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Travel / Adventure / Nonfiction
Wanderlusting: A Collection of Travel Stories by Gary McWilliams
ISBN number: 978-0-578-07507-5    LCCN: 2011924970

GREEN GARNETS, BLUE MARBLE

When I first came to Alaska, I spent much time in the town of Wrangell. Mineral collectors know of Wrangell because of the garnet crystals found nearby. Wine red in color, these "almandine" garnets make attractive cabinet specimens. Relatively abundant, they may be found in virtually every museum and mineral collection in the world. Sometimes, in Wrangell, I heard also of green garnets. Unfortunately, the people who told me about them could never produce any for me to see. I could never verify their existence. It was always "No, I do not have any... my neighbor had some... well, maybe it was his brother... but, he moved years ago to Walla Walla," or "He was killed in the War."

So, over the years, I heard about green garnets in the area but never saw any. Green garnets do exist in other parts of the world but they are of a variety, of a geologic origin, unlikely to be found in the Wrangell area. Perhaps, I concluded, these green garnets were not garnets at all but were crystals of some other mineral, and were mistakenly called garnets by people who, without geological expertise, knew no better—it might be that they called all crystals "garnets." They might have been fluorite or sphalerite for example.

The stories of green garnets teased me for years. Now, it is blue marble.

Blue marble is exceedingly rare. Worldwide, there are only a few known localities. Certainly, it would make beautiful sculpture. I first heard rumors of blue marble on Prince of Wales Island maybe ten years ago. Again, no one presented hard, in-the-hand evidence. Then, about four years ago, I met a spelunker who said he saw blue marble in a cave. Ever skeptical, suspecting what he saw to be bluish gray at best, I pressed him about the color. He pinched his Levis and said "like this." I do not take anything from caves but thought at the time that maybe some nice pieces could be found above ground in the vicinity. The spelunker, however, wanted to be mysterious and gave me no specific location, indicating solely that he might take me there someday. But, after a divorce, the man left Alaska, disappeared on his motorcycle into the black hole of the lower forty-eight. Later, I asked his ex-wife if she knew the place. She did not.

Two weeks ago, the ex-wife appeared at my shop with a worn topographic map. She said she was going through the stuff her divorced husband had left behind and found it. The map had an "X" with "blue marble cave" written beside.

After a summer of motor problems, my boat is now in good shape. My employee, Mark, is ready to go. So is Karen. The "X" can be approached to within about two miles by boat and then logging road. After walking the logging road, it will be through the woods to the location. Who knows, this being southeast Alaska, how rough the terrain will be. We will take headlamps and ropes to check out the cave but the hope is to find the stone on the surface. Then, to backpack a couple of pieces home.

I always thought I would be the easiest person in the world to trap. Just dig the pit, cover it with camouflage netting and branches, draw an "X" on a map and mark it crystals or stone. Collect me later at the bottom of the hole. I cannot resist an "X" on a map.

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Copyright © 2011 by Gary McWilliams
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