Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rockhounding at Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia


An accessible and safe place to go rockhounding is at Cape Blomidon on the Minas Basin, with easy access to the shore at the bottom of the lower parking lot at the gates to Cape Blomidon Provincial Park at White Water. A set of stairs leads right on to the beach.

David Sheppard and Andrew Hooper at the bottom of the White Water stairs,
 heading west along the Blomidon shore.
Rockhound Andrew Hooper with a bag of rocks to wash and evaluate from the  Blomidon shoreline.

Cape Blomidon comprises about four km of rock shoreline, from White Water to Indian Springs. It is the source of abundant jasper, agate and amethyst.

Aerial photo of the Cape Blomidon shoreline, with the Blomidon Provincial Park above. Photo used with the permission of Trish Robicheau.

The beach begins as red sand but quickly becomes rocky and boulder-strewn. Sturdy footwear is an essential thing to wear on these shores.
The only tricky part of this rockhounding expedition is to pay attention to the tide times: the sandstone cliffs shown here and below will be in the water for nearly two hours as the tide reaches its high. Unless one is prepared to "wait out the tide" you must plan your return so that the pinch point will not prevent you from returning to your car!

Hiking past the sandstone pinch point, alert for falling chunks of rock!
Also, the sandstone cliffs are constantly eroding, and you do not want to be beneath them when rock is falling, especially in the most active freeze and thaw periods.

These huge chunks of sandstone will erode and dissolve in the tides quite quickly, but posted signs warn of them falling from above. I have been walking past these cliffs when rocks have been falling and it sounded like cannon booming on a battlefield!

Chris pausing at the pinch point.
The highest tides on earth occur near Wolfville, in Nova Scotia's Minas Basin. The water level at high tide can be as much as 16 metres (52 feet) higher than at low tide. At nearby Burntcoat Head, the highest tide was recorded of 54 feet 7 inches. Experienced hikers carefully chart not only the tide times but also the projected height of the highs and the lows, to calculate movement along these shores. The guideline that the tide comes in for six hours and goes out for six hours, must be tempered with more precise timing on many of these shoreline hikes.

If we decide to wait out the high tide we must be certain we want to, since there is no  changing our minds.  For 90 minutes before and after high tide there is no chance of getting off the beach.
One reason for waiting out the tide is that it is much easier to see the colours of jasper, agate and amethyst if the shore is wet with the incoming or outgoing tide, especially when the sun is shining.

Beachcombing can be a productive activity and it is possible to find good specimens that have been overturned by the tides or fallen from the cliffs above. However, rocks on the beach will suffer the forces of the tide as they are tossed about against other rocks.
David and Darren discuss the relative merits of a rock from the beach, wondering if it is worth carrying home.
David searches the rocky berms created by the incoming and outgoing tides.
The following two rocks were found while beachcombing on the shore.

We have amazing agates at our doorstep! Note this highly complex agate found at Blomidon by David Sheppard, especially the colours and shapes. I cut it on three sides, leaving the fourth side, with its small crystal geode, uncut.
A fine lace agate found by David Sheppard on his first rockhounding trek along the Blomidon Shore.
Dave, wet, cold, and determined!

Conditions are often uncomfortable during rockhounding treks, because the best collecting is in the winter and early Spring, and it can be cold and wet!

The Blomidon Slide

For many serious rockhounds, however, beachcombing does not yield the truly spectacular results. To find rocks untouched by the ravages of the pounding surf, one needs to climb up into the rockfalls or rock slides along the shore, where rock has broken away from the overhead basalt cliffs onto the sandstone cliffs below. The best known of these is called Rob's Slide, after long-time rockhound and professional lapidary, Robert Baird of Kentville. Another, more geographical name is the Blomidon Slide.

Rob's Slide.
Robert Baird has an impressive collection of Jasper, Agate and Amethyst from the slide collected over many years. He spoke to us of a time back in the '90s when it took several weeks to clean up all of the fantastic minerals coming from the area. But we had never really found much there until December 2011 when the upper part of the slide collapsed, releasing hundreds of tonnes of rock, mud and trees from the upper reaches of the slide.  Amongst the scree and debris is an abundant new supply of the minerals we seek, mixed with basalts, earth and mud! Digging is required to find it.

Rob's Slide can be a mess of mud-covered basalt rocks with good mineral specimens intermixed.
Not all rockhounds will climb the rock slides because they are dangerous, with unstable rocks beneath one's feet, and teetering rocks above, waiting for the call of gravity to lure them to the beach, hundreds of feet below! Climbing slides is not wisely attempted when a rockhound is alone. In fact, we often place a spotter at the bottom on the beach to warn of falling rocks. Under certain conditions, the entire slide can begin to move. Getting caught in such a rock slide could be fatal.

If conditions are reasonably safe, and luck is on one's side, a determined climber can find specimens that are worth the effort!

Liz David cautiously moves a rock to see if it might be worthwhile.  Rain constantly covers and uncovers rocks in this gully. Later in the season, this entire trough was filled with tonnes of freshly fallen rocks.
On one climb on the Blomidon Slide. Liz David uncovered a spectacular find.

A beautiful seam of jasper and amethyst uncovered by Liz.
The same piece, cleaned and cut by the Lapidary Robert Baird. A fabulous find!

Chris examining some large rocks that have fallen from high up on the slide. Some days the slide is too dangerous to be around, as huge rocks are falling and bounding forty or more feet across the beach.
This heavy chunk of amethyst and quartz was worth  packing out, but Chris gave it to Dad anyway!


A beautiful, large specimen of amethyst in a geode, with a colourful jasper casing,
 found by Chris Sheppard at Blomidon.

We believe this is one of the finest showpieces ever found at Blomidon. A pristine amethyst geode surrounded by  an agate and jasper casing. From the Andrew Hooper Collection. (This piece is clearly from the same seam as the previous specimen shown.)

A rough, uncut amethyst showpiece from Cape Blomidon, donated by Fundy Rocks to the
annual auction of No Farms, No Food, in December 2012.
A 4.5 kilo (10 pound) rough amethyst and jasper seam piece from Cape Blomidon.  Sometimes a piece is more valuable, and definitely more pleasing to the eye, when left as it was found, in the rough. One of our favourites in the Fundy Rocks Collection.

Large Geode of fine Nova Scotia Amethyst from Cape Blomidon. Fundy Rocks Collection.

A seam agate with incredible detail, found at Cape Blomidon. From the Andrew Hooper Collection.


Essentially, AMYGDULES are the solidified bubbles left in solid rock when lava erupts and cools. Called vesicles, these empty bubbles later filled with secondary minerals, often chalcedony, agate, or zeolites, as seen in this sample from the Blomidon shoreline. Amygdules are usually small, but prized specimens the size of baseballs are sometimes found. It is always a bit of a surprise to cut one open to discover what minerals and patterns may be inside.

Amygdules, small and large.

A cut amygdule, with a small geode of pink crystals inside.

Cut amygdules are often worthy of display.

I enjoy the sense of uncertainty when an amygdule is cut. One never knows what might be inside.

Newcomers at Blomidon often notice the great chunks of selenite and satin spar. Pretty, but far too fragile to be collectible.

Satin spar is a product of the Triassic Sandstone formations created when this area was covered in fresh water over 200 million years ago!

Satin spar will quickly disintegrate in the surf, but once in a while an undamaged piece can me found and may be worth carrying out, although it is so fragile the rockhound must be extraordinarily careful!

The geology of this shoreline is fascinating and varied. 

Constant erosion of the sandstone cliffs at Blomidon means the cliffs look different every time one passes them.

Before the continents as we now know them split apart with massive fault lines of volcanic activity between the sections of the Earth’s crust, this area was covered with deposits of sediment as seen in the spectacular red sandstone cliffs that tower over the rocky shoreline of Cape Blomidon.

The fascinating shapes of the sandstone cliffs can create beautiful images.

The snowfall accentuates the lines and contours of the red sandstone cliffs.

The basalt cliffs, laced with sought-after minerals, atop the sandstone cliffs. Along the top of these cliffs is the Jodrey Trail, part of the Cape Blomidon Provincial Park trail system. (Photo by David Sheppard)

Part of the 200-million-year-old basalt ridge is exposed on top of these red sandstone cliffs visible on the shore towards Indian Springs.. The basalt that has collapsed above the sandstone cliffs in this area contains some of the most amazing specimens to be found anywhere on the Peninsula. The combination of amethyst with jasper casing is stunning.

Basalts atop sandstone, on the shore to Indian Springs.

The basalt cliffs overhanging the sandstone, on the way to Indian Springs.

Indian Springs. It is possible to climb down from above but requires considerable effort, including bushwhacking!

The last viewing stand on the Jodrey Trail, visible next to the bare tree, above Indian Springs.

Post Card of the wharf at White Water, looking towards Cape Blomidon.

This photo is a postcard showing a ship aground at Blomidon, attracting a crowd of spectators. [Photo credit: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, MP18.375.1, N-12,876, M85.5.1]
This A.L. Hardy view of White Water shows the fishing wharf and the farm that is now the parking lot at the entrance to the Blomidon Provincial Park. This photo, in the collection of the Kings County Museum, is from about 1910.  (Acc. No. P.990.65.4)

The Beauty of the Blomidon Shore

Sometimes we return with no great rock finds, but the scenery is always beautiful.

Father and son discussing the day's rockhounding plans.

by David E. Sheppard of Fundy Rocks

My son, Chris, is the force behind Fundy Rocks, but I help out in the background. He is an amazing finder of prize rocks and captures beautiful images on film, but sometimes I am lucky.  He asked me to put together this blog post because Blomidon is the site I have visited most often as it is easy for a man with a bad leg, but plenty of determination!

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Important Disclaimer

Always accompany a guide to a new or remote area described in our blog or on Facebook. Many of the shoreline places we visit could potentially leave you trapped beneath cliffs at high tides of immensely powerful currents. Always know the tide times and plan accordingly. Being trapped may not always have a survival option. Terrain is steep and dangerous in places. Never hammer specimens out of a cliff face. Weather is unpredictable along the shore. Never attempt to descend or ascend an unfamiliar cliff area. Basalt can be loose, crumbly and very unstable. Be aware of falling rocks and boulders. Slide climbing should never be attempted without an experienced guide and never by children. Caution is strongly advised. Please rockhound safely and responsibly. Respect private property. Always get permission when accessing the shore from private property.


  1. Thanks for the great post! I've been meaning to go up that way but was going to wait for summer. I'm glad I found your blog.

  2. Cape Blomidon comprises about four km of rock shoreline, from White ...

  3. Going to blomidon park to camp for a few days this summer with grand daughter,
    hope to find something. enjoyed your blog