Wednesday, December 12, 2018


One of things I like about looking at pictures when you're young and also seeing old friends you haven't seen in a long time is, for me, a glimpse of who I was. 
               Lea Thompson  (paraphrase)

The 2018 Winter Solstice will take place on Friday, December 21 (in Colorado Springs).  At exactly 3:23 PM Mountain Standard Time the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn (the Circle of Latitude about 23 degrees south of the equator) and the North Pole will be aimed furthest away from the sun (on the 23.5 degrees tilt of the earth’s axis).  Most people in the northern hemisphere think of the Winter Solstice as the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

Here in Colorado the long cold nights and short days seem a time to reflect on our lives, and on the losses of our good friends.  Almost a decade ago I lost my collecting buddy of over 40 years and I still miss him.

I retired 12.5 years ago from a University system, an event that would not have been possible without Jim Madsen, the Utah dinosaur guy (perhaps best known for Allosaurus).  I arrived at the University of Utah, in fall 1967, as a recent MA graduate but originally as a small-town Kansas kid from a high school of 49 students, with an equally scared wife of one week who came from small-town South Dakota. We were terrified at the size of Salt Lake City, viewed as we popped over the summit, and were equally frightened at the size of the institution where I was scheduled to enroll.  I knew that vertebrate fossils held my interest; however, the department did not have such a paleontologist on staff and I was scared again.  Then Lee Stokes, my advisor, told me to go up the hill and visit Jim Madsen at the bone annex (a refurbished army barracks).  So, I did and a friendship of 42 years began—and I started to feel at home.  Jim suggested a dissertation problem for me, perhaps somewhat disappointed that it did not involve dinosaurs, and nurtured me through classes, field work, good times, and certainly the comprehensive exams.  He was always there with a wisecrack, a laugh, and that dry sense of humor.  He turned over portions of his lab in the old geology building to me, and guided the way toward graduation.  On the first draft of my dissertation Lee Stokes told me that I was too poetic and ascribed anthropomorphic qualities to the rocks.  I said, “Dr Stokes, Jim Madsen taught me about talking rocks”!  Little did he realize that after a couple of adult beverages in the moonlight at the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry, you could hear the rocks speak---or maybe it was the wind, or the spirits, or the dinosaurs, or something! 

In spring 1971 I had finished my first year of teaching back in Kansas and badly needed a summer job in Utah, so I could finish my dissertation.  I applied to every national park and forest service district in the State—no luck.  I was essentially broke, had a new baby, and no job, and our apartment lease was up.  In fact, the phone service was scheduled to be cut off in the afternoon.  So, in a stroke of luck I received a call, in early afternoon, from Dinosaur National Monument offering me a summer position as a Ranger.  It seems that Jim Madsen had called them and said I was a good guy who needed a job.  Could I start next week?  We were off to Utah the next day.

I will never forget that act of kindness and it taught me a valuable lesson in life.  Be proactive in trying to help your students.  Jump ahead of them.  Don’t expect rewards for everything. Listen to the rocks. Be kind to people.  Use encouraging words. Have a positive outlook on life, and enjoy all aspects of it. 

After settling down in Hays for the next 20 years, my spouse and I and our family became even closer friends with the Madsen’s.  We traveled to Utah at least 4 times per year for research and saw Jim and Sue annually at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings.  Virtually every one of those meetings has a story.  In Flagstaff, Arizona, we had been at a reception and all participants had a couple of adult beverages.  At that time Jim was driving a Land Rover with a replica fossil turtle for a hood ornament and a license plate that said “fossil” -- that vehicle was a gift from Japan!  On a trip over there to put some dinosaurs in a museum he was asked upon leaving is there was anything they could do for him.  So, in his usual way he said something like “I could use a new Land Rover.”  In a few months it was in the U.S. for his pick up.

At any rate, in Flagstaff we picked up a couple of people needing a ride—paleontologists who were “really famous” back in the 1960s and 70s.  What I remember is that these two gentlemen were sitting on the open tailgate of the Land Rover, dragging their feet and singing something—maybe drinking songs from the old days—very loudly as we slowly traveled down the main street of Flagstaff.  To this day I am uncertain how we all stayed out of jail.

In the meetings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History I went over and poked Jim since the room was dark, the talk boring, and Jim was snoring.

In Texas he was hit by flying bat guano when we got too close to the daily flight from the bridge.  At the University of Kansas doings Jim and Sue rode the train back to Nebraska and we were scheduled to pick them up and then travel together to the meetings.  My spouse and I were to pick them up around 3:30 am on a Wednesday morning—we thought.  They had arrived a day early so they were holed up in a small train depot in Holdrege, Nebraska-- freezing until we drove the 120 miles to pick them up.
Sometime around 1980 Jim and I got involved in writing environmental impact statements for pipelines and power lines.  These were some of the best years of our lives together—mucking around and collecting fossils.
One trip we were looking for fossils in remote Utah and buried the pickup in mud and Jim sent me walking toward a small central Utah town to locate a wrecker.  Have you ever tried to hitch a ride wearing bib overalls covered with mud?  That was an 8-mile walk.

The bibbers were another story.  Jim surmised that if we wore overalls the local population would let us on their land to hunt for fossils.  It seemed to work although we looked straight out of Deliverance.  It was also about this time that he taught me about the merits of gathering wild Utah asparagus to cook back over the campfire.  He was always quick to remind people, with his little grin, that the aspartic acid had a strong effect on one’s urine.
In turn, I mentioned to Jim one time that I was a bee keeper and entered my honey in the county fair.  Before I knew it, Jim became a bee keeper, attending classes, bottling honey, and generally having fun.  I believe, to this day, his colonies remain strong.

On a trip to Wyoming Jim had a bum knee so he said those famous words, “just drive a little closer on that white stuff so I can see the rocks”.  Result:  buried pickup again.  Well, Jim can’t walk so I take off again toward a drilling rig maybe 10 miles away, one we had noticed on the trip in.  I found a land man, caught a ride into town, got a wrecker, came back out and---- no Jim.  Seems like he got a couple of antelope hunters to pull him out of the mud with a portable come-a-long.  Short story, it cost a pot full of money---cash-- to get the wrecker and I was left with 5-6 dollars.  We were very hungry and since that small amount of money would not buy much food, we headed to our sleeping quarters.  In those days’ ATMs did not exist in small-town Wyoming and the banks closed on time. So, we made a command decision and got a six pack of beer—a form of food. Sitting in the pickup I said---“no opener”.  Jim said, “hop over to that fence post and pop off a couple of lids”.  I did, and that is how I learned to pop lids.

Jim was always proud of his fruit trees and seemed to have a green thumb.  On one visit we had partaken of a couple of adult beverages and went outside in the moonlight to sample the Queen Anne cherries on his tree.  We were hungry and just camped under the tree and made like a couple of bears on those nice sweet fruits.  There were two things that happened next morning.  One, we went outside and then noticed that every one of the remaining cherries had a nice worm inside.  All Jim said was “well, we got our protein yesterday”.  Two, Jim always had a sensitive digestive system and the mixture of beer and wormy cherries really riled things up and then ended with a violent discharge of gas.  Jim would just get that little smirk on his face.

I shall always remember Jim for his generosity and kindness.  Anything that you wanted—Jim said, “take it”.  In 1978 we moved to Salt Lake for a sabbatical leave.  Jim gave us his family home to stay in—no rent, only pay the utilities.  When we arrived on New Year’s Day, they had dinner waiting.   Upon leaving after the stay we gave them a dog, a blue healer—Bo Cepheus—I don’t know if Sue ever forgave us for that.  You need a dinosaur cast for teaching? How many do you want?  Need a dino belt buckle—here have a few.  Need a car to drive while in Salt Lake?  Hey, we have an extra one.  Let me buy you dinner, the company can afford it.  I also know that Jim established several scholarship prizes, such as the First Wednesday of the Year scholarship or something like that and gave it to struggling paleontologists trying to succeed in school.  His generosity was outstanding.

I shall remember Jim for his sense of humor, often self effacing.  He taught one of his dogs to bark whenever someone showed off their middle index finger.  He taught another dog to carry out empty beer cans and put them in the recycling bin.  He was called up to a site near Brigham City since a guy had found several bones in the loose Bonneville sands.  After a little easy digging Jim thought he hit a bonanza, especially with the bird bones since they generally are rare in the fossil record.  Then the family patriarch came about and noted that the dig site was where the old privy used to be located!  One time he was called to excavate some large bones in the Salt Lake valley.  At that time Jim was trying to protect paleontological resources in Utah and so often called the TV station or newspaper to cover the discovery event.  So, he did.  As Jim was excavating the bones (thought to be Pleistocene in age, ~14,000 YBP) he happened to notice one foot had a steel horse shoe mounted. To hear him tell the story, he packed up and got the Hades out of there.  The TV station called and wanted to know where he was.  He played dumb and said one of his friends must have played a trick on him.

I can’t tell you how much that I miss my buddy Jim.  He was my best friend, my co-author of numerous publications, and my collecting colleague of many years. 

Jim was not one to sing to others.  In fact, I only remember one time hearing him sing.  We were on some sort of a field trip staying at a podunk motel in Colorado not far from the La Sal Mountains.  We were sitting on the balcony, having an adult beverage, watching the moon come up, and listening to 60s music.  Along came a song by the Hollywood Argyles called Alley Oop—you know, a ditty based on the comic strip about a guy who rode a dinosaur.  Well, Jim started belting it out:
He don’t eat nothin but a bear cat stew
Well this cat’s name is Alley Oop
he got a chauffeur that’s a genuine dinosaur
and he can knuckle your head before you count to four
ride daddy ride
hi yo dinosaur
ride daddy ride

Allosaurus jimmadseni displayed at Dinosaur nation Monument.

Monday, December 10, 2018


 Back in the mid-1960s I was completing field work for my MS thesis in the badlands east of the Black Hills.  I certainly was not much of an igneous/metamorphic mineralogist/petrologist (AKA hardrocker) and often needed identification help with numerous specimens found in the Pleistocene stream sediments. So, off I went into South Dakota Tech looking for anyone who would indulge my numerous questions and help a poor ole grad student. One day a person said something like “go find Bill Roberts” and so I did.  At that time Bill was some sort of a research associate but at the time of his death in 1987 he held the rank of Senior Curator of Mineralogy and Invertebrate paleontology.  After locating him I was in awe of Bill’s knowledge of rocks and minerals around the Black Hills and was grateful for his time spent with a flatlander grad student. 

After leaving South Dakota for Utah, Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin I paid little attention to the minerals and rocks of the Black Hills until settling in Colorado and reliving my youth (at least giving it a try but probably unsuccessfully).  As readers of these postings realize, I have taken a real shine to phosphates and arsenates, especially those from the Black Hills. I am constantly on the lookout for interesting minerals while wandering thru the Hills or perusing the offerings of show dealers.  I also check the internet for minerals proffered by Tom Loomis at Dakota Matrix. 

Only later in life, after I purchased used copies of his books (both written with George Rapp, Jr.) Mineralogy of the Black Hills (1965) and Encyclopedia of Minerals (1974), did I begin to take a stronger interest in Bill Roberts and his knowledge of minerals of the Black Hills—he was an amazing mineralogist. 

Norton (1989), in his memorial to Roberts, noted among many other achievements: 1) “that he added more than 100 species of minerals to the list known to occur in South Dakota; 2) he was involved with many new mineral discoveries and subsequent naming including---dernj'ite, ehrleite, fransoletite, jahnsite, johnwalkite, olmsteadite, metavivianite, pahasapaite, pararobertsite, perlofrte, robertsite (named after him), segelerite, sinkankasite, tinsleyite, tiptopite, walentaite, whitmoreite, wyllieite, a wicksite-like mineral that has been described but not yet named, and probably others that were overlooked when the list was assembled or that have not yet been studied; 3) his identification of carnotite in a specimen brought in by an amateur was the original discovery of uranium in South Dakota [and created a large-scale industry around the city of Edgemont]; and 4) their [his wife] private collection [of minerals] contained more than 30000 specimens.” WOW.  I also found it interesting (from the Memorial) that he studied “structural and field geology from A. J. Eardley.”  That really brought back memories since I also studied the same fields with Dr. Eardley (at the University of Utah), and he served on my Dissertation Committee.  What a serendipitous moment—ain’t life fun. 

I had been looking for a specimen of robertsite, a hydrated calcium manganese phosphate [Ca2Mn3(PO4)3O2-3H2O], for a few years and finally was able to nab a specimen at a recent show.  Actually, I purchased the specimen for the tiny cubes of whitlockite, a calcium magnesium phosphate [Ca9Mg(PO4)6(HPO4)], and the robertsite was a find when I returned home and examined the matrix under a scope.  Another great bit of serendipity. 
Mass of black, submillimeter in length, robertsite crystals (R).  Unfortunately a fiber (F) got stranded on the specimen: ~4 mm in length.
The specimen was collected from the Tip Top Mine near Custer in a pegmatite zone related to the Harney Peak Granite (~1.7 Ga forming the core of the Black Hills).  At last count 98 minerals had been identified from the pegmatite including 12 that count the Tip Top as their Type Locality; seven of these twelve have not been found anywhere else in the world!  The pegmatite is not “famous” for its large specimens but for microscopic crystals present within hydrothermally(?) altered beryllium and phosphatic rocks. Above information taken from a wonderful book by Lufkin and others (2009).

Black clusters of robertsite on a matrix of carbonate-hydroxylapatite (I think).  The spherical clusters are less than half a millimeter in size so the individual crystals are maybe a quarter? of a millimeter in length.  The upper photomicrograph shows a "worm" (length ~3 mm) of individual crystals.  I am uncertain about the "white cluster" but it may be some form of apatite.
Robertsite is a secondary phosphate mineral with tiny black to brown to red to bronze lath-like or wedge-shape crystals although at times (see photo) the individual crystals occur in botryoidal aggregates.  Crystals are soft at ~3.5 (Mohs), sometimes with a transparent to translucent diaphaneity but mostly seem opaque, and have a luster ranging from vitreous to waxy.  Nabbing a small crystal and rubbing on a porcelain plate will impart black-brown streak. 

Robertsite is closely related to another phosphate found in the Black Hills, mitridatite (see Posting Dec. 8, 2014), a hydrated calcium iron phosphate [Ca2Fe3(PO4)3O2-3H2O].  There seems to be some indication that an interchange between the iron in mitridatite and the manganese in robertsite—perhaps solid solution.

As previously stated, I purchased the specimen due to the gemmy, but tiny, rhombohedral crystals of whitlockite, a tricalcium phosphate (Ca9Mg(PO4)6(HPO4)] originally described from the Palermo Quarry in New Hampshire.  Whitlockite is, again, one of those secondary phosphates found (mostly, see below) in zoned granite pegmatites and is present at the Tip Top, Bull Moose and White Elephant mines.  The crystals from the Tip Top range from mostly transparent to translucent and are essentially colorless but also may tend to be white to gray.  Most of the Tip Top crystals are those nice rhombohedrals but in some places individuals are tabular to spherical and even?drusy.  Crystals are fairly hard, ~5.0 (Mohs), and the rhombs are vitreous if colorless and resinous if white.  The streak is also white.
Submillimeter clear crystals of whitlockite.
Whitlockite crystals (W), mass of black roberbsite crystals (R), drusy whitlockite (W?)--maybe, and unknown (?)

The ?---> points to what appears to be larger whitlockite crystals covered by a druse.  Robersite (R) and a whitlockite (W) crystal. 
Apatite (I presume), whitlockite (W) and the clusters of white (?)--maybe apatite.
A few interesting factoids about the mineral: 1) whitlockite has been identified in lunar samples and Martian meteorites and most mineralogists refer these extraterrestrial samples to the mineral merrillite; 2) whitlockite has been identified as forming in deposits of phosphate-rich bat guano; 3) magnesium-rich whitlockite can be found in many parts of humans and other animals ranging from bones to urinary stones to impediments in the blood vessels; 4) synthetic whitlockite is being tested for use in bone implants (it has a high compression strength); 5) the mineral bobdownsite is considered invalid and specimens should be referred to whitlockite.

So, there it is---more rare phosphates from the Black Hills, and especially the Tip Top Mine.  At many places in the Rocky Mountains old mines and their dumps are being reclaimed and vegetated and collecting nifty minerals is lost forever.  Fortunately, a geologist now owns the Tip Top and ensures its microscopic minerals, especially the rare phosphates, may be collected.  Tom Loomis is the resident expert on the phosphates and operates Dakota Matrix minerals out of Rapid City.


Lufkin, J.L., J.A. Redden, A.L. Lisenbee and T. Loomis, 2009, Guidebook to geology of the Black Hills, South Dakota: Golden, CO, Golden Publishers.

Nonrou, J., 1989, Memorial of Willard Lincoln Roberts February 12, 1923-March 23, 1987: American Mineralogist, Vol. 74.

Roberts, W. L. and G. Rapp Jr., 1965, Mineralogy of the Black Hills. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Bulletin. 18.

Roberts, W.L., G. Rapp Jr., and J. Weber, 1970, Encyclopedia of minerals: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York.