In 2002, geologist Dr. Thomas Scott, formerly of the Florida Geological Survey (FGS), made a trip down to check it out a mine that he had only heard about. It was located in Okeechobee on Eddie and Debbie Rucks' 200-acre dairy ranch.
Although the mine was used for road-base material, rumor had it that there might be more than rocks and muck deep in the mine. It turns out there was. What Scott found was indeed more than road materials. While digging in the mine he discovered a deep vein, approximately 75 feet deep, filled with calcite-filled fossil clamshells, minerals and mammal fossils from animals such as: stodon, mammoth, sloth, giant tortoise and horse. He hit pay dirt, so to speak, from an archaeological standpoint.
"The deposit is actually a nearshore marine deposit that represents a former shoreline, " said Harley Means, assistant state geologist, Florida Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Means explained that sand and fossil seashells found in the mine are thought to be several million years old.
From 2002 until 2005, Scott was allowed to dig for geologic purposes. After 2005, the Rucks' opened up the mine to others who wanted to dig, including collectors and the general public. Diggers actually dig atop a field covered with truckloads of material that is mined out on a regular basis. This makes the process doable and safer for the public to dig. The site was initially called "Ruck's Pit," and is now called, "Florida Drum Crystal Mine".
The crystals form inside of the clam shells by a long process. "The calcite is dissolved from the fossil sea shells by acidic groundwater and then transported downward where it then reprecipitates inside the shells of the clams (called quahogs) and occasionally other mollusks," explained Means. Means further explained that the calcite crystals actually form just below the water table in water that is supersaturated with calcite (calcium carbonate).
While the process of forming crystals may be lengthy, finding them isn't necessarily a fast or easy task either. For a daily fee of $45 per adult, those who want to come and dig and look for calcite-filled fossil clamshells can do so. However, the process is often laborious, as it requires the breaking of rocks to discover what's inside. To the untrained eye, the process is even more difficult as knowing exactly what rocks to crack open is more of a guess.
Although some tools are supplied, such as chisels, hammers, and a water hose for washing the rocks, guests need to also bring a supply of items, such as: sturdy shoes, a hat, food, drinking water, a chair, small boxes, newspaper for wrapping specimens, a trash bag for dirty, wet clothes, and a 5-gallon bucket. Guests are allowed to fill one five-gallon bucket for each paid adult admission. Collectors often bring their own set of mining tools.
Diggers sometimes discover calcite-filled fossil clam shells that can be impressive in size. Some, such as Busycon specimens, can exceed six inches in diameter and contain calcite crystals more than one inch long. Most diggers find something worth taking home, while collectors often find even more. The Rucks' take their own finds and sell them at tradeshows in the United States and overseas.
On location is also a retail store that sells landscape rocks, aquarium rocks, and fossils & minerals from all over the world, as well as some samples of what the Rucks' dug up. The Florida Drum Crystal Mine is an interesting way to spend a day, and who knows, you might just strike it rich.
If you go:
Florida Drum Crystal Mine
28320 NE 55th Ave.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Call a few days ahead for arrangements)
Adults: $45 per person
13 to 17: $15 per person
5 to 12: $10 per person
Children under 5: Free