by the Forest Service was the Encampment district in southeastern Wyoming. Conoco Minerals made several  discoveries of zinc-copper-lead-silver volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits in this region. Deposits with some similarities to the great Jerome massive sulfide in Arizona. Every time the company, or any other came into this region to exercise their right to explore and file mining claims on claimable public land, the Forest Service was alerted to the possibility of economic mineral deposits and region after region was piecemeal withdrawn by the USFS in both the Sierra Madre and in the Medicine Bow Mountains to keep anyone from economic development. What is so wrong with economic developement? And these are just a few examples and there is considerably more mineralization in these regions including significant gold, platinum, palladium, chromium, titanium, nickel, vanadium and iron mineralization.

We recently watched a program on TV about what's under America hosted by Martin Sheen. This was a good program that began to tell a story about all of America's resources. But it didn't tell the story of how government is keeping it away from us. There are many resources in this country and we will not run out if we mine and produce them.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Flawless iolites (0.5 carat) faceted from Palmer Canyon rough.
Giant iolite gemstones & potentially the largest colored gemstone deposit in the world were discovered in the Laramie Range of Wyoming in between 1996 and 2005. Gemstones weighing >24,000 carats were recovered with large masses remaining in outcrop that were estimated to include stones >100,000 carats - some possibly much larger! And this was only at the surface - who knows what lies a few inches or feet underground.

Another was found nearby but remains unexplored. But past exploration suggests it could contain > a trillion carats of water sapphire (iolite) gemstones based on surface sampling, trenching & mapping around the second world war. How could these deposits have been overlooked for so long? It goes to show that giant mineral deposits are sitting out there, right under our noses and few if any people are looking. And these are not rare discoveries. Discoveries like this happen all of the time and supports that we have barely touched the surface when it comes to mineral resources.

First group of iolite gemstones
 found and facted in Wyoming.
One of the more exciting gemstone discoveries made in recent history of gemstones was gem-quality iolite in Palmer Canyon west of Wheatland, Wyoming. This led to a discovery of a world-class gemstone deposit at Grizzly Creek and a second probably world-class deposit at Ragged Top Mountain (which could be the largest in the world). This latter deposit could lead to its classification as one of the largest gemstone deposits ever found; however considerable field and laboratory investigations are necessary (Hausel, 2005b) but following these latter discoveries, members of the WSGS were no longer allowed to conduct field investigations or present papers and talks to the general public by order of the director of the Wyoming Geological Survey.

Gemologists refer to gem cordierite [(Mg,Fe3+)2Al4Si5O18] as iolite. Geologists and mineralogists refer to it as cordierite. Cordierite typically is found in the vicinity of other alumino-silicates such as andalusite, kyanite and sillimanite. Host rocks include alumina-rich mica schists (metapelites) that have been subjected to amphibolite-facies metamorphism. Cordierite is also found as a replacement mineral in alumina-rich syenite-anorthosite complexes and in some shales.
Flawless 0.5 carat iolite gemstone
 facted from a Palmer Canyon
cordierite (photo courtesy of Chuck

It forms short prismatic crystals with rectangular cross sections as well as granular masses and nodules of various shades of blue, bluish-violet, gray and/or brown. Fresh cordierite has a hardness of 7 and specific gravity of 2.55 to 2.75. The hardness is favorable for durable gemstones. The principal deposits that supply much of the world’s market are Sri Lankan placers in spite of low specific gravity.

Iolite exhibits strong pleochroism that varies from light gray, dark violet-blue, to light sapphire blue. The gem may appear deepest blue when viewed down the c-axis and light blue to light grey in other orientations. These color variations are one of the attractive features of this gem. Iolite is often enclosed by a reaction rim of pinite (Hausel, 2002).

The luster of iolite is vitreous and when polished, it becomes increasingly lustrous. Gems >12 carats are unheard of, even so, rough material collected at Palmer Canyon and Grizzly Creek represents many of the largest iolite gemstones in the world. In Wyoming, cordierite has been found in gneiss with quartz and biotite as porphyroblasts with xenoblastic texture (Hausel, personal field notes, 1995). The geology of Wyoming near greenstone and supracrustal terrains is favorable for these and other aluminous gemstones.
Group of Wyoming iolites ranging in weight
from 8- to 12-carats.
Iolite is reported in Canada, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, Tanzania, Finland, Germany, Norway and the United States. The highest quality gems are found as pebbles in Sri Lanka and as porphyroblasts in gneiss in Wyoming.

Large nodular masses of iolite were discovered in two separate deposits in Archean gneiss in Wyoming, and a giant disseminated deposit may occur in the Laramie Range anorthosite-syenite batholith (Hausel 2002; 2004; 2006a). These deposits represent the largest in the world, but remain poorly explored (Hausel, 2005b).

Two deposits (Palmer Canyon and Grizzly Creek) are poly-gem occurrences with ruby and sapphire as accessory minerals along with considerable kyanite in schist, glimmerite (vermiculite) and gneiss. The metapelites represent enclaves of aluminous schist and gneiss. A third deposit in the vicinity of Ragged Top Mountain is hosted by 1.5 billion year old anorthositic-syenitic rocks. This latter deposit remains unexplored even though minor granular gem-quality iolite was verified by Hausel (2006a). Local enrichment of iolite at Palmer Canyon and Grizzly Creek is promising. It is not uncommon to find gems of several hundred carats in both deposits with occasional masses weighing thousands of carats!
Flawless iolite of more than a carat, viewed from side held by tweezers. 

Palmer Canyon Iolite was discovered in 1995 at Palmer Canyon during field reconnaissance (Hausel, 2002). The deposit lies along the eastern flank of the central Laramie Range 16 miles west of Wheatland within Archean quartzofeldspathic gneiss, granite gneiss, pelitic schist, and biotite-chlorite-vermiculite schist north of the Elmer’s Rock greenstone belt. A shallow prospect pit was dug in vermiculite prior to 1944. Only a small amount of vermiculite was found. The vermiculite contains chlorite, kyanite and corundum. Samples of vermiculite-chlorite-biotite-corundum schist collected from a small prospect pit contained as much as 10-20% corundum. A minor amount of corundum is gem quality. Several specimens produced high-quality ruby and pink sapphire.

Cordierite was discovered in nearby quartzofeldspathic gneiss. Samples of cordierite gneiss yielded transparent cordierite grains including several weighing >100 carats. Some gneiss collected from the property contained as much as 20% transparent cordierite. The cordierite occurs as rounded to disseminated grains and large nodules. Foliation in the host rock parallels the margin of nodules and in some samples appears to terminate against the nodule boundary, suggesting that some of the cordierite formed during a post regional metamorphic event. Nearby, kyanite schist contains 20 to 50% excellent, light to sky blue with lesser tawny, green and red gem-quality kyanite prisms.

Transparent blue iolite occurs as large porphyroblasts, nodules and disseminated grains in gneiss adjacent to corundum and kyanite schist. The iolite was traced over a strike length of 500 ft and continues under soil for an unknown distance. A handful of large nodules were found at the time of discovery that include a raw, high-quality transparent gem known as the ‘Palmer Canyon Blue Star’ of 342.8 grams (1,714 carats), which was the largest iolite gemstone in the world at time of discovery. In addition to clear, transparent, violet blue gem-quality cordierite, some black translucent cordierite (‘Palmer Canyon Black’) was recovered. The Palmer Canyon Black produces attractive cabochons.
Pink sapphire, ruby and blue iolite from Palmer Canyon. Each stone weighs
0.5 to 1.5 carats.
Much of the high quality rough material ranges from pleasing violet to a very light-blue color with only a hint of cleavage and parting. Microscopic examination shows few mineral inclusions in some gems. Gray to dark gray cordierite has well-developed parting and cleavage. A group of cabochons weighed 0.27 to 3.02 carats. These are dark-gray to black, translucent to opaque, near gems with distinct cleavage, parting and some fractures.

Two poor quality specimens were faceted that yielded a 3.9-carat lozenge-cut stone and a 3.4-carat marquise. Both were flawed with visible cleavage and parting. However, both produced surprisingly attractive jewelry when mounted in a necklace. Some bluish gray to gray translucent to cloudy material represents rehealed mylonitic cordierite that is poor-quality
A 3.4 carat cordierite with cleavage yielded a
surprisingly attractive gem when placed in a
necklace (photo courtesy of Chuck Mabarak).

Grizzly Creek Grizzly Creek is accessed from the Palmer Canyon road about 4 miles east of the Palmer Canyon deposit at the base of the Laramie Range. Following discovery of Palmer Canyon iolite, similar deposits were predicted to exist in Grizzly Creek (Hausel and Sutherland, 2000). The thermal metamorphic event responsible for the large cordierite porphyroblasts at Palmer Canyon appears to have been widespread in the central portion of the Laramie Range. The earlier prograde metamorphic event produced large prophyroblasts of kyanite in the adjacent rocks.

It became clear during the initial field investigation that a major gem deposit had been discovered. Very large masses of gem-quality iolite were found, as well as large quantities of gem-grade kyanite.

Wayne Sutherland sits on giant Grizzly Creek iolite.
Nearly all of the rock behind him is one, giant
iolite gem (photo by W. Dan Hausel)
Cordierite at Grizzly Creek is surrounded by kyanite and sillimanite schists that contain minor corundum. The kyanite and sillimanite schist lies in a 300 by 5000 foot belt of metapelite. Much kyanite appears to be cabochon grade and has a very pleasing, sky-blue color, with some tawny and pink specimens.

Iolite found nearby is massive and forms large replacements of the schist. This one deposit may represent the largest iolite occurrence in the world. During reconnaissance, specimens of massive iolite were collected including one football-size transparent gemstone that weighed 24,150 carats – the largest iolite gem found in the world that now resides in the Wyoming Geological Survey museum. However, this stone is dwarfed by masses of material that remain in place in Grizzly Creek. Some of the massive gem material will require quarrying operations to recover. It is very likely gem specimens >1 ton (>4.5 million carats) could be recovered (see photo above)!

In outcrop, the iolite is weakly iron stained and shows excellent light blue color and transparency on fresh surfaces. It is not known how much if any of this material has been destroyed by mylonitization. For example, several specimens collected at Palmer Canyon showed distinct mylonitic to ultramylonitic texture in thin section that resulted in cloudy, light-blue and glassy material of poor quality.

Grizzly Creek Blue Gaint (left) weighing in at 24,150 carats and fresh broken surface at Grizzly Creek showing gem iolite.

Ragged Top
The first report of iolite in Wyoming was by the renown mineralogist John Sinkankas (1959). A brief description indicated that iolite was a widespread constituent of schist and gneiss. In describing this particular deposit Sinkankas wrote, “…one estimate has placed the quantity available at thousands of tons. Specimens at this locality examined by the author are glassy broken fragments of rather light blue color, verging towards grayish, small sections are clear and suitable for faceted gems. It is entirely possible that important amounts of gem quality material will be produced from this locality in the future.” Unfortunately, Sinkankas did not give a location: the whereabouts of this giant deposit remains unknown? After I had discovered the Palmer Canyon deposit, I came across this reference and called Sinkankas to get more information. However, he was unable to remember anything about the deposit - but it likely was the Ragged Top - Sherman Mountains cordierite deposit.

At the time of Sinkansas's writing (1959), only one cordierite deposit had been described in the literature in Wyoming. The deposit, known as the Sherman Mountains deposit, occurs 15 miles south of Palmer Canyon. This deposit is in Proterozoic (1.4 billion year old) metanorite, syenite and syenite-diorite gneiss of the Laramie anorthosite complex intrude the Cheyenne suture (1.8-1.6 billion years old) zone. Widespread lenticular to tabular layers of cordierite is found in metanorite (hypersthene gneiss), gneiss and syenite along the southern margin of the anorthosite complex (1.5 billion years old).

The deposit was described by Newhouse and Hagner in 1949 (see Hausel and Sutherland, 2000) for its potential to produce magnesium from cordierite. There was no mention of gemstones during this investigation, but this is likely the deposit mentioned in passing by Sinkankas in 1959 as it was the only known cordierite deposit known in Wyoming at the time.

The host rock was described by Newhouse and Hagner to have as much as 50 to 80% cordierite. The occurrence lies 0.5-mile west of Ragged Top Mountain in a belt 0.3 to 1.2 miles (0.5-1.9 km) wide and 6 miles (9.6 km) long. The host gneiss is highly foliated, intensely folded and contorted. The weathered cordierite was described to have dark brown surfaces that yield to blue or bluish gray massive material on fresh surfaces: sounds like iolite. I was able to collect small samples of disseminated cordierite along the margin of this deposit in a road cut. All of the cordierite I collected along the edge was very high quality and flawless gem material. The material ranged from 1 to 4 carats in weight! The rest of the deposit, including the portions described as massive remain unevaluated for gemstones and this deposit may represent the largest, colored gem deposit in the world.

During the second world war, two geologists - Newhouse and Hagner investigated this deposit and published a report in 1949. They investigated the deposit of cordierite for its magnesium content and ignored the gemstone potential. The deposit was mapped and trenched and a surface resource was estimated. The deposit was investigated and described to be scattered over a few square miles in lenticular to tabular masses in low ridges in the host rock known as metanorite. This occurred over an area of 5 miles long and 0.25 to 1 mile wide. Some exposures are described to have 60 to 80% cordierite. It was estimated at the time that the combined deposits with strike lengths of 100 feet or more, contained >453,600 tonnes of cordierite! This was only based on surface samples and trenches and no drilling was conducted to determine the depth of this deposit.

One tonne contains 5 million carats, and 453,600 tonnes contain 2,268,000,000,000 carats! If we assume that only 10% of this deposit is gem-quality, there would still have an incredible amount of gem material (and this does not include the potential resource below the surface. Just imagine how much in the way of gemstones likely occur within the first hundred feet of the surface.

Sinkankas (personal communication, 2002) indicated that much of the material was gem-quality (Sinkankas, 1959, 1964). This (along with Grizzly Creek) could be one of the greatest discoveries of colored gemstones in history. BUT, investigations were ended in 2006 as my field vehicle was confiscated and given to the WGS secretary, I was no longer allowed to present talks to the public and professional groups, and much more. Why the cover-up?

6-carat iolite cut from Grizzly Creek cordierite.
This and the other iolite-ruby-sapphire-kyanite deposits discovered in the central Laramie Range needed to be completely evaluated by geological mapping, sampling, faceting of material and drilling. Instead, all research related to these giant discoveries and the work on the giant opal deposit near Riverton, were terminated by the policial appointee to the State Geologists position.

Owen CreekAnother iolite deposit in the northern Laramie Mountains is referred to as Owen Creek (Hausel, 2009). This contains kyanite, sillimanite, cordierite and relict staurolite in pelitic schist in this region and remains unexplored. Cordierite is also reported at South Pass (Hausel, 1991), Copper Mountain (Hausel and others, 1985), in the Sierra Madre, and in the Powder River Basin. The cordierite occurrences at South Pass were investigated by me during field mapping of the greenstone belt. I did not observe any gem-quality material in that area. However, I highly recommend investigations of cordierite at Copper Mountain as this supracrustal belt contains abundant metapelite (alumina-rich rock) that was subjected to similar metamorphic conditions as the Elmer’s Rock greenstone belt. For more information, see Hausel (2009a, 2009b, 2009c).

Flawless iolites cut from Palmer Canyon cordierite

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