The Colors of Agate Beach

The Colors of Agate Beach, photo by Neil Weaver

Neil took this photo on Agate Beach in Grand Marais on Lake Superior. It’s a popular spot for rockhounds. Superior Trails has an article on agate beaches around Lake Superior that says in part:

Veteran Agate Hunters will troll gravel pits, riversides, hiking trails, roadsides, as well as beaches looking for agates. We stick to beaches, not because the chances of finding an agate are better, but because there is something unique about being close to Big Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior), listening to the waves lapping the shoreline, feeling the crisp breeze coming of the lake, breathing the fresh air, and getting some exercise walking along the shoreline.

We’ve got a few favorite beaches, some where we have had good luck, but also we like some better than others for the scenery or the variety of rocks and stones that litter the shoreline. Little Girls Point near Ironwood, Michigan is one of our favorites. It has perhaps more rocks per foot than any other we’ve encountered around Lake Superior and it has a decent variety of rocks as well. Another plus is it has several lakeside RV campsites which if you are lucky enough to reserve one means the beach is right outside your back door. Jo has a soft spot for the beach at Muskallonge State Park because there she found her first four agates in two days of beach combing. Grand Marais Michigan is another favorite, offering an extensive beach with lots of variety of rocks and a reputation for some huge agate finds. The Woodland Park campground is adjacent to the beach. Grand Marais is also home to the Gitche Gumee Agate Museum, a must see stop for any agate fan. But next year, we may find an agate at a previously less favored beach and declare it as our new favorite, for there are so many beaches that we’ve only touched upon briefly.

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Agate Beach in Grand Marais … and Lake Superior Agates

Agate Beach Treasures Neil Weaver Photography

Agate Beach Treasures, photo by Neil Weaver Photography

Karen “Agatelady” Bryzs of the Gitchee Gumee Museum in Grand Marais shares a ton of information about Lake Superior Agates, part of a worldwide family of semi-precious gemstones that naturally develop when an empty pocket inside a host rock fills in with microcrystals, forming a totally unique pattern:

Most Lake Superior agates formed in a rift zone approximately 1.2 billion years ago. Rift zones are cracks in the Earth’s surface out of which molten lava flowed. Today, there are still rift zones at the bottom of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The rift zone that created Lake Superior agates started in what is now northeast Kansas and continued northeast into what is now the western end of Lake Superior. This hot spot domed up lava several miles high and eventually choked itself off. If it would have continued, it could have split the North American continent in half.

She offers some tips from her book “Understanding and Finding Agates“:

  • Scan the beach and look for the Iron oxide red color.
  • Look for rocks that show evident concentric banding.
  • Check for possible entrance and/or escape channels that allowed gases or originally escape from the cavity, silica-rich water to enter, and pressure formed during the agate precipitation process to escape.
  • Search for rocks with conchoidal fractures that give the specimen a more angular, irregular shape.
  • When the angle of sun is low on the horizon, walk toward the sun and look a distance in front of you to look for the extremely translucent red carnelian agates.

Read on for lots more and definitely stop in the Gitchee Gumee Museum if you make it to Grand Marais! (done it, loved it!)

View Neil’s photo of agates near Grand Marais bigger, see more in his slideshow, and view and purchase his photos at neilweaverphotography.com.