Midnight at Topaz Mountain
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Natural topaz comes in many colors but mostly shades of yellow or clear. That’s probably why it is grouped with citrine as the birthstone for November. The most valuable of the natural topaz is “Imperial topaz” a bright yellow to gold-brown color. It is rare and often confused with citrine (always buy from reputable dealers!). Often imperial topaz fades in the sun; with extended exposure the gold tones fade to plain (at least much less colorful) clear topaz. More commonly though, topaz is irradiated to improve its color and clarity. This turns it from clear to various shades of blue! The lightest is called “sky blue” and it grades gradually darker to “top sky blue”, “Swiss blue” and the very dark “London blue”.
One place that topaz can be collected is Utah, at Topaz Mountain. Topaz Mountain is an isolated, hot, dry wonderland of pink and white volcanic rock known as rhyolite. As it erupted and cooled, small pockets known as vesicles formed. The gases in rhyolite condensed in the vesicles and formed beautiful crystals. In the sunshine, the mountains, rocks and scattered pieces of topaz glitter. Miners come to the area and blast and hammer, looking for the perfect crystals.
Every time our geology professor takes a summer field trip through the area, he has to stop at Topaz Mountain. But in midsummer, the Utah desert is incredibly hot! So he stops overnight…. This isn’t as bad a plan as it seems at first. Topaz is easiest collected in either the noonday sunshine (when it glitters) or in the dark with a flashlight (when it glitters). We pulled into the giant dish shape of Topaz Mountain in the fading light of afternoon, just as the rock hounds and small claim miners were finishing up for the day. We set up camp, ate dinner, and the experienced students assured the newer ones that (despite how they appear) small claim miners never wander around in the dark like hungry bears eating geology students. For their part, the miners sat in their own camps, holding beers and contemplating the big white college vans that had invaded their outpost for the night.
After dark it was time to hunt! The instructions were simple: don’t leave the bowl, don’t disturb anyone’s camp or mining claim, be back to the vans by dawn.
I (having been lost out here before) tied a glow-stick to the top of my tent and hiked off into the dark and up the bowl walls away from all the camps. Out there I would have an easier time of hunting and run into fewer people. As my eyes adjusted, I turned off my flashlight and walked through the dark.
When I got to my chosen hunting grounds I flipped the switch on my flashlight and started searching the ground and pouncing on likely objects. Our professor had noted that topaz gleamed white, and there were other rare minerals that gleamed red. As I looked for gemstones I quickly compiled a mental list of other colors in the dark:
White - topaz
Brown - beer bottles
Green – more beer bottles
Light blue – not a beer bottle, maybe vodka?
Red – piece of tail light, I think
Silver – cans, post target practice
Turquoise – tarantula eyes. I swooped to the pretty color and discovered myself holding a giant upset hairy spider! I let go.
Yellow – mouse, I think. It ran away too fast for me to pounce.
Large and iridescent/fluorescent – scorpion. This is by hearsay.
Finally, at midnight, with pockets full of bits of topaz (and no tarantulas) I sat and admired the stars. They were bright and numerous and the Milky Way was clear and vibrantly colored. The whole valley shone white and silent under the moon. Maybe I could spend the night out here on the rock outcrop, watching the moon and stars drift past? My meditations on deep space ended abruptly when the bush I was sitting next to rustled. I decided to go back to my tent and to bed.
I have both clear and various shades of blue topaz listed on Etsy and in my shop, and special orders are always available. Come shop!