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Latest Agate/Jasper Batch from Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks, and have been playing catch up since getting back a week ago.  Hence no blog posts for a few weeks. One advantage of being gone…my rock tumbler continued to carry on, and finished off a really beautiful batch that I’ve been working on the last 3 months.  It’s one I’m particularly fond of, because every stone here is one that my son and I found on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands here in South Dakota.

I guess I have a hard time classifying these, although most are prairie agates, with some bubblegum agates, jaspers, and quartz as well.  Photos of the latest batch (click on the smaller ones at the end for a larger view).

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

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New Polished Batch – Best Yet!

There are two moments in polishing stones that are akin to Christmas morning for a kid.  One is after the first rough polish. It’s at that stage where you get some wonderful hidden surprises, where the rough polishing has removed outer material and exposed some beautiful patterns underneath (happens a lot with bubblegum agates, for example).  The second big moment is taking a batch out of the final polish. It’s a long process to polish rocks!  I’ve learned patience, and it’s usually a two-month process to go from rough material, to a beautiful, shiny final product.  Here are photos of the latest batch…my best yet, without question!  A wonderful mix of agates, quartz, petrified wood, and jaspers.   And the best aspect of this batch…EVERY piece was self-collected, on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands here in South Dakota.

Polished agates and Stones - South Dakota Rockhound

An overview of the final batch. In this batch, I included a wide variety of stones, including many different agates, petrified wood, quartz, and jaspers. The one thing they all have in common…they all came out WONDERFULLY shiny!

Polished Fairburn Agate

A surprise! This is one of those agates where there’s a surprise underneath a weathered outer layer. I suspected there might be something special underneath the heavily weathered exterior of this piece. There certainly is…the beautiful, fine banding of a Fairburn agate.

Bubblegum Agates - Polished

Typical bubblegum agates. Once polished, most seem to show the reddish and cream colors of the agates shown here. Once the little eyed nodules wear down in the polishing process, you can get some truly gorgeous colors. Best of all, bubblegums take a VERY good polish and shine.

Petrified Wood - Polished

This is the most common form of petrified wood that I’ve found on the Grasslands. You do have to be careful polishing, as sometimes the wood pattern is only on the exterior of the piece and may wear away if you polish too much. If you’re careful though, you can get a beautifully polished piece such as this.

Polished Bubblegum Agate

This is small piece, the diameter of a penny. But HOLY COW do some polished bubblegum agates look wonderful when polished. In this case, the entire outside of the bubblegum was black when I first put it in the polisher. Many times that black wears completely off, often leaving the typical red and cream colors of bubblegums found here. On this one, I stopped the rough polish while it still had some black “eyes”. Gorgeous little piece.

Polished Gray Quartz "Egg"

There are pieces of quartz on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of many different colors. This smoky gray piece polished up beautifully, particularly after I left it in the rough-polish stage for many weeks to get the “egg” shape.

Polished Red Congomerate / Jasper

I don’t know what to call this piece, but it’s freakin’ gorgeous! It’s pretty much one-of-a-kind for pieces I’ve found on the grasslands.

Heavily banded agate - Polished

Most of the prairie and bubblegum agates you find have some form of banding. Many have some very fine bands. But this piece has more “layers” of thin banding than most pieces, and it has some incredibly beautiful colors as well. It’s got an unusual shape, and I was tempted to keep it in the rough polish phase for several more weeks to get a more rounded shape. Given how beautiful it is, however, I didn’t want to take a chance it might break apart, so did the final polishing on this unusual shape.

Polished Quartz Variety - South Dakota

Some of the polished quartz pieces from this batch. Clear, White, and pinkish tones are the colors you find the most, but there are others as well. ALL polish up beautifully.

Polished South Dakota Agate - (Fairburn?)

Another agate where the pattern underneath really wasn’t revealed until after many weeks of polishing. It’s not as obvious as the Fairburn above, but there are some hints of a Fairburn-type pattern.

Polished mossy agate - South Dakota

I know there’s a kind of agate called “mossy agate”. I’m not sure that’s what this is, but it’s such an unusual piece. The pattern itself is quite unusual for agates I’ve found, but so is the mossy, orangish patterns that fill in the gaps between the white blobs. Cool one-of-a-kind piece in my collection.

Polished Prairie Agate - South Dakota

From an unusual piece above, to a pretty common piece. While creamy and white banded prairie agates are the most common color form I seem to find, I also often find ones like this, with blackish bands in a creamy matrix.

Colorful Petrified Wood - South Dakota

The grayish petrified wood near the top of this post is easy to find, but you do also sometimes find more colorful pieces. This one has some wonderful reddish tones, as well as a bluish streak on the back side.

Polished South Dakota Agate

I kept putting this pieces back through the rough-tumbling phase, trying to wear a bit more off of this side to try to reveal more of the different colors. But alas, it kept getting smaller and smaller, but with the same color pattern.

Polished South Dakota Bubblegum Agate

Another great little bubblegum agate. Some of these pieces end up showing many little eyes once polished, but many also often show some gorgeous banding underneath.

Petrified Wood - South Dakota

Some of the petrified wood in this batch, showing the variety of forms you can find on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

Polished South Dakota Conglomerate / Prairie Agate

I’m not sure what you call this…a prairie agate, or some kind of conglomerate. Prairie agates here seem to often be banded, but some too do look like a mish-mash of fragments that have been found together. The conglomerate-looking ones really can have some cool patterns once polished.

Polished South Dakota Conglomerate / Prairie Agate

Speaking of funky conglomerate-like stones…this one has some very fine patterns that are pretty unusual compared to other pieces I’ve found.

Polished Quartz - South Dakota

The biggest piece in this batch, an almost tennis-ball-sized chunk of quartz with an cool brownish-orange tone intermixed throughout.

Polished bubblegum agate with "eyes"

Sometimes bubblegum agates turn out like this when polished, with just the “eyes” remaining.

Small polished prairie agate

Size doesn’t matter! Even the small little pieces have some gorgeous patterns once you photograph them in macro mode.

Polished Red Splotch Agate

I call this “red splotch agate”. Given I’m still new at this and have no idea of what to really call it.

Polished Red Prairie Agate

Some of the prairie agates have reddish tones, but this one has more red throughout than most that I find.

Reddish polished quartz

Another of the reddish quartz pieces.

Polished South Dakota Quartz

And…one last one, another polished piece of quartz.

One more trip – Rocks and Birds

It was a beautiful weekend in much of South Dakota, so much so that the lure of one last rockhounding trip was too much for me to pass up.  With projected highs near 60, and just as importantly on the windswept plains of South Dakota, a lack of a wind, it seemed like the perfect day to roam around the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. An added treat of birding the western part of the state at this time of year…all of the winter raptors that are arriving!

I started out rockhounding, and could tell it was going to be a great day.  I tried a little bit different spot, and immediately found it wasn’t as “picked over” as my typical spot near Kadoka.  Right away I was finding many bubblegum agates, some beautiful rose quartz, some amber-colored honey agates, prairie agates, and some big chunks of petrified wood. I also found several coral and shell fossils, including one cute little bubblegum agate with a crisp imprint of a shell on the back side.  The highlight…after only 10 minutes, I found a gorgeous Fairburn agate with an unusual, rosy-colored quartz center.  That piece alone would have made the trip worth it.

While I spent most of the day rockhounding, I also kept my eyes open for the arriving winter raptors. Rough-legged Hawks, as always, were in abundance in parts of the Grasslands. Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, a prairie falcon, and plenty of Red-tailed Hawks rounded out a day that finished with the spotting of a gorgeous, pure white, unbarred Snowy Owl on the drive back home. A great “last blast” out on the Grasslands, before the really cold South Dakota winter hits.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

A gorgeous Fairburn agate as I found it on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. On average this year, I’d say I find one Fairburn for about every 15 hours of looking, so it’s always a wonderful treat. This one was so unusual, in terms of that grogeous rosy center surrounding by the fortification banding.

South Dakota Agates, Jaspers, Petrified Wood, Quartz

The material I brought back. You can collect on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, but 1) only for private collections (no selling of material), and 2) can collect up to 25 pounds of material in a day. Given I usually only keep the smaller pieces (most are 2″ or less), that’s not a problem! But on this day, there were some BIG pieces of petrified wood I was tempted to bring home! If I had done so though, a couple of them would have used up my 25-lb allotment! Hence sticking with my “usual” agates and other material.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display – Complete!!

The age-old question has been answered!  The question (primarily from my wife)…”What are you going to do with all of those rocks?” Minor detail, something I hadn’t thought about much since my son and I started rockhounding this summer!  But given the growing collection in the basement, it was time to figure out how to display some of our goodies.

It’s been a labor of love, but it’s now complete!  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve refinished the printer’s trays I got on eBay, and installed them on the wall of my office.  Given how new we are at this, we still don’t have a huge number of pieces that have made it all the way through the tumbling and polishing process, but we certainly have PLENTY of combined raw and polished material to fill the 178 individual compartments in the two printer’s trays!  I think they look fantastic, and certainly add some wonderful character to my home office!  Here are some photos:

South Dakota Rockhounding DIsplay

The finished printer’s trays, sanded and refinished on the wider cross pieces, but simply cleaned up and left as-is for the individual compartments themselves. I used a brown enamel paint on the wide pieces, but simply sanded off the old paint and expose the metal faceplate on each drawer. The most satisfying aspect of the collection shown here? Every single piece was hand-collected by my son and I, all from right here in South Dakota!

South Dakota Rockhounding Display

An oblique view, one that shows the bare metal I left on both original drawers.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display - Agates!

For each of the two printer’s trays, I cleaned up the original drawer pull, and repurposed them as labels. The right side is rightly labeled “South Dakota Agates”, as every piece on this side are prairie, Fairburn, bubblegum, or other agates, all collected from the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

South Dakota Rockhounding Display - Jaspers, Petrified Wood, Quartz, etc.

The original drawer pull and label on the left piece. This side is more of a “mish-mash” of material, with a lot of petrified wood, quartz, chalcedony, jaspers, and other pieces. Again, all collected from right here in South Dakota!

Prairie and Fairburn Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

One of the six major compartments across the two trays. This one is devoted to prairie agates, and the handful of Fairburn agates we have so far.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota Rockhound

We haven’t found many Fairburns as of yet, but the one on the right here is the favorite of ANY piece we’ve found so far.

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

One of the six compartments devoted to bubblegum agates. Some are tumbled and polished, most here have not been polished yet. I like the look of the little bubblegums though, and probably won’t polish most of these. The “eyes” of the bubblegum agates give them a great look then when you do polish.

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

A closer view of some of the “raw”, untumbled bubblegum agates. You can see why they are well named! They do often look like chewed up pieces of bubblegum.

Petrified Wood - South Dakota Rockhound

The 2nd most common find for us on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands – petrified wood. These are all petrified wood pieces. Most you find are the grayish or tan color, but there are also some other beautiful colors and patterns you can find. Most of these have not been tumble polished.

Chalcedony and Chert - South Dakota Rockhound

It’s not just agates and petrified wood on the Grasslands! There are other forms of chalcedony, and a huge variety of other rocks as well. I’ve been told those on the right (particularly the bottom right) are chert, in a limestone matrix.

Miscellaneous Prairie Agates - South Dakota Rockhound

A closer look at some miscellaneous (prairie) agates. There’s quite the variety of colors and patterns that you can find.  All here are polished, except the one in the upper right.

Misc. Jasper and Quartz - South Dakota Rockhound

A few miscellaneous jasper, quartz, and agate.

Large agates, chalcedony, etc. - South Dakota Rockhound

The only downside to the use of the printer’s trays…some of the compartments are relatively big, but the depth is quite shallow. Bigger pieces thus won’t work. I haven’t quite decided how I want to display them, but for now I have a table directly underneath the display, and I’ve started to put out a few big pieces. These are some big chalcedony pieces, prairie agates, and petrified wood.

Christmas in October!

I think my favorite part of tumble polishing stones…taking them out from the first time they enter a rough polishing phase. Many at that stage are odd shapes, dirty, or where I collect them, are covered with a blackish or grayish layer after being exposed to the elements. It’s when you get them out of the tumbler after the first rough polish that you start to see the hidden beauty underneath.

Here’s part of a batch fresh out of the tumbler! Woo-hoo…some WONDERFUL surprise October presents!  These all were collected in the same 1-square mile area on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Yes…you find this incredible variety of agates and other stones, all in one spot!  Rockhounding nirvana.

A couple of pictures. The first shows what they look like wet, and gives a hint of their final glory.  The second shows them in their dry, current stage.

South Dakota Agates and Jaspers

This is what the agates and jaspers look like wet, after the first tumbling stage. When wet you get a good idea of what they’ll look like when they finish polishing.

South Dakota Agates - Rough phase

Part of a batch of South Dakota agates and jaspers, just out of the first tumbling stage. In this stage, the point is to try to shape them, get off the sharp edges, etc. They don’t even start to show any hint of that glorious, shiny luster they’ll eventually have, but even at this stage…they’re gorgeous!

Beauty in Small Packages

Three months. I’m learning the value of patience with my new rockhounding and tumbling hobby, as I’ve learned the stones I tumble (South Dakota agates) are very hard, and need to be tumbled for a long time to get a good polish. I’ve learned that the process thus takes about 3 months!  I was doing one week for each of the four tumbling steps I do, but wasn’t getting great results until I upped that to three weeks for each step.

I’m pretty thrilled with this latest batch!  I would say this is my first real, high-quality batch that I’ve done.  These are from my small tumbler, and thus, most of these stones are only 1″ to 1 1/2″ inches in length. They’re beautiful even to the naked eye, but I’m finding that the use of my macro lens and a close photo really allows me to see the beauty and detail in these stones.  Here’s a (large!) number of photos of various agates and jaspers from my latest batch.

Bubblegum Agate

This agate had the typical, bumpy, bubbly shape of a bubblegum agate, but when I found it on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, it was a dull grayish-black. It took the better part of 4 months worth of tumbling to wear down the outer layer, exposing some of the most beautiful patterns I’ve seen on any of my agates.

South Dakota Agate

I’m calling this one “Crystal Dragon”. Not sure whether you’d call this a prairie, bubblegum, or other agate, but I love the swirling pattern, with the crystal/druzy “neck” on the dragon, and a little pink tongue and eye.

Prairie Agate

A prairie agate, showing a beautiful array of colors. A lot of the more weathered agates on the grasslands have black parts on their exterior. I believe that’s manganese oxide that forms when they’re exposed to the elements (at least some of the blacker agates). Much of the time that black disappears when you tumble, but on this prairie agate, the black was maintained in some of the bands.

South Dakota Agate

Wonderful fine detail that’s not all that noticeable to the naked eye, but is quite evident in a macro photo of this agate.

Prairie Agate

A lot of the bubblegum and prairie agates you find have a very subtle, very fine banding such as this. Very often it’s not noticeable until you tumble.

Bubblegum Agate

A classic bubblegum agate, a little larger than many of the agates on this page. Bubblegum agates really tumble beautifully, as you generally get these beautiful agate “eyes”.

Prairie Agate

Interesting shape on this agate, with a little peak that has it’s own little cap/color pattern.

Prairie Agate

A prairie agate, with a lot of “druzy” (crystally) elements.

Prairie Agate

The biggest agate in this batch is also one of the most gorgeous. This beautiful Prairie Agate has some wonderful banding patterns, and a beautiful range of colors.

Bubblegum agate

Another bubblegum agate with the typical eyes you see when polishing.

South Dakota Agate

I’m not sure what to call this one (help!!). It has a definite linear “grain” pattern, but it’s so unlike all the petrified wood I’ve found that I hesitate to call it that.

Prairie Agate

I love the pattern on this one, with the bold orange streak.

South Dakota Jasper

Jasper? Agate? I dunno. Has a pretty pattern though!

Prairie Agate

The most common prairie agate patterns are jagged, rough striping, but this is also a relatively common type of pattern and color for prairie agates from Buffalo Gap.

Bubblegum Agate

Another polished bubblegum agate

Prairie Agate

A prairie agate with some nice banded patterns

Prairie Agate

I love the contrasting patterns on some of the agates, with very dark sections contrasted by white or very light sections.

Bubblegum Agate

Another bubblegum agate, one that was tumbled awhile and didn’t maintain the “eyes” as much as some of the others.

“Planetary Agates” from South Dakota

I have a new hobby! I got a new lens 2 summers ago. It’s a very high quality lens that enables some truly stunning, clear, crisp photos, but I just haven’t used it very much since it’s quite a bit different lens than the one I use to shoot birds.  Today I thought I’d give it a whirl, and in doing so, I may have created a new hobby for myself…taking photos of the planets!!  I was able to take photos of 12 different planets today, all while out on my back deck!  Yeah…yeah…THAT’s right… I took photos of TWELVE different planets, in the space of only about an hour.

Well…OK…they may LOOK like planets, but I’ll fess up…they’re not. I put my rarely used macro lens on my camera this afternoon, and started to take some documentary photos of some of the agates and other stones that my son and I have found over the last month on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands here in South Dakota. After taking a few extreme closeup photos of one of our favorite agate finds, the composition of the photo, with the curve of the agate and the shadow behind it, made it look like a photo of a portion of a planet. I really loved the look of the macro shot, and just went with it, setting up other agates and trying to get “planetary agate” photos.  Here’s a collection of some of our favorite agate finds from the last month…

South Dakota Prairie Agate

“Planetary Agate #1” – This is part of a typical Prairie Agate, something that are relatively common on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. This is the photo that started the “Planetary Agate” series. The beautiful, cloud-like banding of a prairie agate definitely gives it a “planetary” vibe in this kind of view.

Fairburn Agate from South Dakota

Of the 12 “Planetary Agate” photos here, this one is perhaps the least “planet-like” given the sharp banding, but this Fairburn has been our best find so far. The gorgeous, thin, parallel banding of a Fairburn, coupled with that incredible translucent red “eye” do give it an otherworldly look.

Bubblegum Agate from South Dakota

This is a bubblegum agate that’s been through the tumbler a few times, revealing the gorgeous warm reddish-tones underneath. We’re DEFINITELY back on a firm “planetary agate” footing with this one.

Fairburn Agate from South Dakota

A planet’s surface, pockmarked by dozens of meteor collisions!! Or…perhaps it’s just a macro shot of a gorgeous Fairburn Agate from the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of South Dakota. This is a very unusual agate, what we’ve called our “Easter Island Head” Fairburn. When we found it, it was all black, and looked like an Easter Island head. With a bit of polishing, the black gave way to this gorgeous, surreal Fairburn pattern underneath.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

A very interesting “planet”, as this agate had all the typical markings of a prairie agate when we first spotted it. However, there were a few hints that other patterns were hidden underneath, and with a bit of polishing, some of the tighter banding more typical of a Fairburn agate were revealed. One of the more “planetary” looking of the 12 agate photos here.

Bubblegum Agate - South Dakota

Another bubblegum agate that’s been in the tumbler a while. The bubblegum agates we’ve found so far have been so fun to try in our tumble polisher. There have been some wonderful, surprise patterns on some of the tumbled bubblegum agates, including…this VERY planetary-looking pattern.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

The typical colors of the prairie agates you find are warm orangish, tan, and white tones, but you do find other colors as well. Probably the second most common are bands of black and white. I believe from what a geologist friend told me, the blackish tones come from a touch of manganese? I guess the vertical bands in this shot make it a bit less “planet-like”, but still a beautiful, typical prairie agate from our state.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

Not only does this portion of a prairie agate look like a planet, but the entire agate itself does! This is one of the larger agates we’ve taken back with us, a heavy, very round agate with some very interesting “windows” of other colors, such as shown here. Other than the banding, the prairie agates here also can have other patterns similar to this.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

Another prairie agate that’s a bit different, in that the primary patterns are these elongated ellipsoids of white, surrounded by a thin “shell” of warm brown. Different pattern than the others…perhaps not so “planetary”…but a cool looking agate nonetheless.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

This agate got my heart racing a bit when I first saw its edge poking out of the hard crust on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. The first thing I saw was that far right edge sticking out, and with a suggestion of the “holly-leaf” look on those bands, I thought I might have found South Dakota’s specialty, a Fairburn agate. Alas, while the markings may have some of the fortification-look of a Fairburn, this is definitely a prairie agate, but a BIG prairie agate with some of the most intricate banding of any prairie agate we’ve found. One of my favorites, and it makes for a nice “planetary agate” as well.

Bubblegum Agate - South Dakota

Another of the polished bubblegum agates, this one was a bit of a surprise when we first took it out of our tumbler after a “rough-polish” phase. The bubblegum-like nodules were worn smooth after tumbling, revealing very distinct fortification patterns that had the shape of a Fairburn, but not really the fine banding structure. Gorgeously colored little agate though.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

The last of our “planetary agates”, this is another typical prairie agate, showing the most common kind of patterning that you see…broad, diffiuse, “cloud-like” bands. We hope you’ve enjoyed our little foray into “planetary agates!”

 

Agate bonanza and more, with gorgeous Fairburn

The flip side of the coin from last Friday.  Other than looking for birds, I also spent a lot of time walking the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands looking for agates, fossils, and whatever other goodies I can find.  It was a spectacular day (other than twice getting poured upon, on a day forecast to be totally dry), including a GORGEOUS Fairburn agate find.  Here’s some of the highlights of the day:

Fairburn Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

Probably the best Fairburn Agate I’ve found in my LONG and illustrious career as a rockhound (ok, in the 3 weeks I’ve been doing this). I paid the price for this one! I found it as far away from the car as I walked all day, and it started absolutely pouring on me just 1 minute after finding it.

Bubblegum Agates - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

A collection of some of the best bubblegum agates from the day. The ones shown here are all small ones (1 1/2″ or less).

Bubblegum Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A very large button (?) agate (about 3″ across). I haven’t found any agates like this that are so well preserved and so big.

Horn Coral - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A bit of horn coral. I’m told this is a “traveler”, that the geology of the area is too young to host this. It’s a traveler from the Black Hills, washed down like the agates and other goodies you find here.

Unusual Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

A rather unusual Prairie Agate. The rest of the agate looks like many typical prairie agates you find here, with the jagged, orangish-brown, diffuse banding. However, on this one side are these starkly different, very fine, parallel bands that are not found on any other prairie agate that I’ve found so far. Lacks the “holly leaf” pattern of a real Fairburn, but the thinness of the bands and their perfectly parallel nature reminds you of one.

Prairie Agates - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

More typical prairie agates. The ones you find most often are the ones with warm creamy and orangish tones, but there are also some cool ones with black, reddish-tones, or other colors.

Agate

One day away from the 4th of July, so I thought it was very appropriate to bring back this red, white, and “blue” agate. The colors even are arranged correctly!

Petrified Wood - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

A variety of petrified wood pieces. This stuff is just everywhere, and occasionally you run across a much bigger piece that weighs several pounds.

Prairie agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

A large prairie agate (almost 4″ across) with an unusual pattern on one side.

Bubblegum Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A bit bigger bubblegum agate…or at least that’s what I think it is. Reminds me I guess of what a really worn down bubblegum agate might look like, with the stuff in between the “eyes” wearing away more quickly? That’s my (very) amateur interpretation.

Bubblegum Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota

A somewhat larger (~2″) bubblegum agate (perhaps an “eye agate?”), with a pattern of nodules that almost make it look like a brain coral in spots

Fossil plant bits

I think this is just a mix of fossilized plant bits. Again, my amateurish interpretation, but that’s what I’ve found online

Finding Hidden Treasures – Fairburn Agates!

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

The partially polished Fairburn Agate, with the black outer layers being worn away, starting to reveal the beautiful, characteristic banding pattern of a Fairburn Agate underneath. In this “profile” view, you can perhaps see why my son and I have dubbed this the “Easter Island Head” agate.

My son and I have have been bitten hard by the rock-hounding bug. We’re newly infected…we’ve only made two excursions in search of geologic wonders…but I fear a lifetime affliction may be forming. In those two trips, we went to an area of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands where you’re allowed to collect agates, jaspers, petrified wood, or other geologic finds. The variety (and beauty) of rocks and minerals you find in the area is astonishing.  While we’ve certainly had a blast and had some wonderful finds, so far we have struck out on finding the “Holy Grail” of agates…the famed Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agates are one of the world’s most famous, and they’re found only here in South Dakota. They have an incredible fine, even banding, often displaying an incredible array of different colors. They were originally identified near Fairburn, South Dakota, on the outskirts of the Black Hills. However, they can also occasionally be found elsewhere in southwestern South Dakota, including the area of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands where we have been searching.

In our two trips, we hadn’t identified any Fairburn agates, but we’ve certainly found our fair share of prairie agates, bubblegum agates, rose quartz, and petrified wood.  All of these are very beautiful in their raw state, but we’ve also purchased a rotary tumbler for polishing our finds. We had our first batch going in the tumbler, and last night was the first “reveal”. It’s only the first “rough” stage of polishing, meant to round off and shape stones, so there are at least couple weeks of more polishing before this first batch is in their final, lustrous form. However, in this first batch we had a major surprise…a simply GORGEOUS Fairburn Agate!

On our last trip, we found a small (1 1/2″), egg-shaped stone with a very irregular outer surface.  It was entirely coal black, without a speck of color, without a trace of banding. However, it was one that we threw in with our first polish batch.  The rough shaping and polishing has started to wear away the black outer layer, revealing the gorgeous Fairburn patterns underneath!  We are going to put the agate through the rough polish stage again to wear away more black and reveal more of the inner Fairburn pattern. We also have another, very similar stone (photo below) that I suspect is also a Fairburn. SUCH FUN!  SUCH EXCITEMENT, to open the polisher for the first time and see the transformed agates and stones.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

A full-sized view of the “Eastern Island Head” agate.  None of the colors or banding here was visible until the agate went through the “rough” polishing stage for 8 days. 

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

Another view of the Fairburn, on the opposite side of photo #1. Similar beautiful banding patterns, with several “eyes”.

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

The “Back side” of the Easter Island Head agate. It’s quite evident that everywhere the black outer layer is worn down by the polisher, a gorgeous Fairburn pattern is revealed underneath.

Fairburn Agate (likely) - South Dakota

Another agate from the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, with a similar shape and size. It lacks the overall dark coloring of the “Easter Islands Head’ agate, but you can see a hint of a Fairburn pattern in the pebbly outer shell of this one as well. This one is also headed to the polisher, and my guess is that polishing will also reveal a beautiful Fairburn underneath.

Geologic Therapy – South Dakota Agates, Petrified Wood

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands - Kadoka

A typical view of our newly discovered geologic nirvana, near Kadoka, South Dakota. The eroding bluffs reveal their treasures contained within, with the surrounding ravines and flatlands literally covered with agates, petrified wood, and other geologic goodies. Click for a larger view. Photos of all the geologic goodies are at the bottom of this post.

Yeah, it’s been 4 weeks since a blog post.  It’s been a rather stressful last few weeks, thus the general lack of birding, or blogging about birding.  The stress comes from being a scientist and having all of my funding coming from federal programs that happen to have the word “climate” in their name. My work focuses on landscape change and trying to anticipate what future landscapes will look like, and while it necessarily focuses on potential impacts of climate change, that’s not the major focus.  No matter…with the word “climate” in my funding source and appearing occasionally in my published work, it’s work with a big red bullseye target in this political environment.  Hence the stressful few weeks, dealing with budget cuts, and the stress of having to re-orient staff and resources….”re-orient” being the most friendly way to say it.

In the last few weeks though, it has given me some time to think about life priorities.  I hate to say it, given how I love my job, but it has made me realize that work is pretty damned low on the totem pole of ranked priorities.  What I have done more in the last few weeks…spend time with my wonderful son, including what has been absolutely wonderful “geologic therapy”.

What’s that you say? You’ve never undergone geologic therapy to get over your troubles? I highly recommend it!  At work there’s a wonderful guy who has been there forever.  He’s a geologist by training, and is always eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm about geology.  It was a morning a few weeks ago, literally just a couple of hours before I found out about the budget cuts, that he came into my office and the topic turned to good places to find rocks and fossils in South Dakota.  He excitedly talked about a location on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, took me back to his office, and printed out maps to show me exactly where to look.  Wonderful, I thought! It sounded like so much fun, and I imagined that perhaps at some point later this summer, I might try to visit the location!!

“Later this summer” turned out to be the very next day!  After hearing of the budget cuts, I had to get away from work. That next day I took the day off, and my son and I headed west to the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands near Kadoka, South Dakota.  It’s a bit of a jaunt from our part of South Dakota…3 1/2 hours to be exact…but the long drive was definitely worth it.  It turned into a “geologic therapy” day that helped me at least temporarily forget about everything at work.  It was SO much fun, prospecting for rocks and fossils with my son, that we again made the long drive yesterday and had another wonderful day on the Grasslands.

The location is on the northwest edge of the Grasslands.  It’s an area of eroding bluffs, softer material in which agates, jaspers, rose quartz, petrified wood, and other geologic goodies are embedded. When you first arrive at the site, it’s rather astonishing to see the landscape literally covered with a smorgasbord of rocks, ranging from pebble sized up to rocks the size of your fist (and a few larger ones).  As you walk the rocky grounds around the bluffs, the variety of materials around you is rather incredible. Agates are the major attraction here, with gorgeous Prairie Agates found strewn throughout the area, as are “bubblegum agates” and water agates.  We haven’t found one yet, but the famed Fairburn Agate also can be found here, a unique, incredibly beautiful agate for which South Dakota is famous.

Pieces of petrified wood are also found in the area, and the variety there is also rather amazing.  Pieces range from thumbnail size up to chunks up to a foot long, with a wide variety of colors and textures.

Because of these two visits, both my son and I have become smitten with “rock-hounding”! In the past few weeks, we’ve also bought a tumbler and the necessary materials for polishing our finds. It’s a process that definitely tests the patience of a young teenage boy, given that there are four individual steps for polishing, each of which takes about a week as you progress to ever-finer grits in the tumbler.  The polishing part itself is a fascinating process, as many of the agates and petrified wood pieces REALLY start to come alive in the polishing process, with a dull outer coating giving way to some incredibly beautiful patterns underneath.  We still haven’t completed the polishing process on a batch, but hope to have some finished rocks shortly.

It’s a wonderful area to visit if you have any interest in geology or science in general. Unlike most places in the state, it’s also 100% legal to take what you find!  Badlands National Park is right next to the location we were searching, an area known for its geologic “goodies”, but also an area where collecting of rocks, minerals, or fossils is illegal.  On these locations in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, however, collecting is allowed. The Buffalo Gap visitors center will be able to direct you to multiple locations where agates, petrified wood, and other minerals may be found.

Some photos of the goodies!!

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

One of the most beautiful Prairie Agates we’ve found in our two trips there so far. The “holly-leaf” look at the bottom had me excited at first that we found a Fairburn agate, but no, I think it’s just a very beautiful Prairie Agate. Note this is wet to give it a bit of a look of what it might look like polished.

Prairie Agates -South Dakota

Several Prairie Agates from yesterday on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota

(Mostly) Bubblegum agates, a cool form of agate that really stand out from the banded prairie agates. When you first see some of them lying on the ground, they truly do look like pieces of chewed up bubblegum.

Petrified Wood - South Dakota

A number of different varieties of petrified wood from yesterday. The range of colors and textures is amazing.

Prairie Agates - South Dakota

Closer view of some of the prairie agates

Petrified Wood - South Dakota

There were a few really big chunks of petrified wood we found, but this is the biggest that we kept (about 6-7 inches long).

Petrified Wood - South Dakota

Another piece of petrified wood, this one with a grayish tone that is much different than some of the others. The detail and wood patterns are so incredibly detailed on many of these.

Prairie Agate - South Dakota

Another beautifully banded prairie agate

 

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