Black Diamonds Off the Back of That Guy's White Ford F100
A smoky quartz mystery
Call it 1993. One summer in the early 1990s, hubby and I were selling raw stones at the Harrison County, Mississippi gem and mineral show. A guy in a white Ford truck with Alabama plates pulled up. Nervous guy. Probably broke too, because he doesn't have $60 to pay the booth fee. Instead, he sort of slipped sideways into the show, and pretty soon he arrived at us.
"Got some Alabama wood," he said.
"Black petrified wood. Little sparkly smoky quartz crystals all over it like diamonds."
OK, now you're singing the song of my people.
So we hit the parking lot to check it out. Turned out the entire truck bed was full of this stuff. One piece was an entire log. It didn't take a gemologist to see the material was exactly what he said -- smoky quartz crystals on black petrified wood.
Alas, our own Ford F100 (Louisiana plates) was already full of stuff we needed to sell before we bought anything else. But, what the heck, I couldn't pass up the chance to purchase a specimen for my personal collection.
Pretty soon, a bigger dealer noticed the truck, and he drifted over to buy the guy out. Didn't take long. This stuff was something else. Of course, we all wanted to know the deets, but the guy was cagey about where exactly he'd collected it.
"A friend's property in Alabama," was about all he said.
Not too weird. Nobody wants to spill the beans about a good collecting site. The last thing a rockhound wants to see is some commercial seller swooping down to back up the truck.
A year or so later, hubby and I had enjoyed a run of good luck, and we had more money. "Where's that Alabama wood guy?" I asked the bigger dealer. "I'd like to pick some more pieces."
"You didn't hear? Got arrested for collecting on electric company property."
I should have thought to ask what electric company property. Didn't think of it. Probably because I thought it would be easy to find out where this unique material came from.
Turns out, it wasn't easy at all. There are drusy (tiny quartz) crystals growing on petrified wood all over the freakin' state of Alabama. Who knew? Not me, that's for sure. Time ticked by, leaving me with an unsolved mystery.
The Wetumpka Asteroid : A Legend is Born
A decade or more rolled around. I started to see small pieces of this material being sold as somehow related to the mysterious Wetumpka Asteroid, a large meteorite that slammed into what is now Alabama around 80–83 million years ago.
O-kay. Maybe? It doesn't seem wildly unlikely that the force of the impact knocked down entire trees. And, when forests die, it isn't rare for something to happen which causes the living cells of the trees to be replaced, cell by cell, with minerals.
After all, they say you can find petrified wood in all 50 US states. I believe it because you can find it in Louisiana, a state without rocks, just mud. (Yes, I appreciate the irony of being a stone-cutter who lives in a state without rocks. You need to snicker more quietly over there.)
My point is, bad things happen, the forest falls down, and sometimes the wood gets transformed into stone. We're all in agreement here. This is science, y'all.
Here's my problem. Meteor craters are cool. Smoky quartz crystals growing inside the cracks on your petrified wood-- also cool. However, two cool things aren't necessarily the same cool thing.
That is to say… I'm not convinced this material comes from Wetumpka. I think it's just a neat story to help move specimens on eBay.
Brilliant like Diamonds
A lot of petrified wood comes from the northwestern part of the state. Again, nobody wants to get too specific about their happy hunting ground, but I'm reasonably sure my specimen came from somewhere around Brilliant, Marion County.
I could base this guess on the seller's comment about "tiny diamonds," a comment people also used to make about the known Brilliant material. Also, the town still modestly refers to itself as a "sparkling jewel."
What actually seals the deal for me is this Mindat.org photograph. The petrified wood in that specimen is dark, like mine. And the grime in the cracks is that exact shade of yellow! (Yes, I know, grime is one of those real technical terms.) Even after all these years, I saw that yellow clay come up again just now when I was cleaning my specimen for a new photograph.
So I feel confident we have a positive identification. Smoky quartz drusy on petrified wood, Brilliant area, Marion County, Alabama.
More specific than that? Latitude and longitude and a nice little pirate's map leading you to the origin site?
Probably not going to happen, considering all the time and (rumored) crime involved in its digging.
Regardless of where it comes from, treasure this spectacular material if it wanders into your life.
The primary mundane uses of this material are well known:
- Mineral collectors - people like me collecting specimens for display because it's beautiful
- Jewelry-making - small custom jewelers shape smaller pieces into pendants to show off the sparkly smoky quartz crystals
- Speculative - people like the original seller collect it for resale
However, for those who choose to do the work, this material also possesses rich metaphysical possibilities. Consider how it combines petrified wood (transformation, triumph over death) with smoky quartz (fights depression, soothes grief).
There is untapped power in this stone beyond its material beauty. I haven't come close to exploring the possibilities, so I'm personally more at the pondering and meditating stage.
A couple of related articles dive more into the metaphysical side of Smoky Quartz and Petrified Wood: