This rock show features pieces of Colorado | PostIndependent.com
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This rock show features pieces of Colorado

From left, John Bell, Mark Luttrell, and Chris Wurtsmith show off their finds.
Will Grandbois / Post Independent |

Whether your vision of a prospector comes from history books or the Weather Channel series, you probably wouldn’t think to assign the term to Mark Luttrell, Chris Wurtsmith and John Bell.

Luttrell and Wurtsmith work for the Carbondale Police Department, and Bell is an insurance agent. But in their spare time, they are self-proclaimed treasure hunters.

The trio will be showing and selling the fruits of their labors — including aquamarine, apatite and moonstone — in a special event at High County Gems and Minerals Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m..



“I’ve collected rocks since I was about 6. It’s an obsession,” Luttrell said. “We never grow up. My curiosity never died. Every time I go out on a hike I’m in search of whatever’s there. It’s a great hobby. It gets you out in nature.”

Luttrell met Bell 30 years ago while teaching a prospecting class at Colorado Mountain College.



“Ever since then we’ve been partners in crime,” he said.

Bell had already been prospecting with friends, and drew a map to some aquamarine on a paper napkin. The attempt to find their way back led to more discoveries.

“You go to look for one thing and you find something else,” Bell observed. “Luck and a little know how goes a long way.”

Those who go looking for crystals instead of silver or gold are mostly after pegmatite — the last, water attracting section of rock to cool. Some of the more valuable crystals are composed of beryllium aluminum cyclosilicate. Though naturally clear, most beryls have trace elements that tint their color, making the difference between aquamarine and emerald.

Wurtsmith joined the crew a decade or so back when he began working with Luttrell, but has been a rock kid forever, as well.

“When you find a really rare rock it’s like catching a great big fish, and then you can’t stop,” he said.

“You really have to want it. It’s a lengthy process, and it’s very precarious getting up there,” he added. “You load up a backpack with 40 to 80 points of rock, and when you get back you know you’ve done something.”

For Bell, it’s about the thrill of the find.

“I have no desire to climb a mountain, unless there’s minerals at the top. Then I’d go in a heartbeat,” he said. “Crystals come out of the ground perfect. And nowadays, they can be extremely valuable.”

In fact, the trio have had problems with claim jumping in the past.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the state,” Luttrell said of his claim. “The less people know of where my stuff is, the better.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for others to search out minerals and file their own claims.

“We’re so blessed in Colorado. There’s so much out there to look for and find,” Luttrell said.

“Most people have a rock in their drawer,” added Bell.


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