Archive for August 2011

Working with jade   1 comment

Quite recently I have become enamored of working with jade.  I have been involved with lapidary work, and for most of that time, my favorite stones were jaspers and jasp-agates, followed by agates.  While I have liked the finished jade products, I found it somewhat frustrating to work with at times.  While it is no harder than a high-quality jasper or agate, jade tends to be much, much tougher, so removing the scratches can be a chore.  Also, nearly all of my experience is in working with the nephrite variety of jade, which is far more common in California than jadeite is.  In fact, I have only cut one jadeite cabochon, which was largely akin to working with agate, so my discussion here will focus on on the nephrite variety.

Nephrite jade is essentially a mat of tough, interlinked fibers, so this gives it a grain.   It forms in subduction zones, which it can be found in California.  Typically it is formed two to ten miles underground, under high pressure, but with relatively low temperatures for such a depth (less than 400F).  It stands to reason, that deeper subduction leads to higher pressure, which, in turn, creates a more compact, tougher stone.

Three years ago, I was in the midst of planning a family vacation (I was still married at the time) to Big Sur, when the state spontaneously combusted, beginning with Big Sur.  Yep, that would be 2008.  Down went the dreams of hunting at Jade Cove, not really knowing that beach-combing for jade there now leads to few finds. We went to the Sonoma Coast instead.  It turns out that there is jade to find there.  Maybe not tons, but a complete newbie managed to find some (the stone on the left is probably jasper, but the other two…).

The following year, chaotic from a divorce.  I was not able to plan the trip with adequate time to secure a spot where I wanted to camp

When I began doing lapidary work, I knew none of this.  I joined the Sacramento Mineral Society, armed with a single slab of jade I had purchased at a mineral show.  I needed to cut and polish five cabs for Christmas presents.  How hard could it be.  I had drawn the four onto the slab, got my talk-through on the trim saw and went to work.  The first cut when fine.  The second one snapped in half.  I’m sure I torqued it.  Knowing nothing at this point, I was not really familiar with the concept that many f*&^-ups can be rescued (I now think that this is behind far more freeforms than most lapidaries care to admit).  The last three cut okay, but I snapped one of these on the genie.

I now think that my first problem was the quality of the slab I’d bought.  While I knew to test it by attempting to scratch it with a knife (I did, and it passed), that was about the extent of my jade knowledge.   In retrospect, the stone was soft and gave of a foamy grindate, much like serpentine.  If it was jade at all, it barely qualified.  To compound the problem, I’d cut, more or less,across the grain, leaving them running across the short dimension.  These days, I’d shoot for diagonal when working with softer jade.  To complicate my life even further, I had chosen ovals and tear-drops not realizing that symmetry isn’t the easiestthing to conquer.  Anyway, I made it out with three intact cabochons that I turned into necklaces.

By the time I attempted my second jade cabochon, it was to fulfill a request from a co-worker who had admired my work with agate and jasper for a while (I wear many of my creations).  She was in need of a present for a friend who likes jade.  I agreed to do it, and it went much more smoothly.  I had a higher quality slab, oriented the material better and had learned some patience.  Dopping also helped, providing better control, and supporting the stone. Still, the additional patience I’d acquired  was sorely tested.  The people at the Sacramento Mineral Society are wonderful folks, and Joe Shook, the shop steward, is a fantastic teacher, but we are not a rich club.  Consequently, the polishing wheels on the genies in the shop were nearly bald at the time.  Most of the 280-grit wheels were down to rubber.  It also took some time for me to discover that some of the “scratches” were actually not scratches at all. With some pieces, when a piece is viewed closely, the one can see the fibers in three-dimensional relief, and no amount of polishing will ever yield a two-dimensional surface.  This, coupled with the toughness of some better nephrite, made scratch removal difficult, but I got it done, and I am proud of the result.

In the intervening year or so, I have occasionally worked on jade of varying qualities, usually slabs that I have found in the club’s rock-pile.  Some of these have been quite nice.  Others have “orange-peeled,” with little pockets of jade stripping away on the polkishing wheels, leaving the cab looking worse after the 6000-grit wheel than after the 280.  This was happening as I worked at home.  I took one of the offending pieces to the shop, and was guided to the leather buffing pad, fortified with some 100,000-grit diamond paste, and was instructed to “get it hot enough to crack an agate.”  Okay.  Thank goodness for dop-sticks.  The result was beautiful, creating such a shine that I have not been able to photograph it (I don’t have a light-box and photograph my specimens outside, which has resulted in far too much glare for this piece in the sun.  This being the Sacramento Valley, we aren’t likely to have any substantially cloudy days for some time yet.

In any case, I felt encouraged, just as the club began selling off its vast rock-pile to prepare for a move.  With the help of Joe, a geologist club member, and three member jade-bugs, I have discovered a treasure trove of not only slabs, but some nice quality rough from a variety of California locations: Coulterville, Victorville (black), Porterville and Oroville (I may need to see if every California town ending in “ville” sports some jade deposits.  ;-P

I haven’t had much of it cut, due to the above-mentioned move for the club, but I have been able to work some of wonderfully semi-translucent slablets that I have found:

This is what working with California’s famous nephrite jade was supposed to be like: material hard and tough enough to make the grinding wheels scream for mercy; a glassy shine and translucence when held to light.  I had actually been beginning to doubt that real jade ever did this, as I had only seen it in vesuvianite (aka californite and idocrase), which is a beautiful stone, but is notorious for being used as a jade simulant, and being confusingly marketed as California Jade (as opposed to California jade, the real deal).

In any case, I can now say that I have been bitten by the jade-bug,  and love working with nephrite.  Jade does not yet haunt my dreams, and I still love to work with agate, jasper and other stones.  I must confess, though, that I do aspire to grueling treks through the wilds of the Trinity Alps, the Eel River and the back acres of Big Sur to find suiseki stones and boulders to slab.  I want the Clear Creek area re-0pened to join field-trips for jadeite.  I am eager to slab my club finds, and perhaps to cab a few beach finds (I will post pictures) from my recent vacation (Patrick’s Point see:

Well, back to finish another nephrite cab….




Posted August 29, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Jade, Lapidary

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Okay, what is wrong with the ISPs in this country?   Leave a comment

Alright, the last post took me over an hour to compose, and that isn’t because I am incompetent.  I had already written it and posted it to several Yahoo! Groups without any problems.  The problem is Comcast.  I lost my supposedly high-speed connection at least five times.  Each time it takes a minute or three to decide it won’t connect, and another minute or so to diagnose the connection.  And this, unfortunately, is not an unusual situation.  What the hell?  For this they are going to want $70 per month when my introductory rate runs out?  And AT&T?  They couldn’t even get me hooked up.  In Davis.  California.  USA.  We invented the internet in this country, and we have the slowest, most expensive internet.  What gives?

I am not pulling this out of thin air.  There are numerous studies that have shown this.  Just a couple of examples:

And God forbid that we ask for some regulation of the companies that are ripping us off!  You want what you’re paying for?  That makes you a communist!  Regulation?  No!  They need a tax cut and the ability to give unlimited political donations!

Anyway, I’ll add some pictures into the vacation post when my connection is being more cooperative.

Good night.


Posted August 25, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Rants

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Vacation on the Humboldt Coast   1 comment

Vacation on the Humboldt Coast, August 2011

This year, for our vacation, my son, Justin, and I decided to explore a portion of the Humboldt Coast. The siren songs of Agate Beach and Trinidad Beach jasper have been in our ears for some time now. Additionally, a dear friend and fellow photographer has been extolling Trinidad’s virtues ever since I have mentioned a desire to visit. Her pictures of the area certainly piqued my interest further….

For my pictures, please see:


Justin returned from his mother’s house at 8:30 AM. I finished packing the car, and we (including Buddy and Buster, the wonder-wieners) were on the road by 10:15. Heading north in I-5, we were filled with excitement. In spite of the mild summer we have been experiencing in Davis, the air was hazy, and it became quickly evident that the northern valley (which does not receive the cooling Delta Breeze that we do) has not enjoyed this to the same extent. Within an hour from home, the temperatures were in the mid-90s (Davis had a forecast high of 88°F for that day), and the Coast Range, quite close to the freeway, was not clearly visible. The Sutter Buttes, also, were only visible in silhouette. When we reached Redding at 12:30, it was a sweltering 99°F, and the only thing I could see of Mount Shasta was a fuzzy outline of its snow-capped peak.

We turned west into the Trinity Alps. The three hour drive through the mountains on highway 299 was gorgeous and surprisingly hot. The temperatures hovered in the mid-to-high 90s until we were within about 10 miles of Arcata, at which point they dropped rapidly.

For lunch we stopped at Bagdad, on the Trinity River. I wanted to do a quick search for jade, but the area was designed for boat access of the river. Reaching the rocks would have required a swim.

All along the drive I saw numerous possibilities for future camping trips along the Trinity River (jade hunting kayak-trips, perhaps?). I imagine near Willow Creek will be the place, as it closer to the coast and somewhat cooler.

We arrived at about 5PM and set up camp. The campsite was nice: large and relatively private, secluded in ferns and bishop pines.

After set-up, we took a quick trek to Agate Beach (about a mile from our campsite), and found some goodies – mostly jasper.


I woke up at about 6:00, mainly to the sounds of crows, ravens, Stellar’s jays, spotted owls and woodpeckers as well as a few unidentified birds. There were very few human sounds. The noisy revelers were still asleep and the early risers respected the quiet. I stayed in my sleeping bag, listening, until about 7:00, and then got up for breakfast. I realized then that I’d forgotten to bring my coffee (d’oh!), but green tea was just fine.

At 9:00, Justin woke, and had his breakfast. Afterward, we proceeded to Sumeg Village (a model Yurok village), where a program was put on by local Yuroks. A tour of the village was performed by Skip: a Yurok as well a Park Ranger, which provided an interesting perspective (and one that was more accurate than the usual anthropological approach, I imagine). We learned, for instance that Yurok houses have small round door designed to keep bears out. Yurok tools were chiefly constructed of elk horn, rather than stone. Also, since Yuroks consider all things alive and imbued with spirit, represent physical features in things they build. For instance, every Yurok canoe has structures representing a nose, heart, lungs and kidneys – the essential organs.

Following the tour, we were treated to Yurok songs and prayers to prepare us for a salmon feast. The salmon was delicious, slowly spit-roasted over a redwood charcoal pit. I even partook of what is considered a delicacy – the head, which was moist and quite delicious, particularly the cheek meat.

Well-fortified after lunch, Justin and I biked into Trinidad, about 5 miles away. This turned out to be slightly more challenging than I imagined. Although Justin and I are both avid bikers, I did not have my regular bike – a cargo bike is too large for my roof rack. Instead, I was riding Justin’s “spare” bike, which even at its tallest setting is too small for me. Unlike Davis, Trinidad actually has hills, which are quite tough to bike when your knees are nearly smacking you in the chin.

Upon returning, we headed to Agate Beach for our first serious agate hunt. We hit a beach packed with agate hunters, over half of whom were armed with “agate scoops” – essentially three-foot-long slotted spoons. Most of these were identical and presumably purchased. A few, though, were creatively home-made: one was constructed of a golf club handle and a small kitchen sieve, another of a wooden dowel and a kitty litter scoop. These folks had a distinct advantage as they were able to reach agates that were further away without diving for them. Most of these folks also seemed focused only on agates. Many had pint-sized Ziploc bags significantly filled with agates.

I, on the other hand, found two agates. This is probably due to several factors. I do not seem to have “the eye.” Many of the hunters have been coming here for years and know what to look for, and take only agates. I, on the other hand, was distracted by the amazing array of jasper and jade that can also be found (in fact, they are more plentiful than agates). Also, without a scoop, I simply could not reach many of the agates that I did spot, since they do not remain in one place for long before the next wave moves them again.

Speaking of jasper, I found one piece of classic brecciated tan and pink Trinidad jasper with a gorgeous seam of agate running through it. More common are pieces with brown or tan landscapes and blue sky in colors reminiscent of Rocky Butte jasper from Oregon.


At Justin’s insistence, I woke him up early for some just-past-sunrise, low-tide “agateering.” The beach already sported the hard-core hunters. As we searched, I chatted with a few of these old-timers. One was a San Francisco man who has been coming with his family every year for 40 years. Amazingly, he was not aware that there is also an Agate Beach in Bolinas. In any case, he shared some of his hints: the area where the water is an inch or two deep is best. The agates are briefly still, and give off a blue “glow.” This did not help me greatly, as every blue glow I saw was either 20 feet away, in someone’s scoop, or a “false positive” – grey chert. I again found jasper and jade more frequently than agate (once again, I found two agates, which were slightly larger than the previous day’s finds).

By about 10:00, the morning fog had almost completely burned away making all the stones on the beach sparkle in a very distracting manner. Nevertheless, after lunch, Justin and I joined a ranger-led hunt. Her presentation confirmed my suspicions about two brown stones I had found in the morning – they are petrified wood. During this hunt I actually found three agates (!), two more pieces of petrified wood (okay, auto complete just tried to turn that into petrified woodpeckers, which would be an extremely cool find), and a fairly large black piece of whalebone (a piece of rib, perhaps?).

Justin found several agates and an egg-shaped piece of Trinidad jasper that makes me drool (see the pictures link to see it).

That night, our campfire was slightly less relaxing than usual since we had some new neighbors: one family began arguing the moment they pulled in, another had three small squalling children that went on shrieking for hours…


Monday morning dawned perfectly clear. Justin once again slept in. After a short morning agate hunt (I again found two), we opted for a road-trip to Fern Canyon. On the way, we stopped for pictures of one of the local herds of Roosevelt elk. They were amazing to see, but at about half a mile distant, so I don’t think we got a full appreciation of how huge these beautiful critters are. Getting to Fern Canyon involved driving along eight miles of bumpy and dusty, but decently graded, dirt road and making four water crossings. The ranger assured me that my car (not a four-wheel drive) could make it, but the first one made me a bit nervous. Luckily the crossing contained sufficient gravel that tires did not sink into mud.

The short hike (no dogs allowed) at Fern Canyon (where parts of the Jurassic Park movies were filmed) was totally worth the bouncy drive. We first crossed a meadow with a very clear creek, tall bushy horsetails, prolific wild-flowers and dozens of dragonflies (black saddlebags, I’m fairly sure) that absolutely refused to land and pose for pictures. The canyon itself is only half a mile long: a deep trench lined with four different species of ferns (so that’s how it got its name) and waterfalls. Downed logs were decorated with mosses and unusual fungi, including one growing a red, brain-shaped jelly fungus of some sort. At the end of the canyon Justin and I opted for the loop hike ascending what one kid described as the “endless stairs” for a small wood-land like. We crossed another meadow with numerous dragonflies (some sort of darner this time, I believe), which were equally camera-shy. This is a perfect flip-flop hike: wet and not at all difficult.

After this hike, we decided to head to Big Lagoon, a dog-friendly beach. One of the Patrick’s Point rangers had told us that nearly every beach in Humboldt County, with the exception of Agate Beach is dog-friendly. She had also told that many local search for agates there when it isn’t sandy, since there are fewer people. It was sandy. A sign sported a very amusing typo in reference to dogs (see pictures).

The beach excursion did not last long, since the dogs were being brats, escaping their harnesses repeatedly. Justin and I opted for a hike at the camp-ground instead. We toured the Yurok ceremonial rock, and then explored Mussel Rock, Lookout Rock and the Wedding Rock.

At night the kids across the way cried and screamed for three hours. Lovely.


Another early-morning agate expedition. It started off foggy, but by 9:00 the fog was down to thin wisps. This was apparently good for Justin’s “agate-eye,” as he found a good 20 pieces, including two that resemble faces. I found four agates, but struck an absolute jade-jackpot. I talked with an old-timer couple, who, like me, had a more eclectic focus, also pursuing jade and jasper. The man told me that the blue and brown Oregon-jasper-like pieces I had been finding could often be cut to reveal black agate in thunderegg-like formations. I will have to try it.

After brunch, Justin participated in a Junior Ranger “slug slam” program where we learned that slugs breathe through a hole in the side of their heads, and we also made artificial “slug-slime” – yellow oobleck.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Trinidad. We arrived to perfectly clear weather and headed to the lighthouse overlooking the bay. I have to say that this is one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. This place seriously gives Kauai a run for its money in terms of sheer, breath-taking scenic beauty. I vowed on the spot that we will return next year. Since the dogs had been brats on the beach the day before, we decided that they would not be going to the beach today. To make up for this, we took them for a nice hike of Trinidad Head. This was a long enough hike to tire them out (Buddy, the 14 year-old, had to be carried for the last bit). The views were stunning, and I saw many wildflowers with which I am not familiar

The next item on the agenda was exploring Trinidad State Beach which contains spectacular boulders of multicolored jasper with tafoni-like features, caves and off-shore sea-stacks, one of which is 10 acres in size and covered in bishop pine. The beach also contains a creek that is the source of Trinidad Beach jasper. I managed to find three pieces. Two look promising, but one revealed many fractures after I cleaned the creek-slime. No worries. We will return here! When I know whether I picked well, I can get more. I also lugged a few 30-pound landscape boulders through a half mile of deep sand. A very good work-out.


Our last full day dawned to weather that is more typical than what we had been experiencing: heavy fog. Our last agate hunt lasted only about two hours. The fog wasn’t burning off, and Justin was thoroughly chilled. During our time there, I did have the time to speak to an old-timer, who claimed that agates are getting more rare with more people coming. He claimed that it used to be possible to find 100 – 150 agates in an hour, and that he is lucky to find 20 or 30 a day now.

After warming the boy up with oatmeal and green tea, we decided that an inland hike of the big trees would be in order. Once 101 turned inland after Orick, it soon became sunny.

Parking at Big Trees, we found a nice, shady spot for “the boys,” since dogs are not allowed on the trails. We picked a nice 6-mile hike off the map and got going. Evidently this map marked trails “as the crow flies,” since it did not show switch-backs, which expanded the hike to at least 10 miles and made it moderately strenuous. It was Justin’s first exposure to totally wild, dense vegetation, and he became convinced that we were lost, and was visibly relieved with every trail-marking sign.

This hike earned us a substantial dinner, so we headed to eat at the Trinidad Eatery and Gallery, which had been recommended by a friend (the same friend who raved about Trinidad itself). Justin and I shared a plate of calamari for the appetizer, followed by clam chowder for him and an excellent cioppino for me. For dessert we split some dynamite blackberry cobbler.

Justin fell asleep by 8:30, and I read by the campfire. The screaming, sobbing kids were gone!


Homeward-bound. The last day of vacation is always a melancholy event. I am usually blissful from the experience, but sad to be leaving. This time was no exception. After one last hike of the campground trails, Justin and I packed and headed out, opting for the highway 101 to 20 route, to make the trip a loop. Just like 299, this is a beautiful drive, though much of it seems studded with tourist traps (Bigfoot themed and redwood themed). I saw many possibilities for future explorations of the area, and also managed to lose count of the number of times we crossed the Eel river (Justin insists it was 29).

Much of this drive was quite a bit cooler than the trip in, until we neared Laytonville, and from there until past Clear Lake and Williams, temperatures hovered near 100°F. As we drove south on I-5, it cooled very gradually until we hit Woodland, which is apparently as far as the Delta Breeze reaches.

Justin’s favorite hot-and-sour soup welcomed us back to town. Everyone (including the dogs) took a thorough shower and relaxed in our own beds.

I am very grateful for this experience.

Happy Hunting,

Stephan in Davis, CA.

Hello fellow bloggers, cyclists, rock-hounds, nature enthusiasts and other nutters   Leave a comment

I am just getting started here — putting my thoughts out to the world.  I hope to inspire, enlighten or, at least, entertain some of you.  I already know that I will not be posting daily, but rather when i have something that needs saying (in my mind at least).  Please feel free to add your own nuggets or comments, but please keep them civil.  Inappropriate content will be removed as soon as I become aware of it.

I look forward to getting to know more of you.



Posted August 25, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Uncategorized