Purple Passion Prospect
Wulfenite Collecting near Wickenburg, Arizona
Steve Decker saltydog@aztec.asu.edu

My buddy Darrel Dodd (Image 1) really likes wulfenite. He has specimens of wulfenite from everywhere. He'd like to be a species collector and have one copy of each known mineral, but he has a lot more than one wulfenite. Darrel spends a lot of time at Arrow Rocks and Gems on Cave Creek Road in north Phoenix, and when people come in with wulfenite he comes out from behind his faceted stones and takes notice.

Come to think of it, wulfenite is a good mineral to take notice of. It is found all over the world, but much of the best is found in Arizona. Beautiful red-orange crystals from the Red Cloud Mine in La Paz County (Image 2), near Quartzsite, are represented in collections everywhere. The clear orange tabs from the Rowley Mine in Maricopa County on pink cream colored barite matrix are treasures. The Mammoth-St. Anthony Mine at Tiger, Arizona, produced some legendary yellow orange tabs on gemmy emerald green dioptase, associated with other rare minerals such as murdochite. (Image 3) Arizona must be rockhound heaven (except in the summer).

Wulfenite is a lead molybdate, found in hydrothermal replacement deposits. It forms tetragonal crystals, which means that they have a square cross section, but they are either taller or shorter than a cube. Most commonly, they have a tabular habit, like a postage stamp. More rarely, they may be pseudo-octahedrons, which look like four sided pyramids stuck base to base. (Image 4) However, the Purple Passion Mine has wulfenites with even stranger habits!

About five years ago, some fella came in to Arrow Rock and Gem with a flat of wulfenite on a purple matrix. (Image 5) He said that he had collected the material several years earlier, from a small prospect north of Wickenburg, right on the Yavapai-Maricopa County line, and it had been in his garage gathering dust. Darrell bought that flat, and gave my buddy Ken Dunham and me some nice specimens. From then on, we were looking for that locality.

Ken has been interested in minerals since high school. He formed the mineral club at his school, West High, and worked at the Christmas Mine in Gila County. He has peddled more rock than most landscaping companies. Ken (on the left) and I both love prospecting in the Wickenburg area. (Image 6) It is very rewarding and pretty close to the house, so we can spend 8 or 10 hours out in the boondocks and still be home for supper. The ranchers in the area are mostly friendly if you ask permission before entering their property and you CLOSE THOSE GATES! We have collected beryl, azurite, fluorite, fluorescent calcite, pyrite, and many other minerals out there. If one spot doesn't pan out, another will. Well, we looked in every little depression that we stumbled across for telltale traces of orange, but no luck.

Ed Davis is a stucco contractor, and is lucky enough to be able to set his own working hours, which gives him the time he needs to pursue minerals. Two years ago, at the rock show at Horse World in Scottsdale, Ed showed us some material he had found. We knew right away that it had come from the prospect we had been looking for. Ed hoped that Ken could offer some advice on developing the property. He said that there was fair material on the surface, but that he could find better stuff underground if he took some equipment and moved some dirt. He was right.

Ken and I tried for almost a year to find time to get together with Ed and take a look at the place. Finally, we went out with Jay Hayes (one of Ed's partners) last January. Ken and I had been close enough to throw a rock and hit the place in our earlier prospecting! We dug in the dumps and found some good tabular wulfenite crystals in vugs in the purple matrix. We also found some acicular crystals and some creamy tan tabular crystals that had rough sides like scrub brushes (Ed and his partners call these "fuzzy tabs"). (Image 7) Some of the crystals were little blocky butterscotch colored cubes like those from Los Lamentos, Mexico. I have never collected at a place with so many different crystal forms for wulfenite.

The country rock around the deposit shows unmistakable signs of its hydrothermal nature. Swirls of calcite twist and spread through the boulders surrounding the claim. Calcite crystals and galena are also found in the dump. I understand that they have named this place the Purple Passion Mine, because of the pretty matrix in which the wulfenite is found.

A short time after our visit, Ed finally got some equipment and began to develop the property. He and his partners have cut a 10 foot wide by 60 foot long bench, 6 feet below ground level. Where the bench intersected the mineralized vein, they have sunk an inclined shaft down 15 feet. (Image 8) Large vugs with more transparent wulfenite crystals are being found at the bottom of the shaft. The wulfenite is found in the contact between a layer of quartz and one of fluorite. Small but very lustrous crystals of smoky quartz and amethyst are being found in vugs in the calcite. At the time of the Tucson show, he had some material for sale, but not of the quality that he is finding now. He has some nice tabular wulfenite crystals on smoky quartz, which is a rare association. Some of the broken tabs are reported to be up to 2" on an edge! (Ed has some of these on video.) He has opened some vugs with large plates of crystals, and some with 2 cm acicular wulfenite crystals. This is the only place that I've ever seen acicular wulfenite. A more precise description might be "very tall tetragonal pyramids". These hair like crystals have a square cross section perhaps .01mm to .03mm, and maybe .3mm to .8mm long. They grow in tangled mats, and in more orderly sprays in some vugs. The partners would be very interested in any information you may have about other localities where wulfenite shows this odd habit. Jay says some were found in the Tombstone area.

Much of the material is very delicate. Some tabular crystals are thin and poorly attached to the matrix. I've been told that the specimens from underground are not so weathered and hold up much better, especially those in the calcite matrix. Saturday, May 4, I wanted to go out to the prospect to take some pictures, but I couldn't find anyone else who wanted to go. Jay had called both Ken and me to tell us he was having a special sale, so we went to his house to buy some minerals. (He was making some GOOD DEALS!) Just as Jay took the last of our rock money, Ed came by with the latest finds from the Purple Passion. Some of the specimens he had boxed up were pretty nice! There were nice yellow tabular crystals on lustrous Smoky Quartz, and some of the acicular wulfenite in dense clusters like small bushes. He told us that he had hit a pocket that was longer than his arm, so he felt around for the bottom with a crowbar, but still couldn't feel the end of it. He had been following the vein of Galena that had widened out to almost 6", and included in it was wulfenite, possibly cerussite, fluorite, and gemmy smoky quartz. Samples of the galena have been sent in for assay in hopes that they may contain silver. Photo micrographs have been made that show cerussite and other minerals on the needle crystals.

On Saturday, May 11, Ed and Bill invited us to collect at the Purple Passion. They had just opened a new pocket and wanted us to be there when they cleaned it out. I took my VCR and 35mm camera, and picked up Ken and Darrel at 5:30 am. It was a good day to get an early start, since the weatherman promised us a high temperature of 105. When we got to Wickenburg we had breakfast, then proceeded to the mine. On the way, we met Bill and followed him the rest of the way.

The place looked a lot different than the last time I had been there. The partners have done a lot of digging and exploring, and have located a lot of old workings that I had not noticed on my earlier visit. Just about any place you dig will have something interesting in it, although a lot of rock has to be moved to find a good specimen. (Image 9) The pocket that they had opened looked very promising, with 1.5 cm wulfenite crystals growing in profusion from the walls of the vug.

Ed was already working by the time we got there. His two Dalmatians let him know that he had visitors, and the little black gnats were also glad to see us. I made some points with my fellow collectors when I pulled out my can of Deep Woods Off bug repellent, but soon the gnats just considered it a condiment, I think. Ed took Darrel and me down into the shaft and showed us the vug he had opened up. Clusters of 1cm and larger crystals were growing in disorderly groups from the walls in a dirty brown matrix. (Image 10) About one flat of specimens were taken from this spot.

The guys fired up the generator for the lights and the hot glue gun. Bill had the dandy idea of hot gluing the specimens into the flats for transportation back to town, so they don't get beat up on that long bumpy ride.(Image 11)

Ken stayed outside and worked the dumps. Bill showed him where he had dumped some promising material mucked out of the shaft. (Image 12) The assay report has come back without the silver content they hoped to find in the galena seam. If there is money to be made here, it looks like it will have to be from mineral specimens. (Images 13 and 14)

If you are interested, the boys have some nice specimens for sale. They might be persuaded to guide serious collectors to their claim on a fee basis. Ed has a claim on the property, so you best ask his permission if you would like to check it out. Drop me a line if you want to get in touch with him, or even if you just want to talk about Arizona rocks.

Steve Decker saltydog@aztec.asu.edu

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Bob Keller