Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rockhounding Rucks' Pit

Yes, it is possible to find crystals here in Florida and we decided to go for it. So last Sunday we went all the way up to Fort Drum, to the old Rucks' Pit in its new incarnation as the Fort Drum Crystal Mine.

A few years back, Brian discovered that there were gold calcite crystals in excavations for new housing developments in western Broward County. Well, maybe it was I who first discovered that Florida had this treasure when I found a golden crystal in a pile of limestone rock at the side of the gas station on Krome Avenue and the Tamiami Trail. At first we thought it was glass. Harry was still with us back then and Hy, Brian, Harry and and I had been looking for shell fossils, scutes of alligators and all the great ancient stuff you can find around the Everglades.

Once we knew the golden calcite crystals existed, we were drawn to other piles of rocks around Dade and Broward, and when Brian made his great discovery in western Broward, he was hailed as a savior of gorgeous crystals that were destined to be crushed into cement for some housing development or shopping center. Those days, we would all take a trip out to Westin or thereabouts, because Brian had Bobby the supervisor's permission to climb up on the hills of rock and seek out the gold.

We got a lot of fantastic crystals for nothing, which was why I was somewhat skeptical about paying Eddie Rucks, the ten percent owner of the Fort Drum Crystal Mine which used to be Rucks' Pit, the $120 required for the two of us to dig. The $60 per person gets you a five gallon bucket of gold calcite of fossils and a large specimen piece.

Well, Eddie Rucks explained to us that each fossil shell that was encrusted with golden dogtooth spar calcite was worth $200 at the Tucson mineral show (if you happened to go sell there) and that some folks up there on the rocks would make about $6000 today just digging. Well, I didn't look too impressed and we didn't have to pay the $120 but I won't tell you how or why we didn't have to pay...

What I can tell you is that if you do pay, it will probably not be worth it, unless you happen to sneak into the commercial area that is off limits to regular rockhounds. The commercial area that Rucks pays to have machined is filled with a bunch of gold calcite, but the rest of the pit is a joy in negotiating quicksand and slime and two feet of mucky water and rocky hills that are difficult to make your way through. You also have to park your car way far away from the pit so you have to carry tools and heavy pails quite a distance. I guess that is the idea of it. If you have to shlep too far, you don't take as much.

As a seasoned rockhound, I am fairly well tuned to what goes on at mines around the country. There are owners who charge a reasonable fee, say $10 or $20 or $30 at most to dig up quartz or fluorite. You can pay $100 or more these days to dig opal, which is worth quite a bit on the market if you find it. Some owners, make sure you get your money's worth and come home with stuff that will make you happy, but others get greedy. They want the money but they want the best stuff to sell for themselves. The Rucks Pit is still what it always has been. They have had a quarry there and get paid to break up rock. Finding the calcite there a few years ago was a bonus and Eddie Rucks used to let people on his property for $10. But now, he has figured out a way to make it big on calcite, which really is not worth all that much even if it is very pretty.

By next year, he will have installed a campground and he hopes people will come from Florida and around the country and even around the world to dig there. Maybe they will, but you won't find this rockhound there anymore. Too much money for something we got for nothing in a housing development's backyard.