How To Mine California Pink Halite

How To Mine California Pink Halite

Last weekend we went on our first California mining trip to to dig up Pink Halite out of sulfuric Searles Lake in the desert! If you've been following us on Instagram, you may have seen our livestream of the dig and photos & videos we shared during the trip. We’ve gotten so many questions, from people interested in digging their own Halite specimens to concern for the environment, so we’re here to answer it all. Also, keep your eyes peeled because we will be listing a few of these heart healing stones for pre-order soon!

What Is Pink Halite?

Halite is sodium chloride in its mineral form, or commonly known as rock salt. Crystals are formed through repeated episodes of seawater evaporation in areas where there are large basins. There are Halite deposits that stretch for miles and go hundreds of feet deep near the Dead Sea.

Deep in the California desert lies Searles Lake, and it has just the right conditions for Halite to flourish.

Halite crystals regenerate themselves each year through the natural cycle of the seasons (moisture dissolves the crystals in the lake in the winter, and the hot summer sun bakes and solidifies the salt & evaporates the water). The salt fields stretch for miles and go super deep into the ground, so mining them is not harmful to the environment. The mining area where we were allowed to dig is just a very tiny part of the area.

The unique pink color is due to the extreme salinity of the lake. This causes halophilic bacteria and algae to survive inside the salt crust, making it come out of the Earth all shades of pink, from pale bordering on clear to a deep cranberry.

Why Pink Halite?

Pink Halite is quickly becoming one of my favorites and my body has a strong reaction to it in meditation. Sodium is a very cleansing compound, and energetically Pink Halite is a heart and solar plexus cleansing crystal. It thought to help connect the two energy centers for a more balanced & empowered life. This mineral is also said to aid in digestion and restoring the body, since we humans are so salty ourselves. Place it on your belly in meditation or savasana, and bring your attention to the sensations present at the point of contact.

Gem-O-Rama

gem-o-rama

So if you’re thinking; “can anyone just go dig these up whenever?”, the answer is no. Once a year, the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society puts on Gem-O-Rama, a festive weekend where up to 3,000 people of all (and we do mean all) walks of life come for their chance to mine these beautiful pink crystals out of the smelly sulfuric lake.

It’s always held the second weekend in October and we went out for just the Sunday Field Trip, but there is also a Mud Pile Field Trip on Saturday to dig Hankite crystals & Bladed Trona, and a small gem & mineral show happening all weekend with vendors & specimens from all over the world. 

If you want to experience it for yourself, learn what to expect and everything we wish we would have known below.

What You Need To Mine At Gem-O-Rama

what you need to mine pink halite in searles valley

  • Tools - Having effective tools for chopping and prodding at the salt rocks is crucial. We brought 2 mining axes, but it would have been better to have a prodding stick / screwdriver shape as well. Also get soft brushes to clean and polish your treasures (not with water but with brine from the pool)!
  • Clothing - Even walking around the salt pools without digging would render your clothes pretty nasty. It’s hot, and the salt only stings if you have open cuts or just shaved your legs, so shorts are our recommendation. You could also get waders so there’s no hesitation on getting in the briny pool, where all of the best crystals are without a doubt!
  • Proper shoes. Wear close-toed shoes that you don’t mind ruining. Tennis shoes, water shoes (with a tight ankle & no large openings) or rubber boots are your best choice, just make sure to choose a pair thats tall enough to keep out water or tight ankles so rocks don’t get in your shoes.
  • Gloves. Rubber ones that go all the way up the forearm are best. You don't want to end up with scratched up wrists (see my arm below, ouch!)
  • Floating tubs. Bring mid-sized shallow plastic tubs to put your specimens in. The crystals are super fragile until they have a chance to dry and solidify, so you need to get them out of the lake right away or they will crumble. Light plastic shallow tubs float, so you can place them in while you keep digging without having to get in and out of the lake. We had 5-gallon buckets, and there were a couple obstacles we encountered. 1) They’re tall and skinny and want to topple over as soon as we put weight in them. 2) The brine kept them wet & soft, crumbling the crystals since we had to stack them on top of each other in the bucket. The flat wide space in a tub allows for them to have their space to start to dry right away, so they don’t crumble.
  • Storage boxes. Shallow cardboard boxes lined and separated with newspaper or plastic is the best way we found to transport the crystals home safely. Don’t use paper towels, as they just hold the moisture & will keep the crystals soft. 
  • Tarp. A tarp or old blanket is helpful to put underneath your boxes so your car doesn’t get too dirty. Also great for laying the pieces on out in the sun once you are finished, to help them dry. 
  • Mask / Essential Oils. You can probably deduce with all this talk of sulfur that pink halite mining is not a pleasant olfactory experience. We brought masks, and there’s mandatory Prop 65 reminders posted, but it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, we never used them. Dab some essential oil under your nose and you should be good. We chose peppermint.
  • Sunscreen. It may be October but you’ll be in some serious high desert sun. Even though the forecast said 75 and windy it was HOT. 

    Brine Or Bust: Tips For Mining

    brine or bust: tips for mining pink halite in searles valley

    First and foremost, if you want to have the full experience and you want a shot at digging up high quality halite, you’ve got to embrace the brine pool and the massive crowd of people that comes with it. We learned this after axing away at the hard salt flat for a good hour before some helpful gentleman told us we should move to the briny pool. 

    • Bring as little out into the field with you as possible; you really don’t need more than your gear, water to drink, and storage tubs.
    • Go straight for the big brine pool. Smaller pools of brine do have crystals but are difficult to uncover and we found less intricate crystals.
    • Wade in the brine pool slowly. There will be drop-offs and ledges, and that’s right where you want to be!
    • Stand in the hole, and start to feel underneath the ledges that create the drop off.
    • Prod from the top of the ledge. It’s easiest to work with a teammate, and have one person prod from the top while the other is in the drop off catching what falls.
    • Watch your arms and fingers. We walked away with a scratched up wrist from grabbing under the ledges and a finger smashed gently by an axe.
    • Pick up whatever feels solid. Most will just be loose salt that crumbles on impact, but there are awesome crystals in there I promise!! You'll see the pros walking out with tons of the most magical pieces to keep you inspired.
    • Once you pick something up you like, clean any mud off of it in the brine pool and then allow excess water to roll off. Place it in your floating tub to start drying and keep it close by.
    • Leave a little space between each specimen, don't let them touch each other.
    • Come early and stay late. The field trip lasts from 9am to 1:30pm, so make a whole morning of it. Have your shot in the brine pool, take a lap around the lake to see if there’s any stones left or abandoned promising areas to dig after people start to clear out.
    • Place them in a flat cardboard box and do not use paper towels to wrap or separate them as it continues to hold their moisture.
    • Place them in the dry sun right away, and be careful if you live in a humid area as they are known to disintegrate when exposed to too much humidity or ocean air. We have read that storing them with silica packets can help remedy this & dry them out to keep them together until they’re super solid.
    • Come with a patient mindset and compassionate heart. This event draws an interesting crowd, and people can act a little crazy when digging for g̶o̶l̶d̶ pink halite.

     

    We hope to see you out there next year! Please let us know in the comments if you want to know more, have any questions or need clarification on anything we touched on above!  

    Shout to @Alice_Zarka of Alice's Atlas for being a champion & helping me dig up these gorgeous specimens & document it all!