Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series by Wayne Peterson about Yooperlites. Enjoy Part II>>
By Wayne Peterson
After a lifetime of interest in minerals and collecting specimens, and mining experiences, it never ceases to amaze me the diversity of minerals, various compositions, and formations.
Yooperlite is a unique formation of a fairly common element, fluorescing sodalite. What is uncommon is its presentation to the world at this time. There is always the hope of new discoveries. In speaking with many rockhounds and collectors with varying levels of interest regarding the Yooperlite discovery, one technical mineral collector summarizes his assessment as “but it’s only sodalite,” my response was incisive: “Yes, but Niagara Falls is only water ... amazing!”
Lake Superior Specimen Showcase
As I explained in the first part of this series (published in the April 2019 issue of Rock & Gem), meeting Erik Rintamaki, the person who discovered specimens of Yooperlite along the shores of Lake Superior and gave them their unforgettable name, and learning about his journey and the mineralogy of Yooperlite was enriching on so many levels.
One of the most memorable aspects of the time my wife, Brenda, and I spent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the opportunity to go hunting for Yooperlites with Erik.
First, without the aid of UV light, I carefully studied his specimens of Yooperlite, noting color, density, grain patterns, and using a loupe to discover any other clue to possibly find specimens during the day. In daylight, they look like thousands of other rocks along the shoreline. They only reveal their hidden secrets and beauty in UV light.
After inspecting the Yooperlites, Brenda and I set out on our own to see if we could discover some in daylight. After several hours, we had 20 specimens we were sure would fluoresce. When we brought them back to Erik for review, all 20 failed the test. Erik then offered to take me out that evening, after the rock show, to teach me how to find Yooperlites. As you can imagine, I gladly accepted the offer.
Rockhounding at Night
At 7:45 p.m., I promptly arrived at his campsite and we drove about a half hour to a beach he had wanted to explore. In all the years of rock collecting, I have never collected in the dark, except in shaft mines, and I remember thinking to myself that this was going to be a new experience.
As we arrived, the sun was setting over the water and we made our way through the dense forest to the shoreline. Prior to leaving the vehicle, Erik took two battery-free emergency light sticks and individually taped them to 5-foot fiberglass poles.
One pole he set into the ground to mark the area we entered onto the beach from the forest, and the other Erik pushed into the beach at the waterline. He explained that he learned the hard way about retracing his steps when he was hunting for Yooperlite at night. That particular time, he was lost on the beach until dawn. There is little to no light pollution in most areas of the Upper Peninsula, especially on the shoreline. Dark in the U.P. is very dark.
We began walking several hundred yards toward the setting sun, without a Yooperlite specimen in sight. Yet. It was certainly a false notion of mine to think they could be found in daylight.
After what seemed like we walked a mile down the shore, there it was, like a hot lava ball
on the shoreline. WOW! My first Yooperlite! We walked over three miles of shoreline that evening and found several Yooperlites. Without Erik’s guidance,
I would not have found as many as we did, if any at all.
Just like a process for hunting the Lake Superior agate, Erik has developed his skill in finding the elusive Yooperlite. The tools, angle of the UV light, and how to scan the shoreline are just a few skills that often lead to a successful hunt.
Another valuable tip lies within the way you walk the shoreline. If you take several steps, turn around and shine the UV light behind you, where you just walked, there’s a greater chance of spotting a Yooperlite. Footsteps can move the specimen so the fluorescing angle becomes visible. Hunting at night is an amazing experience, and quite different than shaft mining or open pit mining. Walking in pitch darkness over uneven rocks can be challenging, too, but rewarding.
Of the specimens collected that evening, most displayed distinctive fluorescing sodalite patterns. After several months of collecting Yooperlite specimens, Erik noted the distinctive patterns and named them according to their visual design: Gemmy, Flower or Snowflake, Spray Paint, Bands and Striations, and – my favorite – Galaxy. How and/or why they take on these patterns is a geological mystery at this time.
While the ability to find Yooperlites at night is certainly the reward, it’s not the only one. The bio-life under UV light is something out of science fiction. Spiders and moths are a deep velvet-violet-purple, toads a fluorescent green, and even bird excrement is a psychedelic blue. Although bio-life under UV light is fascinating, it can also be a distraction. I say that because elements of nature such as crinoids, corals, Petoskey stones, and some bio-life, as well as artificial fishing lures used by Great Lakes fisherman to catch salmon, all fluoresce.
Real Deal Versus False Finds
Sometimes these appear to be Yooperlites but are indeed false Yooperlites. It is a whole different world under UV light, a kaleidoscope of living colors.
There is also something soothing to the soul about walking the Upper Peninsula shoreline, where nature’s rhythmic action of waves, water, and sand creates an abundance of beautiful tumbled polished rocks. Lake Superior is the second largest fresh water lake in the world, with depths of 1,333 feet and a shoreline of 2,726 miles (including Canada).
While the shoreline is stunning, at day and night, the sky offers its own brilliant display. On a clear night in the U.P., the Milky Way Galaxy can be seen in all its splendor and majesty. In fact, a few nights after our departure a spectacular view of the Northern Lights was visible dancing along the sky off White Fish Point.
Part of the joy of hunting and collecting Yooperlites, and any rock or mineral, is the chance to discuss the joy of rockhounding with others. In January of this year, I was invited to speak at a local private school in the area of Charlottesville, Virginia, about minerals and geology as part of an earth science program. Brenda and I also brought many rough, lapidary, and collectible samples of Virginia minerals for the students (K-12) to see and examine. The positive response from the students was overwhelming, and their interest was contagious.
Sharing An Appreciation for Yooperlites
Because we had just traveled to the Upper Peninsula four months earlier, we also shared information about Yooperlites. Once the room was darkened and the UV light was cast on the specimens, the student response upon seeing the Yooperlites surpassed their interest more than any of the other specimens we brought.
It made me realize the importance of sparking that interest in the younger generations and re-kindling the older generations as well. The Yooperlite discovery is unique in that it has a wide range of appeal and is accessible to all ages and levels of interest in the mineral hobby.
For years, Superior agates and Petoskey Stones, both of which are hard to find, highly prized, and worthy of any collection, have dominated interest in Michigan's rock collecting offerings, and now they have to make room for a third: Michigan’s new hot rock – Yooperlites!
YOOPERLITE HUNTING TIPS
- Check the weather before you go, every time.
- Check state and local regulations regarding collecting on Michigan shorelines.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources is a good resource: www.midnr.com. Practice good rockhound etiquette.
- Research the area you are collecting.
- Use a small backpack – perfect for carrying gear and finds, keeping both hands free for collecting.
- Purchase and bring an LED flashlight (900-1,400 lumens) for lighting up the beach.
- Use caution when entering the inky water of Lake Superior to retrieve fluorescing Yooperlites underwater. Sudden changes in winds or barometric pressure can produce a seiche, which is a phenomenon that results in water levels rising or falling as much as six feet along a coastline in just a few minutes.
- Use glow-light sticks to create a path leading back to the direction you came after your hunt is complete.
- Learn more about Yooperlites and its discoverer Erik Rintamaki by visiting: www.yooperlites.com; www. facebook.com/Yooperlites-205165993433467; https://www.instagram.com/yooperlites_official; and watching the documentary "Light Up the North - The Story of Yooperlites" >>>